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Backyard Sessions

We are young. We are golden. We are having a house show with a stellar band and you’re invited.

smooth hound smith

There is a duo of folk, proper named Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle, that make stomp music. Their brand of jams, filled to the brim with swampy harmonies (that’s good, don’t worry, you’ll see) and ample opportunity to let music totally make you day and save your night, are right up our proverbial alley. The band offered to do a show, I said, “Wait, are you shitting me with this?!”, they replied in the negative and now we’re a go.

 

24 May there will be song. There will be barbecue in copious quantities, there will be booze. I’m hopeful I can find camouflage Busch Light cans somewhere. There will be friends and there will be Jarred and Ryan, kindred spirits this town has anointed as Honorary Rednecks, from Show Me Shows. There will be a crowd in the woods right in the middle of town, clapping along and falling in love (just as I have) with Smooth Hound Smith.

The next day we will head off into the Ozark woods and paddle canoes down a river. I can’t even wrap my brain around this much epic.

And what about you? Well, you’re invited of course! RSVP here, if you’re so inclined. Show is free, food is free (though it is standard in our circle to show up with a covered dish, if ‘ya don’t mind). Bring money, buy a record, tip the band as if they were your first cousin waiting on your table at the local truck stop.

Come. We would love to have you.

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FACEBOOK ::SOUNDCLOUD

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{Nota bene: We’re sucking this baby dry, y’all. You’ve read about it once, yeah, but this is a different set of words. NOW WITH MORE AWESOME VIDEO YOU HAVEN’T SEEN. Courtesy of the wonderful dudes at Show Me Shows, check out Shakey in an old chapel in a cemetery below. And stay tuned: Folk Hive and Show Me Shows aren’t done with Shakey Graves yet…}

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{Photo courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows}

In May of 1925, a crowd of pert near 1000 gathered at Hillhouse Cemetery, out next to the old Prichett schoolhouse. There was talk of family trees and babies that were nursed on the laps of 6 grandmothers in the pioneer address given there by the Hon. J.W. Armstrong, a state legislator from Pulaski County. At the end of that speech, Armstrong said this of all those buried beneath the hallowed ground on which he stood then: “Because they lived the simple life – content to bear burdens that others might enjoy more abundantly, is sufficient to earn for them a place in the hearts of all mankind.” I presume that when the Hon. J.W. Uttered this statement, he was standing in the chapel, if one can even call it that – a 2-walled, tin-roofed “building”, pews strewn about, trees shading it from the field behind. 87 years later, a man who prefers to go by the name Shakey Graves, ventured out to that chapel and inspired, just like J.W. Armstrong did… 

Shakey Graves is actually Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a name no one could seem to hold on their tongues Friday last when he made the trek from Austin to a small, rural Missouri town for a show on an old porch. All night he was just Shakey. Shakey, you want a Busch heavy or a Strongbow? Shakey, you like potato salad? Shakey, where in the hell did you get that drum? 

Not too many hours after Shakey was out in that chapel with the Show Me Shows guys, he was on a couch in a tiny house carefully exacto-kniffing small pictures out of a rather heavy military history book. Those were carefully glued to a tiny brown paper sack and stapled shut. Inside were CDs to sell at the show, handmade by the man himself as he bullshat with us. Hanging on the wall above him was a mess of 20 some photos, a visual family tree that includes descendants buried in that cemetery Shakey just left. 

{Photo courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows}

Roundabouts nine o’clock nature dimmed its lights and we lit up the porch. Shakey placed his beer in the cleverest of mic stands and hung a cigarette from the headstock of his old Gibson. Then he set in with the music. 

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The music of Shakey Graves has made the rounds. There is a unique quality about it that makes it hard to pigeonhole, something so much indie music suffers these days, and explaining what you’re about to hear to someone’s who’s never laid ears on it is a tough pill. It’s folky but rock-ier than that. It’s kind of at home next to some current Americana darlings but it occasionally fits in with country (murder ballads, y’all). It is gospel sometimes (a lot of the time, actually) and it is blues. All of this accounts for its acclaim – it fits in New York, it’s at home in Austin, Texas (literally), and it apparently wins over a crowd here in our one stoplight town of just 1800 people.

