Saturday, February 24, 2007

Resuming normal activities

shooting again

The weather finally warmed up, and the skies have been mostly sunny. I went out shooting on Sunday afternoon, and again on Monday morning. I didn't really catch much, except for a southbound train of covered hoppers, powered by two Santa Fe SD's still in blue and yellow. Just like old times (well, almost). I miss the days of seeing trains like this.

Southbound near Krum, TX. Feb. 19, 2007

Dig that Santa Fe power! Ponder, Tx; Feb 19, 2007

M was with me when I went out on Sunday; he snapped this shot of a grain train near Haslet.

I shot this one on my way home from the Gourds show in Denton last Thursday night. I'd like to thank whoever decided to build that used car lot south of the Kroger crossing in Keller, for installing the floodlights that made this shot possible. Reminds me of a line from the Ray Wylie Hubbard song "Wanna Rock n Roll", about 99 cars screamin' into the night...

late night northbound through Keller. Feb 16, 2007

riding again
With the warmer weather, I've been starting to get out on my bike again. I started off a little slow this week, but still rode close to 40 miles over two different days. I only rode once during the whole month of January; it's definitely nice to be out riding again after such a long break. And it's always a nice bonus to catch a train or two during a ride...

CMO gons at UP Hicks siding. Tuesday Feb. 20

BNSF coal load passing Hicks Airport. Tuesday, Feb. 20

UP northbound through Keller. Thursday, Feb. 22

Beauty and the (Railfan) Geek

K and I were watching tv on Sunday morning and we stumbled across something as delightful as a nasty car accident. It was painful to watch, but we couldn't look away. The show? MTV's "Beauty and the Geek", where a bunch of socially inept dorks (the geeks) are paired with physically attractive airheads (the beauties). The team whose two members exhibit the biggest transition (from nerd to swingin' stud; from dumb blonde to smart blonde) wins a $250,000 prize.
The guys came to the show with such impressive credentials as "owns 25,000 comics" and "has only kissed one girl". The ladies, long on looks but short on brains, had slightly more impressive resumes: "Playboy model", "former Hooters waitress". I'm almost ashamed to say, we spent two hours of our Sunday watching this spectacle. (It was an all-day "marathon." K DVR'd the rest so we could watch it later.) What fun! The best "challenge" was probably the art class where the guys had to draw sketches of an attractive, nude, female model. She talked the whole time, and after the modeling session, the host asked the guys questions about what she had been talking about. I'll let you guess how well a roomful of guys who had probably never SEEN a naked chick did at answering such questions!
Anyway, I got to thinking... if BATG ever decides to shift the "geek factor" into high gear, the producers need look no further than the nearest railfan gathering (train show, modeling club, railroad historical society, slide show, etc). Compared to some of the foaming dorks I've run across over the years, the BATG guys look like Ben Freakin' Affleck. I'm talking about guys with a SEVERE lack of social skills, who scarcely recognize that life exists outside of trains, train literature and photos, and train discussion groups on the internet. BATG could list their credentials like this: "has photographed entire BNSF locomotive roster", "has ridden 2 million miles on Amtrak", or "owns largest railroad timetable collection in the state of Texas". They might not have any better luck answering questions about that nude model, but it would sure make guys like me (i.e., "normal" railfans) feel "cool" by comparison.
How stupid do these spammers think I am?

My yahoo inbox is full of garbage with subject lines like "Have segundo at burial" and "Is my madagascar" from people with names like Ramiro Greene and Emory Bacon. Each one of them contains an attachment. Luckily, yahoo is pretty good about flagging this kind of crap as "Spam". But I've gotta wonder, do the idiots sending this stuff out actually expect me to open and read emails with such ridiculous subject lines, especially from someone I've never heard of? Why not disguise their spam under a subject line more relevant to where they got my email address from (most likely, a Yahoogroups posting)... say "Rio Grande GP30" or "Texas music" and make the name someone I've actually heard of, like Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie. I'd be a hell of a lot more likely to open their stupid spam emails if I thought Angelina wanted to talk with me about trains or Eleven Hundred Springs...

np: Mazzy Star "Look down from the bridge"
nr: John Steinbeck - Sweet Thursday

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gourds & rasslin

Gourds x 2

The Gourds were back in north Texas for two shows on Thursday and Saturday.

