Drunken Poet’s Dream: Hayes Carll at the Belmont

Hayes Carll The Belmont Austin

Words and Photo by Laura Roberts

The upstairs bar on 6th street is full of cowboy hats and more coeds than a frat party during rush week. There’s a benefit concert going on with a line-up full of band names that mostly end in the word “Band.” It’s hot and I can’t move in this sea of tank-tops. I wonder how many fire codes are being violated and why the hell the doorman is still letting people up the stairs.

“Look, Hayes Carll is here,” spouts the face next to me, a man I’d been on a couple dates with.

I look towards the stage to see a flannel shirt figure with hair lapping his cheekbones climb the stage. He pulls at the nearest acoustic.

And the figure sits on the stool for a bit and strums and sings a few songs.

I don’t know the names of the songs he plays. Couldn’t even repeat back any of the lyrics.

But his voice.

The one that sounds like the middle of a goodbye you wish-to-God wouldn’t end.

That sticks with me.

Hayes Carll’s head is full of greasy roots. And split ends. His shoulders have a permanent inward slump to match his mom-just-woke-me-up-from-a-nap eyes.

I got a woman’s who’s wild as Rome,” sings Carll, blowing a few chords into the harmonica wedged in the metal slot in front of his face. “She likes to lay naked and be gazed upon.”

It’s April and 2014 and a Saturday night in Austin, TX. Carll and his four-piece band (“I’ve played with all these people before, just not together”) tear through his “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” (co-written by Ray Wiley Hubbard) and let the whisky-drenched words seep into the large crowd hugging the floorboards of the outside stage at The Belmont.

The five-piece group dance through a rowdy rendition of  “Stomp and Holler,” and into the Kimya Dawson (think Juno soundtrack)-coulda-been-a-co-writer “Girl Downtown”:

There’s a girl downtown with freckles on her nose/Pencils in her pocket and ketchup on her clothes/She’s a real nice girl, pretty as a plate/The boys call her Katie when they ask her on a date/And who knows, Katie/Maybe you could be the one

Carll’s fingers begin plucking the first few strings from his “Beaumont” ballad; his eyes swim and grin through the sea of mouths singing along to his every word.

Carll and his spirited crew go through a slew of getcha-hands-and-glass-bottles-up songs, most of which reside on his most recent release, 2011’s KMAG YOYO(& Other American Stories): “KMAG YOYO”  “Hard Out Here” “Another Like You” and “Chances Are.”

Mixed in between the music numbers is Hayes’ charm…

Introducing his female drummer (positioned behind him):

“She’s got the best view in show business.”

His playful gratefulness in being at The Belmont that evening:

“[I’m usually playing in] the type of place that has a mechanical sheep. In the bathroom.”

Carll and the gaaaaaawd-damn vocals of Emily Gimble—dead ringer for Adele’s—move into the make-ya-wanna-sway ballad “Love Don’t Let Me Down.” Texas two-steppers pair off in the crowd. A man with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses crosses his arms and looks around the room for someone to dance or fight with.

Neither occurs.

Carll closes the night with his crafty “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long.”

Grateful thank-you’s are said and mouthed, and the figures exit stage left.

A brief moment later, Carll clamors back out. “I gotta go, Austin,” he spouts with a wrinkled smile. But before he does, he fumbles with his six strings as ears crane to catch the words of the bearded poet:

Arkansas, my head hurts/I love to stick around and maybe make it worse/I got a girl out in Henrietta/Her love’s like tornado weather

It’s girls like this that keep me trying/She goes off like an air-raid siren/Come in clean, leave torn apart/A bad liver and a broken heart

In a nutshell, Hayes Carll is that kid from elementary school. The one that always read ahead in the books that everybody was supposed to work through together as a class.

But the class always took so damn long to get through Chapter 2.

And Hayes wanted to know what was going to happen next.

So he went ahead and read the book.

The whole damn book.

So now he knows the ending.

And Hayes knows the good guy didn’t win. He knows the cowbody didn’t get the girl. Knows there’s a fuck ton of misplaced memories and slivers of ghost hearts and overdoses of closure in the near future.

And he accepts it. But at the same time he doesn’t.

‘Cause very word that comes out of Hayes Carll’s mouth is a question.

Every line he sings is a plead.

And it leaves you wondering if instead of that original ending, couldn’t you just have the world Hayes has created with his words instead.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say as I bump against an arm with my camera. It’s a few minutes before Hayes is going to be starting at The Belmont. I’m up front trying to get my lighting right.


I turn and look at the face that takes me a minute to recognize. It’s the one from all those years back. The man that pointed out Hayes that night.

“Hey. Hey! How are you?”

The formalities are exchanged; introductions are made to the blonde standing next to him.

“Well, I’m glad you made it out to Hayes,” he says nodding.

“Of course.”

And that’s all.

No sideways glances from either one of us. Not a shred of longing. Not a drop of music.

Yeah. I’ll take Hayes’ words any day.