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Jammin' on the Sabbath

If the Sunday-afternoon concert series isn't enough, there are still 10,000 free reasons to go to the Space Place

A few years ago, local club promoter, poster artist, part-time journalist and Deadhead Will Space burned out on the nightclub scene. It wasn't the music he was tired of, nor was it the party-hearty aspects of an evening on the town. It was the hassles entailed therein: finding and paying for a parking space, high ticket and drink prices, and locating sitters for his two kids, each of whom he would like to be exposed to live music, if not to clubs.

"I refuse to take my kids into clubs, and it has nothing to do with the music; it's just the atmosphere," Space says. "There's a lot of smoke, which isn't good for 'em, and a lot of drunk people. You can word it however you want. I just don't think it's a good atmosphere for kids."

All of this got him down, so he decided to do something about it. He and his wife, PJ, a singer and vocal teacher, bought a house in the Heights, dubbed it the Space Place and starting throwing the THC series, which stands for, among other things, Texas House Concerts. And it's hard to find a more pleasant way to while away a Sunday afternoon than these family-friendly bluegrass, country and jam-band house concerts.

When you walk into his backyard, it seems purpose-built as a concert space, a sort of domestic amphitheater. In fair weather, the stage slots nicely against the high wooden fence in one corner of the driveway, ample seating is scattered about in front and to the sides, a small swimming pool offers a cool summer vantage point, and as of last weekend, there are now three barbecue pits offering sustenance to hungry hungry hippies. (And the show goes on even in the rain -- in bad weather, Space simply moves the stage to his covered patio.) Kids frolic around the margins on scooters and skateboards and, weather permitting, in the pool, while adults congregate around the stage or around the trays of grilled meat in Space's big kitchen.

"When we bought this house, we thought we had robbed a bank or something," Space says. "I had thought about moving to Clear Lake, but they have too many deed restrictions. I couldn't do this there. Here, all I have to do is get a noise permit from the city, which costs ten bucks, and the cops can't bother me."

The shows are BYOB and BYOM, which Space notes stands for "bring your own meat, not marijuana." Said meat is grilled for you -- you can bring whatever you want, from hot dogs and hamburgers to pork loins and steaks -- on any one of Space's grand total of three pits. "It's like one of those 'You might be a redneck' jokes," Space notes. "You might be a redneck if you have three barbecue pits in your backyard." Admission is always free, though donations to the performers are encouraged. "I take up a collection and give it to the bands," Space says. "I don't make any money; in fact, I usually lose about $150 buying wood for the barbecue pits and things like that. And I always feed the bands."

So far, these bands have included locals Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies, Zwee, Drop Trio, Carolyn Wonderland, Opie Hendrix, the Hightailers, Carrie Ann and the Apocalyptics and Sky Blue 72, and out-of-town notables New Monsoon and Hot Buttered Rum String Band from San Francisco, Captain Soularcat from Rome, Georgia, and Austin's Two High String Band.

Space's all-time favorite show featured Ronny Cox, also known as "that guy from Deliverance who wasn't the fetal alcohol syndrome kid." "That was what a house concert was supposed to be like: him and Jack Williams and Opie Hendrix playing with no amplification," Space remembers. "There weren't many people there, but the stories Ronny told and his playing more than made up for it."

Though the shows usually take place once a month, that schedule is seldom rigidly adhered to. Sometimes there are two or more, sometimes none, but Space has shows lined up for each of the next three months. Check the THC Web site at www.texashouseconcerts.com for confirmed dates. And while you're there, those of you of a tape-trading bent -- or hell, serious music lovers in general -- should click the Brunch of the Living Dead link. These brunches, which are held on the first, third and fifth Sundays of each month from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., are tape-trading events at which you can access and burn from Space's truly staggering library of more than 10,400 live shows recorded on more than 21,605 discs.

"We're not bootleggers," Space says, before I can even ask. "We take no money in exchange for these CDs; it's just for the love of music. We don't deal in commercial releases either -- if it's in stores, we don't spin it, 'cause that would be illegal. I think you'll find the list interesting."

That's an understatement. I clicked over to the link and expected my choice to be limited to thousands of Dead, String Cheese Incident, Phish and Widespread Panic shows, and while all that is available in staggering magnitude, there is also much, much more. Louis Armstrong at the University of North Carolina in 1954; the B-52s at a Jamaican world music festival in 1982; a half-dozen mid- and late-'80s Butthole Surfers shows; an Elvis Costello show from 1977, another from 1989 and a third from 1996; literally hundreds of Neil Young concerts; dozens of blues gigs by the likes of B.B., Freddie and Albert King, Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins and Mance Lipscomb; and shows from every phase of the careers of influential bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Ramones and the Talking Heads. It's a truly mind-blowing archive of music, and it's most decidedly not just for Deadheads and jam-band fanatics.

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