Monday, December 2, 2013

Have a Cigar (Part 2)

While producing the aforementioned GigaPan project (see Part 1), I noticed a poster for an upcoming show:

All of this brings me to a Saturday night in early October. I sit in a crowded Speal’s with a standard beverage, listening to Shane Speal crank out anything from “When the Levee Breaks” to   “ Back in the New York Groove.” Shane was armed with nothing more than a three-stringed cigar box guitar and a Vox turned up to eleven. He is the first of three scheduled acts, all featuring this same powerfully simple instrument. I am hoping to make it to the headliner, April Mae and the June Bugs, as unique and playful as the starring instrument that brought me here in the first place. If their sound can be summed up, this quote from their web site comes closest:

“Americana under the influence of Jump Blues, Swing, & Rockabilly...Ba--ba--ba - Boogie! With a dab of N’awlins for extra spice! Smoke & honey vocals, Cigar Box Guitar, Upright Bass, Banjo, Washboard...servin’ up high energy & deep vintage vibes is our specialty. Roots Baby Roots!”

I was hanging in there in my wait for April Mae and company, even though it was starting to look like a long night. The second act proved more impressive than I had expected. Gerry Thompson’s Killing Aunt Grace played more sophisticated music than Shane’s “field calls and hollers.” It was called dark folk and was played by two men. Gerry could play Santa without much help, wearing a Ramones t-shirt that was slightly obscured by his full grey beard. The crowd thinned out a bit during his set, another indication that his style may have strayed too far from what the audience came to hear.

While I took in the offbeat tunes served up by Gerry and Carl, June Bugs guitarist Dave “Catfish” Fecca sat down at my table for two. He and April Mae were also taking in the other artists. He was even helping Gerry with his sound levels at times. We exchanged contact information, and I told him I’d let the band know when I posted my blog about this night and the Tavern.

I made a note to also let them know when I post the “Band:Smart” series. They may welcome the samplings of free advice.

April Mae also stopped by to chat. "Personable" as a descriptor does not do her justice. She was immediately warm and cordial, taking my hand as we talked and looking me in the eye with interest in my project. She was sincerely happy to spend some time talking with those who had come such little distance to see a band that had traveled six hours in a modest, converted school bus to play at this modest, converted venue. I couldn’t help but become a fan and supporter as we talked. The band’s second release, “It’s All About the Boogie” (see above), will just plain make you smile.

See them perform and get to know them here.
When they took the stage, all of that authentic love of what they were doing was evident. Dave went through a variety of instruments, including electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and—of course—the cigar box guitar. April Mae crooned signature songs and even a Memphis Minnie number in an earthy style while slapping and tapping her washboard with metal-tipped evening gloves. If you ever get the chance to see this band perform, I guarantee an unusual and fun time.

Four songs into the band’s set, it became clear to me why this place, which can’t be a big money-making enterprise, has endured for generations of Speals. I watched the patriarchal owner, Dan, take in the show while simultaneously socializing with any and all who stopped by to say hello. This is his life, four nights a week. If it is a financial break even, he is miles ahead in his living. 

(Next Week: "Smoke on the Water")

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