Tag Archives: Elgin

Bicycling in the country, great way to spend Easter Sunday

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Nothing like a bit of nature to help you get your head together. I spent a couple of hours bicycling in the countryside outside Elgin, Texas and except for the sore muscles and sore tail, it was a very pleasant way to spend Easter Sunday.

Not that it was all that “natural.” I saw transmission power lines and a gravel pit, was passed by the occasional car or truck and could just hear traffic whizzing by on U.S. 290. Got chased by a few dogs. But I saw some gorgeous wildflowers and could hear the birds, including a woodpecker tapping away. And best of all, I could hear myself think.

I’m still out of shape – living in the Sausage Capital of Texas for two years hasn’t helped my waistline – but I’m working on it. I love riding, though I am not and never have been “competitive.” I still enjoy it, exhausted as I may be. Riding downhill almost makes struggling uphill worth it. Dat breeze.

I didn’t find a good song for Easter this year (Here’s what I posted in 2010, in 2011, and here’s a Good Friday song by Fairouz you must hear if you never have), so I’ll leave you with this:

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John Pointer entertains fans & patrons with funny song about hookers

I respect a twisted sense of humor almost as much as I do musical talent. I saw John Pointer for the second time last Thursday at Quoffer’s in Elgin, Texas and he had both of those qualities on full display. He put on a great show, just like the first time I saw him. He showed off his unconventional guitar picking technique, his sense of ryhthm and his beatboxing talent.

He sang his awesome version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” originals like “Abraham’s Disciple” (at my request — it’s my favorite Pointer song so far) and “Annalisa.” But as he predicted, the most memorable song of the night was the one he wrote earlier that day, a hilarious song with a jaunty melody that sounded like something you might hear on Sesame Street except for the lyrics: “These Are the Hookers I Know.”

The song has been playing in my head ever since. Some of the parts I remember: “These are the hookers I know, watch ’em walk up and down to and fro on the corner, slingin’ ass aplenty. You may ask yourself, why does he know so many? Well I don’t know, but there’s Anna, she can take a banana, turn it into a split, you won’t believe that shit. Then there’s Florence, she used to be Lawrence, he had a sex change — I think it went pretty well. Not like Sandy, who used to be Andy. It didn’t go so well. But at least she’s freaky.” And lots of other verses along those lines. That’s the kind of song he can riff on endlessly and throw in a new hooker and a new verse at every show.

That might be enough to get me to sign up as a John Pointer patron at Patronism.com. At least two people at Thursday night’s concert already have. They knew his back catalog like the backs of their hands. It was amazing.

As I said in my last post, Pointer has come up with a model for compensating artists that might just save music (and might be yet another nail in the coffin of the music industry). It’s basically a return to the patronage system that supported great artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance. Instead of buying a product like a CD or a T-shirt, you become a patron (starts as low as $2 per month) and get access to whatever the musician creates and shares. It’s about building relationships rather than buying and selling.

Check out my interview from last month where Pointer talked about Patronism. And read more about the concept at Patronism.com.

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Chubby Knuckle Choir – upcoming shows

Just got an update from my new faves, the Chubby Knuckle Choir, about upcoming shows (I’m on the mailing list). If you’re lucky enough to live in Central Texas you might be able to catch them.

They’ll be at Quoffer’s Pub tomorrow night, June 23, starting at 8:30 p.m. No cover. I have to cover something for the paper, but I’ll try to catch at least part of that show.

Friday, June 24, the Choir will be in San Marcos for the Cheatham Street’s annual Bigfest. Bigfest will raise money for the Cheatham Street Foundation. Other bands performing include: Tournpike Troubadours, Kyle Park, Jamie Richards, James Lann, Jason Allen, John Evans, Greezy Wheels, The McKay Brothers, Doug Moreland, Red Volkaert, Big John Mills, and more.  (I won’t make it – Western Days in Elgin will be getting under way.)

Saturday night, June 25, the Choir will peform for the first time at Floores Country Store in Helotes, startng at 9 p.m., followed by Scott Wiggins.

Wednesday, June 29, the Choir will be at Billy’s Ice House in New Braunfels, starting at 9 p.m. No cover.

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John Pointer plays in Elgin and talks about Patronism – an idea that could save music


John Pointer is a talented songwriter, guitar player and beatboxer. He also has an idea that just might save music.

When Quoffer’s manager Kevin Smith dropped by the office last Thursday, June 9, saying “The Great John Pointer is playing in my bar tonight!” My first thought was “John who?” Then I remembered John Pointer’s interview on KOOP 91.7 FM about his “crowd-sourcing” website for musicians called Patronism. And the amazing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” I had been wanting to get hold of him for a couple of months so I could write about him. Now here he was, about to perform in a pub just a few doors down from where I work. It was like fate.