A brief Gourds "primer" for the uninitiated... The Gourds are a band from Austin. Their sound has often been described as "bluegrass meets cow-punk". That might be a fair description if one were limited to just four words, but you'd need at least a paragraph more to describe the inclusion of influences as varied as acid rock, Cajun/Zydeco, Tejano, Celtic folk music, traditional country, you name it. Another blogger described their sound as "the kind of music that makes you want to go jumping from room to room around the house, whooping and hollering, and slapping yourself on the ass." Well said.

The Thursday show was at Dan's Silver Leaf in Denton... I hurried up there after work and didn't miss a single song. They started playing within 10 minutes of my arrival, and played for about 2 hours. I counted 19 songs, not counting a short instrumental to start the encore...

The Gourds - Thursday 02/15/07 at Dan's Silver Leaf, Denton TX

Kevin on vocals & mandolin
Here's the set list from Thursday February 15 at Dan's in Denton:

Layin around the house
Ants on the melon
El Paso
Curse the sunshine, piss on the rain (announced as a new song, not sure of title)
County Orange
Illegal oyster
Pine Island Bayou (featuring a mean mandolin solo by Kev)
Burn the honeysuckle
New roommate
Mr. Betty
Do4U (featuring an instrumental long enough to make you wonder if they're converting to a "jam" band)
Lower 48
*** encore ***
"Reggae encore intro"
Shake the chandelier

It's always fun to watch the crowd at a Gourds show, especially people who obviously haven't seen them before and don't know quite what to expect. I kept watching these two girls sitting at one of the tables in front of Jimmy and Claude. It looked like they were there with some guys who were fans of the band, but the girls probably hadn't been to see them before. One of the girls was all smiles and was mostly watching Kevin and his crazy stage antics -- doing little dances and making Jimi Hendrix faces as he strummed frantically on his mandolin. The other wasn't quite sure; she looked a little bit bored. Well, not everyone appreciates good music, and maybe it takes a special kind of person to enjoy a Gourds show. The most important thing is just to show up prepared to have a good time. It was good to see Jimmy's dad in the crowd; now there is a man who knows how to have a GOOD TIME.
Saturday's show was at the Aardvark, in Ft Worth near the TCU campus. I headed down there after work and met my friend Lance. I caught part of the last song by opening act "Baby Gramps", a one-man act that Lance described as "different". The Gourds took the stage around 23:30 and played til about 1:45. Highlights? 1) Max's dad, Dollar Bill Johnston, joined the band on stage for the song "Smoke Bend". Dollar Bill sings vocals on that same song on the Gourds album "Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig". 2) Only occasionally will they include "Gin & Juice" (yes, their cover of the Snoop Dogg song) in a set, but they did throw it into the mix on Saturday. It's always interesting to see what other songs they work into the "Gin & Juice" extended instrumental; this time it a mind-blowing combination of Bob Marley's "Wait in Vain" and Cheap Trick's "Surrender". 3) After that, the band did a two-song encore, beginning with a cover of a Velvet Underground song "Sweet Nothing" that I couldn't remember hearing them play before. It was another great Gourds show, and it was cool to see them for the second time in three nights.

the Aardvark marquee

Dollar Bill Johnston (Max's dad) on vocals

Jimmy on bass, Claude on accordion

same guys, different instruments

Max signals the sound man for "more banjo"
Here's the set list from Saturday:

Ants on the melon
All the labor
I'm troubled
Layin around the house
If I lose
Smoke bend (with Dollar Bill Johnston)
Hooky junk
Mr. Betty
Shake the chandelier
Burn the honeysuckle
Jesus Christ with signs following
My name is Jorge
Lower 48
County Orange
Pine island Bayou
Gin & Juice / Wait in Vain / Surrender (Snoop Dogg / Bob Marley / Cheap Trick)
*** encore ***
Sweet Nothing (Velvet Underground)
Are you ready for the country (Waylon Jennings)

