Kenny Lee Lewis: Awesome Austin

March 21, 2011
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I just got back from playing Austin City Limits with the Steve Miller Band in their brand new concert hall/live video soundstage, and also spent time sampling a bit of the local club scene. Over the years, Nashville has always seemed to eclipse the Lone Star state’s capitol as being Music City, with its Music Row, considered by many as a picker’s paradise. No doubt, Nashville’s claims are valid as I witnessed myself  when we did Crossroads on CMT with Kenny Chesney at the Ryman Theater. This was just before the flood, and the clubs were kickin’ and tip jars were being passed around for world-class players who struggle to make a living on The Row playing for tourists while waiting for a tour with a “hat act."

However, for those neophytes coming up as pickers and writers, might I suggest a destiny-destination other than Nashvegas . . . Austin Texas. Considered a “world city” these days, Austin  is of course a major college town that attracts a wide demographic of music lovers. The legacy of Antone’s and it’s contemporaries is world famous: Doyle Bramhall, the Vaughn Bros., Eric Johnson, Christopher Cross, and the list goes on. But that is just one club. There are literally dozens of clubs and showcase rooms in Austin on Congress St. claiming their own Music Row so to speak. I stuck my head into Momo’s off 6th on a Saturday night and saw three bands perform back to back for what seemed to be a largely college audience—mostly females I might add. The bands were all first class and doing mostly original material, which was a nice contrast to the Top 40 cover songs I heard on Music Row in Nashville the year before.The  sound system was good and the place was rockin'. Seemed like all the young players were getting tone and spankin’ their Strats with deep, Texas-style vibrato-bravado. Even heard some great boutique amps I wasn't familiar with—like the Open Range, a Dumblesque, 75-watt combo used by local guitarist Jacob Petersen.

Another nice thing about Austin, is that there is money there. The local support the community has for the arts there is incomparable to any other city I’ve been to. Austin City Limits is a perfect example being the longest running live music television show in history on PBS. The opening act we had for the premier gala was local hero Carolyn Wonderland. Her killin’ trio showcased her original songs as well as covers of Janis Joplin. Her customized Tele/Strat was burning through a Matchless Chieftain and the image of her standing up there in her pretty cowgirl dress stretching big tone still is emblazoned in my memory. Recent local resident Greg Rolie of Santana fame was standing next to me and said, “That little gal is badass! I always come out to go see her play here in town.” So if you are coming to Austin to gun-sling, know that there are girls who can burn ya down there as well kids!

So even though the brisket at Franklin’s BBQ was the best I’d ever had, there are many other international tastes to be had in Austin. The music is all across the board there too. Local bass hero Roscoe Beck calls it “Root Music”. Not necessarily Country, not Blues or even Bluegrass. Just bits of Americana plugged into a rock rhythm section with a little hair on it. Maybe that’s why The Joker himself chose to do several Jimmie Vaughn songs on both our last CD Bingo and our soon to be released Let Your Hair Down Baby. The perfect blend of everything wonderful and expressive in our American heritage roots.

So if you are wanting to take flight from your boring local dried-up music scene and strike out into a great city where you can eat Sushi, play some great American roots-rock with some Texans, and not have to wear a cowboy hat, maybe a trip to Austin is in store.  —Kenny Lee Lewis

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