I was glad I went. John Pointer the musician put on a hell of a show. John Pointer the idea man was also pretty inspiring.

First, the show…

Pointer has some unusual techniques. He stands on a wooden box that he stamps on for rhythm. He has a percussive guitar playing style — he recently had had his guitar reinforced to keep it from cracking. He also picks with both hands on the neck. Very unique. I’ve never seen anyone play like that. He performed with confidence and humor, teasing and joshing with the audience.

My favorite song of the night was “Abraham’s Disciple,” a fierce song about religion-inspired violence. “I don’t care what you’re teaching Brother, I’m gonna study war…” He also sang some beautiful more delicate-sounding songs like “Annalisa,” a song inspired by Portland songwriter Annalisa Tornfelt; and “Sleep Well,” a song he wrote to comfort his terminally ill father.

His take on “Kashmir” was pretty awesome as well. There was some unwelcome competition from some basketball fans at the bar who wanted to make it known as loudly as they could that they came for the game, but he handled it gracefully, making a joke out of their outbursts rather than going off on them (like they would’ve deserved, frankly). “Please hold your applause…. Let’s see him do this.”

His cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” impressed me as did his version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggety.”

Pointer gave some great beatbox performances (including, after much begging from a fan, a pastiche of Chili’s ‘Babyback ribs’ commercial) and even taught the audience how to get started beatboxing: Repeat “Mississippi, Mississippi, Mississippi, Pississippi, Pississippi, Pississippi, etc.” (Just the basics. To get as good as he is takes 30 years of practice.)

The beatboxing was popular and he got a lot of audience participation. “James Brown rules: When I say ‘Ain’t it funky?’ say ‘Yeah!'”

John Pointer the Musician

John has been playing music since he was 5, starting out on the piano. He learned to play cello using the Suzuki Method, learning to play percussion and then guitar at age 12. Back then his heroes were guitarists like Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour and Joe Satriani. When he was studying music at the University of Texas in Austin, where he got a degree in cello performance and composition, he found that “nobody wanted to hear shredders.”

His uncle gave him a Stratocaster and he began playing the blues, like Austin folks wanted to hear. He began playing with guitarist and singer/songwriter Michael Hedges. Then he played cello with a group called Woodwork featuring guitar virtuosos David Lee Hess and Chris Downey. He credits Hess and Downey as major influences on his guitar style. “They still perform occasionally as Seahorse,” he said. “They’re so good they can’t find their audience. I’m nowhere near as good as they are on guitar. They do it more precisely. I’m a bull in a china shop.”

Pointer got into beatboxing and performed with Schrödinger’s Cat – Big Beat A Capella. It was with that group that he got the idea to perform atop a percussion box.

He has had success in the theater. He recently performed in Rent at the Zach Scott Theatre.

Patronism

Patronism is a subscription-based company that allows fans — or patrons — to subscribe to artists they love. In exchange for subscribing, a patron gets access to all kinds of creative content. That could include downloadable songs, videos, guitar tabs, or lyric sheets — whatever the artist decides. “The idea is to get the patron actively involved in the creative process,” said Pointer. “It will stabilize the artists income so they can keep creating.”

Pointer wants musicians to get out of the album/T-shirt/CD-selling business and devote more time to their art. “I don’t release CDs anymore,” he said. “They’re pretty worthless.” The subscription system on the other hand, allows artists to partner with fans so they can keep making music. “You have to be a musician to understand how radical this change is.”

Pointer is confident his way is the way of the future. “This is going to sink the rest of the music industry, or what’s left of it. But it will save music. In three years I’ll be known as the one who changed music. I’m not making any money, I’m just making sure musicians can keep making music.”

Patronism went live in September and is still in beta, but it has already gained attention from the media. It was a semi-finalist in the Harvard Business School and Berklee College of Music Business Model Competition and has been has been written up by numerous publications, including Time, Hypebot and Wired Magazine.

Patronism is different from Kickstarter, a “crowdsourcing” website that helps people fund projects such as album releases. Kickstarter projects have a definite beginning and end. Patronism is ongoing. “We don’t ‘kickstart’ projects,” Pointer said. “What we do is keep the engine running.”

The website uses a “pay what you feel” model, similar to the one Radiohead used to sell downloads of In Rainbows in 2007. “It’s more like a fan club with lots of content,” Pointer said. “An artist could have special shows for patrons, for example. Music is not a commodity. It should be shared by people who are most moved by it and want to ensure it’s survival.”

If John Pointer’s Patronism saves music it will be ironic, because it’s actually a very old concept. Pointer sees the current “record deal” model as an aberration, something that’s only been around for 100 years. “The future of music is ancient history. We would not have had the Rennaissance without the Medicis. Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Boticelli – they were all supported by the Medici family.”