Heroes of World Class

Well, the wrestling dvd (mentioned in my February 15 entry) was everything I hoped it would be -- and more. The documentary helped me reconnect with a part of my life from over 20 years ago, helped me to learn the real story behind the people and events that I normally experienced only as a tv spectator, and helped me feel like I had gotten to know some of the participants on a personal level. It turns out that I have a lot in common with Brian Harrison, the filmmaker who produced the show. The dvd case explains how Harrison began watching the World Class Wrestling telecasts in 1983 at the age of 10, idolizing the Von Erichs and wrestling's other "heroes". They could have been writing about ME.

Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and I felt a true sense of loss during the segment in which Kevin Von Erich explored the ruins of the Dallas Sporatorium prior to its ultimate demise. There's no telling how many hours' worth of the wrestling matches I watched in the mid-80s were filmed in that venue southwest of downtown Dallas. I even made a trip down there once, in 1992 or '93 when I was a student at SMU. Some promoter had come down fraternity row, hoping to drum up business by handing out passes for free admission on a Friday night, and advertising dollar draft beer! They attracted a sizeable crowd from the Kappa Sig house alone! We arrived early and after purchasing as much beer as we could carry, we looked for seats way up in the back rows. But the ushers made us move down to ringside; they were filming that night and wanted to make it look like there was a big crowd there (i.e., no empty seats within view of the ringside cameras). We didn't see much of a card; this was about 8 years after I stopped watching wrestling on tv and the Dallas wrestling scene had apparently fallen on hard times. The only name I recognized that night was "Killer" Tim Brooks, who must have been about 65 years old and hadn't aged gracefully. But we had a good time, and it ended up being my only time ever to set foot in that legendary building on the corner of Industrial and Cadiz. I used to drive by there all the time, looking for trains to photograph on the edge of downtown Dallas. But during all those times I drove past it, armed with multiple cameras and dozens of rolls of film, I never once bothered to stop and snap a picture. And now it's gone.

the Dallas Sportatorium - as seen in "Heroes of World Class"

Of course, the true story of tragedy, well-documented by "Heroes of World Class", is the loss of life endured by the Von Erich family. Four brothers of the five passed away decades before their time: David due to an intestinal infection at age 25; Mike, Chris, and Kerry by suicide -- at 23, 21, and 33 respectively. As a father, I can't imagine the grief I'd feel at losing ONE kid at an early age, let alone FOUR. Kevin, the sole surivor, was always my favorite wrestler of the family. As I watched the documentary, it occurred to me how, as much as I admired him as a wrestler in the mid-80s, I admire and respect him tenfold today for his strength and composure at coping with such incomprehensible tragedy. Kevin, God bless ya... and thanks for being an inspiration to me for dang near a quarter century.

about that new coach...

I realize I haven't commented on the Dallas Cowboys' new coach yet. Well, what more can I say than "at least he's a Texan". We'll leave it at that for now. That, and... it's too bad the Chargers didn't fire Marty Schottenheimer about a month earlier. He probably would have been pretty expensive, though...


np: Waylon Jennings "Are you sure Hank done it this way" on KHYI 95.3 FM

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Christmas in February

Christmas paydirt -- in February

For Christmas, I received several gift cards to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble. Those seem to work pretty well; I'm perpetually maintaining a running list of cd's, dvd's, books, etc that I'd like to own. I've found that it's just easier to ask for gift cards instead of for specific items; this avoids confusion ("I hope that was the right one?") and just makes things easier for the person giving the gift. The only drawback is, it requires a little extra work on my part (having to get on line, or worse yet -- go to an actual store!) to redeem my cards. Well, last week I did a little shopping at Best Buy; I picked up a few dvd's I've been wanting: SNL's Best of Adam Sandler and Best of Chris Farley -- $9.99 each but I'd rate their comedic value at damn near priceless! Unfortunately, Best Buy didn't stock several of the other titles I was looking for. So I got on the Barnes & Noble website and found what I wanted. Yesterday, the mother lode arrived...

