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Vanessa Peters plays Santa Clause in June – and plays LaGrange in Deep Ellum

The last week has been like Christmas for me.

Vanessa Peters‘ new album “The Burn The Truth The Lies” became available for download last Monday (June 18) for those of us who pledged to her Kickstarter campaign, late last year. I’m going to add—and I don’t mean this sarcastically, but as someone who has been looking forward to this for months—finally.

Fool that I am—I didn’t check my email Monday, didn’t get the link until Tuesday afternoon. Of course, I promptly downloaded the album, imported it into my iTunes, and listened to it three times through, twice in order, once on “shuffle”. And several time since then.

Once again—it’s well worth the wait.

She’s previewed a few of the songs for those of us smart enough to go to her shows, and another one was made available several weeks ago for us Kickstarter donors, but the rest of the 11-song album is all new. I gotta say, it’s brilliant.

And then, as I was running around Saturday, trying to get ready to go have dinner with friends, there was a knock on my door. The mailman was bringing me a Box o’ Joy, which included my physical schwag from the Kickstarter pledge: my signed physical copy of the CD, 2 really cool new T-shirts, a black Moleskine journal (with the Italian sales wrap label on it—how cool is that?) with the lyrics and a little story behind one of my favorite songs from her last album handwritten inside.

Anyway, now I have the physical CD, and can listen in my car. And have. More or less nonstop.

Yesterday, still more goodies—an email with a link to download of an EP containing some acoustic mixes to several songs from the album, as well as one song which didn’t make the album. Downloaded, imported, and listening to. As I type.

OK, so enough about my “Christmas in June” week—here’s the really important part:

Vanessa is doing an album pre-release show on Thursday, June 28th at LaGrange. This will be a rare, rare “full band” show (her first in Texas in 3 years, I think she said). The show includes most of the band who actually performed on the album: John Dufilho (Polyphonic Spree and Deathray Davies) on drums, Jason Garner (Apples in Stereo and Deathray Davies) on drums and bass, Rip Rowan (frequent quiet collaborator with Salim Nourallah) on keys, and Andy Lester (The Blurries) on guitar. (San Antonio’s Joe Reyes played guitar on the album, and has done several shows with Vanessa in the past few years, as well as shows and recording with Salim—in addition to his solo work, and his band, Buttercup.)

Thursday’s show is set for 9 pm (doors at 8). Denton’s Birds of Night and Dallas’ Daniel Hart are also playing, and I’m not really sure who’s playin’ first—so be on time! For. Once. In your. Life.

And the whole thing is only $5.00. That’d be a bargain at 4X the price.

Catch this one—she’s running off to tour Europe for a couple months soon after, and won’t be back on our side of the pond until October-ish, when I’m guessing she will make the rounds of Texas and nearby (and not-so-nearby) states, including—I’d guess—several shows within 100 miles of Dallas.

But really, who would want to wait that long?

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Shakespeare Dallas does “Twelfth Night” and (so I hear) “Coriolanus”

So, on Sunday, June 17, I went to catch Shakespeare in the Park for Shakespeare Dallas‘ production of “Twelfth Night”.

I like going on Sundays, because the crowds are less than on Fridays or Saturdays. The 17th was a bit of a last-minute decision, though. I’d planned to go, but the weather threatened. I dithered. As the hour grew near, however, it looked like the storms were going to pass South. Maybe.

So I chanced it. Arrived just as Shakespeare Dallas’ Executive and Artistic Director (and director of this particular production—and also a super nice guy I met quite randomly some years back) Raphael Parry was doing his pre-perfomance spiel. You know—phones off, give money please, we love our members, no recording, no smoking. But I was still nervous about the weather. I’d seen 2 lonely raindrops on my windshield driving in, and felt 3 more as I laid out my towel and chair in the Members Only section (cool jackets with too many snaps and sleeves pushed up not required). Nervous enough that I put my phone into a zip-close baggie, after turning it off.

