Written by James Killen
Mar 13, 2011 at 12:00 PM
This is the third year that McGonigal’s Mucky Duck has hosted the birthday benefit concert for the Houston chapter of the Pacifica radio network. This is the third year that I have waited for the day to arrive in anxious anticipation of a great day of musical entertainment. This is also the third year that I was not disappointed. This was, however, the first year that the contributing line up did not feature a big draw name like Joe Ely or Ray Wylie Hubbard and sadly the community did not show up in the numbers that attended earlier shows. The lack of a big name did not in any way reduce the entertainment value of the day, though.

I showed up later than I had intended, being a victim of the Daylight Savings spring forward syndrome. I walked into the tent soon after Colin Gilmore started his set with Jared Hall accompanying him on accordion. He is a prolific songwriter with a voice that you can certainly trace back to his father Jimmy Dale. His set included some of his standards like “Llano” and “Circles in the Yard” and a new one called “Gamma Ray on Romera”. Colin Gilmore is a talent on his own and will not have to rely on his dad for his place in the music diaspora.

The Mighty Orq mounted the stage next. They started out with some formulaic blues power trio fare, like “H.O.” They have a little more to offer than just the power chords, though, as they rolled through a reggae number and the Orq serenaded the audience with some soulful vocals in a slower song. They closed out the set with a revved up Mississippi blues tune, called “Sweet In Between” , featuring some really interesting slide guitar.

The Honky-Tonk Blood trio of Johnny Falstaff, Hank Schyma and Jon Evans followed next. They have been all over town promoting their indie film phenomenon and although this was not my first time to see them, the interplay between the three artists that normally each leads his own band, is entertaining to watch and hear. They led off with Falstaff singing “Sway” to Schyma’s lightning guitar licks, rolled through songs like “Whisky Warm, Delta High” and “Honky-Tonkin’ Daddy” to close out the set with John Evans leading a sing along to his standard “Electric Gumdrops (Do You Want Some?)”. I missed the premier of the film, but after seeing the shows and hearing these guys talk it up, I’m anxious to catch a showing somewhere.

Jack Saunders and his band really started to get the crowd up and dancing with his Texas folk rock set. Jack, of course is a Houston institution with his own band and playing with the likes of Shake Russell. His song, “Red Dirt, Rusted Steel” and the Gumbo Country “Acadian Angel” had the first small group venturing onto the dance floor.

If you think that you have seen all that Beaumont native, Ezra Charles, has to offer, you might want to get out to see one of his shows with his new saxophonist, Alisha Patilla. Ezra hit the stage in trio mode this time sans guitar and most of his horn section, but featuring his more than adequate 8th grade son on drums. Ezra really cooked on “Route 66”, “Got My Mojo Workin’” and “Flip, Flop and Fly” in the best Gulf Coast piano rocking tradition.

The production crew had to go into rearrangement mode after Ezra Charles’s set as Eric Koskinen who was next on the schedule had not arrived from St. Louis where he had performed fifteen hours earlier. Eric was scheduled to play with his own band and then to play lead guitar for Randy Weeks. Never-the-less the show would go on and with a great trio of Randy Weeks backed up by Jack Saunders on bass and Mike Stintson on drums. The three of them pushed out a blistering set beginning with “The Last Time”. They did a great version of Weeks’ “I Can’t Let Go” that was made famous by Lucinda Williams and possibly the bravest venture for the pick-up band, delivered a haunting “You Better Be Nice” with Stintson really kicking it on drums. “Cherry Wine” and “This is your Lucky Day” closed out the set. Randy Weeks always delivers a show not to be missed.

In true proletariat rock and roll tradition, Eric Koskinen lept from tour van to stage with his band taking his place after Randy Weeks filled the gap. Koskinen has a stealthy guitar style that seems subdued, but sneaks up on you leaving you feeling like you’ve been mugged by Mark Knopfler. After “Pretty Girls Everywhere”, Eric really kicked it up on “Blood and Money”. He completed a seven song set with “Detroit, Detroit”, a song that he had performed at the previous KPFT B-day Bash as Randy Weeks’ lead guitarist. From the band’s enthusiasm, you’d have never guessed that they had just driven sixteen hours straight….to do a benefit.

Mike Stinson’s band followed in a slightly modified form from what most Houstonians have come to recognize as the Mike Stinson Band. First, Mike was seated at the drum kit and second Randy Weeks stepped in to cover some of the guitar licks. The band delivered the honky-tonk fare that Stinson fans have come to expect, starting out with “Stop the Bar, I’m Getting Off” and rolling through some of the great songs that Mike has penned since settling here in Houston, including my personal favorite “Square with the World”. Randy Weeks contributed some excellent slide guitar and at least one “greasy E chord” for another amazing set.

Patrice Pike was another artist that rearranged her travel plans to contribute to the KPFT benefit, flying in early from Denver to add some of her amazing vocals to the entertainment for the day. She has such a wonderful activist soul, that she made a really inspired plea for the support of a radio station that has done so much to support local talent for the last 41 years. She, with her amazing voice and her flamboyant bass player, kept the crowd moving through her set that included “We’re All Starting Over” and “Jack Knife Girl”.

To top off the evening, John Evans took to the stage again with his full rock-a-billy band. Of course, he took the stage with his 21st century Buddy Holly persona. He seemed much livelier after the sun went down than earlier in the day (not unlike many musicians). The band took us through a slightly extended set that included “That Hoochie at the Bar” and a revisit of “Whisky Warm, Delta High”.

The entire day was full of performances that entertained as though the artists were getting paid, which they were not. I cannot thank Rusty and Teresa of “the Duck” enough for continuing to support this integral part of the Houston music community that is KPFT. It does make me sad that more folks didn’t come out to contribute to the event, not just because the receipts were lower, but because they really missed another great show.