Christmas pay dirt, baby!

Included in my selections were four dvd's I've had my eye on for a while -- three movies and one documentary. First up are two essential "Texas" titles: 1) "Paris, Texas", the story of a man trying to put his life back together after a tragic and turbulent marriage, starring Harry Dean Stanton; and 2) "The Last Picture Show", the story of a small west Texas town in the 1950s, starring Jeff Bridges and Cybil Shepard. Dig that classic country soundtrack!

Next on the list is "The Station Agent", starring Peter Dinklage as a dwarf who inherits a railroad depot in a small New Jersey town. He moves into the station, hoping for quiet and solitude, but finds neither. The railroad scenes are well-photographed and present an interesting contrast in operations between dynamic city railroading (NJT commuters) and bucolic, backwoods shortlines. And the hilarious scene of the railfan "movie night" in the hobby shop is probably worth the price of the movie, in and of itself! The story itself would be both sad and heartwarming in any setting, but the railroad ambience seems entirely appropriate, reinforcing the "big-small" theme. It's definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen it.

Paris, Texas; Heroes of World Class

The documentary I ordered was something I just stumbled across during a Google search: "Heroes of World Class". Now, if I don't strike you as being much of a fan of professional wrestling, you obviously didn't know me when I was in 6th and 7th grade (1983-84-85) Not only does this title cover the approximate time frame of my interest in wrestling; it also covers the same circuit that we saw on tv in San Angelo! Of course, we did get the WWF back then on the USA Network, and occasional broadcasts from the deep south on TBS, but it was Dallas' KTVT (at the time an independent station, which our cable company in San Angelo carried), and the Abilene NBC affiliate, which both broadcast the World Class circuit from north Texas venues like the Dallas Sportatorium and Fort Worth's Will Rogers Coliseum. That's where I was introduced to names like "IceMan" King Parsons, Chris Adams, "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin (and attendants "Sunshine" and "Precious", Skandar Akbar, the Missing Link, the Super Destroyers, Kamala the Ugandan Giant, Bruiser Brody, the Freebirds, and of course the legendary Von Erich family. Every Saturday afternoon and Saturday night in San Angelo, I was glued to the tv when these shows aired. Not only that; I would act out wrestling scenes whenever I wasn't watching it on tv. I made some wrestling rings out of old pizza boxes -- with Crayola crayons for posts and kite string for ropes -- and pressed my GI Joe (the small ones) and Fisher-Price action figures into service. It kept me entertained for MONTHS! Back then, wrestling was probably the only thing I was interested in as much as trains.

Mom and Dad even took me out to the San Angelo coliseum a couple of different times when wrestling came to town; seeing Kevin Von Erich in person may well have been the highlight of my 7th grade year! I gradually lost interest in wrestling after our cable company dropped KTVT from our channel lineup, and I couldn't watch the Dallas circuit nearly as much. That was probably God's way of saying, "time to move on". But remind me to tell you sometime about the time during college when a few friends and I went down to the Sportatorium for a night of squared-circle mayhem and extremely cheap beer!

Anyway, it should suffice to say that I can barely resist the temptation to cut this blog entry a little short and commence with my first screening RIGHT NOW. Between "Heroes of World Class", and those other thee movies, I'll definitely have a reason to look forward to coming home from work at night for the ntext week or so!

My Barnes & Noble order also included a few cd's... U2's "the Joshua Tree", the quintessential U2 album which heretofore has somehow eluded my collection; "Enough Rope" by rockin' alt-country artist Chris Knight; and Hank Thompson's "All-time Greatest Hits" featuring country classics like "Squaws along the Yukon" and "Six-Pack to Go".

