I've already been to two bars tonight, most recently a trendy spot where the bartender insisted Jack Daniels was a bourbon. I'm offended, but that all falls to the wayside when I show up at Rudyard's (2010 Waugh), which has a way of rendering moot any ambiguous feelings about mingling with the masses.
My most memorable — though not best — night at Rudyard's was when a good friend and I were locked into a terrible dart game with two young ladies. For Jäger shots. The rules became confusing, and somehow my friend and I ended up doing all of the shots. If we won, it was celebration; if we lost, penance. A few games later, it seemed I was the one doing all of the shots. I wandered off in the middle of a round and ended up being scraped off the restroom floor by my then-girlfriend, loaded into the back of a car and whipped around turns at 40 mph. My friends are good people with a generally foul sense of humor. Tonight, though, shouldn't bear much resemblance to that awful spectacle. I'm here to see Stevie Tombstone, whose recent release, 7:30 a.m., spent six weeks in the top ten of XM Radio's Cross Country.
Press freelancer William Michael Smith recommended I attend. Few people offer live-music recommendations I don't question. Mike Smith is one, pretty much on the strength of one show he steered me to: John Egan solo at Mojo Risin' Coffee House, balls-to-the-wall, fire-breathing blues-rock.
I order some booze, grab a seat at Mike's downstairs table and am introduced to everyone as "Dr. Nightfly."
"Oh, I've read your columns," says someone nearby. "You're funny."
"Damn right!" I bellow. "I'm hilarious!"
I demand everyone do shots in my honor.
"Did I miss Stevie already?" I ask.
"No, the first band's still on," he answers. "It's just really fuckin' loud up there, so we decided to leave for a while."
Drinks finished, everyone starts heading back upstairs. I secure a refill at the bar, then make my way over.
"One?" asks the young lady at the podium.
A doe-eyed young blond slowly stands from her seat next to the girl taking the cover, as though emerging from some unnamed abyss.
"Really?" says the blond, smirking. "Just one?"
"I know. It's sort of sad, isn't it?" I wink and climb the stairs.
It really is fuckin' loud up here. Talking is a lost cause, so we all just stand looking at one another. The first band finishes, so Mike and I go to the soundboard, where I'm introduced to Stevie Tombstone. He's wearing a blue Western shirt with white hemp leaves embroidered across his collarbones.
"Only in Austin," Mike says.
Stevie is gracious — cordial, even — and we tell him we'll all sit at the front of the stage if the soundman turns it down about 20 percent. Stevie has no problem with this. And he shouldn't.
Besides the three people in Mike's party, a couple sitting in the middle of the room, a stray lurking near the back and me, everyone else in the room is a Rudyard's employee.
"If you'd have called me, I could've just come to your house," Stevie jokes to Mike as he starts his set. The band plays a few tunes, all stellar. When Stevie sings a line like "I wonder if she's sorry," or "Hitchhiking through the back roads of my mind," I want to pound my fist on the table.
Where are the rest of you, I wonder, while we watch Stevie whip the shit out of the alt-country bunch with the best version of "Folsom Prison Blues" since Johnny Cash himself?
Stevie is what Mike Ness would be if not for multi-thousand-dollar guarantees and 20 years of junkie mythology. He's legit, and you'll be hard-pressed to find legitimacy anywhere, let alone Saturday night in a Houston bar after three straight months of rain, for eight bucks.
Mike grabs my notebook from the table and scribbles something. I lean forward to read what that might be:
"Traded recorded plastic
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for a little cash,
Tryin' to get home to Austin
without losin' our ass."
It doesn't have to be that way. Don't blow it next time.