We had a groovy time in the So Co corner of Austin, Texas this past week. Rick presented to and investigated local youth theater organizations; and I wrangled the girl into and out of her umbrella stroller, which is in its last days size-wise. I blamed the captive germs on our flight for the cold which bloomed in me almost immediately after arrival; I was fatigued and grumpy, but cheered by the low fifties temperatures. Also the airbnb -- how fantastic is it to pop into someone else's surroundings? This one was clearly a rental -- basically a few rooms from an Ikea store -- but WOW to be in a place that's less clinical than a hotel chain, that simultaneously retains the blessed state of no-clutter. When we walked in, ambient beats played softly. Our child gleefully disassembled the cushions from the l-shaped sofa in order to create a "bed" on the floor (naturally, in the middle of the walk space) and launched herself across the barren couchscape, giggling. I wondered whether she'd manage to get crayons past us to the wall, during our stay; and
Last stop one night: Auguste & Marcel. We had just decided on calling for a car over a long(ish) walk back, but maybe one more place? It was quiet, just dark enough; we plunked ourselves down on a leather couch by the front window. This trip brought home the fact that I'd happily go out with more frequency, if people watching from a couch were guaranteed. Also recommended? "Velvet Sunrise," which I ordered despite no knowledge of velvet falernum. The cocktail was well balanced, with a nicely spiced warmth to it; I asked the lanky, Afro'ed bartender if he had created the drink. He was wistful: "Nooooooo, my brother actually. I keep trying to make a drink with tequila because I love tequila, but I haven't come up with anything worthy to put on the menu."
Another couch outing -- and one of the highlights of the trip -- The Continental Club. It's a tiny, old bar with a small stage, boasting a solid roster of talent. Opened in 1955, it was refurbished and restored to its 50s appearance in 1987 (interesting history here). A lot in Austin bears an updated retro feel: perky neon signs outside bespoke burger places, blocky starbursts of chrome framing tall plate glass windows, diners with throwback curbside service; a stranger you chatted with in the park a few blocks back, who pauses his truck at the stop sign to matter-of-factly ask if you need recommendations for your Austin stay. Similarly, back inside the club, it feels like another time. Not fifties, but not now. The barback has its normal spirit bottle display, but the TV is mutely set to a random Technicolor musical*. Rick & I turn from the bar proper to scope out the rest of the room. The stage is backed with a red crushed velvet curtain, with a jazzy Continental Club sign. Small, high tables are grouped tightly in rows, with all seats facing forward; these are mostly full, and we gaze across to the far side wall, which has a raised platform of leatherette seating.
Closest to the standing/ dance area -- two spots free and clear! Have we missed something? Is it reserved? If so, there's no signage, and we are the gleefully ignorant tourists descending. We settle in, though I fret. A handful of people seated in the front-facing main section cast glances at us once, twice; one man repeatedly does so. Gaffe? Or non-local oddity? We don't have cowboy hats; I lack a glossy mane of hair which seems to be the norm for women; one or the other of us gazes at a phone. We also have too many things with us. I shuffle my bulky colder weather clothes to a smaller space and hover about the drink at my feet; Rick drops a credit card and the circulating waitress purrs, "Y'alll are a mess~~" But no, we are allowed to be right where we are, and once the music starts, it's a great night.
Thursday night is Barfield, aka Mike Barfield, aka Barfield the Tyrant**. He's an older man in a wide brimmed cowboy hat. His shirt pools around him, his legs swim a bit in his jeans. His voice isn't super rich. And yet he's cool and assured, in command of the stage. For the first two songs, he shakes his maracas throughout, pivoting on one tiptoe to swivel his leg and hips around in a descending groove, while delivering Blues-y vocals. His voice raises to a falsetto in the traditionally lecherous "You're What's Happening" ("...you're a high school honey with your shorty shorts on..." the lyrics increasingly, blatantly, obnoxious as the years pass); despite discomfort, this song is as infectious and funky as the rest. Barfield dances, he grooves, he surveys the audience. Not a dancing crowd, this night, though many of us bop around in our chairs; a woman leans against the opposite wall, mouthing all the lyrics. In moments of heightened drama, he lifts both hands -- fluttering like hummingbirds -- toward the ceiling, like a preacher: Behold the Funk.
2015 interview here.
When we returned for a set on Saturday night, the entry was three times higher and the place was hopping. No chance for elevated or seated viewing this time around. And with this music, you need to stand, anyway. The cocktail waitresses were having an exhausting time of it, right arm held aloft with a full drink trays, as they were endlessly forced to recreate paths through the jostling crowd. We made it midway through a set by Tomar & the FCs and I would have been happy to listen for three hours. Ultra charismatic, high energy lead singer, beautiful backing vocals and -- again -- tight, jamming band. In between original songs they played to differing crowd demographics with strong covers of Prince (yayyyyyyyyyy!) and Shania Twain (ehhhhh). If you need more funk in your day, play this in the background (recorded at different venue).
*some kind of violent hilarity unfolds (in a saloon? bordello?) with full-dress nuns banging men over their heads with whatever's at hand (boxes, vases); chagrined gentlewomen enter the fray. They do their best to rise above feeble feminine physicality, evading harm and landing a blow, yards of silk ballooning around them. It must be an obscure one, Rick can not place it.
***as in "The Tyrant of Texas Funk," coined by another, about him; he claimed it for himself.