Cactus Music's Top 10 Live Performances (From A Guy Who Knows)

Perhaps E Street Band member and Sopranos alum Little Steven Van Zandt said it best when he declared Cactus Music "a great fucking record store" after stopping by in 2009.

We're with you, Little Steven. Rocks Off thanks our lucky stars every day there are still places in the world like Cactus Music. Aside from a great selection of independent, local and mainstream music, a knowledgeable staff, and the record-store camp and kitsch we fell in love with as a kid, Cactus has been offering Houstonians the opportunity to experience amazing live music - for free - in a laid-back intimate setting for more than thirty years.

Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., Cactus hosts an in-store performance by Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen in honor of his new Lost Highway album Ready for Confetti. The show is free, but admission is limited to those with a wristband obtained from the purchase of Keen's new release, on sale in a couple of hours when the store opens at 10 a.m. Keen's upcoming performance got Rocks Off thinking about the many Cactus in-stores we've attended over the years.

While we may have seen more than most, our first-hand knowledge doesn't even begin to scratch the decades of live music that began at Cactus' old Alabama Center location, so we reached out reached out to co-owner Quinn Bishop, who graciously provided the insightful list of Cactus in-store performances featured below.

With a career spanning more than 20 years at both Cactus locations, Bishop makes a point to note that he only included performances witnessed in person: "I'm certain that I forgot a few," he tells Rocks Off, "but I bet the readers will remind me."


Steve Earle, May 16, 2009 and May 3, 2011: "We've had Steve in for two in-stores at the new location. Steve's first performance was to promote the release of Townes, his 2009 album of songs by his mentor, Townes Van Zandt, and he gave an hour-long performance that made you feel proud to be from Houston. Steve is a troubadour with a big heart. Before his last in-store he gave one of our Cactoids the funds to cover the medical costs of adopting a beautiful dog that wandered into our store. When he handed him the roll of bills, he told him, 'If you spend this money on weed, you're going to hell.'"

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Dawes, August 23, 2011: "We're proud that so many Houstonians found out about this brilliant new band though Cactus, and last week's in-store was more striking than their first visit. Performing with just a single guitar and singing three-part harmony, this young California band left our customers speechless."  

The Black Angels, November 17, 2010: "Staff favorite. Austin's Black Angels brought down the house with a full-blown Psychedelic freakout. 'Nuff said."

Rodney Crowell, January 31, 2011: "Rodney was in-store to promote Chinaberry Sidewalks, his memoir on growing up in Jacinto City, and we were told he would play a few autobiographical tunes and read selections from the recently published book. He must have been channeling a strong H-Town vibe because he went off plan in a grand fashion, performing a set of songs by legendary Houston music figures including Lightnin' Hopkins, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Mickey Newbury. He closed with a few songs from The Houston Kid and What Kind of Love, which he co-wrote with Roy Orbison."

Ian McLagan, March 13, 2009: "Mac is one of the coolest musicians ever. In addition to being in two of the greatest British Rock bands ever (The Faces and The Small Faces), he's lent his B3 skills to The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and countless others. He's light of spirit and has such a fun personality that he turned our store into the corner pub. To have Faces classics like 'Debris' and 'You're So Rude' played by the original artists was one of our finest moments."


Jeff Buckley, December 1, 1994: "Jeff performed shortly after the release of Grace and his brilliant performance resulted in one of his most sought-after bootlegs. The fan who recorded it must have been standing close to myself and my friends because you can hear a short segment of our conversation just before the first song begins. Jeff was very quiet and nice, and he was on a search for Smiths bootlegs."

The Chieftains, c. January 2004: "The legendary Irish folk group performed at Cactus to promote their collaboration with The Houston Ballet. It was fun to host musicians who are truly celebrated around the globe. They did have somewhat of an extensive rider, which was graciously taken care of by The Houston Ballet. They arrived early, drank gallons of coffee and then switched immediately to the copious amount of Guinness that was provided. The performance was lovely and they were great fun." 

Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, September 13, 2000: "Fleck and Co. were opening for The Dave Matthews Band and the show had sold out almost immediately. They had just released Outbound, and due to the sold-out show there were lots of fans that would not be able see them live at The Woodlands, resulting in a huge, enthusiastic crowd gathered at the store. The band rose to the occasion and played a full set."

Dave Alvin, September 29, 1994: "We had Dave scheduled to play the night before his gig at the Satellite Lounge. It came to be showtime and he was nowhere to be found. Turns out Cactus wasn't on his itinerary and he was sleeping in his hotel room. We sent a friend to pick him up at the Allen Park Inn and he showed up, shook off the sleep, and played a brilliant folk-blues set that lasted over an hour." 

Chris Whitley, September 18, 2005: "This in-store was one of the few occasions we had the good fortune to host an artist on the day their album went on sale. It was 2005 and Chris had just released Soft Dangerous Shores. He had performed at Cactus before, but this time there was definitely a strange mood about the performance. Despite his light demeanor, Chris did not look well, and he was not well. The Cactus appearance was his second to last public performance (Whitley died from lung cancer on November 20, 2005.). I had long admired Chris in that he seemed to follow his muse wherever it led him. It certainly made for great records, and it's a shame that he's gone. We keep a photograph of this performance over our stereo at the store." 

BONUS: "Just for fun, I included a short list of personal appearances that happened before my tenure at the store. Man, these musta been fun. I think they were all autograph sessions."

The Police Patti Smith The Ramones Thin Lizzy  Townes Van Zandt

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