Thanks to Mom, sister-in-law Kim, and cousin Charlie and his family for the B&N gift cards; they were well-spent and much appreicated.

that song stuck in my head

It happens to most of us; some song will get stuck running incessantly through our heads... sometimes it'll be one we haven't even heard for years; other times it'll be something we heard yesterday or the day before. Last week, my involuntary song of choice was the aforementioned "Squaws along the Yukon" by Hank Thompson. But for the past day or two, I've been hearing "Lazy Eye" by Silversun Pickups. I woke up real early one day last week and couldn't fall back asleep, so I turned on the tv and stumbled across the video to this song on MTV (an actual music video on MTV, who would've thought? I guess that's what they air between 4 and 6 am).

Anyway, I was immediately intrigued not just by the video, but by their sound. Both the video and the song reminded me of just about everything I remember about the alternative music and club scene in Dallas back in the early '90s. The band is on stage in a crowded club (curiously devoid of the trademark haze of cigarette smoke -- maybe this is some bizarre utopian vision of Dallas nightclubs after a hypothetical third term under Mayor Laura Miller?) and a guy and a girl in the crowd are looking at each other, occasionally making eye contact. At the end of the song, they meet in the street outside the club. That's pretty much it for the video. The song sounds like something by Dinosaur Jr. or Sunny Day Real Estate -- fast tempo bass, catchy little melodic guitar riffs building to a crescendo of distortion and reverb and guitar noise, with vocals that sound like Billy Corgan. I swear to God, this song sounds like it could have been recorded in 1992 and put in a time machine destined for 2007! I've listened to samples of a few of the Silversun Pickups' other songs, which I didn't really get into, but I made sure to get my hands on a copy of "Lazy Eye" right away. It puts a vast majority of the contemporary "alternative" scene to shame.

still winter

It has been another week of cloudy skies, and temperatures in the 30s and low 40s. The forecasters have been threatening snow, but all I saw yesterday were just a few flakes. I really miss the kind of winter we had last year, with lots of sunny days and highs in the 60s and 70s. I guess it will be spring soon enough...

north Texas winter scene - the jogging path in Keller

Southbound coal train at Roanoke, caked with snow from someplace up north...
Feb. 14, 2007

np: "Heroes of World Class" dvd (I couldn't wait!)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hallmark holiday

Over the years, I've had some good Valentine's Days and some not-so-good Valentine's Days. I've celebrated one or two in the backseat of a car, I've spent others alone, and I can remember one during college on which I sent "romantic" cards to three different girls! But it's not really something that I get too excited about these days.

The kids have been to the corner drugstore to buy their boxes of ready-made cards, which they'll hand out to their classmates at school during a cupcake and candy "sugar orgy" -- all in the name of education, of course. K has laid out a Valentine-themed doormat on the front porch. And Mom gaciously offered to pick up M at school so I could take K to lunch. That will pretty much be the extent of our celebrations. Roses? HELL no. Chocolates? Not a chance. A $3.99 Hallmark card for K? Doubtful. Who needs it? We know how we feel about each other.

To me, Valentine's Day is just another day on the calendar between New Year's and Easter. The greeting card companies and flower shops say we should be showering our sweethearts with cards and gifts. Whiskey says, "to hell with that!" I'll save my money and you save yours... baseball season will be starting soon; that'll be a few more bucks my sweetheart and I can set aside for those $7.00 beers.

Speaking of spending money...

The Gourds have a couple of upcoming shows scheduled for later in the week. I guess you know what I'll be doing after work on Thursday and Saturday nights... tune in later for set lists and reviews.


np: Brave Combo - The Chicken Dance

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stock show & rodeo redux

A week ago Sunday (Jan 28), we took the kids to the Stock Show. M's kindergarten class had been there the Tuesday before (see January 25th entry) and we thought it would be fun to go back. K and L hadn't been since before M was born. We hadn't counted on the crowds... it was one of the first nice-weather weekends they've had at the Stock Show this year, and the place was packed. We had hoped to go to one of the Sunday rodeos, but they were sold out. So I decided to bring the kids back for a rodeo on Monday night. Anyway, here's what we saw on Sunday...