Fortunately, other than those 5 raindrops, the only thing the weather brought was a pleasant, mid-70s evening, complete with a comfortable breeze to help keep the skeeters at bay. So we could enjoy a marvelous performance of one of Shakespeare’s great comedies, “Twelfth Night”.

Bear in mind, Shakespeare Dallas is not “community theater”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you don’t have the director’s daughter Daisy Mae playing Viola against her brother Jethro as Orsino (with the requisite “eeewww” factor as Viola pines over Orsino). These are professional actors working with professional directors and professional stagehands.

And many of the actors and are repeat offenders with SD, and quite good. I recognized Jenny Ledel right off as Viola and Anthony Ramirez as Malvolio. Both have been in SD productions quite frequently, and both are excellent. Ramirez frequently gets the comical roles—and excels at them—but he’s also really good at the really very tragic (and briefly comical) Malvolio who is literally the only character in this play who doesn’t have a happy ending (face it—the guy gets hosed here).

But I don’t mean to focus on those two—I thought the whole cast was good. The whole show.

So, keeping with my Sunday theory—and misreading the schedule for this year—I went this past Sunday (the 24th) to see “Coriolanus”. I was kind of curious about this one—I’d read it (or at least the “Cliff’s Notes” for it) my Freshman year of college, for a class called “Politics and Philosophy”. The other things we read were Kant and Plato and Machiavelli (to name the few I remember). I seem to recall “Coriolanus” fit right in.

But I’d mis-read the schedule they sent out to members. I’m NOT picking on SD here—everyone does this—but whose brilliant idea was it to label Saturday with an “S” AND Sunday with an “S”? At least, Tuesday and Thursday often get “T” and “Th”, respectively (though not always—they are often just “T” and “T”).

Anyway, Sundays this season are for “Twelfth Night”. All of them (well, all of them until the Junior Players take over July 24-29 for “Taming of the Shrew”).

I stayed. It was good the first time, and it was good again. They had some sound issues this time around—but hey, it happens. The play was good, and well-staged.

I’ll have to go catch “Coriolanus” on a Wednesday.

The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart at AllGood

We got a big event coming up next week at the AllGood.

The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart is a sort of supergroup composed of Austin legend Jon Dee Graham, New York’s Freedy Johnston, and the little sister of the legendary family band The Cowsills (upon whom the Partridge Family TV show was based)–Susan Cowsill.

OK, so I am gonna confess–I’m not at all familiar with Freedy Johnston (though I had at least heard of him when his name came up). I’m also not real familiar with The Cowsills, though I did watch a hell of a lot of Love, American Style when I was a kid and anything on the idiot box entertained me (The Cowsills performed the theme song) and, of course, The Partridge Family, and who hasn’t heard the iconic Hair? And I honestly didn’t know Susan Cowsill had her own career.

Both are my oversight, and based on what I’ve heard from The Hobart Brothers–and what of their solo efforts I’ve had time to listen to–I’ll correct, soonest.

Jon Dee Graham is another matter entirely. The man is considered something of a legend in Austin–and he oughtta be selling out shows here. I first became aware of him a few years ago, when he was trying to establish a “residency” (aka a “regular gig”) one night a month at The AllGood. A friend who has known Jon Dee personally for 20-some-odd years basically begged me to come to the show one night. I heard Jon Dee play his acoustic and his “lap steel” and belt out some of the most heartfelt lyrics I have ever heard in his gravelly country-meets-blues voice–and I have tried very hard to get to all of his shows since.

The problem is–no one here knows him. I have seen him play chronically under-attended gigs here in Dallas. This is a complete travesty–and, really, the reason we don’t get more intimate live music up here. We should not have to drive to Austin to see this stuff.

