Friday, August 24, 2012

Westside Alehouse, August 18, 2012

"You're wet."
"'s raining."
 -- The Rocky Horror Picture Show

It's always tricky, trying to second-guess the weather. Early Saturday morning the sun was out. Then it wasn't. Then it rained. Hard.

But then it stopped and the sun came out again. Over the course of a few phone calls, we determined that rain would not be an issue and we should continue as planned. By the looks of the weather radar online, the whole thing had blown over, not to return.

When we got to Westside Alehouse about 4:00-4:30 the sun was shining. A little HUMID, maybe, but otherwise everything was fine. There was a small residual drip of water coming from the roof but it was no big deal. To be on the safe side, though, Sean brought some large plastic tarps, one of which we used to cover up the pile of empty guitar cases and a few other things behind the stage. Kept the other tarps handy, just in case, although none of us actually believed it would rain again. Got everything set up and by 7:00 we were ready to kick it off.

 (This is actually a picture from the first time we played Westside Alehouse back in June, but you get the idea.)

By this time a pretty good crowd had assembled. Started the first song (Hound Dog Taylor's "Give Me Back My Wig," our usual opener) and we were off and running. And as far as I could tell, everything was going great. I don't recall any major train wrecks on our part, I'm pretty sure I got most of the words to the songs right, and I didn't play myself into any corners I couldn't get out of. But the best part was that the audience really seemed to be into it -- they were making all the right noises in all the right places and generally having a good time.

Finished the first set and after a short break launched into the second. Still no rain. Thomas "Tommy Z" Zoe sat in on harmonica on "It's My Own Fault," which our friend Grace captured on video so he could send it to his mom as a birthday present. A few songs later we played our version of Joe Bonamassa's version of an old Otis Rush song called "So Many Roads, So Many Trains." We had tried it the previous week at Junior's, but it didn't feel quite right; this time it worked out much better. Got a good crowd reaction, too. Very cool. Ended with another Hound Dog Taylor song, "She's Gone," complete with all the cheesy bits from me.

It was between the second and third sets, I think, that I noticed a little bit of fine mist in the air. Hardly enough to be called a sprinkle. I'm sure Sean and Bill saw it too, but none of us took it seriously. I took one of the extra tarps and covered my guitars, since the stand they were on (a five-guitar "rack") was outside of the covered area. The ones on individual stands -- my '75 SG and a funky old Del Rey as well as a lap steel -- I moved closer to the drums to be sure they were not exposed.

We pressed on. Sean's birthday had been just a few days before, so we did Junior Kimbrough's "Done Got Old" with Sean himself handling the intro vocal. Everything was still going great as far as we were concerned, and we kept on playing. But, somewhere along the way, that "fine mist" turned into more of a sprinkle, which turned into actual rain. I don't know about Bill or Sean, but I was oblivious to it until our friend John came up and said, "You wanna cover some of this up?" It was at that point I turned around, horrified, to find that the rain was streaming down on my secondary guitar amp (a late-50s Magnatone), which was just outside the area covered by the roof over the stage. Water was pooling up on it along with the two effect boxes sitting on top of it.

So we grabbed the tarps, covered up everything in the "wet zone" and kept playing.

It rained harder, but we still weren't ready to give up and stop. The show must go on, you know?

One of the PA speaker stacks was getting wet, so we moved it over a couple of feet and put a tarp over it. Pulled everything in as tight as we could to try to keep it dry. We agreed to see it we could make it through one more song -- Muddy Waters' classic "Mannish Boy" -- and call it quits. We got about one verse done when Sean's bass amp cut out. Stopped the song to investigate and it turned out water was infiltrating a power strip and tripping the GFCI breaker on the power outlet. Dumped the water out, dried the power strip off, plugged it back in and restored power to the amp.
And despite the ever-increasing rain, we picked up where we let off and kept going. We've got to finish this thing. It's a matter of principle now. I ran out in the middle of the audience, got up on a chair and did possibly the shortest version ever of my "repeat after me" routine. By this time the wind had come up and water was going everywhere. Everything was getting wet, including Bill's drums. We all knew it was time to stop. I ran back to the stage, yelled the short version of the "meaning of SUIT" rap into the water-soaked microphone and we ended the song.

Good night everybody, we're getting rained on up here, we gotta go. I seem to remember looking at my watch and seeing 10:15, but when I thought about it later that doesn't seem right, so to tell you the truth I'm not entirely sure what time it was. I just knew , as did Sean and Bill -- that we had to get this stuff out of the rain. Fast.