{Photo courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows

I stumbled upon Shakey’s only studio release in late 2010, but Bandcamp says it was released in 1987 so one can never been too sure when Roll The Bones was put forth. At any rate, I’ve been consistently returning to it over the past 20 months. It’s got longevity, this one. Even though Roll The Bones wasn’t Shakey’s only release (there was the EP, The State of Texas vs. Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a wonderful Lucinda Williams cover and original from two separate When You Awake compilations, and a Daytrotter session), it’s most likely what you’ve heard if you’ve heard of him. But even barring those little gifts we’ve been given over the past year and a half, Roll The Bones is an album full of songs that expand and are most adaptable. “Unlucky Skin”, the song that initially inspired our love, lends itself so well to its accompanying banjo in the original that it’s hard to imagine it working as well on an old Gibson in a cemetery chapel, but on those pews and within those two walls, it is still just a perfect. Ale (as he told us he liked to be beckoned as) sounds just as defectless in the studio as he does live. His guitar just as rusty yet untarnished. There is but one difference between the two venues, if you will: Shakey’s songs on a porch, the entirety of his repertoire, fill out. In a wooded yard of 25 or so people dancing and stomping their feet, they are intimate in a way that a room, even one with a soundbooth, cannot ever dream to recreate. 

But in a cemetery? Shakey Graves, out amongst the gravestones of those gone before, now resting in a field? There. There those songs sound like they are truly home.

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Shakey Graves :: Unlucky Skin [mp3]

BUY Roll The Bones :: SITE

VISIT Show Me Shows

Jessica said that sometimes foxes romp through her yard down at the end of the street. She said that one time a lady came down there and sat agape because there were 17 or something deer, eating in the snow on her front lawn. She said we could have a show down the street, just two houses down on either side, not far from where we usually do anyhow. We did that instead. Some of us were just built to roam, you know?

{Photograph courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows}

In attendance, the normal crowd. Immediate and extended family. Someone brought a little baby that danced but only when Shakey sang. Many friends from town and a few from out-of-town that have proven to be counted upon attendees, despite their long hauls. My postman. Legions of (uninvited) chiggers. The dudes from Show Me Shows. A dog named Honcho. Carpenters, Harley enthusiasts, farmers, truck drivers, Mainers, and social workers. And the definition of a Texas Gentleman, Shakey Graves, with his old Gibson that suffered so much falling sweat it could have used a hanky.

{Photo courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows}

First, there were songs sang out at an old cemetery near here, where we buried my uncle in Hippie Corner. There is a chapel, or what used to be one. Gravestones and Shakey Graves. Then there were my couches were we all sat and waxed philosophical about the distinct differences between Natural Light and Busch heavy. There was a minute in the backyard and then the walk down to the dead ends of Locust.

{Photos courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows}

And then. Then we all saw a show and what a fucking show it was.

I’m still sort of in awe. There was dancing and there was a crowd of faces that immediately understood what I’ve been going on and on about for years. In the presence of nearly enough Strongbow to kill a horse, Shakey Graves balanced his beer on his mic stand and his cigarette in his guitar, all while putting on one of my favorite shows I’ve ever been lucky enough to see just because of the immense intimacy of it. The sun fell; we turned on the porch lights and toes tapped in unison. Shakey moved through the songs I’ve listened to for years now, one by one, playing a lengthy set that resulted in a yard full of new fans, now loyal to the man who was kind enough to drive all those miles to stand on a porch in Pulaski county for us.


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Different this time was that I was able to hound the dudes from Show Me Shows, Ryan and Jarred, into bringing their asses down the highway and into town. They’re responsible for the glorious takes you’ll see soon out at that old chapel. They are responsible for the video above and the photographic evidence of a wonderful night. Because they are stellar dudes, because they are consummate professionals, because they are fucking good, I am now a follower that will fucking fist fight on their behalf. A huge, utterly massive thank you goes to them. You helped make it what it was, dudes. I love this fucking state — it’s music, which is sorely underrated, and most of all, it’s people.

Thanks, of course, to Ale. Reader, you must see his show. Find one in your state, travel to Austin if you must. Just see it. As you’ll understand then, as some of you most likely already know, the music is weighty. But aside from that, Ale is a dude that deserves any accolades afforded him simply because he is righteous human. He will eat your barbecue, he will drink that beer (and you don’t even have to tell him to), he will hang out in your backyard making friends with your lifelong friends, and he will sit at your kitchen table long after the sun has descended, rambling right along beside you. I am more devoted to the music of Shakey Graves than I was before, as if that were even possible.

