Escape From New York

“I lived in New York for a while. But I’m a hothead. I wasn’t well-suited for the temperament of that town.” Tom Waits

As much as I despise mainstream country radio how could I stay in a city where there was not one terrestrial country music station? Since the demise of Y-107 on 2001 there has been no country music radio station in the New York City. New York City is country music`s second-largest sales market. I mean it’s a format that would result in a frikkin ATM machine for ratings and ads! 

Truth be told my wife finished school at about the time I had enough of 8 million people that can’t walk on a sidewalk in an orderly fashion or restaurant help that yell at you when you order . Some people call it urban charm, I call it social masochism.

It’s true many things about New York set me on edge, but I will miss some of it and it me and my family will always consider it our other home. I started this blog in New York City in part because I was a displaced Texan and was forced to define myself in contrast to the dominating East Coast environment I found myself living in. I also discovered artists that showed me that country music had as much fire and passion as anything coming from rap, punk or metal camps as well as cleaning most pop and singer/songwriter clocks. As a goodbye I want to mention some of the artists, organizations and places that helped my hang onto my Southern bred sanity while in the land of the Yankees and ever present scent of urine.

The Bowery Ballroom where I caught my last New York show, a sold-out Toadies performance that was as chaotic and brilliant as any show I had seen with the band in Dallas. Joe’s Pub where I was fortunate enough to see the late, great Porter Wagoner accompanied by Marty Stuart just before their collaboration “The Wagonmaster” was released. I also was able to see Wagoner and Stuart at Madison Square Garden when they opened for the White Stripes. Carnegie Hall where I saw George Jones with Kris Kristofferson opening the show and Irving Plaza where I also saw many fine performances. Special attention sent to Rockwood Music Hall and the National Underground for keeping Americana and roots muisc alive and thriving in the East Village.

 For Southerners much comfort come from what you put in your mouth, thanks to Hill Country Barbecue (also a great place to catch a show), Daisy May’s Barbecue and Brother Jimmy’s Barbecue. For Mexican food my respect goes to Arriba Arriba and the Rodeo Bar (another great place to catch a show.)

The bands, artists and fans are way to numerous to mention and I would leave out some great folks. Suffice it to say that there are many, many real country and roots music fans in Gotham. Keep the hillbilly flag flying ’til I get back kids, ya hear?

Now I’m in Texas again and readying myself and my family for out new home in San Fransisco. If anyone knows of great places to see live music, great artists I need to check out, and eat great ‘cue or Tex-Mex in the Bay Area give me a shout.

The Felice Brothers / Justin Townes Earle / McCarthy Trenching – Bowery Ballroom – New York City 4/12

Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, a concert can really floor you. Just surprise you in ways you had no idea you still could be. I’m glade to say this last Saturday I attended a sold out show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom that did just that.

Omaha Nebraska’s McCarthy Trenching opened the show at about 8:15 belting out self-described songs of drinking, killing and horse songs drinking, killing and horse songs with workmanlike diligence and little room for flourish.
26-year-old singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle then hit the stage sporting a throwback look – sequin-trimmed suit and Brylcreemed hair – to match his gloriously throwback sound. Accompanied by mandolin-banjo-harmonica player and stamp-collection enthusiast Cory Younts, Earle served up with his blend of old school honkey-tonk
(Hard Livin, Ain’t Glad I’m Leavin’) and Tennessee backwoods country (Who Am I To Say, The Ghost Of Virginia) and straight up corn-pone fun (Chitlin Cookin Time In Cheetham County, Your Biscuit’s Big Enough For Me.) All the country music history sketches that make up his new release ‘The Good Life” were on show in full force. Earle showed confidence as he stalked the stage, stomped his boots to cue chorus to bridge breaks and hoisted his acoustic guitar rifle-like Johnny Cash-style. The New York crowd whooped and hollered and the girls near the stage stood transfixed with by his rugged Southern charm. Earle left the stage with a song for his Grandpa (Absolute Angels Blues) after almost an hour and left the crowd wanting more but primed the crowd for what was to come.

The most accurate and hilarious description I’ve come across for the Felice Brothers (actually three brothers and friends) is by way of Andrew Leahey over at All Music Guide – “they’re a pack of earth-stained country boys from the wilds of the Catskill Mountains, not Ivy Leaguers who thought ransacking their parents ’60s records would a better career move than grad school.” Dead on description and doubly so live. Cards on the table, I came to the show for Justin Townes Earle and decided to hang for a few songs by these Yankee roots rockers just to see what all the fuss was about. I’m glade I did.

It appeared that many under 30-year-olds from the Felice Brothers hometown of the Hudson River Valley and the New York City area, where the Felice boys honed their craft in the subway stations, turned out to welcome them back home. Young girls in cotton dresses shouted the band members names like they had them in home room and their drunk boyfriends sang to every song at the top of their lungs like they could do it in their sleep.