So we killed the power and started the mad scramble to get everything to a dry ground, which was pretty much the middle of the covered area. Fortunately, we had some help; John and and a few more friends helped us move everything.
Once all the stuff was out of the path of flying water, we were able to start the drying process, which involved a LOT of bar towels. It took a while, but we got everything as dry as we could and packed up.
And then, finally, just about the time we were ready to start loading out, the rain slacked off and stopped. Just like that. We loaded up as fast as we could and got out of there before any more rain started up again.

So we made it through. I still had quite a bit of guitar-cleaning and string-changing to be done, but as far as I can tell nothing suffered any permanent damage.

And you know what? Despite the rain and all the trouble it caused, it was still a really good night. People were SUPER generous with their contributions to the Tip-Toon (our tip jar is an old spittoon), and like I said, everybody really seemed to be digging what we were doing. One guy even said, "Y'all kept going a lot longer that I would have" and handed me a $20 bill.

So there you go. So far, we're liking this Westside Alehouse place. We've got another date booked there in November, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully, it won't rain.

Until next time,


Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Roadhouse, June 29, 2012

Okay, that's more like it.

Well, except for that one little part at the beginning.

Overall it was a good night -- it really was. By the end we had 'em hollerin' in all the right places, paper was being thrown into the tip jar (aka the Tip-Toon) and we even had a few dancers. I didn't have a chance to set up my digital recorder, so I have no evidence to support this either way, but it SEEMED like we played pretty well. I don't remember any major train wrecks, anyway. When we finished "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water" (complete with the Big Stupid Ending*) at 11:30 and said good night, there were calls of "one more" and "uno mas," and of course we were happy to oblige.

And man oh man, we are SO grateful to everyone who was there. Including, of course, Ken's mom Pat (Ken as in Ken Carver of the Rhythm Dawgs) and her friend Don. Those guys were there from before we started at 7:30 until we finished the last song at 11:45. Puttin' those young whippersnappers to SHAME, I tell you!

Another cool thing was we had arranged for Dawg bass player Frank Calcagni to play three songs during the second set. That's always fun, because it's a chance to revisit those early three-piece Dawg days. One of the songs we did was an old song called "Just a Little Bit," with Bill on lead vocals. The Dawgs used to do it a long time ago (both as a three-piece and four-piece), but it sort of fell by the wayside somewhere along the way. I kinda had to talk Bill into it at first, but we ran through it a few times at practice and I think it came off great.
And I must send out a personal Thank You to Sean for being cool about stepping out for a few minutes and allowing me to indulge in my little "Dawg Flashback."

Anyway, so far so good, right? In the spirit of full disclosure (and that's what this space is all about, isn't it?), it didn't quite start out that way. Remember how I said that Pat and Don were there before we started? For the better part of the first set we were playing to Pat, Don and Frank. That was it. Three people. Now, granted, there were probably a few more around the corner -- the inside of The Roadhouse is L-shaped and there's a front section that you can't see from the stage -- but for a little while there we could only see three faces.

Now, in our defense, it's always a little more difficult to draw people in when it's still full daylight outside. And at 7:30 at the end of June in Central Texas the sun is still burning bright in the sky. So that was probably part of it. At least I'd like to think so.

But there was another thing, too. As soon as we finished our first song (our usual opener, Hound Dog Taylor's "Give Me Back My Wig") , the bartender came running in full panic mode with cries of "YOU'VE GOT TO TURN DOWN!!"

Sigh. The words every bar band in history is loathe to hear. Turn down.

And I though we were sounding good, too.

But what can you do? I reached over and cranked the master volume of the PA down about two-and-a-half notches and Bill counted off the next song, "Riot In Cell Block #9." But he was barely hitting the drums and hi-hat, hardly making any sound at all. Sean and I took his cue and turned our instrument volumes WAY down, too. Man, I tell you, it was quiet. Put it this way: while we were playing, I could clearly hear Pat, Don and Frank having a conversation 20 feet away, and they weren't raising their voices.

So we continued on, trying to maintain that whisper-quiet level. Actually, it was pretty funny. Bill kept making comments on the PA like, "We hope you're enjoying your stay here at the Holiday Inn," and "We'd like to remind you there will be a croquet tournament tomorrow by the pool area." The whole thing was so ridiculous it was laughable. Probably the best part was Bill's QUIET drum solo during "Shake Your Money Maker" near the end of the set. Oh man, I wish someone would have had a video camera rolling.