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Folk Hive, all the music and words and time that it requires of me, is sometimes a mighty endeavor. My alarm is set 2 hours before it need be every morning to accommodate it. Dinner is made late every night to oblige it. Money is budgeted for albums and trips when it could certainly be spent on vacations and new tires instead. It can be tiring and is usually done with an attitude that says there will be no thanks but that is fine for miles. There is a reason for that: Once in a while, things like a house show with Shakey Graves happen. It is a transformative experience, one that renews beyond belief. Hearing a song that I’ve played thousands of times, when things were both easy and stunningly hard, on a porch that I’ve stood on since I was a child will mend a heart. Watching my friends and family look on and begin to understand what it all means will cover a soul and sustain for a good long while. It validates everything I’ve ever written, every hour I’ve ever spent with headphones in.

{Photo courtesy of Jarred Gastreich @ Show Me Shows}

Without Jessica and Bill, all the friends and family that came, the Show Me dudes, and Shakey it never would have happened. I’m so glad it did. My most heartfelt of thanks to everyone involved.

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Shakey Graves :: Built To Roam (live) [mp3]

BUY Roll The Bones :: SITE

All photos and that lovely video are courtesy of the guys at Show Me Shows, who we now worship. Based in St Louis, they produce some real fine videos. Check out Jarred’s photography here. Check out Ryan’s studio, R&R Music Labs, here.

Residents of Pulaski County, NAY! THE WORLD OVER! Tonight, Shakey Graves will travel in for barbecue, beers, friendship bracelet making, games of Uno, and jams. SWEET, SWEET JAMS. Also, we’re not really playing Uno, that’s dumb because seriously, music. Who cares about Uno on a day like today. You should get thee asses here. We’d like to meet you!

RSVP here. Though, you don’t have to, really. We’ll still let you in if you just show up. That’s Midwest hospitality at its finest.

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Shakey Graves :: Unlucky Skin [mp3]

BUY Roll The Bones :: SITE

It didn’t go as planned.

The preparations began weeks ago. There was a yard that had languished all winter, overran by moles and weeds, that needed tending. There were flowers to pot and there were beer cans from last year’s Backyard Session that needed to get acquainted with a trash can. There was a house to deep clean and there was a playlist in need of making. There was a grocery list, two pages long, and beer to procure. There were invitations to be verbalized to friends and family. It would, it did, and it always does, take time to bring a band here to the Ozarks, off the beaten path and into the woods…

All of this we knew. And all of it we took in stride because, in the end, there would be friends and music in this neck of the woods, and it would be good. Two weeks of nightly yard work and house cleaning, borderline panic attacks and prodding everyone we knew in this here town to make it out, and all of that, no matter how exhausting, was for something.

We booked hotel rooms for the 4 band members weeks ago only to find out a couple of days before the show we only needed one as there were just two Saintsenecans touring so that money went straight down the proverbial pisser. We scoffed at the mistaken Richmond date on the tour poster the manager dispersed to the masses because seriously, there’s no Richmond, Missouri is there? No, surely not. SURELY. We begged friends to blow off family and plans on Easter Sunday to help us make something special a reality and they obliged, squeezing us in between egg hunts with the kids and ham with the family.

When the Allman Brothers were cranked too loudly for me to hear my phone ring just an hour before the band was to arrive as my best friend and I pretended to be domesticated and cook in the kitchen, I didn’t worry. When the band said that they’d been sent to the wrong city, hours and hours from here, and that all those plans that others might have blown off for us was for not, I’ll admit, I panicked. But then. Then something happened. People were called, people were informed, and people started to trickle in. People that I had not invited, not because I did not want to, but simply because they were friends I’d long lost touch with. We convened in the yard, a crowd in my backyard and a crowd in my parent’s front yard across the way, both larger than any this street has seen in a good long while. The panic subsided and the laughing began.

