Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hurtin' but Happy, Jon Dee Returns to the Continental

A few people may have thought it wouldn't happen at all, at least early-on, when the grim reports first trickled in. Almost no one thought it would happen this soon.

But Wed. night, a month and two days after a car crash nearly killed Jon Dee Graham, he reclaimed his place on the stage at the Continental Club. Michael Hoinski was there for the Austin American-Statesman, and interviewed Graham before the show.

"Something Wonderful," the set opener, fixed the tone for the evening. This performance, against medical advice, would be both celebratory and therapeutic. Graham has often called the Continental Club his "home office," and frequently speaks of the Wed. night gigs as something transcendent and necessary in his life.

Jon Dee followed-up with "Big Sweet Life" before taking a break to talk to the fans who packed the room.

"There are some rumors floating around," he said. "First of all, I'm not dead ..."

It was a close thing, though. At least three broken ribs (one of which is still "flopping around in there,") cracked vertebra and a ruptured spleen. They're the kind of injuries that keep people from walking, much less pacing a stage and slinging a guitar.

"I have a new lease on life, and I intend to fix some things," Graham said. "Though you may not all like some of what I'm gonna do."

Then -- and we figured it was probably coming -- Graham launched into a song that is clearly less than 30 days old: "Anyone else would have laid down and died/Me? I'm just busted up inside," he sang about his near-death experience.

"Pharmacologically speaking, I've got about 32 minutes left," he joked with the crowd, before launching into another of his relatively new songs.

Next up, "Burning off the Cane," a smoky-sweet remembrance of his childhood on the Rio Grande, then "Not Beautifully Broken," an early 2008 debut that has quickly become an audience favorite.

Before that last song, Jon Dee turned to face his drummer, and -- hunched over -- grimaced in pain. It's doubtful that many in the audience saw it, but the weariness etched in Jon Dee's face as he called for longtime friend Jesse Sublett a few minutes later was obvious.

Graham told the audience about Sublett's daily visits since the accident. "He said, 'Man, if you need someone to spell you ...'," Graham recalled, turning to Sublett. "I need someone to spell me now."

Jon Dee was, he said, off to "chew some OxyContin." It's that kind of pain.

Turning over his gold Strat to the Skunks bassist, Graham disappeared into the Continental's green room. Sublett sang two of his own songs, followed by frequent Graham guest Ben Todd, who gave the audience a lovely, downbeat rendition of "Swept Away."

"You know, it's true that if you chew pain pills, the work a lot faster," Graham joked as he retook the stage. Next up was an extended version of the songwriter's new murder ballad, "How Do You Like Me Now?" followed by what has become Jon Dee's traditional closer, Dan Stuart's (Green on Red) "Muhammad Ali" -- a song about beating the odds, and a call for hope.

It was a short set, for Jon Dee. Short and very, very sweet. He'll be at the Saxon Pub Saturday

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Music and more

The summer sure has flown by. Tam and I returned last week from a six-day Pacific Northwest tour, which she has written about for (look for the article next weekend).

I'll post a blog about it shortly. School starts for Austin kiddos next week ... Patrick's looking forward to the 4th grade after discovering a couple of his best friends will be in his class this year.

The words around Abilene Trail this month are moths and snakes.

As many of you may know, my all-time favorite songwriter and friend Jon Dee Graham (site, MySpace) was involved in a terrible car accident at the end of July. Word is he's recovering well, if painfully, and he'll be back at the Continental Club this coming Wednesday. Come on out and show your love -- it should be a great show.

It may, however, be a different show. One of the outcomes of the accident (other than huge hospital bills and the loss of Jon Dee's Volvo -- see Greg Garrett's blog entry if you'd like to help) is that Graham had his spleen removed.

Medically, it's sort of a big deal; but the body adapts and, in fact, there's a statistically significant number of folks walking around sans spleen. My concern is what it will mean for the man's songwriting and performances:

According to Wikipedia:

In French, spleen refers to a state of pensive sadness or melancholy ... In German, the word "spleen", pronounced as in English, refers to a persisting somewhat eccentric (but not quite lunatic) idea or habit of a person .... In modern English, "to vent one's spleen" means to vent one's anger, e.g. by shouting, and can be applied to both males and females; similarly, the English term "splenetic" is used to describe a person in a foul mood.

Jon Dee Graham without a spleen ... is it the end of the hugging booth? Come to the show and find out.

If you can't make it out to the Continental Club for the comeback show, there's always the next Wednesday, and the next ... and Saturday, Aug. 31, Jon Dee will play an 11 p.m. show at the Saxon Pub.

Last night, a happy hour drink with a colleague at my favorite neighborhood bar turned into a few drinks with friends Valerie Fremin (rock photographer: MySpace) and Will T. Massey (rock star: site, MySpace).

Bonus: we got to hear porterdavis (site, MySpace). I knew Mike Meadows (site, MySpace), the band's percussionist, from his gigs with Will T., but I'd never heard the whole band together. Wow. They're really great. A whole lot of sound from a box, some bells, a mouth harp and one six-string guitar.

Catch porterdavis at Tyler Junior College, 8 p.m., Aug. 26, at Schreiner University in Kerrville, 5 p.m. Aug. 27, at Lorraine's in Marble Falls Aug. 29 (9 p.m.), at the Corner Pub in Conroe Sept. 4 (9 p.m.), at the Blues Boot Camp in Dallas Sept. 27 ... and finally, back in Austin at the Saxon Oct. 11.

Speaking of Will T. Massey, his spanking-new album, Wayward Lady, comes out Sept. 9. It's a bold return to folk music roots with political and social commentary and comes with a pretty astonishing backstory.