Somewhere in there a few more people started to filter in, and I kept wondering what they were thinking -- why is this band playing like this and what are they laughing about?

We finished the set with Tab Benoit's "Night Train," as planned, complete with my "walkabout." It felt pretty silly to be doing it at such a low volume, but I did it anyway.

I was discussing the sound with Frank on the break and he said the only thing he heard wrong with the mix on the first song was that the snare drum was too loud. (Another reason I was glad Frank was there -- a trusted set of objective ears in the audience.)

By the time we started the second set, the club was beginning to fill up a little more, so we decided to leave the PA master volume where it was but go ahead and play our instruments at a normal volume. Bill switched back to his regular sticks -- he had been using a pair of very light, thin sticks during "quiet time" -- and go ahead and hit the drums with his usual velocity. I did drop the level of the snare a bit, though.

And so we continued on. More people came in. Nobody complained. Pretty soon we had a good crowd and everybody seemed to be having a good time. The rest of the night went off without a hitch. Sean hadn't been feeling all that well or most of the week, but he still managed to get in a few of his famous dance steps during "I Asked For Whiskey, She Brought Me Gasoline."

The club never filled up completely, but we still had a good crowd all the way to the end. The last song of the night (our "uno mas") was Guitar Shorty's "Fine Cadillac," also complete with walkabout and yet another Big Stupid Ending. Slam that last chord, yell "THANK YOU GOOD NIGHT!" and hit the mp3 player for Etta James' "Something's Got A Hold On Me," which I have been trying to turn into a bit of a tradition.

So yeah, it all turned out all right.

But you know what? I should have known better than to jump in at regular volume at 7:30 at the Roadhouse. I DO know better. Some places you can just blast 'em from the get-go, but I know as well as anybody else that you've gotta go easy at the beginning at The Roadhouse. I mean, the Dawgs have played there 100 times and have ALWAYS had to worry about volume at the start of the night. That's how the Dawgwood acoustic sets got started, trying to be quiet at The Roadhouse (although it was called Gabriel's at the time).

So next time we'll take a different approach. Maybe we'll even break out he acoustic guitars for the first set, I don't know.

But, like I said, overall it was a good night.  We're working out the details to get back in there a couple of times before the end of the year and hopefully we'll have those dates pretty soon.

Until next time,

*What's a Big Stupid Ending (BSE)? Oh you know, one of those big 70s rock-show song endings, where you hit the last chord a bunch of times or some such silliness. Think "Black Diamond" from KISS Alive! and you'll get the idea. There are endless variations and I love 'em all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Applebee's, April 20, 2012

...Or Not.

Well, here we go again, another date mix-up. How could this possibly have happened? I don't know. As far as we knew, Friday, April 20th at Applebee's had been confirmed months ago when we sat down with Applebee's manager Paul and booked the next few gigs. But obviously something went wrong somewhere. 

For us, there's really no practical way to get to Applebee's other than straight down IH-35, right through downtown Austin. Which, as we all know, can get pretty backed up at certain times of the day. So in order to minimize the time spent sitting motionless on the highway*, we try to leave as early as possible. Plus, it really helps to get there early enough to miss the dinner crowd -- otherwise we're dragging speakers and drums and things through a restaurant full of people, and that's no good. What usually happens is Bill comes by my house and we caravan down there together (can you call two vehicles a CONVOY? I say YES!), and we have found that the latest we can leave and still avoid the worst of the traffic is about 3:30. I know, 3:30 seems ridiculously early, but leaving at that time makes it about a one-hour drive (a while back we tried leaving at 4:30 and it took us TWO HOURS to get there).

Sean usually isn't able to leave quite as early, so he arrives a bit later, usually right about the time Bill and I have finished moving the majority of the gear inside (thereby earning him the nickname "Frank").

On Friday the 20th, everything was going according to plan. Bill and I left my house about 3:30. Traffic wasn't all that bad (maybe everybody took the day off to witness the unveiling of the new Willie Nelson statue). Everything slowed to a crawl going through downtown, as usual, but the sun was out and I was listening to the Johnny Winter-produced Sonny Terry album Whoopin' (from 1984), so I had no complaints. In fact, we made it to Applebee's in record time: 52 minutes, 30 seconds (yes, I timed it).