The Felice Brothers are often compared to a more punked-out Band, and it’s a pretty fair comparison. Like The Band The Felice Brothers take country and roots music and turn it in on it’s history to exposes the Celtic, blues and gospel innards. Gothic Americana landscapes drenched with sepia, whiskey (on stage and in verse) and blood.

Sometimes it seemed that the band was using their instruments as weapons and songs would veer just out of control just to right itself at the last minute. Tales of broken dreams and dreamers flat broke and staring down narrowing odds (the harrowing Hey Hey Revolver), sin, redemption and Dixieland salvation (Saved (Lieber-Stolle), Mercy) and salacious limo drivers (Cincinnati Queen) and straight up murder ballads that would make Nick Cave take notice (Ruby Mae.) Sometimes the whole affair seemed like a Ken Burns soundtrack mashed up with the Pogues on a particularly heavy bender.

Guitarist and lead gravel-throated vocalist Ian, drummer and vocalist Simone and accordionist and bear of a man James Felice along with a guy named Christmas (bass) and Farley (fiddle and washboard) played music dank with tradition and yet crackling with passion and fire. I’ve always said that if you can fake authenticity you can do anything, but if there is any faking until they make it with this band then my well tuned bullshit detector was unable to pick up the trace.

There have been some leveling of derision at the Felice Brothers for supposedly cribbing their sound to the Dyan/Band basement tapes. These jibes are usually from critics that see no problem giving a pass to the likes of the Zeppelin/Pixies plagiarism that is the White Stripes. I agree with Picasso that bad artists copy and great artists steal. The Felice Bros. are casing the joint and armed to the teeth.

The Felice Brothers Bowery Ballroom 4-12-2008 – I’m Saved


The Deadstring Brothers Do the Streets of New York

The Village Voice and Rob Trucks feature Bloodshot Records recording artist and 70’s sleaze revivalist, the Deadstring Brothers in their feature “Possibly 4th Street” expositions. This is a piece where musicians are invited to perform live and impromptu somewhere in New York City and to experience the immeadiacy and electricity of being ignored by snooty pedistrians.


Whistlin’ Dixies Texas Tavern – New York City

If you ever find yourself on Manhattan’s West Side in need of a libation  and sustinince you could do worse than to head to Hell’s Kitchen and pay a visit to Whistlin’ Dixies Texas Tavern (724 11th at 51st). The motif is Texas enough and features dancing cowgirls in bikinis on Sunday nights.

Sean (cool) and Jen (spunky) are fine barkeeps sure to keep you socially lubricated. Once they start stocking Shiner the
place will be damn near perfect.

Try the jalenoe poppers and BBQ chicken sandwich with waffle fries. Yum!

Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell, Juston Townes Earle – New York City – 7/19

This last Thursday the planets lined up just right above the New York skyline and the night was graced by not one, but three excellent performances for a yearning for some fine faire.

The mighty Drive By Truckers dropped into the city to perform a free show at Clinton Castle national monument at Battery Park to play a free show for the River to River festival. The rainstorms that had come down all week held off but provided a cool, cloudy evening for the show.    

I arrived at 8:00 to the capacity show that was already in progress and in the middle of the song of sexual discord “Panties In Your Purse”. The crowd was a mix of hipster, Wall Street workers that had strolled over from work a few blocks away and folks that look like they had taken their motorcycles or pick-ups from the nether regions of the East to catch the show.

With the “extremely amicable” departure of singer /songwriter/guitarist Jason Isbell I had some trepidation that the remaining band would be lacking in some significant way. I should have known better than to question the resiliency of mighty Truckers. With Athens, Georgia’s John Neff added in as guitarist and pedal steel and did a fine job brandishing his yellow metal flake Telecaster and the legendary Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham was joining the Truckers on some of the dates and added a layer of funk and rhythm I had yet heard at a DBT show.

The classis were mixed with the new cuts from the latest “A Blessing and a Curse” – “Heathens”, “Sounds Better In The Song”, “Sink Hole”, “Puttin’ People On The Moon”, “Bulldozers and Dirt”, “The Night G.G. Allin Came To Town”, “Where The Devil Don’t Stay”, “The Living Bubba”, “Sands Of Iwo Jima”, “Zip City”. There was a nod to New York City with the frequent set standard by the musician, author and poet Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” They night finished off with the night with a rousing rendition of Bruce Springteen’s harrowing song of alienation and violence State Trooper.

After the show I headed uptown to the Mercury lounge to catch Ex-Trucker Jason Isbell, but first opening the show was a man whose moniker sets a dizzyingly high level of expectations, Justin Townes Earle.

