The morning after my gig at SquareRut, I had an early morning call to play at the lovely Gateway Guesthouse. I played half an hour or so for the guests, then was treated to brunch (flappers, their specialty – yeast-based pancakes topped with brie and a honey/brown sugar syrup…insanely good) and some lovely chat. Then, off to spend another day in Austin, scoring great Bloody Mary’s, tacos (natch), and a pair of honest-to-goodness, long-lusted-for cowboy boots. Put ’em on right away, too.
Monday morning, had a decent brunch of migas, kind of an Austin specialty (though they fall short of chilequiles, I have to admit), then caught my Megabus to Houston. I nearly missed it, as these curbside stops are often entirely unmarked, and there was no info on their site except the cross streets. But I finally saw the familiar towering blue double-decker pulled into a parking lot off the street, and ran on, sweating.
Houston is an impossibly sprawling place, with the metropolitan area stretching 50 miles wide. It was sheer luck that the venue was walking distance (about a mile, that is) from the bus stop. I hoofed it over through streets devoid of other pedestrians, and found a banh mi shop in the same strip as the bar. The venerable banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich of French bread with meat, tofu or fish stuffed inside along with chiles, cilantro and pickled vegetables. This version was decent, especially for $2.71, and I hung out for an hour munching the food log and catching up on some diaries.
Bow to the banh mi.
I had struggled mightily to come up with a gig in Houston. Monday nights are tough anywhere – a lot of likely places are simply closed until the next weekend is in sight – and I don’t really have connections in the town. But somehow I stumbled on Khon’s, and it sounded promising, an offbeat bar/gallery with a very local clientele, if Yelp is to be believed.
I was greeted warmly by the proprietor, Khon himself, and he helped me get set up in the front corner of the comfortable room, with local artwork on the walls and a big game table in the back. This table was filled with people playing something card-based and intense (bridge? pinochle? Magic?), and though there was not a single other customer in the place, their presence was lively and boded well.
By 9 pm showtime, however, not another soul had arrived, and I was feeling a bit embarrassed. I had tried as hard as I could to promote the date, hitting up all the newspapers and weeklies and public radio calendars, and even had gotten an Arts Pick selection for the night. But though the table in the back was still full of players, nobody was in the front except me and the bartender.
I killed time until 9:15, then figured I might as well play, for my own practice if nothing else. I plugged in and tested out a few tunes I don’t play very often, running them all together without breaks to avoid that shaming silence when applause should happen, but doesn’t (this is a frequent tactic). I continued in this vein for a little while, then took a break, stepping outside for a breath of Texas air before resuming.
A few tunes later, just when I was considering whether I should give it up for the night, a genuine customer arrived and plunked themselves down at the bar, expectantly looking my way. I started pulling out some of the tunes from my regular set, and after a bit a couple walked in, then another. The place was starting to feel a bit lively, and I even got a few rounds of applause.
Then, the group who had been playing cards broke up, and they started filing out. One gave me a thumbs-up and left a buck or two on my merch table, and then another chucked down a tenner, grabbed a CD and shouted “Thanks!”. They’d heard me after all, who knew?
A few more people filtered in, and though conversation started to drown me out, at least a few of the customers were still giving a good listen, and I was happy. Not bad for a Monday night.