For real–say his name in Austin, and they know who you are talking about. Say “Jon Dee” to Bob Schneider, James McMurtry, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Charlie Sexton, or Alejandro Escovedo–or the people who go to their shows down there–and they know who he is. He’s got great people playing with him–I’ve seen Jon Dee play with Andrew Duplantis, who has been the bass player for Son Volt for several years now, and with Fastball drummer Joe Shuffield. Both Andrew and Joe are also part of Jon Dee’s semi-regular backing band, The Fighting Cocks.

And, yeah–damn right I’m dropping names.

Jon Dee Graham, alone, should be filling bigger venues. Solo, he should be filling the Kessler. This deal with The Hobart Brothers should be filling the Granada, or maybe even House of Blues.

The fact is–next Thursday (that’s April 5), you and I and all too few others will be able to eat a good meal–AllGood’s food is great–and enjoy a very intimate show with this awesome, awesome “supergroup”. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that they will tear completely through the one album The Hobart Brothers recorded together (which is greatness, IMHO), and have time for some of the artists’ solo work.

Seriously–do not miss this show.

My interest in the Dallas music scene began in–of all places–Austin

So, I was flying back from visiting my parents in Raleigh, NC. Pretty sure it was just after Christmas 2004. I’d flown Southwest Airlines, so of course there was the obligatory stop Somewhere Else (thanks to the soon-to-be-dead-but-not-soon-enough Wright Amendment) to get back to Love Field.

This trip, Somewhere Else was Austin. My layover was somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple hours, so I wandered over to find a beer. Turned out they played live music in the terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International, so I took my bottle over to a table by the stage and sat down to hear the young lady who was playing.

Well, I caught about the last song and a half of her set. Certainly long enough to tell she had a pretty voice, and sang about subjects I could identify with. So, as she packed up her guitar, I walked over and told her so. She said she was actually from Dallas (but spent about half her time in Italy) and played around Dallas when she was home. I put my email addy on her mailing list and bought one of her CDs.

Her name was Vanessa Peters and I started getting her email announcements pretty quickly, telling me of shows in Dallas and all of Texas. And Europe. (Yeah, I was confused by that, but seemed to recall her mentioning spending some of her time overseas, when we talked.)

And I kept reading the emails, but not going to the Dallas-area shows. The timing either didn’t work for me, or it did and I planned to go and then just wimped out, at the last minute.

Finally, a little more than a year later, I made it to a show. It was at this really cool coffee house in the basement of what used to be the old Sears Catalog Merchandise Center, south of Downtown. Now the building was lofts and shops (called South Side on Lamar). The coffee house in the basement is now called Opening Bell (at the time it was Standard and Pours), and was neither your typical music venue, nor your typical coffee shop.

Anyway, I was hooked. Since then, I have caught nearly every show Vanessa has played within 50 miles of Dallas–many but not all at Opening Bell–and even one in Raleigh. I just flat out love her music.

More than just Vanessa’s music, however–the other acts she has played with have opened me up to a world of other artists, including (but not nearly limited to) Dallas’ Salim Nourallah and Camille Cortinas, MC Hansen from Denmark, Austin’s Aimee Bobruk, San Antonio’s Joe Reyes, and Swedish/Canadian gem Sarah MacDougall.

I keep going back. As long as Vanessa Peters keeps singing, I’ll keep listening.

…And even I will admit: One Good Thing came out of the Wright Amendment.

Vanessa Peters at Opening Bell

Got an email earlier today from Vanessa Peters noting that she is opening for Houston songwriter Matt Harlan and Danish band The Sentimentals tomorrow night, at Opening Bell Coffee. Friday night, March 2, at 8 pm.

Kind of knew about it because MC Hansen–who is a member of The Sentimentals and has played with Vanessa before and is amazing in his own right–mentioned it on Facebook a couple weeks ago. Been planning to go all along, but since I have finally gotten this little project up and running, I thought I’d mention it.

I’ll definitely mention it afterwards.

Dan Dyer opened for McMurtry last week

OK, so I have taken some time to get around to noting this, but Dan Dyer opened for James McMurtry last Friday at the Kessler.

