The Great Gatekeeper
There is something graceful, damn near balletic, about doorman Carl "Wasi" Townsend in action.
His engaging, non-sycophantic manner is astonishing in the world of velvet ropes. He greets the guys with warm handshakes and the gals with wet smooches. He makes every man feel important and every woman feel beautiful. But most important, he treats everyone with respect. Even the drunks who get ejected at the end of the night know not to give Townsend a hard time. He is the man Steve Miller sang about in "The Joker."
With his boho charm, exotic charisma and rope-thick dreads that girls can't help but stroke and ask, "Oooh, are these real?" it's easy to hate on his ass. But you soon learn that envy is pointless; it's much more fascinating to just watch him work. As a wise person once said, don't hate the playa, hate the game.
After a stint guarding the raucous portal at defunct Prague, Townsend is now manning the doors at Club 511 (511 Main) and the new downtown after-hours spot Twisted (110 Milam). He wins nothing but appreciation from the people he's worked for. "He just has the type of personality that makes you say, 'I wanna work with that guy,' " says Spy (112 Travis) manager Bobby Stark. "I just think he's amazing. He has that way of having controlled chaos."
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But what most people don't know is that there is an ulterior motive at play. The reason Townsend has been such a visible presence in the nightlife scene is that he's selling himself to prospective customers. It's a plan he and his bandmates in Snowshoe 'n' Lewis have had for about a minute now.
They explain this to me one recent Wednesday night at their northwest Houston recording studio, which is also the headquarters of their record label, Oblisque Records Group. Snowshoe 'n' Lewis, originally known as Bonedance, is a rock/funk/R&B fusion band that started four years ago when Townsend met drummer Jo Jowers and guitarist Dee Wade at the Westheimer Street Festival. Fresh in from Shreveport, Louisiana, Jowers and Wade were looking for a bassist/vocalist to replace their old bass man, so they signed Townsend up. After a couple of years under the Bonedance name, the trio discovered there was another band by that name on the West Coast and made the switch to Snowshoe.
The band is no mere sideline for Townsend, Jowers and new guitarist Casey Kimble. (Wade is on sabbatical.) A December gig at The Gatsby (2450 University Boulevard) garnered such a positive response that the club signed them up for a run of monthly shows beginning on Wednesday, February 12. Townsend and company hope to bring in local acts like Phuz, as well as national artists such as Ben Harper and Chocolate Genius, to perform on the revolving bill with them. On the recording front, they're looking to throw five songs on an EP, call it God and the Cigar Box and release it in March or April.
But even with all that going on, Townsend won't give up being a door guy anytime soon. As with any true artist, he loves his work for its own sake. "I enjoy the challenge of working with people's personalities and egos," he says. "Everyone is only thinking about themselves and [being] fragmentary. To try to keep people patient and happy is a cool challenge for me. You're trying to bring a little bit of serenity to the chaos of a line."
And let's not forget, it also gives him a chance to get the word out about his band. Snowshoe 'n' Lewis is hoping that the same people who have faith in Townsend to lead them to a satisfying club experience will trust him enough to lead them to a fulfilling musical experience as well. "He's still the doorman, onstage," says Jowers. "When he opens the door to our music, that's 100 percent of everything we got."
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