Author: Sargent, Geoff

Swamp Gas or maybe Grass

Joe Weed isn’t the only one spending time in the Gulf states, though his locomotion is more enjoyable than my conveyances were. I have some work related stuff that takes me to Houston every now and then……and might take me there more and more. This is a good news, bad news thing. Bad news for my wife, dog, and bandmates, and the priority order changes from hour to hour during the day, but in a way not such bad news for me. Forget the work stuff, I’m talking music because Houston has a music scene that puts the Bay area to shame. “Oh?” you say……are you (Geoff) crazy, demented, insane, ignorant, or has your brain just been overly humidified by your travels and the Houston-like rain we’ve been experiencing lately.Well, my standard answer is yes I am crazy, demented, somewhat insane, and my brain has many reasons for being aberrantly humidified……….but for a whole host of reasons not related to music. Just ask my family and friends. But arguably, Houston’s musical eminence is too true. Last Saturday night in Houston my short list of musical choices to go hear was “Asleep at the Wheel” at a roadhouse in Cypress, TX, or “JD Crowe and the New South”, at a small venue near the Woodlands, TX….except the show was cancelled because JD broke his arm… maybe I shouldn’t count it…but he was scheduled to play, or go hear the Sisters Morales at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck. JD’s cancellation helped my choice a bit. I have a fondness for the Mucky Duck and haven’t been there for 15 or so years so the Duck it was. If you ever travel through Houston I highly recommend the Duck. It is probably the Houston equivalent to the Freight, except with a kitchen and bar…..and the musical lineup they bring in is every bit the equal to the Freight’s with overlap that includes a lot of the same artists. The Sisters were a great show and I got to sit about six feet away from them, good sound, good music, good beer, I was in heaven.

I have to admit that Houston was on my original on my list of cities I didn’t want to live in. This is a list that I mentally made when I was living in Oregon and the list basically jinxed me. New York was on the list because I didn’t want to live in a huge city too far away from the ski slopes, so what do I do…move to London, England instead. Houston was on the list because it is a city of concrete and steel built in the middle of a swamp, and too far away from the ski slopes….and yep it was the second place I moved to after making the list. You’re not going to believe the third city on the list, I swear I really made this list, the Bay area! I know this seems like a strange pick, but I put it on the list because it was so bloody expensive compared to Corvallis, Oregon…..still is. In any case all three of my picks ended being much better places to live than I expected, with Houston the most surprising. I heard more good music there, and ate more good food, than all the other places combined. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that it’s a musically rich place. Houston is the fourth largest city in the US…so it’s a big market, and then there’s this little town about 90 minutes north called Austin. When Austin musicians need a little money they drive on down and play a few gigs in Houston. Heaven.

Granted, Houston has some interesting non-California idiosyncrasies……like the carry laws. As long as you are not a felon all you have to do to get a carry permit…pistola that is….is take a gun safety course. One of the interesting things is that for those public buildings not allowing guns inside, a sign is posted on the doors that essentially says “Please check your guns when you enter”. I always wondered who would be checking their guns at the Med school where I was working.

So where’s the bluegrass content? Well I was thinking about Ted Lehman’s Tent column and my mind was churning on all the different kinds of music I like whether it's the Sisters Morales or JD Crowe and thinking about bluegrass and how it all fits together. And I realized that we’ve got it all wrong. We’re looking at the Big Tent, Little Tent debate from the wrong end of the telescope.

What we need to do is take an example from our illustrious politicians and reframe the issue….and this is what I suggest: Bluegrass is the root form of all music that everything else is derived from. The problem is that we haven’t been thinking big enough. Beethoven, Mozart and all those guys were just pre-bluegrass and spawned several variations that include the romantic-grasses and the baroque-grasses. Sure there was influence from the Russian and German bluegrass schools that spawned the darker bluegrass songs….doesn’t murder, death, mayhem, and infidelity smack of Kafka. For the modern Bluegrass experiments there’s the Seattle grunge-grass scene that goes back to more primal bluegrass roots; then there was a short lived punk-grass movement that relied on ancient tattoo and piercing rituals. The 60’s, on the other hand, were dominated by the rock-grass scene pushing the envelope for amplified bluegrass instrumental arrangements. Sadly, a breakaway sect, Country and Western, tries to deny its Bluegrass roots yet strangely many of them can’t resist paying homage by issuing CDs with Bluegrass content.

If you look at it that way there is no small tent, it’s all Bluegrass.

Posted:  4/17/2011

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