Written by James Killen
House concerts are a great venue for music fans and artists alike. The fans get a chance to meet and interact with the artists and all of the cover charge (usually twenty bucks) goes to the artist instead of being split with the sound man or depending on the number of drinks sold or any number of conditions that are put on the artists at other venues. Most of them are held in upscale houses, with a potluck supper, BYOB of wines and generally older patrons that do their share to support artists performing live. For the last eleven years Kenny Pipes’ Almost Austin has been bringing in artists to his home, with the working class in mind. His venue is appropriately on House Street in Pasadena and has been attended by refinery workers and beer drinkers. He built a stage and knocked out a wall in his humble home so that as many as 75 attendees could get a great view of the show. Mr. Pipes has finally decided to hang up his ever present baseball cap and move on with the next chapter of his life.
Friday evening began with Kenny introducing Charles Bryant (an Almost Austin regular) to do a couple of tunes from his most excellent new CD, “Kiss the Sun”. Bryant did “The Nursing Home” about what it’s like to be a resident living every day, waiting for their final breath. He followed that up with “It’s About Love”, and the tragedy that awaits so many of our young people with drug addiction and PTSD. Charles’ aggressive strumming style and poignant lyrics were a great opening for the evening. Charles Bryant would actually be the final act on Kenny’s stage the following evening, which unfortunately I could not attend.
Malcolm Holcombe has always been a big draw for Almost Austin, but when it was time to hit the stage, he had to be called in from the smoking area out back. He got up on the stage and announced, “I’m gonna pee, talk amongst yourselves”. When he returned he started with his North Carolina hill country banter and then lit into “Mountains of Home”. He followed that with “Crippled Point of View” from his new CD, “Pretty Little Troubles”, for which this was the release tour. He followed that with “Down in the Woods” and then treated the audience to one of his famous Malcolmisms, saying “If your dog tells you to do something and his lips don’t move, don’t do it”.
His next song was “Savanah Blues”, followed by another tune off of the new one, “Damn Weeds”. He displayed some of his famous combination of strumming and finger picking on “South Hampton Street” and then a great version of his dishwashing song, “To Get By”. He worked himself up to a lively and animated rendition of the new title track, “Pretty Little Troubles” and then slowed it down for “September”. He waned political, on another new one about immigrants no longer being welcomed, called “Yours No More”. He ended the first set of a combination of old and new tunes with “A Hundred Lies”. He dismissed the crowd by saying that now it was time to go outside and chainsmoke and touch each other.
Intermissions at house concerts are great times to meet other music fans and catch up with ones that you have met before. Music fans are some of the best people you’ll ever meet. You get to hear about other artists and venues and shows that tempt the addiction to go out and experience other concerts in the area and expose yourself to new artists. House concerts have a comradery that a fan doesn’t experience in other venues because everyone feels at home.
After the announcement is made that the second set is on the way, the audience troops in and finds their seats. Malcolm kicked it off with a song about a dying coal town called “Hannah’s Trading Post”. He followed that up with a song from the new disc that had a decidedly Irish style called “the Eyes of Josephine”. Next was “Mr. In Morgantown” and then “Gone By the Old Sunrise”.
About this time Kenny Pipes jumped up and exclaimed “People are starting to panic back here!” meaning that lots of folks had made requests during the evening that hadn’t been played yet. Holcombe has a lot of fans that have patronized Almost Austin for years and there was a sense that it was coming to an end. He acquiesced to a request for “Down the River” and then played one of Kenny’s favorites “Way Behind”. Malcolm took a break from requests to play “Bury, England”, a song off of the new record that featured a really nice riff, followed by another new one called “we Struggle”. After that Malcolm satisfied another request for “Butcher in Town” with wild facial expressions and lively strumming and fingerpicking.
He got up as though to leave the stage, but a standing ovation allowed him no rest before the encore, which was “We’re Going Home”, after which Malcolm made the statement, “Don’t build a wall, build a home”, which was followed by wild applause. Unable to leave the stage Holcombe, offered one more encore strumming out with “In Your Mercy”.
I’ve seen Malcolm Holcombe at several venues over the years and he is quite a character, but it always came out to its fullest at Almost Austin. I asked Kenny why it was coming to an end. He said that it’s been a wild ride and he’s gotten to meet so many artists and fans. He has no regrets, but this has been like a second job for him that he doesn’t get paid for and in fact has cost him money. People don’t think about the time and effort that house concert hosts put in to line up acts, promote the shows, set up the room, make certain that the PA system is working, and taking care of details from setting up the buffet area to making certain there is plenty of toilet paper for the evening. Often, if the artist is less well known, the crowds dwindle to near nothing and Kenny would pay the musicians a little more from his own pocket to make certain that they could make it to the next gig.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the house concert hosts and especially Kenny Pipes for all of the years of entertainment that they have brought to us fans. Kenny, I’m sure that we’ll be running into you at other music venues around town and if you ever catch the bug to give it another go, I’ll be out there to see the show. Thank you Kenny Pipes.