James McMurtry (site, MySpace) may be pissed-off by what's going on in this country, Will T. is heartbroken. Catch the CD release shows at Flipnotics (Barton Springs Rd.) Sat., Sept. 6 at 11 p.m., at the Opening Bell in Dallas Sept. 13 or Threadgill's North in Austin Friday, Sept. 19.

For you Coastal Benders reading this, you should know that Austin's favorite redhead, Idgy Vaughn (site, MySpace), is playing the Third Coast Theater in Port A tonight with Will Sexton (Sexton also plays on Will T.'s new album). Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets are $15 (and worth it, in my opinion).

Then she's on the road for a while, with a stop in Rhode Island at the Common Fence Music Concert Series in Portsmouth Sept. 27. She plays Austin next Oct. 7 at Waterloo Icehouse, and Oct. 17 at the Cactus Cafe

Speaking of the Cactus Cafe, Ari Hest (site, MySpace) will be there Tues., Sept. 2; Guy Clark (site, MySpace) with Ramblin' Jack Elliott Sept. 18; Lil' Cap'n Travis (site) on the 19th and Jimmy LaFave (site, MySpace) Sept. 27. October brings Carrie Rodriguez (site, MySpace) back home for two nights, Oct. 23 and 24. Carrie has a new album out and it's pretty terrific.

David Wilcox (he had just landed his A&M recording deal when I booked him at UD's Rathskeller back in ... oh, 1989?) (site, MySpace) will be at the Cactus Oct. 29. Wilcox is playing some protest songs these days as well. To round-out the month there, Dar Williams (site, MySpace) and Shawn Mullins (site, MySpace) will play the Cactus Oct. 30. Finally, Nov. 8, Dah-Veed Garza (site, MySpace) plays two shows at the Cactus, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Phew!

Back at the Saxon on South Lamar, Matt the Electrician (site, MySpace) continues to play the 7 p.m. show Monday nights, ahead of Bob Schneider (site, MySpace). Tuesdays are Bruce Hughes (MySpace) at 10 p.m. with some edgy, world-class funk-inspired pop. Through August, the Band of Heathens (site) have been playing the 8 p.m. show at the Saxon, ahead of Bruce. It would be cool if that continues.

Speaking of Matt, he'll be playing the eighth Wyldwood show of the season with buddy Southpaw Jones (site, MySpace). Come on out and groove and laugh under the stars in Amy and Andrew's HUGE back yard. S'mores at intermission, kids welcome (and they get in free).

In the miscellaneous category, Martin Sexton (site, MySpace) will be at the Handlebar in Greenville, SC, Oct. 15, at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta Oct. 17 and at Antone's right here in Austin Oct. 19. He'll also be at Seattle's Town Hall Oct. 25.

The Mother Truckers (site, MySpace) are still burning up the road on their Let's All go to Bed tour. I bet Josh and Teal's dog, Ajax, really misses them. They'll be back in Austin at the Continental Club Oct. 4 and at Threadgill's Oct. 25. They'll be in Portland, Ore., at Berbati's Pan Nov. 21.

Finally, check out M&S Artist Development's free happy hour shows. Mark and Sarah rep Joel Guzman and Sarah Fox (site, MySpace), No Show Ponies (site, MySpace), Shawn Nelson (site, MySpace) and more.

That should be enough to keep everyone's ears happy for a while. I'm sure I'm missing some really good stuff, but I promise the shows mentioned here don't suck!

If you're not fortunate enough to live in Austin ... if you live, say, on the Olympic Peninsula but are planning to visit Austin soon, check out some of the links and get a preview of what you might hear when you get here.

Even if you're not planning on visiting Austin anytime soon, check the artists' individual schedules; Austin musicians travel, maybe they're coming to a venue near you.

Monday, August 04, 2008


When I think of my brother John, one word that repeatedly comes to mind is "intrepid." He's a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy: tow a buddy's truck out of the mud? Sure. Rebuild a marine diesel transmission? Why not? Get in a meth lab operator's face and then take him to jail? Done that.

One thing I really didn't expect him to try his hand at is history. History, after all, is what our sister does with that fancy master's degree from New York University.

We're a family of amateurs, though -- amateur paleontologists, amateur marine biologists, amateur literary critics, amateur botanists and amateur rock-and-roll reporters, to name a few of our avocations.

Now my brother can add amateur historian to that list.

There is, in Redfish Bay, a crescent of sand and shell less than a mile from Hampton's Landing marina in Aransas Pass. I know it as a pretty good place to fish, especially in winter when the protected inside waters are gin-clear and trout lurk in the deep seagrass beds.

John was more interested in the old shellcrete and cement ruins on the island, many now crumbling into the bay on the seaward side. Initial explorations turned-up a treasure trove of antique bottles, many dating to the 1920s.

My brother got curious, and spent hours on the Internet, searching in vain for information about the history of the place. When he came up empty, he and his wife Stephanie trekked over to La Retama Library in Corpus Christi and started spinning microfiche.

Sure 'nuff, in the archives of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, he found scattered references to a pre-war clubhouse that was a favored party spot (and there are scads of old pint bottles out there), city park plans that never materialized and fleeting hints of folks who actually lived there until a hurricane undid them.

John's research is ongoing, but he was kind enough to give us a tour last weekend. The dog and kids swam, and we picked up a couple of pretty cool old bottles.

Growing up in Rockport, it was easy to believe that civilization has only a tenuous foothold in the area -- that our stay there is only half a century old. No surprise, since tides and wind work relentlessly to erase and bury the signs of our presence at the southern edge of America.

But there are plenty of clues out there, covered in sand and water, sometimes just below the surface.