Musicians are accepted based on talent and ability to use the web. “We are curating it one band at a time,” said Pointer. “They have to be compelling and be able to communicate online. If we deny a band, we have an incubator program. We’ll help them grow their e-mail list.”

Pointer has two business partners: Dave Kuster and Michael Torkildsen. Right now, they are working in the U.S. only, but they plan to take it worldwide.

There are two types of music fans according to Pointer:

1. Super-fans or “patrons.” These are the people who are moved by music and find value in it and are willing to support it. They actually have a relationship with the music and the musicians that produce it.

2. Consumers. These just want to be “fed” or entertained. Music might be fun, but it’s not that important, worth downloading maybe, but not worth paying for.  (“To the people who just want everything I do for free, I say fuck them, because that’s what they’re saying to me. I practiced for 32 years to learn how to do this. But if you value what I do, I’ll give it to you.”)

Let’s hope there are enough people in the first category to make Patronism and companies like it successful.

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The Chubby Knuckle Choir: roots music from a country that never existed – but should have

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Ever mix foods that don’t sound like they should go together and find out they really really do? Like peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwiches? Sounded weird at first, but trust me, it’s a combination that was meant to be.

I recently discovered a musical example: The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a band with a funny name and an even stranger combination of styles, with members from Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Elgin, Waco and Liberty Hill.

It’s almost impossible to pin down their sound. Americana doesn’t quite do it. Blues, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, Cajun, R&B, funk… They’re all part of the mix. It’s such a weird combination of styles, but it sounds rootsy and natural, like folk music from a country that never was, but should’ve been.

The band has five members: Rory Smith of Elgin on vocals and percussion; Perry Lowe of Bastrop on percussion; Tres Womack of Waco (formerly of Bastrop) on guitar and vocals; Slim Bawb Pearce of Cedar Creek (by way of Sacramento, California) on mandolin and other stringed instruments and vocals and Dave Gould of Liberty Hill on string bass.

The percussion is a bit unusual, with Rory pounding on congas, scratching on a frottoir (rub board) and at times a Jew’s harp given to him by his Swedish mother-in-law. Perry plays a Brazilian box drum known as a cajón (that doubles as his chair) and an African drum called a djembe.

Each member brings something into the mix — styles, instruments and songs. Tres adds a country music flavor. Slim Bawb adds Louisiana and bluegrass influences (although he’s from California). Rory and Perry contribute R&B, funk and soul. Dave Gould, who also plays in the Watts Brothers Band, brings his skill on the bass fiddle.

“People compare us to the Gourds, but I think we’re more unique,” said Tres, who helped kick start the band. He hosted  an open mic night that featured Rory and a CD release party where both Rory and Perry turned up to sing harmony. They enjoyed working together so much a musical relationship was born. In time they picked up Slim Bawb Pearce and Curtis Farley (the previous bass player).

“Tres, Rory and Perry had been playing together for a while and they needed a picker,” said Slim Bawb. “I played some slide mandolin and we meshed really quickly. It’s fun to play in this band. We have a lot of harmonies and you never know what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of improvising going on.”

Slim Bawb moved to Cedar Creek from Sacramento five years ago. Before he became a transplanted Texan, he spent 20 years with a group called the Beer Dawgs, which was inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

Curtis, who owns Twisted Twig Studio, is still involved with the band on the production end. He came up with the name Chubby Knuckle Choir while poking fun at the musicians’ middle age spare tires and chubby hands. The musicians were having a jam session and singing harmonies. “Curtis was picking on us and said ‘y’all look like a chubby knuckle choir’ and the name stuck,” Rory said.

Rory and Perry chose their percussion instruments for two reasons: 1) their cars weren’t big enough to hold trap sets and 2) they provide rhythm without overwhelming the vocals.

Tres also liked the idea of using those instruments to make the band’s sound more unique, and offset his strong country influence. The frottoir was a nod to Slim Bawb’s Cajun influence.

“What makes it work is we all like each other,” Rory said.

The Chubby Knuckle Choir has had its share of local success, performing at South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They have also opened for Austin musician Guy Forsyth, former member of the Asylum Street Spankers at Nutty Brown Café outside of Dripping Springs.

Most of the time they perform at the Lumberyard in downtown Bastrop or in Quoffer’s in Elgin, but they also play in other venues around the state and are slated to play in Elgin’s Hogeye Festival next October.

They are not trying to become a national act — although they are open to possibilities if they somehow strike it big. “We’re all at that age where we have responsibilities,” Rory said. “Perry has a couple of toddlers. If we get a following that’s great, but  it’s not on the agenda. We just love what we do.”

