Monday, January 20, 2014

Austin's Institutions on Congress Ave. (11/9/13)

Stevie Ray's vigil over FFF Fest
“Fun Fun Fun Fest” is a stupid name. Sorry. It just is. The event is epic for a metro-specific, Bonnaroo kind of event, but it needs a new brand. I happened to be in Austin the same weekend, for nothing more than a visit with good friends and some local music and Texas grub. I was looking forward to catching a show at either one of two venues that had been recommended to me by local indie music hero. I didn't attend the fest, save for taking a walk around the periphery as part of a Friday afternoon exercise session. It wasn't the name, but my prearranged itinerary and $79 daily ticket price that kept me on the beyond the fences enveloping of the festivities.

State capitol from South Congress
Austin is probably best linked to the PBS show recorded there and consequent Austin City Limits festival. South By Southwest is also a big deal, but it’s not the institution that ACL is. Institutions are interesting entities, and some are less recognized, but no less important to a Music Mecca such as this. Happily I experienced three others worth my time and yours.

The Continental Club's bar
On evening number two of the FFF Fest, my host and I ventured onto South Congress Avenue. The view of the state capital is worth the hike, but we were here for a good Tex Mex dinner at Guerro’s and some blues and the Continental Club. The Continental was one of the two places recommended to me by native musician Lincoln Durham, whom I had the pleasure to hear and meet back home the week before. The club is located in the heart of the thoroughfare’s evening buzz of clubs, bars, and curious shops with names like "Lucy in Disguise" (a costume shop, of course). The Continental Club has been a fixture since 1955—so it says on the t-shirt I bought. The Continental has a small, but well-stocked and visually busy bar on the left wall. There's a poolroom in the back that we didn't feel comfortable loitering in and a gallery upstairs that I didn't even get to.

The Blues Specialists
I was forced in place by the crowd and the music eminating from a stage the size of my office. The loud and seasoned tunes were delivered with all the authenticity of an old mule. The Blues Specialists are a fixture at the Continental, to the tune of standing Friday night set, 20 years running—a long time, yet a little less than half of the Club’s existence. Mel Davis and company (seemingly minus one player) blew through a authentic $200 a night set of Texas blues with all the seasoning you’d expect from such a tenured band. Nothing fancy, just raw and real—like the club. We stayed through the set, but decided to skip the featured act, Junior Brown. In hindsight, that may have been a tactical error (check the link to see what I mean).

Tips are always appreciated & usually deserved
Most cities that nurture independent music, like Seattle, New York, Madison, and others are populated with street musicians. These alfresco entertainers earn amounts commensurate with the “feel good” aura they project as much as their talent. They usually work day jobs to support themselves, and dream of being discovered by a producer who just happens to walk by and connects with them. Lack of A List level chops is almost always overshadowed by the genuine passion these minimum wage maestros have for performing. I admire the guts they have to have the antithesis of a captive audience. I'm always willing to pause and give a listen and fund their efforts, if only for a couple minutes and at least for a couple bucks. I didn’t catch their names. One rarely does.

Maybe years from now, some of these same folks will find the way to the "FunX3" Fest. By then, perhaps the event will have become another Austin institution. I just hope they change the name.

Next week: "The Town that Time Forgot"

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