M reunites with the stock show mascots

Rusty the Star-Telegram bull. That horn-span is over 6 feet!

trying out the tractors in the exhibit hall

Watch where you step in the cattle barn...

back at the petting zoo
Monday night rodeo
So the kids and I went back Monday night for the rodeo, since the Sunday afternoon show had sold out. It was the first rodeo I've been to in about 6 years. The rodeo used to come to San Angelo every March, and we went a few times, but by the time I was in junior high and high school, I really didn't want to have anything to do with it. In high school, I considered myself much too "cool" to have anything to do with something so... agrarian, so... "western". The one we went to six years ago was my first rodeo in probably 15 or 16 years. And I'd been wanting to get back to another one ever since. I'll tell ya what, if you haven't been in a while, you may want to go check one out... they're a lot more entertaining than I remember them being when I was 10 or 12! The bareback bronc riding and the bull riding were spectacular (the action was too fast for me to get good photos), but I was just as interested in the calf scramble, the cutting, the steer wrestling... with each event, the amount of skill, strength and finesse required of the participants was obvious.
I'm not kidding myself... I live in a cookie cutter suburban home on less than a 1/2 acre of land, I'll probably never own a horse or a cow in my life, and my kids are probably as likely to become doctors or astronauts as they are to ever learn to rope a calf or ride a cutting horse. But when you live in Texas, or hell, anywhere in the west, where certain things are a part of your region's culture and history, it's not a bad idea to get a look at them once in a while. I'm glad we went, the kids seemed to enjoy it (or at least they enjoyed the cotton candy and ice cream), and maybe we'll go again in a year or two.

Before the rodeo, we had time to ride the ferris wheel on the midway...

Cutting horse competition. The rider separates one cow from the herd, and then it's up to the rider and horse to keep it from getting back to the herd. Not as easy as it looks!

Home stretch run during the barrel racing...

roping competition

chuckwagon races
Since the Cowboys couldn't win, I'm glad the Colts could...

Well, I was glad to see the Colts come away with a victory at Super Bowl XLI. Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy are good guys, and I'm happy for them. And their status as Super Bowl champs means a little something for the Cowboys, as well... the Cowboys can say they beat 'em during the regular season! It's too bad that Dallas' season went to hell in December. But was it really that big of a surprise? With Parcells out of the picture, it'll be interesting to see what happens during the 2007 season. Now that football season is over, I'm kind of bummed; how am I gonna spend my Sundays? Only 6 months til August...
np: Townes Van Zandt - Blaze's Blues

Sunday, February 04, 2007

February snow, January show

These wintertime posts are all starting to look the same. We got snowagain on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning -- just a dusting, but enough to turn the ground white, and of course M was going ape-sh** and running around in it before school. Later, I took a walk in Keller and saw a couple of trains on the Choctaw...

M's Tonka front-end loader was pressed into snowplow duty....

Later, M's Tonka dump truck laid down tracks in fresh powder...
Southbound MNPEW rolls through Keller. Friday 02/02/07.

If I haven't miscounted, this is our third snow of the season. I don't remember another winter with more than one or two. But El Nino keeps pumping moisture into Texas from the Pacific coast of Mexico, and cold air masses have been making it far enough south to freeze some of the precip. Fun times! Last August when the heat was all but unbearable, I never thought I'd be ready for spring by the first week of February.

The return of Wayne the Train

Last Saturday, Jan 27, a friend and I caught Wayne Hancock at Dan's in Denton. I had to work, so we got a late start and arrived abouthalfway through the first set. Arriving at 2315, I never thought we'd be hearing close to three hours' worth of music... but Wayne and his band actually played about 20 minutes past closing time. How's that forgetting our money's worth? (Did I mention the cover was a mere $10?)

