Country Music (Finally)
The way I'm hardwired means I'm more likely to find record stores and venues catering to the kind of music I usually enjoy, so my entire time in the Valley I was pulling over to the side of the road to check out what looked like D.I.Y. punk venues and vinyl-only record stores. Unfortunately this - and my shameful, shameful ignorance of even the rudiments of the Spanish language - meant that I'm sure a lot of what was happening on my trip south just passed me by. A friend asked if I was going to see any conjunto during my explorations, and I replied with "hopefully." One clean sweep through south Texas, though, and I didn't hear so much as one accordion wheeze. Part of it was timing. The middle of a hot, hot week doesn't speak much to wild merrymaking, and I also got the feeling from my day in Laredo that the city is having some difficulty expressing itself.
In a nice and new (but more fancy than relaxed) coffeeshop called Scholars, I did my best to try and find out what was happening in town that evening. The place in a coffeeshop that is usually filled with flyers for bands, art shows, poetry readings and matted copies of the alt-weekly was instead dominated by some sort of free family magazine. And browsing online I discovered through a cool blog called Que Fregados that one of the city's independent book stores closed this year, which bodes poorly for both readers and the local flavor of the city.
So a little gun shy and disappointed with my lack of findings and myself, I spent a night near the lake at Casa Blanca State Park and then packed up to start slowly heading west. My destination at the end of the month is El Paso, and I'm slowly inching in that direction. Unfortunately, the towns between here and there off of I-10 seemed a little barren. I thought about spending the night in Fort Stockton, but given that I already explored their little museum and town a few years ago during a trip up to Colorado, I decided to press on.
I'm glad I did. En route to Marfa, I stopped here in Alpine, where I was able to catch Roger Creager and more at a venue called Railroad Blues. Even though I arrived like two hours before the first note was struck, I took in my surroundings and helped myself to the last Shiner Ruby Redbird they had in stock that evening. Things were looking up.
Of course, the karmic balance of the universe demands that someone suffers for your celebration, and opener Kylie Rae Harris was detained with strep throat and couldn't make the show. Instead, locals The Doodlin' Hogwallops filled in at the last minute and coasted through a fun set of bumpy honky-tonk and the ol' cry-in-your-beer downer.
I liked their setup - acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica, and a dude playing what looked like a super-electric/more convenient cousin to the pedal steel. Some drums would definitely have improved the shuffle of a few songs, but it was a strong set overall with variety and bawdy lyrics in spades ("You can wipe my ass with maple syrup" went one refrain). The band also threw in some excellent covers, including the Warren Zevon-penned "Carmelita" and '60s standard "Streets of Baltimore." Allen Huff of Roger Creager's band also filled in with accordion (there it is!) on a few songs.
Creager and his band set up fairly quickly, which was quite a feat considering the fairly big band (including Creager, six people) and the individualized earpieces they all sported. It was pretty profesh, in other words. Creager and the group ripped into it, and I believed opened the set with "Long Way To Mexico" which featured a coda at the end where drummer Matt Medearis left his set, donned a washboard vest and kept time as the band closed out the chorus. The sound was good, the fans were appreciative (lots of dancing) and the set was diverse. At one point Huff took the mic and led us through some zydeco, and Creager pulled out a trumpet during a Dixieland-style number.
On my drive out of the Valley and into Alpine, the hills sprouted up again but shook most of the tallest trees for more modest shrubs and other flora. As the landscape changed, so did the makeup of population. Railroad Blues was a straight up country bar, and populated by mostly anglo or hispanic cowboys in their mid-thirties who drank whiskey from the bottle and talked topics like how hard it was to get into TCU's agricultural management program.
I made the acquaintance of a guy sitting next to me who was returning to Alpine for the first time since he graduated from the local University, Sul Ross State, in the late nineties. His daughter was turning thirteen, and all she wanted for her birthday was to see West Texas. So off they went, with a family friend in tow. This friend (name of Jeff) had never been to Alpine, but judging from his standing ovation to Creager's opening number, I could sense that he was having a good time here as well.