by Laura Roberts
My camera dangles against my right side. I tug on the thin straps of my navy backpack and maneuver out of the room full of fold-up chairs and wood panels.
A cluster of figures are semi-circled around the face I recognize as the one from behind the mic.
I continue by.
Dude’s got enough admirers and I’ve never been the type of girl to “oh-my-gawd” a male musician after a gig—comes across as gushing.
“…in Tennessee,” the voice rises from the group.
My feet instinctively circle back.
I gotta say something to him.
After all, the man made tears form from my face and spill into my shirt and down the side of my right leg as I sat curled in a ball, camera in hand, leaning in.
The light voice sang my state’s name in that heavy-weight way only a Texan can when they’re talking about Texas.
Except he was talking about Tennessee.
“So I started my day today, at a funeral.”
The singer’s wearing all black clothes that fade in with his brown shoes and acoustic guitar. His frame is lean. His voice and beard are a bit on the thin side as well.
But he seems okay with it.
Like he’s got nothing to prove. He continues.
“A buddy of mine from high-school…we weren’t close or anything…but that’s how I started out my day.”
There’s five guys behind him, all set-up on a tapestry straight out of Aunt Phyllis’ parlor. There’s one other bearded acoustic six-stringer. And an orange shirt on keys, a pair of wine-colored pants on drums and a fair-skinned, all-black-clothed figure with an electric bass.
A sharp-angled face sits in a chair, cello between knees, bow in hand.
The man in the orange shirt starts plucking at a couple keys; stuff Ben Folds would be proud of. The black-clothed figure, front and center, beings weaving his voice with his strings:
You and me at the rocket park
You and me and the yellow car
And you and me at the Opryland
And you and me reaching out our hands
And there’s sprinkles of boisterous “Stay’s!” from the vocals behind him. And the cellist pulls at strings with his bow and his eyes. And words continue from the lead beard about skies that are blue in color and about belonging with a person.
Then there’s a couple other words.
About driving and the ICU unit of a hospital:
And one of us is going home alone
And one of us into the unknown
The cello and acoustic guitar strings stop vibrating around the same time.
“I will tell one story about that song,” says the bearded face after the final solitaire notes slide out of the cello and are plucked from the acoustic.
And the red electric to the right of him has struck a Slayer riff for a solid two seconds.
“In the choruses, originally, it was like “Hey, Hey, Hey…’”
He trails off.
“And then we were like…”
Voice is amused.
“…Fucking Lumineers’ song.”
Faces smile and lean out from their fold-up chairs and in towards the figures on the carpet.
The Buddy-Holly-glasses-wearing crowd is starting to burrow.
Straight into the palm of the group’s hand.
The six-piece dances through an Alabama Texas Shakes-sounding melody.
The lead singer is now crouched at the small keyboard—he and the orange shirt have swapped instruments. The drummer behind them has his fingers clasped between his red-painted knees, no sticks in hand.
The face at the piano explains that the next melody is “basically the part of your relationship before you see each other naked.”
Keyboard chords softly start in and words float up from the far side of the carpet:
Remember when I lived in Tennessee
And you came to visit, slept next to me
Shared a one bed not meant for two
And I told you I loved you, I still do
The sea of figures in the wood-panel room drinks up each syllable like a three-year-old with a scrunched-up juice box.
Fingers around the cello’s neck start quivering as the bow pushes forward on the strings.
But I’ll stay as long as you will have me
And I’ll follow if you wannna lead
And I’ll share the load that gets so heavy
Wherever you take me home I will be
The orange and the black swap spots and utensils. The group pony-ups’s an Avett Brothers-sounding diddy of “a heartbeat on a screen” and two people becoming “a nation of three”.
There’s time for one more song.
About a burger-joint in an east Texas town. The song has a subtle kick drum beat throughout and towards the middle, a small John Mayer-esque riff from the backing electric guitar.
There’s also a line that sums up the law of human attraction in the shell of a nut:
But there’ something you do
Does something to me
The Buddy-Holly-glasses clapping appreciatively in their chairs couldn’t agree more.
“I’ll tell you one place I don’t like playing,” continues the voice from the semi-circled group near the back of the paneled room.
My camera and backpack and I have made it to the outskirts of the group as shirts brush by towards the room’s exit.
I balk. My words sputter up in defense.
“That’s my hometown.”
The semi-circle looks and cringes good-heartily, then make their way towards the door.
Leaving me and the beard with the face.
This must be some mistake.
That was the whole reason—
We talk a minute.
For a year he lived there. And played shows there. And wrote songs there. And—
“The thing about Nashville,” he says not-matter-of-factly. “Is when you play for people there, nobody shows any emotion.”
We exchange a couple more words about a cousin and Natchez Trace.
I head out of the wood-paneled room, past the folks gathered in the lobby with the signed guitar on the wall and out to my car.
And I drive.
Later in the evening, I find myself in the HEB parking lot heading in through the sliding doors, walking the aisles.
As I’m passing other midnight shoppers, it dawns on me that I may have mascara smeared under my eyes from earlier in the night.
I’m usually pretty good at remembering to wipe that stuff off, you know.
But for some reason tonight, I forgot to.
This event was presented by Black Fret, a local organization dedicated to helping Austin musicians through patronage and grants and it took place at The Orb Recording Studio. Rocketboys were also on the bill and for photos of their performance as well head over to our side blog Plus Ones.