Dawn and Hawkes Treat the Duck Crowd Like Family

Dawn and Hawkes
McGonigel's Mucky Duck

August 8, 2015

Playing to a sold-out show at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck Saturday night, acoustic duo Miranda Dawn and Chris Hawkes treated the Houston audience like family. Elaborating on their tour, their lives and their future plans, the musicians seemed much matured since their Voice debut on NBC's The Voice.

In fact, Dawn and Hawkes flexed their songwriting muscle Saturday night. Outstanding musicians individually, they are absolutely magical together; it’s easy to see why the show was standing-room only. The room was packed with fans, so this writer was confined to the back row in the hallway near the restrooms. But even with the close quarters, I had a coveted direct view.

Undoubtedly, the beautiful thing about an acoustic set is its intimacy. Dawn and Hawkes were completely at ease with the crowd; if they were also nervous, it certainly never showed. They bantered back and forth like the adorable couple they are and were open about their meeting, their relationship, and their music. Think interview and show all in one, a perfect combination for the date-night crowd that poured into the Mucky Duck.

The pair of superlative songwriters divulged the history of their songs, specifically about their genesis and motivation for writing. Many of their ideas seem to come from spontaneous yet ordinary exchanges between the two, but others from jam sessions around their kitchen table. But on the extreme side of songwriting, Dawn explained her desperate attempt to find a quiet place during an airport layover. She laughed and told of finally giving up and locking herself in the last stall of the women’s restroom for an afternoon.

With songs from their latest EP, Golden Heart, and their soon-to-be-released LP, Yours and Mine (due Oct. 2) and at least one song never played in front of an audience, written by Dawn and calling for peace after witnessing her Facebook feed full of negativity. After dozens of police brutality reports, angry commenters and the playground of unwarranted political opinion that is the site's current state, it’s no wonder she penned the song. “People were saying their way is the only right way instead of coming to the table and holding hands,” she sang. 

Openly forthcoming about their fortunate meeting and subsequent talent for making music together, Hawkes talked about the evening they first met. During a song circle, a man asked Dawn to sing a particular song: “I thought he was just a cool guy with a mandolin. It was her dad.” Dawn broke in, “My dad is pretty cool.” Her emotional song about marriage, expectations and parental approval won over Hawkes.

“The song already had a familiar feeling," he said. "I judge songs that way. Good songs seem to feel familiar.”

Indeed, the lyrics would seem to strike a chord in any young woman, and the accompanying guitar work was phenomenal.

Dawn’s hilarious rendition of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song was hard to top. But, when she explained they day before was spent volunteering at a female juvenile detention facility, there was a crowd-wide heart melt for this songstress who helps troubled girls. She explained how she and another songwriter put the girls’ journal entries to music. She played a song that the girls enjoyed the most, imploring the crowd to beat-box with her with an instructional, “If you want to know how to beat box, just say, ‘Boots and cats.’” Surprisingly, it really does sound like a drum set. From the untalented in the audience to the reluctant, to the wine-buzzed dating set, the entire room was chanting, “BOOTS AND CATS!” (You know you just said, “Boots and cats” under your breath while reading this.)

They also broke into a Bruce Springsteen cover, “I’m on Fire,” to which the room fell mesmerized by Dawn’s ringing vocals and the hum of their two guitars. Characteristically slowing the time signature to focus on the melody and lyrics, the music was captivating. Another bright spot in the evening was Hawkes' bluesy guitar solos. His riffs were edgy and raw, each gaining spontaneous applause.

Perhaps one of the most heartfelt explanations of songwriting impetus came from the couple's much-adored track, “Catch." Dawn explained, “I tried to get rid of him early on. Can you imagine? I told him, ‘You don’t want this. I’m a mess.’ I told him that in a text message, and then he wrote this song and left it on my voicemail. I called him back immediately.” To which, they encouraged the crowd to join them in singing. Dawn implored the audience, “Come on, join us! You’re here with someone you love…turn and tell them, ‘You’re a mess. But, you’re a catch to me.” As a double treat, the two-song encore included the cover that made them famous, “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by the Beatles.

If you didn’t feel like you were close enough to be called, “family” yet, both songwriters urged the audience to meet them personally post-performance. “I love to hear everyone’s stories.” Dawn told the crowd. Faithful to their word, they greeted every single fan, signed CDs, and took pictures, all with genuine interest and help from a very helpful aunt handling merchandise.

The best moment of the set was witnessing the authenticity of two people who truly love what they do and love sharing it with others. There was never a moment of condescension or disconnect from the audience. Dawn and Hawkes engaged every soul in the room with credible integrity. No rock-star attitudes or pedantic pandering — in short they were the real deal.

Even in a venue as cramped as the Mucky Duck, there are people who think it’s entirely acceptable to talk through a performance.  Or talk over a performance. You know who you are. If your conversation is so damn important, perhaps it belongs someplace else like, a museum, a movie, a church prayer or a testing classroom. Seriously, shut up. No one paid to hear YOU. Whether you realize it or not, everyone is tolerating you, waiting for you to stop being a jackass, and stop stealing the limelight.

For the rest of us, music is the reason we’re here. We want to see the artistry and emotion. We want to see the passionate and creative communication with another human being. We’re here to acknowledge the inherent sacrifices, the hard work and the talent presented, not to hear your anecdotes. Seriously — get some manners, and be respectful and quiet.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.