The band is working on songs for the debut studio album, which should be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can buy CDs of their 11-track album “Live at the Lumberyard” for $10. E-mail rolow86@yahoo.com.

The Chubby Knuckle Choir’s next show is at the Lumberyard is 8 p.m. Friday, June 10. The band will perform at Quoffer’s at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23.

This one may be my favorite:

Ethylene

These are quite impressive as well:

Herville

It’s Always Something

The Live Experience

I caught the tail end of one of their shows at Quoffer’s bar in Elgin and went to see them again a few weeks ago in Bastrop in a really cool venue called the Lumberyard (it actually used to BE a lumberyard).

The audience was a mix of old and young who from time to time got up and danced. The band obviously a small but dedicated following (that recently grew by one).

Their set list featured some great original songs, along with some inspired covers. “Freakshow,” “It’s Always Something” “Farmer’s Tan” and “Ethylene” were among my favorite originals.

They did excellent covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the gospel standard “Jesus on the Mainline” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Venue owner Jeff Brister joined the band on trumpet during “Ya Ya.”

Another highlight was Storytelling, a band tradition. Band members take turns telling stories from one concert to the next. The stories are supposed to be true. Rory told one about raccoons taking up residence in his attic.

Every story ends with “and I heard a song on the radio,” followed by a cover song. The one that night was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Never expected to hear a bluegrass version of that, but it really worked.

Very entertaining live show. I’ve been looking for a band to fill the empty place in my soul left by the breakup of the Asylum Street Spankers and I may have finally found it – right in my back yard.

Check out The Chubby Knuckle Choir Reverbnation page for announcements of upcoming shows.

And here’s a sample of their live performance:

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Coming soon: country blues, gospel music feature and an ‘angelic’ interview

Not necessarily in that order… Lots of good stuff coming up. It’s going to take me a while to digest it and put it together.

Just got through interviewing Monte Thomas of the Elgin, Texas gospel group the Thomas Family, I love the music I’ve heard from them so far. I’m working on a story for the local paper and I’ll blog them and put up some downloadable mp3s (with permission).

Tonight, I’m going to see a group called The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a group that has members from Elgin and Bastrop. I’ll be writing them up for the paper and this blog in the near future. I’ve heard a little of their music before, and I can’t describe it easily. Kind of a rootsy mixture of blues and country and maybe a bit of funk?

Then Sunday morning, I’m going to the Mt. Vernon-Zion AME Church to take a picture of the Thomas Family performing. That ought to be quite a segue from Saturday night.

I’ve also been editing an interview with Joanne Gabriel aka Caterwauler, one of my favorites from the old days at T61.

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Wore shorts to the opera last night (and nobody cared)

FAVA singers Patrick Russell, Hasmig Aroian, Julia Hamon and Sawyer Sellers perform 'School for Husbands' (photo by Katie Hayes Luke)

I had a really neat musical experience last night, as the Franco-American Vocal Academy (FAVA) put on an operetta called “A School for Husbands” (an English language version of Jacques Offenbach’s Le mari à la porte) in the auditorium of the old high school building in Elgin, Texas. The music was beautiful. The young singers and the pianist who accompanied them were very impressive.

The story, in a nutshell: A bride gets mad at her husband on their wedding night and locks him out of the bedroom. As she commiserates with her friend, they discover a young composer who has fallen down the chimney and an awkward situation ensues as they try to get rid of him before the groom discovers him.

I am extremely proud of Elgin for packing the auditorium — and I’m proud of FAVA for hosting the free event and introducing their art to the community. Elgin, Texas is close to Austin. A lot of folks live here and work there. But in many ways it’s still a rural town. The kind of place that loves barbecue, country music, high school sporting events. It’s just a good solid Texas town.

Something like the opera can be intimidating for small towns. Years ago I was in a small town in West Texas and some folks put on a Christmas pops concert. It was sparsely attended because a false rumor spread around that suits and ties were required and it was a blue jeans and boots kind of place. That was sad, because it was actually light-hearted and fun and they would’ve loved it.

Elgin is very fortunate to have one of three FAVA schools for professional opera singers. The other two are in France and Austria. Since William Lewis and his wife Frederique Added (both talented singers in their own right) moved to Elgin and opened their school in an old bed and breakfast, they have done a great job of making opera music inviting to people who might not have experienced much of it. They want to develop a community of people who love their music, and based on the attendance last night, I think they’re on the right track.

It’s the same philosophy I have with this blog. I don’t go around saying, “I’m into [fill in underground music group], but of course you wouldn’t have heard of it.” I say, “Give this a try, you might like it!” I’m all about winning musical converts, not bragging about my taste in music.

I couldn’t find a video of the artists performing “A School for Husbands,” but here is a video of an Offenbach piece FAVA performed in Paris:

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