Written by James Killen
Galveston hosted the First Annual Third Coast Music Festival this last weekend in near perfect….no, actually perfect weather conditions. The shows were presented in multiple venues with afternoon and evening shows scheduled across the Northern part of the Island from 27th to 20th Streets between Seawall Boulevard and the Strand. Although the venues were spread out more than the ones in Conroe for their music festivals, the area was very walkable with a two and a half mile distance at most between the most distant locations. The walks were made so much more enjoyable by the historic nature of the Galveston period architecture. Many of the buildings are from the decade following the great storm of 1900 and those that are still standing that existed before the storm are generally marked as such.
The weekend kicked off Thursday at 2PM in the Lobby of the historic Galvez Hotel where wristbands were issued to those with reserved tickets and a stage was set up in front of the bar at the main passageway through the hotel. Sheila Black had the honor of first up with her outlaw country Americana style and rocking acoustic original tunes. Matt Mejia of Los Dientes followed up, playing blues guitar with a bass drum to keep time and a set of recorded effects for ambiance. He has a strong soulful voice and delivered original tunes as well as traditional blues covers. Galveston local, Robert Kuhn, plied his hippie lyrics and sitar-like guitar meanderings next, followed by childhood friend and creative songwriter and performer, Libby Koch, performing a nice mixture of original tunes, co-written numbers and well delivered covers with her ample vocal talents.
There was time to run back to our weekend rental house (which we were able to obtain and split between the six of us at a very reasonable price), grab a quick dinner and get back out at 8PM for The Powell Brothers at Bubba’s on The Strand. They have a new album of red dirt country songs coming out which were prominent in the performance before resorting to a series of covers from some very classic country favorites. I was impressed by the band’s style of stringing together several numbers without taking a pause to regroup, creating a feel of constant entertainment.
We jumped up and ran to Yaga’s for Folk Family Revival, and their particular style of Psychedelic Country Jam, or as Edge Ferranti calls it, Psychedelic Rock-Grass. By the third cut, we started feeling the presence of Robbie Krieger and by the fifth, Jim Morrison seemed to be cutting in and by the seventh, Yaga’s felt like Whisky-a-Go-Go, even rocking some surf guitar on the ninth number for “Shaking All Over”. By the tenth number we found ourselves in a twelve minute version of “The Roadhouse Blues” with Mason full on channeling Jim Morrison. At this point in my life, I’m not sure that I can afford to miss another Folk Family Revival show. Well played, FFR, well played!
We ran down the street to Stuttgarden Tavern to catch a bit of The Nightowls show. They are a very funky and very entertaining ten piece band, including a three piece horn section, three talented vocalists and a bass player that has some of the longest fingers and funkiest moves that I have ever seen/heard.
We slid back into Yaga’s for The Harvest Thieves and caught some nice covers and original tunes before sliding back over to Bubba’s for a few of Mike and the Moonpies mix of originals and covers that they have been using so successfully in the South Texas listening sphere. Man, so much good music and it’s not even weekend yet!
So, Friday dawns and we get ready for day two. We show up at the Galvez for the two o’clock show and management has removed all of the chairs from in front of the stage. Wow! More on that later, because sitting or standing, there was good music to be heard. The first up for Friday is one of my personal favorites, Matt Harlan, playing a number of his tried and true, most excellent creations. What was really exciting about Matt’s performance was the number of new and in-production songs that he proffered since his last publication of music. Gabe Wootton followed with his East Texas philosophy and BW Stevenson-like style. His humor and story-telling won the day. You don’t want to be too far away when Gabe has something to say, because you are quite likely to miss a chuckle.
After Gabe’s show there was time for a brief respite before heading to DTO (daiquiri time out) for the VIP party at happy hour. DTO is a very well equipped and cool bar with a nice patio. They had an excellent happy hour with a catered hors d’oeuvres and sponsored free beer (Gulf Kolsch Blonde Ale) event that included Galveston local band, Harbors Over Highways. The band played their unique Americana country bare footed in the beach tradition. They had some cool vocals and featured a bass player that I would consider unique in the CW vernacular.
After happy hour it was over to the Old Quarter Café for Mike Stinson’s show. Mike did his usual bang up job of delivering honky-tonk ballads with professionalism and class, featuring favorites like, “Late for my Funeral”, “Square with the World”, and “Box I Take to Work”. Guitarist, Lance Smith was right on time contributing to a well-honed tight performance.
Then it was over to the Stuttgarden Tavern for the Peterson Brothers. They delivered yet another evening of blues/soul excellence with funky jams and musical timing hijinks that were certain to thrill. There was the stroll through the crowd on “Got my Mojo Working” all the while, the brothers’ proud papa (rightfully so), was working the crowd. These guys have a long and bright future on the horizon! Get out and see them. I think that they might be everywhere.
It was only 10:30 but a work week and old age took their toll this Friday night so we skipped some pretty fantastic opportunities for the sake of longevity on this action packed weekend.
So, up and at ‘em on Saturday for the outdoor performance of Fanfare: from Bach to Rock, a project by the local Lutheran Academy to give youth (up to thirteen) an opportunity to learn and perform original music. They were followed by an onset of South Texas rockabilly with the John Evans Band performing a sweet set of his favorites including Quicksand and Polyester. Staying with the rockabilly theme, San Antonio’s Two Tons of Steel, followed with their exuberant performance. In addition to original tunes, the band covered the Ramones’ “I Wanna be Sedated” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.