When Bill and I walked in, Paul the manager was talking with one of the the other employees, and when he saw us he came over and greeted us with a smile. Paul is a really cool guy and always goes out of his way to be sure we're taken care of. "Hey guys," he said, "what's going on?"
"Workin'," said Bill.
Paul looked a bit puzzled, so I said, "Playing here tonight."
"No, not tonight -- y'all are playing NEXT week," he said.
All I could say was, "You gotta be kidding."

I called Sean as I ran out to retrieve my band calendar.
"Have you left yet?" I asked.
"Well, don't. They've got us down for playing on the 27th and some other band is playing tonight."
"You gotta be kidding,"  he said.

When I got back inside I still had Sean on the phone, so Bill, Paul and I gathered around a table with our calendars. There was ours, with Applebee's clearly marked on April 20th, and there was his, with SUIT clearly marked on April 27th. A different band was listed for the 20th. "Can we get in touch with those guys? Maybe they would be willing to trade," I suggested. Paul explained that trading wasn't really an option, since the other band already had several birthday party reservations and was expecting a very large crowd, so much that he had already lined up extra security for the night.

Playing on the 27th wasn't an option for us, though, since Sean would be out of town that weekend. This is further proof that the mix-up was NOT on our side, since Sean had had those dates blacked out for quite a while. The one clue we have, however, is it turns out that Paul did not book the other band himself (which is rare, he said). Hmm.

To his credit, Paul was VERY apologetic about he whole thing. He said it wouldn't be a problem to find another band to fill the slot, so we shouldn't worry about it. We went ahead and booked Friday, August 17th, but said we would have to get back to him about any other dates.

Bill and I sat at a table on the patio where he finished off a beer while I got out my phone and posted "No Applebee's tonight!" messages on the SUIT and my Facebook pages. Paul had offered us "anything we wanted from the menu on the house," but as we sat there we realized the longer we stayed the more traffic we would have to deal with on the way back, so we set off for home.

What did we learn? That we've got to be more diligent about verifying bookings as the gig date draws closer. This kind of thing has never been a problem in the past, and I suppose we got complacent about doing the follow-up call or email. No more. From now on we promise to double- triple- quadruple-check all the gig dates in the future, to hopefully prevent this from happening again. The thing that really bugs me is the thought that someone would show up somewhere expecting to see us and we're not there. Regardless of whose fault it was for the date confusion, in the end it's us -- the band -- that comes out looking irresponsible.

So please accept our apology for these last couple of gig-date-mix-up situations. We feel truly blessed to not only to have the opportunity to play music we love, but to have folks actually listen, appreciate it and sometimes even pay us to do it. :) Thank you all.

But you wanna know the real bummer? I was all psyched up to play and didn't get to do it!

Until next time,


*A note about traffic: Anytime I catch myself complaining about Austin traffic, I try to remember to keep in perspective and remind myself that it's really not that bad compared to some places I've lived (Houston, Los Angeles) or visited (Boston, New York City).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Roadhouse, April 6, 2012

Oh, What a Day (and night)

Ever since it got booked back in January, we had Friday, April 13th as our next date at The Roadhouse in Round Rock. We had purposely avoided Easter weekend -- Friday the 6th and Saturday the 7th -- because it's always tricky to get much of a turnout on a holiday weekend. Plus, April 6th is Bill's birthday, and even though he likes playing on his birthday, doing a gig is a HUGE amount of work (the setting up and tearing down, equipment loading and unloading part, anyway). And who wants to WORK on their birthday?

So there we were, secure in the knowledge that our next Roadhouse show was on Friday the 13th, when suddenly, about 2:00 PM on Friday afternoon, we found out otherwise. Bill was minding his own business, leisurely getting ready for a quiet family birthday celebration at home, when a friend of his dropped by to borrow a lawn spreader. As he was about to leave with the spreader, the friend said offhandedly, "Lookin' forward to seein' y'all at the club tonight."
"What?" Bill said. "We're not playing there till NEXT Friday."
"Oh no," said the friend, "I just came from there and they've got posters up all over the place about y'all being there tonight."

Bill immediately picked up the phone and called The Roadhouse, who verified -- by checking the entertainment calendars scattered around the club as well as making a call to the owner -- that, yes, SUIT was scheduled to play on April 6th. 

