Written by Traci Rogers
Dec 03, 2011 at 08:00 PM
ImagePasa-get-down-dena native and owner of the refinery town’s Almost Austin House Concerts, Kenny Pipes, graciously invited Houston Music Review to his 80th house concert, featuring Nashville duo David Olney and Mark “Sergio” Webb Saturday night.

A songwriter’s songwriter, David Olney, began performing in the 1960s as a folk singer.  Since then, according to his friend and fellow songwriter, Tommy Womack, the “dry-witted and dead serious” Olney “still retains a loyal following of fans from that era who have grown with him and continue taking the journey with. . .[the] spoken word artist. . . to see where he goes next.”

Legendary Country-Western/Americana performers covered Olney’s songs in the mid 1990s such as Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle.  Harris recorded “Jerusalem Tomorrow” and “Deeper Well” while Earle has covered “Saturday Night Sunday Morning” in live performances.

In a www.youtube.com video of a Steve Earle performance that appears to have been shot during the mid 1990s (uploaded to YouTube 3/30/08), during Earle’s dragon-chasing phase, he prefaces the “Saturday Night Sunday Morning” tune with, “I got a friend named David  Olney. . .he’s one of the best songwriters in the world. . .It’s like one of the most perfect songs I’ve ever heard. . I had run across a song that was so perfectly constructed that it doesn’t have a rhyme in it and I never realized it. . .”

But the humble Olney tells HMR that he rarely writes the perfect piece. Using his recitation “Women Across the River” as an example, he explains how a song is never done.

“There’s always a door that you didn’t know about in the room that leads to some other place. . .a year or two later, I may go, ‘Oh, I was supposed to say this, and not the line that I used.’ “

As the die-hard fans whistled and HELL YEAH-ed Saturday night in anticipation of each song the singer introduced, there were a few first-timers to house concerts, like myself, who had no idea of the Olney-Webb gold mine we were tapping open.

In a darkened room, next to an Almost Austin neon light, the duo set out on “Wait Here For the Cops”.  The minor keys give the tune an anticipation of a gun-slinging dual from an old western movie.  While Olney sang of emotional numbness and loss of passion that comes from having seen too much betrayal and mayhem in a lifetime, the master guitarist from Texas, Sergio Webb, personified the sound of a police siren on one of his many guitars that he brought along for the show.

First-timer and Bolivian native Edi Cope became emotional during “Wait Here For the Cops”.

“He spoke truth, and I’m for the truth.  My interpretation is that my emotions [and] actions are clear, and I have nothing to fear; I have nothing to hide.  I haven’t broken any rules or shirked my responsibilities.  I would and I will and wait here for the cops.”

“If you write these songs,” Olney said of his listeners’ reactions, “you just kind of bump into a truth, and it may resonate with someone else. Their experience may be much closer to it.  That to me has always been amazing.”

Olney is well known among his fans and fellow songwriters for his surprising and original points-of-view lyrics.  In “Titanic,” the iceberg sings a siren’s song, tempting the ship with “Come to me. . .Come to me”.  Similarly, a ventriloquist’s puppet asks his human operator, “Who’s the Dummy Now?”

True to form, Olney plans to release another perspective-rich work after the New Year.  In February, fans can look forward to hearing how “That guy Barabbas, the murderer, the criminal that they freed instead of freeing Christ,” saw The Passion unfold, Olney said.

ImageIt is no wonder that the late Lone Star great Townes Van Zandt “specified his favorite musicians as ‘Bob Dylan, Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins and David Olney,’ “according to Olney biographer Charlie Hunter of www.mysongwriters.com.  One cannot help but find similarities between Olney’s and TVZ’s surreal styles, so Olney’s love of poetry should come as no surprise.   His recitation of poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Browning might remind spectators of their first few college literature experiences with a tenured professor who spellbindingly orates with perfect cadence and diction.

Aside from the genius songwriting and jaw-dropping musicianship, the ambiance of the evening made me realize that I have finally found my people!  Like my new-found friend, Ellen Klassen of Deer Park said, “Music is the glue; we’re all here for the music.  No one is here complaining about the job or lookin’ for a fight.”

I met house–concert regular Danny, The Viking, Poirrier, a kind and generous soul who is more than happy to explain the credits of each Almost Austin performer.  His gentle voice, in contrast to his build, long, white hair and overalls reminded me of Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazard.  I felt as if I was in the company of my kindred, especially when he led the audience into the contagious excitement of Olney’s and Webb’s performance of Tom Wait’s “Clap Hands”.

Over the glorious smells of pot-luck fare and the economical ease of BYOB, Pipes proved himself the ultimate host.  As busy as he was with his special guests and attendees, I did not require the effect of liquid courage to introduce myself and converse with other attendees.   Never have I attended a party wherein a full house of strangers was approachable, warm and happy to make my acquaintance until Saturday night.  The crowd was a salad bowl of generations, occupations, abilities and lifestyles.
I had the privilege of meeting 28 year old Daniel, Kenny Pipes’ youngest brother.  Daniel’s Cerebral Palsy does not limit him from enjoying the language that crosses all differences:  music.

“Every Saturday I play Daniel’s favorite song for him when I pick him up.  He hears ‘Sweet Poison,’“an Olney original describing Socrates’ execution, “and he starts tapping his chest and singing along.  He’s never missed one of our concerts yet,” Kenny told me.

In February of 2006, Pipes opened his door to his first house concert.  Since then, he’s knocked out a few walls in the living room and built a stage, complete with a full P. A. system.

“It’s all about the damn music, man!” Pipes excitedly told me in a phone interview a few weeks prior to the Olney-Webb performance.  “I’ll do everything I can to support them!”

ImageHouse concerts have been a phenomenon all over the USA for the past decade, yet I had never attended one until Saturday night.  I look forward to frequenting more in the future.  In fact, Pipes is happy to announce that he is sponsoring a fraction of the Band Of Heathens on December 17, 2011 @ 6PM.  Feel free to “Like” Almost Austin House Concerts in Pasadena on www.facebook.com.  Once you befriend each other, you may reserve tickets for any upcoming show.

If anything, attending a house concert is an assertive way of supporting non-commercialized music without having to spend a great deal of money.  Perhaps the only exceptions may be to donate $20 toward your house admission ticket.  Attendees bring their own drinks and a covered pot-luck dish if they plan to dine with the crowd.

House concerts at Almost Austin and other venues like it seem to take quiet, revolutionary stands against media giants and the pop culture privatization of music.

“We’re cuttin’ out the middle man and allowing the musicians to have all of the money ‘cause they need it,” Pipes told me.

Once you “drink the water at a house concert, you’ll be hooked, just as I was,” Pipes concluded.  He is right; I’m thirsty for more.