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It’s been tough to frame the narrative of the day the band came to the backyard, Spring 2012 Edition, but I’m there now. The process to getting here was equal parts 12 Steps and photo-videographic retrospection : At first, I was powerless. Couldn’t have teleported that band here if I wanted to. But had I those powers, what would we have missed? Hours of drinking a homebrew and conversing with people I had not seen in years, in the midst of a crowd that is typically only lucky enough to gather for special occasions like a hitchin’ of two pals. In the early hours of the day I made a mental list of all the people to which I felt I’d have to make amends, those that penciled us in despite the importance of the day to their families and now I think it’s probably okay. Besides, to act as if the day were a mess would be to deny the fact that the next morning I suffered not from a hangover but instead from sore ribs and cheeks, those muscles worn out from a full day of laughter and smiling.

In the end I’m at a place where there is a sign hanging over the front door and that sign reads “Fuck that, who cares about anything but love and friends and music?”. There is a tendency among music writers to get too wrapped in what we’re doing and it’s so easy to lose sight of why we’re doing it at all. Those of us who feel the songs so much that it occasionally hurts our feelings, those of us that take the music so seriously because of what it has done for us, those of us that insist on devoting our precious time to the mostly thankless endeavor of putting those feelings down and hoping to turn just one person on to something that has done wonders for us, we can get lost. (Jesus, WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT RUN-ON SENTENCE?! Moving on…)

And it’s easy, much more so than one would imagine, to lose those important parts in the hassle of arrival times and attendance and costs. If anything, this past weekend was a lesson: Who gives a shit about that shit? There were friends, there was good food and good beer, there was a sun shining over the Ozarks on that day. There were hearty chuckles, nearly non-stop, and there was warmth, not the meteorological kind, but the heartfelt kind on this street and really, that’s all I was looking for when I decided that attempting to do this sort of thing was worth it. And it is worth it.

It didn’t go as planned, that’s true. It went better.

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Saintseneca :: James [mp3]

Saintseneca :: On Or No (Live at Daytrotter) [mp3]

BUY Last :: SITE

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On a personal note, there are thanks. Thanks to Ashley and Waterman, for showing up, for staying late despite responsibilities, for brewing us beer, for liking me at all. Seriously, you two. SERIOUSLY. Thanks to my family for cooking and listening to me go off my rocker about these things for weeks and months before they actually occur, if they ever do at all. Thanks to the neighbors, the residents of this little street, for taking pictures and just showing up. Thanks to Sarah and Jessica for their photographs. And thanks, sincerely, to EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. who was here, for however long. It warms the cockles of my heart when this shit flies and boy, it flew Sunday.

And thanks to the band. Your perseverance in even making it here was amazing. You were kind and gracious and you sound damn fine live. We’ll be hitting you up next time on tour because, by God, I’m getting keg stands out of the both of you…

So, this is a thing. This is a thing that is happening.

 

The beauty of these house shows is two-fold for those of us here in the Ozarks. Let me explain. On the one hand, I get the glorious task of introducing those here in my vicinity what exactly it is that I love about the music I endear myself to and that endears itself to me. The people here are quintissential working Americans — they wake early every day and they go to jobs. They raise families and they work to leave those people something when they are gone. They do not concern themselves with business that is not theirs and they have time for what is given to them on the radio and nearly nothing more. Because I love music as much as I do, I cannot put into words how glorious it is to bring it to their laps, knowing they’d never hear it otherwise. I cannot tell you of the benefits of that to my soul because it’s just too hard/awesome to put into words.

On the other hand, the beautiful part of this is that I get to introduce these bands from so far away what it is that draws me in and keeps me. The people here, they are such good folk. They suffer in the national spotlight from supposed stereotypes of the typical country American, uneducated and simple, when they are anything but. They are the salt of the Earth and while labeling them is certainly something I did before I learned to love this place and it’s people, I know now how wrong that is. I get to cover these bands in people who are the salt of the goddamn Earth.

I am a card that has two sides. I was made to live somewhere else, somewhere bigger I think, but I choose to stay here and marvel at the tenacity of these people because it inspires my awe. I get to show my people here the opposite side of my card they rarely see or know exists and I get to show these singers and music makers the opposite side of that card too, that part of me that instinctly trusts and is comfortable in this small country place.