We retreated to the home front for a quick dinner before lining up at the Old Quarter for Jamie Lin Wilson’s show. It was obvious why the veteran of the Gougers and the Trishas was such a draw with her creative lyrics and classic country intonation. Jack Ingram did join her for one of her songs. She even covered TSV’s “Rex’s Blues” for the Old Quarter.
Patrice Pike and Wayne Sutton followed at the quarter with a classic performance from their ample history, including, “Rufus”, “Jack Knife Girl” and “Chico” as well as some really amazing Wayne Sutton guitar and vocal contributions, most notably on “Kiss Me Baby”.
We slid into Bubba’s for a midnight rocking Jack Ingram show. Jack was in rare form, playing old favorites, while styling for the local Bubba’s scene with a barroom enthusiasm rarely matched. Ingram sounded for all the world like Steve Earle this evening even crediting Earle with teaching him the Joe Maphis tune, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)”. The Galveston weekend bar scene was on full display while Ingram played the theme. The evening’s performance dwindled off into an alcohol induced haze as Ingram got up close and personal with his fans after the rest of the band had left the stage.
Sunday morning started off with us catching Drew Kennedy at St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church. This is one of Galveston’s many historic buildings, being the oldest German Catholic Church in Texas and the oldest wooden church in Galveston (est. 1859). Drew announced this performance as akin to a Sasquatch sighting in that we were seeing a folk singer in daylight before noon in a church. He performed ten tunes, each with an extended story attached. The philosophy and artistry combined to make a most satisfying Sunday morning service.
The afternoon was left open for a laid back day preparing for the festival’s crescendo at the Galveston Grand Opera House at 7 PM. We waited a little extra time before the doors were opened, a rare occurrence for this festival and moved inside for some fine seating in this very fine venue. Opening act for the evening was a young Australian by the name of Joe Robinson. He is a self-taught guitar virtuoso from the outback that won Australia’s Got Talent (yes they have one, too. It’s just smaller) at the age of sixteen. He performed several instrumentals, chock full of guitar acrobatics, harmonics and unexpected chord stylings. His voice, when he sang, was angelic reminding me of Warren Hood.
The finale for the festival was reserved for the Houston Kid, Rodney Crowell, playing in a trio that included Joe Robinson and Eamon McLoughlin, formerly of the Greencards. Rodney truly gripped the audience, dealing with exuberant fans with grace and relating stories from his childhood, calling Galveston the first coast that he had witnessed rather than the third coast. The planned performance included songs from throughout Crowell’s lengthy career and warm stories that easily snagged the hearts of the attendees. He offered up his humorous, “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long”. He also did three songs from “The Houston Kid”, which to my knowledge was the only country-western concept album ever done. Crowell and company continued to entertain throughout the night and at one point finally announced that the scheduled show was done and anything going forward would be free and dedicated to his fans.
This encore included “Telephone Road”, “Fever on the Bayou”, the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and, what may have been the perfect closure for the weekend, TSV’s “Pancho and Lefty”, complete with a well led sing-a-long chorus. Yeah, Rodney Crowell might be the most cerebral of all country artists since Mickey Newberry, and he certainly knows how to entertain a crowd!
So, what about this first annual Third Coast Music Festival? My first statement would be to how well it was organized. The shows all started on time (with the exception of the festival’s finale, which at a twenty minute delay was negligible, in the realm of live music). The sound engineers were absolutely amazing in that they dealt easily with so many different conditions and facilitated the entertainment of so many people. The choice of artists was stellar and reflected a good mix of island talent with mainland folks that reflect a South Texas attitude. The pace of the festival was relaxed. There was no feeling of need to rush from venue to venue to catch the next show. The artist was either on your list or he was not.
On the negative side, the Thursday night organization at the venues showed a bit of confusion, although the staff there seemed to get a better idea of the festival program by Friday and Saturday. There was a marketing of VIP wristbands for three times the price of the regular wristbands, yet there did not seem to be a lot of extra value offered for the extra expenditure (other than the very fine reception at DTO). Maybe this was due to the smaller than expected attendance and that with more people the VIP status might prove more valuable in the future.
The issue that really shocked me was the attitude at The Galvez. I simply cannot imagine a marketing concept in which a hotel would invite a segment of the potential customers into their facility in order to thumb their nose at them, even if those folks were scroungy music fans. The stage was set up in a place where there would be constant operational traffic passing between the artists and the audience, like carts of rattling plates and glasses. People that had come to see the music, as advertised were on the second day, made to stand rather than sit as this had become an interference with normal operations.
I’m actually going to chalk this up to a failure to communicate between the marketing and operations group at the Galvez. Had they chosen to move the stage into one of their conference rooms, set up a hospitality bar at the back of the room and sold beer and mixed drinks they would have had a marketing vehicle that they could have offered to their regular clients as well as those that attended strictly for the music festival and it would not have interfered with normal operations. Live and learn. The Galvez is a fine and revered establishment and I hope to see them as a supporter for this festival ongoing.
All in all, I hope to see the Third Coast Music Festival continue to a second, third and ongoing annual tradition. Further marketing Galveston as a music destination will add to the attraction of the beach and historic aspects of the city. I certainly hope to be in attendance next year at this time, as I have really enjoyed this experience.