If you're a fan of traditional country (especially Hank Williams), rockabilly, '50's-style rock, western swing, and great guitar playing, you owe it to youself to see Wayne and his band. Run, don't walk, the next time they come to your town. With their kind of talent, it's hard to figure out why these guys aren't selling out mid-sized arenas. But then, Americans in general, and country music fans in particular, don't necessarily always give preference to talent over style or spectacle. That might explain why Kenny Chesney sells more albums than Ray Wylie Hubbard. I guess I should consider myself fortunate that I have a preference for acts that few others want to see (or have even heard of)! In my opinion, smaller crowds are a good thing; it definitely makes for a more intimate environment at a show.

Wayne on guitar; Jake Erwin on "doghouse bass"

It would be tough to describe Wayne's Saturday performance in words and still do it justice, but here goes...

Dan's is a medium-sized bar located in an older commercial / industrial district southeast of downtown Denton. It's definitely not a "bar"district, although there are a few other bars around. Even though Dan's doesn't cater to the UNT (University of North Texas) crowd (being located more than a stone's throw from the UNT campus) plenty of students seem to find their way inside. Obviously, the crowd on any given night varies according to who's playing the live music. Most of the shows I've been to there draw an interesting mix-- college students, 30- and 40-something singles, beatniks, hippies, senior citizens, local ranchers and their wives and families. The ranchers wear cowboy hats, Wranglers, and boots, and sit at the front tables near the stage. They apparently make an evening of it; by the end of the night, the tops of their tables are always jammed full of empty beer bottles. But they often leave before the show ends. Occasionally, a mother and father will bring their kid(s) to a show.

Parking is not usually much of a problem; most of the streets near the bar are empty that time of night and you can park on the street. You might have to park a block or two away and walk to the bar, but it's no big deal. If the show has already started, you can hear the music from the street as you walk up.

As you walk through the entrance, a counter is set up just inside the door to your right. This is where you pay your cover and show ID. Behind the counter is a small bar (beer only). The full-service bar is in the far corner from the entrance. The stage is located on your left as you walk in, and the soundman is to the right. Taking the advice of James McMurtry (who K and I once saw at Dan's) -- "the music will sound a lot better if you're back by the soundman than if you're up by the stage" -- I always try to stake out a spot in this area. Beyond the soundman's booth are the restrooms, and past that is the rear exit, which leads to an outdoor patio. Wall decorations are sparse -- a few framed paintings here and there, fliers for upcoming shows, maybe an odd t-shirt or two, an empty flour sack bearing the "Dan's Silver Leaf" name. Ceiling decorations are a bit more interesting... a cattle skull above the stage, a 70's-era bicycle with a giant front fork that looks like it belongs on the wall at Joe's Crab Shack, an American flag made out of aluminum cans strung together on pieces ofwire. "E Pluribus Aluminum", baby!

Well, on Saturday evening after work, I met Mike and we carpooled to Denton. I found a place to park and we walked in and paid our cover. I bought a beer at the front bar and then we staked out a spot in the back of the crowd near the sound booth. Saturday nights always draw a big audience, and this show was no exception. But since it's a pretty small place, there weren't that many people between us and the stage.

Wayne & co. were playing "Viper" as we came in. I immediately noticed that steel guitarist Eddie Rivers was in attendance, which was good -- sometimes they tour without him, but their shows are always really smokin' when he's on stage. They had a different bass player with them this time, with a tall, skinny kid by the name of Jake Erwin -- Wayne kept calling him "Tulsa" -- taking the place of Chris Darrell. "Tulsa" did a fine job, and we had no complaints. And of course there was Wayne (wearing a red button-down shirt -- untucked --a kangol flat cap, khaki pants and Chuck Taylors; and guitarist Eddie Biebel, pantlegs rolled up, smiling his smug smile, eyes to the floor, cranking outsolo after solo, exchanging solos with Eddie Rivers on steel and Tulsa on bass, etc. One of the things I always notice at a Wayne Hancock show is the band's passion for the music, and I can always tell that the guys have a genuine love of being on stage and performing. Between songs, Wayne sometimes complained that his fingers hurt and/or were bleeding... right before he began tapping his foot, "1, 2... 1, 2, 3, 4" and starting in on the next song! Other times, he made a bit of a soapbox speech, reminding the audience that he'll charge a $10 cover and play all night, while other, bigger-name acts charge more and play a lot less. "Whatsa matter, don't they like to play?"