Being Steve Earle’s first born means growing up under difficult conditions (read the book Hard Core Troubadour for more details on this) and having some big boots to fill. And Justin’s middle name is, of course, in honor of Steve Earle’s musical and chemical, mentor Townes Van Zandt. Even bigger boots.

And judging from this evening’s show Justin is well on his way to being his own man. With only an acoustic guitar and a backing ukulele (didn’t catch the musician’s name) Donning a silver specked western shirt Justin covered quite a bit of his folk-ragtime tinged EP Yuma (which he himself went out front and sold at the door for $10.) The Ghost of Virginia. You Can’t Leave Yuma, Let the Waters Rise, A Desolate Angels Blues – as well as a Buck Owens cover that I did not recognize – All in all a splendid performance from a man with an impeccable Americana pedigree, but doesn’t just ride his namesakes shirt tales.  


During the show Jason Isbell was mulling about in Mercury Lounge’s sold out small space. Now it was his turn to be the man in the front and not off to the right side of Patterson Hood.

Isbell and his Muscle Shoals area band the 400 Unit: Jimbo Hart (bass), Ryan Tillery (drums) and Browan Lollar (guitar) got right down to it with the searing blues-rock “Try” from the newly released Sirens of the Ditch, most of which was covered in this show.

Isbell then launched into a tribute to his former band mates by playing a song he cut with the Drive By Truckers the wrenching “God Damn Lonely Love” – he later made a kin-hearted reference to the truckers earlier show by saying – “I hope you got to catch those guys tonight. I was stuck here getting ready for this.”

Then came “The Assassin” and the excellent “Hurricanes and Hand Grenades” and the coming of age “Grown.”
As with his former band playing the distinctly New York song  “People Who Died” Isbell’s band – specifically guitarist Browan Lollar sang the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer.”

The band then played the band then played the weakly poppy “New Kind of Actress”, which seeing it live didn’t make me like it any more then I did before. Then another nod to the DBT days with “Decoration Day.” The show ended with a blasting version of Thin Lizzy’s  “Jailbreak” which left me exhilarated as well as drained from the long, delirious, night.

Chris Knight – The Knitting Factory -New York City – 4/6/07

Chris Knight tells stories about the down and out, the desperate, the unlucky and folks generally off societies grid and influenced by his childhood growing up in the tiny mining town of Slaughters, KY – and here in the tiny downstairs Tap Room at the Knitting Factory a near capacity crowd came to bear witness to their lives in song.

Dismissed by critics as the poor-man’s (so to speak) Steve Earle, Knight has his own stories and they tend to be more direct, more sparse and grittier then Earle would pen. Knight is also not afraid to show his redneck roots in song and onstage which Earle, with his newfound Liberalism, seems uncomfortable with is not outright embarrasses with his Texas heritage.

This cold New York eve Knight covered songs from his entire catalog, “Enough Rope” from his last release from last year by the same name, is followed by the question “Are there any PETA people here tonight? I love animals, I just don’t take any shit off of them.” Knight joked and then breaks into “Bridle on a Bull” which features the lyrics “If your mule don’t want to plow/Talk to him with a two-by-four/And if he still don’t want to plow/Talk to him just a little bit more/And if he just don’t want to listen/Haul him off to the dog food store.”

In fine Southern and country music tradition Knight told many stories about how his songs came about. He tells a story of how his song Devil Behind The When (from the CD “The Jealous Kind”) involving the hiring of a religious drummer demonic birthday card.

Next is asong of the recently release “The Trailer Tapes” (Thirty Tigers) was about “I big city boy coming to the country and stirring up trouble. Yeah, I know this is going to go over big here in New York City. Laughs and gawfaws all around. The song kiils in it’s menace and heat. “Rita’s Only Fault” from the same release follows, about a former beauty queen’s revenge after a husband’s abuse was somber and heartfelt.

The crowd was almost dead silent during the solo guitar accompanied songs (despite the loud rock band playing on the upstairs stage), but once the songs were over the crowd is clapping and whooping as much as any Mason Dixon dive (with better beer.) I met some boys a few sheets to the wind who had driven all the way from Connecticut to see the show. “We had to come seee our boy.” the tall, lanky guy with a trucker cap beamed.

Knight the tells the story about a shoe in Switzerland when a local fan came up to him after the show and asked if he was okay after what happened to his brother. Knight had performed “Down The River” (from the CD “A Pretty Good Guy”). The song tells the story of two brothers that go fishing and the older one is murdered as revenge for a pool hall brawl.

The fan said “I hope your alright since that happed to your brother.” Knight then deadpans in his Kentucky drawl “If I can make people think these things are happening to me, I’ve done my job.”

He’s got me believing.