The 3700s

Veronica (l) and Janis, a.k.a. The Church Ladies Rockin' for Jesus.

This didn't start off as a musical social experiment. It started off with me trying to get to see the Damnwells in concert. But somehow I ended up spending three nights in one week on the 3700 block of Main St. Between the Continental Club, the Mink and Sig's Lagoon, I saw indie rockers, retro country and some searing blues.

Tuesday night: I've got $20 and a promise from the Damnwells' PR rep that I'm on their guest list. "9 p.m.," she tells me. "There's no opening band or anything, just them. 9 o'clock." I believe her and head to the Mink. I walk in at 9:03 p.m., and except for two women in their early forties and the bartender, it's empty. "Is this where the Damn..."

"This is it, girl, you found the party!" laughs the blonde.



"But I thought it was supposed to start at..."

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"At nine? Yeah, that's what they told us, too. I guess they meant 9 o'clock rock and roll time," the brunette tells me.

I go to the bar and get a drink ($2, I've got $18 left).

"Come sit down with us," calls the brunette. The blonde, I find out, is Janis ("J-a-n-i-s, like Joplin"); the brunette is Veronica; and they took two days off from work and drove in from Corpus Christi, just to see the Damnwells.

"Wow, you must really like them, huh?" I say, a little surprised.

"We love them!" giggles Janis. "They are soooooo sweet and soooooo nice."

"Ah, okay." Over the next half hour I find out that the women travel all around Texas, following their favorite bands. They call themselves The Church Ladies Rockin' for Jesus (they volunteer at their church in Corpus). Janis has left her 84-year-old mother, who usually comes to shows with them, at a hotel down the street. "But she's seen the Damnwells before," Janis assures me.

By ten-thirty, we've moved from the Mink's main bar to a building in the back. The place is the size of my living room, and the sound system is blaring. Janis stands in place, doing a funny little Church Lady dance, while Veronica laughs at her. Finally, some musician types start to move toward the tiny stage. "That's the Army of Me," Veronica tells me.

"That's not the damn Damnwells?"

"Nope, I think they're not going to start until 11:30 or so."

The Army of Me is fine, standard-issue indie rock, but it's another hour at least, just to get to the start of the Damnwells' show. Never mind. I head for the door. Janis waves goodbye, but Veronica has started her own little church dance and doesn't see me leave.

Wednesday night: Okay, I've still got $18. Miss Leslie and Her Juke-Jointers are supposed to be at The Continental Club. I walk in and a feeling of dj vu washes over me. It's me and the bartender and a couple of old guys. (I do a quick look around for Janis and Veronica, just in case.) I grab a drink ($2, I've got $16 left) and head to a table. Before I settle in, a guy in complete wrangler gear marches over. "Hi, I'm Country Jim," he tells me, his handshake and his smile both surprisingly genuine. "Miss Leslie won't be here tonight," he tells me. "This is most of her band," he says, pointing to a bunch of men I would usually call elderly, but since each one has a beer in one hand and a guitar in the other, tonight they're just older cool guys. Country Jim (a.k.a. Jim Sloan and Miss Leslie's dad), seems to have been to the Janis School of Spill-the-Beans, because in less than three minutes, he tells me he grew up less than 30 miles from the Grand Ole Opry, one of the guys in the band is getting a divorce and the singer, Drop Watson, is related to Gene Watson. (Please know who Gene Watson is! This is Texas, people, keep up!) "Drop says he really just sings harmony, you know, backgrounds, but we like him up front, too. And the steel guitar player, Ronny Burks, he used to be with Gene, too."

A few minutes later, the band starts, and it takes about four-and-a-half notes for me to realize that Drop is way more than a background singer. There's a nice George Jones quality to his voice, kind of sad and weary. I stick around for a full set, enjoying what Jim calls "Retro Country." Most of the audience looks like the band -- a little older, a little red still left on their neck. Except for one couple. A black guy with dreadlocks and a doorag and a pretty white girl.

"Hey, why are you two here?" I ask them, throwing political correctness out the window. "I mean, no offense, but you kind of stand out."

"Oh, we like Country Jim," the guy tells me. "He's always real nice to us."

"Plus we like to dance," she adds.

"And it's free!"

Yeah, nice people, dancing and no cover, that's pretty hard to beat.

Thursday night: I've spent just $4 so far, which leaves me $16 for Joe Doucet's Houston Third Ward Blues CD release party at Sig's Lagoon. I've brought along my friend Liz, a jazz pianist who is a little confused. "Why am I going to this? I already have his CD," she asks.

"Because I want to see you get outplayed by a 70-year-old guy with arthritis," I laugh.

Sure enough, the music starts (Earl Gilliam on keyboards, Jackie Gray on drums, and Eddie Stout on bass), and Liz is immediately awed. "These guys are great!" she whispers.

"I know, and Joe Doucet isn't even up there yet."

In between songs I give Liz my $16 and send her to buy me a $15.95 Joe Doucet CD, praying she's nice enough to cover the tax. It's perfect timing; Doucet hits his first note -- a sweet, clean, piercing zinger -- just as Liz gets to the counter. She's so caught up in the music, she hands the clerk her own credit card.

I sit there smiling stupidly while Doucet keeps hitting sweeter and sweeter notes. It's been a funny week. No Damnwells but a nice enough Army of Me and two crazy rock ladies from Corpus. No Miss Leslie, but a very cool Drop Watson, a nice Country Jim and a guy in a doorag. And then, not only does Joe Doucet show up, but he's brought all his buddies with him. All on one block and one $20 bill.

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