They played modified, extended versions of most of their album songs. Wayne would sing one verse and a chorus, and then send the Eddies into several back-and-forth solos. Wayne, with a huge grin on his face, would walk over to bassist Tulsa and say something to him; Tulsa would flash a grin and -- slapping his bass all the while -- yell something at one of the Eddies. Eddie R, wearing his trademark Hawaiian shirt, scowled over his pedal steel as he worked the strings with the intensity of a surgeon attempting to perform a triple bypass in record time. Eddie B's expression alternated between studious concentration and smug satisfaction, always looking down at his guitar and rarely at the audience, but he always smiled and acknowledged the crowd's applause at the end of a solo or a song. Several times, Wayne directed Tulsa into a bass solo -- sometimes for a full minute or two -- while the Eddies took a drink and then stood there smiling. Solos completed, Wayne would sing another verse, another chorus, and then send the band into another round of solos. Then he'd finish it out with another verse or a chorus. When they played Route 66, Wayne sent the Eddies right into their solos before he even sang a note!

With all the solos, songs that run 2 1/2 minutes on an album might last 8 minutes or longer at the show! The Eddies seemed pretty reserved (their intense focus demanded nothing less), but Wayne and Tulsa were fast and loose, and their energy never faltered. After about the sixth song (after Mike and I arrived), the band took a brief intermission, amidst many jokes about what Wayne would be smoking outside during their break -- and it wasn't Camels or Lucky Strikes.

Eddie Rivers on steel; Eddie Biebel on electric

"Tulsa" Jake Erwin on doghouse bass

During their break, I went out to the truck and took off my jacket, then came back inside and took a leak and got another beer. Within 30 minutes, the band was back on stage and ready to start the second set. The crowd had thinned out, leaving the rest of us with more room to stand, dance, drink, whatever. As the night wore on, a group of four guys from the crowd moved up to the stage and were dancing right in front of Wayne, buying drinks forWayne and the band, dancing with ladies from the crowd, etc, motioning for the crowd to give more applause to the Eddies. Two of the guys looked like '50s-style hoods -- jeans, white t-shirts, tattoos, greased hair. I thought I heard one of them tell Wayne they were from Indiana. After last call, Wayne apparently decided they'd just keep playing until the bar more or less kicked them off the stage. At 2 am, the bartenders came around and picked up everyone's drinks, but they let the band keep going. By now, there were fewer than 20 people still there, but still the band played on, with Wayne promising "just two more songs!" The guys up front wanted four, and I think they probably got their wish, because it was about 2:20 before they finished. The end was made "official" when the soundman announced on the p.a., "we're closed now; would everybody PLEASE LEAVE!"

last song - 20 minutes after closing time

During the second set, Mike eventually wandered off and found a seat on a barstool near the door, away from some of the cigarette smoke. When I found him after the show, he admitted being surprised at how much more energy and enthusiasm Wayne showed than he had when Mike saw him at Poor David's in Dallas about 5 years ago. Wayne has always been upbeat every time I've seen him, so I couldn't really account for Mike's bad impression. But that had been a couple years before I saw Wayne for the first time. I've heard that Wayne has struggled with alcoholism in the past, so maybe Mike caught him during one of those "down" times. Interestingly, Wayne did appear to be doing some drinking on stage last Saturday night, the first time I can recall seeing him drink during a show.
At any rate, to have seen Wayne Hancock and his band once, I'd consider myself lucky. To have seen him so many times during the past three years that I've lost count, I'm beyond lucky. I'm blessed. Their shows are one hell of a rockin' good time.
Stay tuned for more
If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and tune in next time whenI re-cap the REST of last weekend's activities...
np: Hank Thomspon - Squaws along the Yukon