We've attended every Houston Press Music Awards showcase since moving to Houston in 2003, and while each has varied slightly from year to year in location, bands and venues -- the core of the event remains the same. Every year we get turned on to at least one band we've never see before, and every year we see an act that makes us wonder how in hell they were nominated in the first place.
Yet Saturday's event was notably different in that it marked the first time in nine years we didn't find ourselves drenched in sweat and dying of heat exhaustion, thanks to a date change from mid-summer to late fall. And while the same may not be true in other parts of the country, November in Houston is downright temperate. But we enjoyed a lot more than just the weather. A blow-by-blow recap of our 2011 HPMA experience, listed below.
4:00 p.m., Sideshow Tramps at Homeplate Bar & Grill Decided to start with an old favorite to remind us how where the bar is set for live music in Houston. After nearly an hour of fine, harmonica-laden, bluesy Americana that included a wailing Kam Franklin/Craig Kinsey duet -- we overheard Franklin's goosebump-inducing vocals described as "the kind of voice that overwhelms the capabilities of microphones" -- that left our expectations for the acts that followed sufficiently off the charts.
5:00 p.m., Little Joe talk on the shuttle Our shuttlemates had just come from Little Joe Washington's blues set and after unanimously agreeing that the performance was "amazing", began inquiring amongst themselves about his age. This lead to a barrage of "Little Joe is so old"-prompted reponses with punchlines ranging from "His birth certificate was written on papyrus" to "He gave God the recipe for dirt."
5:05 p.m., Folk Family Revival at House of Blues (Foundation Room) Impressed by the old-school, bare-bones quality of the sound (how old are these kids?) and Mason Langford's sturdy vocals, but distracted and annoyed by the sizable and overly-chatty crowd that made it hard to focus on the performance.
5:15 p.m., Diunna Greenleaf at Pete's Dueling Piano Bar We arrived to find the gospel-inflected blues siren singing about freedom with the accompaniment of John Richardsonn's lone guitar. And HA-LE-LU-JAH, praise the lord, for a silent, reverent crowd that was positively transfixed.
5:30 p.m., Beetle at The Dirt Overheard in the crowd: "There's something wrong with a Beatles cover band that only has three members."
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6:00 p.m., The Beans at Ben's Beans Having been drawn to the show solely based on the novelty of a band and a venue both named for "the musical fruit" (yes, we're really that dorky), we were shocked when The Beans turned out what would be our undisputed favorite performance of the day. We love rock bands with a dirty, unpredictable, slightly reckless quality, especially when paired with distinct and unusual vocals, and these guys certainly delivered the goods. They closed with a full-on psychedelic freakout that had the guitar player literally banging the strings of his instrument, laid flat on the ground. When a friend texted us asking if we'd seen anything good, we replied, "The Beans are the shit. Period".
7:00 p.m., Castle Lights at The Dirt A wicked Ting Tings cover lured us in from off the street, and stayed for a couple more songs. Our notes for this set simply read, "very Cold Play".
7:25 p.m., More Little Joe shuttle talk When asked if anything unusual/interesting/hilarious had occurred during the day, the shuttle driver confessed he had denied access to a man he'd assumed was homeless who turned out to be "some sort of famous blues musician" en route to his own performance at Homeplate. Sigh.
8:00 p.m., Roky Moon & BOLT! at Warehouse Live Studio Great stage performers, solid sound. Roky Moon and co. drew a larger crowd than many national acts we've seen in the same venue.