From turn-of-the-century gospel-music conventions to the Beatles at Sam Houston Coliseum, Jean-Michel Jarre’s "Rendez-Vous Houston" to Selena’s last show, Houston has seen some spellbinding concert moments. In this series, Houstonians share their recollections of the artists and audiences that made certain local shows memorable. In doing so, they recall what life was like in Houston before, during and after the encores.
The Audience Member: Jacob Calle is a Houston renaissance man. His pursuits have included comedy writing, visual art, filmmaking, wildlife conservation and concert promotion. Today he reflects on two shows — the first concert he ever saw, and the next one he plans to attend (which happens to be at his house). The latter is House Party Comedy #11, also featuring one of Houston's most beloved musicians, Chase Hamblin, as a musical guest. Tomorrow night’s show will be held at Calle’s Midtown home, 1509 Stuart, and begins at 8 p.m. Past editions of the showcase have featured Daniel Johnston and At the Drive-In’s Jim Ward.
The Show: Calle’s life as a promoter brings him full circle with the one that started it all, the first live show he ever saw. The native Houstonian has traveled to some interesting places in his life — Hollywood, Kurt Cobain Memorial Park in Aberdeen and the jungle terrain of Africa, to name a few. So it should be no surprise he began his concertgoing life with an unusual event, the 1989 Bangles show held on the Sam Houston Tollway. As Calle relates, the day was one of girl power and unlikely bonds formed over music.
"As a child, The Bangles was my favorite band," he begins. "I was greatly looking forward to seeing my cassette tapes come to life. I've talked about this event with my friends who were also there. We don't recall much except that we were all much too small for the giant crowd so there were a lot of us riding on the shoulders of dads so that we could see the band,” Calle shared. “Being an advocate for feminism and a fan of Bikini Kill and riot grrrl bands, this was my first concert and I greatly appreciate that a group of women were the ones who introduced me to rock n' roll.”
According to the Houston Chronicle's J.R. Gonzales, who recalled the event in a 2011 article culled together from reviews by the Chron’s longtime music writer Marty Racine, the all-girl pop band played a free, hour-long show to more than 25,000 Houstonians in July 1989. Imagine the heat generated by all those bodies and the asphalt underfoot. The show was a chance to celebrate the opening of a stretch of the tollway that connected Highway 290 and the North Freeway, Gonzales wrote.
“I went with my parents and my two brothers. That was my first concert. I didn't know that this was a very rare and unique performance. ‘Oh, so bands just shut down freeways and play concerts,’" Calle recalls thinking. “I didn't know any better, so it was normal. At least I thought it was going to be.
Possibly it was the crowd’s solidarity or maybe it was the band softly cooing “Eternal Flame,” but whatever the reason, Calle says former enemies became allies that day.
"There were thousands of people. I tried my best to spot someone from elementary school. I ran into Scott Olsen, the neighborhood bully. I recall waving at him and he waved back because this was not a time to fight. We were at a concert for an amazing band and that was enough to be friends.
"I'd give the Dad Award to my father who had to juggle three kids on his shoulders so we could also watch the band play,” Calle continues. “I recall a good amount of songs from the album Different Light, along with Simon and Garfunkel's cover of 'Hazy Shade of Winter,' which breaks all gender stereotypes that men are better musicians. I just knew when I grew up I'd like to marry a girl like that. Possibly like Susanna Hoffs — nearly 60 and she is still smokin'!”
Even though the show was held in the sweltering heat on a roadway you’re still paying to use nearly 20 years after its construction, Calle said this isn’t the strangest venue he’s attended a show
“I've come to learn that this was just a part of life and that anything can happen," he explains. "I've seen punk-rock shows held in gym restrooms, legendary band The Zombies in a bicycle shop performing next to a bunch of Huffies...hell, the Locusts once loaded their gear down into a sewer; I still have that VHS tape somewhere. I once had Andrew W.K. play a secret party underneath Congress [Avenue] Bridge in Austin over a decade ago with Jason Willis' P.A that he had blown out; but, I'd have to hand it to the Tontons, who literally performed a live set underneath one of the world's largest dinosaurs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Paleontology and rock and roll. My two worlds have finally met."
Which brings us back to House Party Comedy #11, Calle’s latest offering to Houston’s music and comedy fans. Tomorrow's show is BYOB, "pay what you want” and doubles as a benefit for Vanishing Heartbeats, the self-funded wildlife-conservation movie Calle is making.
"I went to Africa twice last year and have been interviewing active and retired poachers," he says. "While many conservation films focus on saving the rhinos, I want to focus on the poachers. If they had the opportunity to have a different job, would they? Though what they do is wrong, I blame the corruption that is being held in Africa.
This subject is not a black-and-white answer to save wildlife, so hopefully with this film I can put a unique spin on how we view conservation and what can be done about it," he continues. "I will be heading back to South Africa and Zimbabwe next year to meet with more poachers and politicians and to document wildlife crime scenes."
Comedian Nick Meriwether will host the event, an open-mike of sorts, where the audience members will be the entertainers, in part — they'll be invited to to tell jokes. No stand-up experience needed, Calle says, just step up and tell your favorite street joke.
“This enables the non-comics to have stage time as a comedian and a storyteller," he explains. "Those who tell jokes will be put in a raffle for concert tickets, prizes, and more."
The joke-telling will last an hour before giving way to Hamblin, he adds.
“There are not many of my friends who understand this subject as much as Chase," Calle offers. "He recently just got back from South Africa and visited a lot of wildlife parks, and now has that wild connection with humans and comprehends how it is possible that we can all live in unity and what is beautiful with this world."
Indeed, Calle notes that he considers Hamblin to be in a similar class as Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes.
"Absolutely beautiful musician," Calle says. "He's helped me in the past with this movie, and will again be lending over his talent for Africa. Greatly excited hear his new project with Dillon Trimm."
See the Facebook event page for more details on House Party Comedy #11. Showtime is 9 p.m.