I didn’t know him, or his music. I went for McMurtry. Decided not to try and look him up or listen to any of his music ahead of time–so many times, I have found an absolutely stellar artist by hearing them open for someone else. (Dyer was the reason I ran into a friend and a friend of hers at this show–they were there to see Dyer. Didn’t even know who James McMurtry was.)

Anyway–Dyer was great! Just him and a guitar and a keyboard and a mic and a pedal of some kind and a big-ass voice. I mention the pedal specifically because, at one point (no, I don’t know the song), he started a kind of driving line on his guitar. Once he established it, he tipped the guitar up, obviously taking his hands off the strings (with kind of a theatrical shrug)–and the guitar kept going as he set the instrument aside and turned to the keyboard. I have (that I know of) only seen that kind of well-controlled use of a loop pedal once before. It was amazing then, and it was definitely amazing Friday night.

I would gladly pay to hear just Dyer perform.

James McMurtry at the Kessler

I have spent an eternity traveling US Highway 69 through Oklahoma.

To be clear: even once driving that 233-mile road from the Red River until you pick up Interstate 44 at Big Cabin qualifies as “too much time”. Doing the round trip entitles you to use the phrase “my time in Hell” in conversation. Do the round trip at least once annually, as I did with my family from my 10th through 18th years (often twice a year), and then voluntarily at least 10 times as an adult–you come to truly understand the words “Hell” and “eternity”. Viscerally.

And then you discover the James McMurtry song “Choctaw Bingo”.

The song becomes the travelogue of your sprint up this highway (and more than just “about the north Texas-southern Oklahoma crystal methamphetamine industry” as McMurtry announces on his album Live in Aught-Three). Get to know the song, and you find yourself checking off landmarks as you pass through dusty one-stoplight towns. Tushka–check. McAlister–check. Lake Eufaula–check. Big Cabin–check. Even beyond (as we always did when I was a child) onto Interstate 44 under the McDonald’s bridge at Vinita–check.

Even though the song’s lyrics are a little dated by now (the gaming facility the song is named for has since been replaced by the Choctaw Casino–which does still host Bingo on the first weekend of each month) it is still the biggest crowd-pleaser McMurtry plays. And it should be. It’s just plain damn raunchy fun.

During Friday night’s show at the Kessler Theater, he invited the crowd to “dance if ya like” before the song, and in the middle invited some of the more vigorous of the ladies to join the band on the stage. One distracted him so much by rubbin’ on him while he played, he noted that “It’s been years since I forgot the words at this point in the song.”

“Choctaw” came fairly early in the show, and he managed to play several favorites from Aught-Three: “Red Dress” (which he opened with), “Fraulein O.”, “Levelland”, and “Too Long in the Wasteland”. He did a solo acoustic version of “Ruby and Carlos” and the full band gave us “Bayou Tortue”, “Hurricane Party”, You’d a’ Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)”, “Childish Things”, “Restless”, and “Freeway View”, all from his more recent Live in Europe album.

For some of his early between-song tuning, he just tuned quietly, but as the show got on and he could tell the crowd was into it, he popped in funny comments or political notes. Before “We Can’t Make It Here”, McMurtry noted that they stopped playing the song for awhile, but resumed because it was still relevant. As he said, “Guess it sucks for everyone but us.”

While preparing to play the rocker “Lobo Town”, he noted that all the “rural Americans” he knew growing up were Kiss fans, and so they were about to play “country music for Kiss fans.” He also quipped that there were 2 things common to the South that “Nashville doesn’t write songs about: feral hogs and methamphetamines.”

He ended the main show with “Too Long in the Wasteland”, but was called back to the stage by the first encore I’ve seen an audience actually earn in years. He treated us to a solo acoustic performance of “Lights of Cheyenne”. Probably my favorite of his songs.

All in all, a great show.

And I didn’t even have to suffer through Oklahoma for it.