“One Night in August” is the fifth installment of our monthly series in which we visit a half-dozen local music hot spots on a single evening. Austin overflows with live music on weekends, and thus our options were plentiful. We hit a variety of locations, from a longtime standby to a brand new venue to a campus haunt to a record store to a couple of hotel bars. Here’s what we heard:
5 p.m.: Jack Ingram at Waterloo Records. Celebrating the release of “Midnight Motel,” his first album in seven years, the Texas troubadour treated fans to an extended sampling of new tunes plus a poignant set-closing cover of Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.” These Waterloo in-stores usually run a half-hour at most. But in the spirit of his new album, which includes extended spoken introductions and casual banter with his bandmates, Ingram kept the vibe loose and rambling as he played for almost an hour.
He seemed especially pleased that the store had the new record on vinyl, remarking it was the first time he’d ever seen one of his albums in that format. Before heading to a table in back to sign records for fans after the set, Ingram joked that he might buy a vinyl copy and sign it for himself.
6:30 p.m.: Amanda Cevallos at the Hyatt Regency. With its towering atrium and glass elevators zipping by constantly, the spacious open lobby at the Hyatt could feel a little intimidating to a solo singer-songwriter. But if that was the case, you sure couldn’t tell from the confident and poised performance Cevallos delivered to a modest crowd scattered around the bar and restaurant in South Austin’s grandest hotel.
Singing beautifully both in English and in Spanish, Cevallos — who regularly plays joints such as the Continental, White Horse and ABGB with her honky-tonk outfit the High Hands — surveyed country classics from the likes of Hank Thompson and Randy Travis. Toward the end, she slipped in a couple of her own original tunes, including one called “I’m Not Going Back to Smithville” that she wrote after a friend made that vow. “I thought, ‘That’s a country song if I ever heard one!'”
7:30 p.m.: Rich Harney & Redd Volkaert at the Driskill Hotel. Though many Austin clubs have gotten hip to happy-hour gigs over the last couple of decades, hotel bars remain viable standbys to catch early-evening sets, and nobody has done it better, or longer, than the Driskill. It helps that the historic hotel regularly books some of the city’s finest musicians, like this pairing between jazz pianist Harney and country guitarist Volkaert.
The two traded off occasional vocal numbers, sprinkled between lively instrumentals that sought out the swinging common ground where jazz and country come together. One of the coolest things about the Driskill is that a few seats sidle up literally right next to the piano, and three patrons took advantage of that spot as Harney dug deep into the Bessie Smith classic “Salt Water Blues.” (Elsewhere in the crowd, we spotted luminaries from the local scene including boogie-woogie piano great Marcia Ball and nightclub owner Susan Antone.)
8:30 p.m.: Water & Rust at the Cactus Cafe. Heading up to the University of Texas campus, we were greeted by the surprise sight of a fully lighted orange tower, apparently in celebration of the Longhorn Network’s fifth anniversary. (Used to be those lightings were reserved for more significant occasions, but, well, it was a pretty sight regardless.) Our destination was the storied room in the Texas Union Building where Water & Rust was impressing a mostly full house with its electic, acoustic-based music.
Combining guitars, percussion and fiddle with radiant four-tiered harmonies, the quartet has created a sound that’s unlike anything else being done in Austin right now. Part folk, part gospel, and touching on R&B and jazz, they have their own style, as well as an easy banter onstage. Casually joshing with each other and the audience, they’ll occasionally tap into a revealing cover, as with the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” on this night.
9:15 p.m.: Don Harvey & A Is Red at the Townsend. “I’m having a 60-year-old moment,” drummer Harvey cracked as he tried to recall the intro to a song in this avant garde band’s set that was booked partly to celebrate his 60th birthday. Long one of Austin’s most accomplished drummers, Harvey played with Ian McLagan, Charlie Sexton, David Halley and many others before forming this mostly instrumental combo to explore esoteric avenues.
The five-piece group sounded especially engaging in the Townsend’s acoustically primed black-box space. “This room was built to hear music in,” Harvey marveled. Those who couldn’t fit into the tight confines could still hear and watch the band in the venue’s front bar area, which pipes in not only the audio but also the video on three large, artful digital screens that feel almost like live-action paintings hung on the wall. Sure beats a sports-bar TV setup, if you’re here for the music.
- RELATED: Creative bartending at the Townsend
10 p.m.: Belle Sounds at the Saxon Pub. Fridays at the Saxon are anchored by guitarist Denny Freeman’s wildly popular happy-hour gig, but the music rolls on throught the night with subsequent separate shows, and so we caught this fine folk-rock five-piece at the tail end of their 9 p.m. show (before Hector Ward & the Big Time closed things out at 11 p.m.). The Saxon has plans to move further south in a year or two, but for now, its venerable South Lamar home remains an anchor on the local scene.
It’s tempting to draw parallels between Belle Sounds and Fleetwood Mac, given the triple-threat interplay between band leader Noelle Hampton, masterfully atmospheric guitarist Andre Moran and keyboardist-vocalist Emily Shirley. Backed by bassist-vocalist Nathan Harlan and drummer Jim Echels, they play sophisticated pop originals and have a great rapport with the audience, whether they’re joking about which bad TV theme songs they should consider covering (“Different Strokes”? “Three’s Company”?) or giving props to the club’s highly respected soundman, Richard Vannoy.
Join us again next month for “One Night in September” — date to be determined.
One Night, By the Numbers: 8.7 miles driven (from Point 1 to Point 6, not including to and from home). $3 spent on parking (street meters downtown); probably about a mile total of walking from parking spaces to venues, as weekend nights often require finding spots a little further from the venues. Admission charges: Free at Waterloo, Hyatt Regency and Driskill. The Townsend often charges a cover, but Harvey’s birthday show was free. Saxon Pub and Cactus Cafe: $10 each.