He got hold of Sean fairly easily, but I turned out to be a bit more problematic. You see, on Thursday afternoon, my iPhone took an unexpected and unfortunate tumble from my hand, landing face down on a concrete floor. Turns out iPhones don't like that very much. In fact, it pretty much killed it. Of course, I looked online and tried all the various solutions I could find, but none of them worked. I got to the Apple Store as soon as I could, but since I didn't want to spend Thursday evening waiting around for them to see me, I made an appointment to come back at 1:00 on Friday. You see where this is going, right? So somewhere around 2:45, when I finally had a working phone again (they couldn't fix the old one so they ended up selling me a replacement at a reduced price), I happened to look at it and saw that I had a whole list of missed calls, voice mails and text messages. For the past 45 minutes or so Sean and Bill had been trying to get in touch with me but my phone was broken, leaving me completely oblivious to the situation. Just as I was in the process of retrieving one of the voice mails, my phone rang again. It was Sean: "We've got a problem."

He proceeded to fill me in on what was going on, and since now all three of us were up to speed, we agreed that the best plan was to drop whatever we were doing and get to The Roadhouse as soon as possible. The normal plan for this particular venue would be to arrive at the club at about 2:00, which not only allows us plenty of time to get everything set up and tweak the sound system, but gives everybody a chance to go home, eat a proper meal, rest or do whatever for a little while, then come back and be ready to play at 7:30. Now here it was almost 3:00 and we hadn't loaded a single piece of gear. We didn't even have a setlist made! (And I HATE repeating a setlist.)

Bill got his stuff ready and headed over to The Roadhouse. Sean got on Facebook, changed the event date, posted it on our wall and sent a bunch of invites, thew his stuff in his car and did the same. I got home as soon as soon as I could, slammed everything in the truck as fast as possible, then got on the computer, where I sent some more Facebook invites and posted yet another notice to the SUIT wall as well as my personal page. I also composed and sent out all the email invites to everyone on our email list in -- for me, anyway -- record time. Normally I agonize over the details of the email letter until I feel it's "just right," but there was no time for that now. So I did the best I could given the circumstances and hit send, but I noticed after the fact that I had committed a typo: instead of The Roadhouse" it read "he Roadhouse." Oh well, I guess at least I got the dates and times right.

By the time I arrived at about 4:30, Bill and Sean were already inside. The next two hours or so were a frenzy of setting up and trying to get everything adjusted. With all the hard, sound-reflective surfaces in a place like The Roadhouse, getting the sound right can be a bit tricky, so there's a considerable amount of time spent ferreting out and getting rid of all sorts of unwanted audio anomalies. Plus, in our haste, we (okay, I) overlooked a couple of buttons that were set wrong, sending us on a wild goose chase for a while. By 7:00 we had everything worked out as best we could, but we still didn't have a setlist. Bill needed to sit down a get some rest if he could, so Sean and I grabbed Sharpies, leftover copies of last week's setlist (from Junior's on March 31st), and went to work. We ended up just making a few small adjustments. That left just enough time to change clothes, tune guitars and use the rest room before the 7:30 start time.

There was just one problem: apart from the three of us and the bartender, there were about six people in the whole building.

So what do you do? You play anyway. Play like you're playing to a packed house (just try not to notice the deafening silence and the end of the song).

But very slowly, little by little, more people started to trickle in. It never got to the level of "packed house," but we ended up with enough people to fill up a few more seats and make some noise at the end of the songs. We even had some dancers, as well as contributors to the Tip-Toon (in case you're not familiar with it, our tip jar is an old spittoon that Sean dubbed the "Tip-Toon").

Frank Calcagni and his wife Jan came to see us for a little while, too. Frank got up and played a couple of songs with us, which is always fun for me because it's like an "original three-piece Rhythm Dawg reunion." We did "Howlin' at the Wrong Moon" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" just like the old days. Also, since Frank has been taking care of our booking with The Roadhouse (and we are VERY appreciative of this), he was just as surprised as were were about the date change. He had also been in contact with the owner, and it became clear that it was neither he nor us that mixed up the date. It's important that the owner understands this, therefore shifting the blame away from us (and Frank) for the club having such a slow night. We could have had a much better turnout if we had had more than four hours to promote the gig.

But, in the end, I would say we pulled it off. No, we didn't pack the place, but we started and stopped on time and put on a professional show. The people that WERE there seemed to be having a good time, and I think we played pretty well. No major train wrecks that I can think of, anyway.

The amazing thing, really, is that all three of us were "findable" at all. By some chance alignment of the stars, we found out about the date change in time and everybody was available. It could have very easily gone another way.

And so that's the story. A little long, but, well, you know. Some stories are like that.