Saintseneca is a band that I first stumbled on in late 2010 when I found their S/T 7″…somewhere. The exact location is lost to me now but at first listen the sounds of a built family within their music set me in love. This music is the kind that lends itself perfectly to these kinds of shows and so on 8 April of this year they’ll venture out into the Ozark woods and they’ll play for us all in the back yard. As before, we’ll feed them tasty morsels of barbecued meats and home-cooked baked beans. We’ll gather ’round them in Coleman chairs and people will listen intently to a band they never would have listened to if not for this show. We’ll pass around the whiskey bottle and make piles of spent aluminum beer cans off to the corner of the grass ‘stage’.

My heart will likely swell and burst. You should come. Come and watch. RSVP here.

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Saintseneca :: Acid Rain [mp3]

Saintseneca :: Wonderlust [mp3]

BUY Last :: FACEBOOK

On 31 July, after a fair amount of planning, playlist making, and visits to the booze shop, the men of Balto descended on our small but fair town.  It was a Sunday, signifying that nearly everyone in audience would be working in the following days early hours, but a crowd gathered regardless.  They showed up, some as a favor to me, some because they are related to me and had no choice ’cause I’m pretty sure there’s a section in the law books stipulating a bylaw that one has to do such things for their kin, and some showed up because honestly, nothing like this has happened in our town.  Ever.  What transpired that evening was nothing short of beautiful.

It’s fair to assume that the 104 degree heat and the 99% humidity might have put a damper on everyone’s spirit but such was not the case.  The boys showed up, a banjo player named Dave convinced me that the $4 bottle of Old Crow whiskey was Lyndon Johnson’s favorite and thus, I should drink it, and the tunes commenced.  Children jumped on the trampoline, people laid back to relax and listen, and the dudes started in with ‘The Railyard’.

What I truly believe to be a crowd that was initially only here to do me a solid soon turned into a crowd that was absolutely smitten by the band.  Perhaps they had made the assumption that this was a rag tag group of boys, showing up to clumsily pick an instrument while calling themselves a band, but if that were the case there were proven wrong in short order.  Watching the look of astonishment spread over faces as the band took off was brilliant.  By the second song of the set, everyone in that backyard, hippie and redneck alike, were fans.  Life long fans.  And that’s no fucking exaggeration.  In the days since the concert, as I very slowly came down off my own personal high concerning the events of that night, I’ve gotten raving  messages from those in attendance.  I listened to my father, a truck driver with generally no interest in folk jams or the whiskey he drank Sunday night, complain that my mother had stolen his autographed CD.  I’ve become convinced this is something that’s good for this town.

In the days and nights since the show, I’ll admit to re-reading every review of October’s Road.  It seemed to me that perhaps I was glorifying an experience and I needed to step back from and be objective about but every review I’ve read, all of them more than positive and glowing, reinforces what happened last Sunday night.  This fucking band has it together — their live sound is similar to the record but it’s on another level which means that these guys (and those involved but not present) can really take this somewhere.

I know it’s not easy getting the people out but one of the reasons I love this business of writing about music that I truly believe is worth our time: When you get them there, they’ll believe in it.  I saw it happen, I watched a mesmerized crowd of people I never thought we could assemble, and even through my slightly drunken haze and over my too loud voice, I could see it and hear it in everyone who sat in a Coleman chair in my backyard in the middle of the sticks.  The magic of a band that is truly good effects everyone, regardless of background or geography or taste.  To say it was a transformative night for me would be the understatement of the year…

There is a multitude of thanks that need to be given.   To my family and friends: Hell, you guys.  You showed up simply because I asked, you brought enchiladas and salsa and pies and multitudes of delicious baked beans.  You shared something that was so very special to me and truly, I can never thank you enough.  To Jessica: The pictures.  You preserved something that was beautiful and I’ll have it forever, reminders of a night that I’d like to never forget.  To Brad: You cooked, you braved potential heat exhaustion, and you supported me in the best way possible, by letting me do my thing.  I love you times a million.  And to the people from Belle: You guys have given me serious hope for this state!  You were kind, you were funny, you were a blast.  Your presence made the night all that much better.

And to Dan and the boys: Wow.  Just fucking wow.   That was a life changer and to say as such is not an exaggeration.  I cannot thank you enough.  There’s always a stage for you, right off I44.


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Balto :: Self Portrait [mp3]

BUY October’s Road :: WEBSITE

All photos courtesy of Jessica Warren.  View the full set here.