It’s fitting that Saturday afternoon marked the first official crossing of the 100-degree barrier in Austin, because June 2 had long been circled on the calendar as one of the hottest nights for live music around town in recent memory. Here’s a rundown of what we took in, to accompany the video recap above.
2 p.m.: Jerry Jeff Walker exhibit reception at the Wittliff Collections in San Marcos. On display through July 8, “Viva Jerry Jeff!” celebrates one of Austin’s living-legend songwriters with photos, artifacts, rare recordings and more. Walker and his wife/manager, Susan Walker, talked with exhibit curator Hector Saldana at this afternoon gathering that brought out many Texas State luminaries (including Collections founder Bill Wittliff) and quite a few fans from Austin who made the short trek down Interstate 35.
A highlight was San Antonio musician Rachel Laven playing three of Walker’s songs for the crowd, with Walker himself looking on from the front row. Laven delivered signature song “Mr. Bojangles” beautifully, but perhaps more poignant was “I Look for That Day Today,” an early-mid 1960s Walker tune found on a recording the Wittliff recently acquired. It prompted a great exchange between Walker, 76, and the young Laven. “It’s a young person’s outlook,” Walker suggested of the song. “All young people think that way.” Laven nodded and confirmed: “Yeah. I do.”
7:30 p.m.:Joe Ely, Terry Allen and Jo Harvey Allen at Hogg Auditorium. Fast friends stretching back to their common roots in the Texas Panhandle, Ely and the Allens took the stage together. Terry and Joe swapped songs, with Jo Harvey reciting content from the stage musical “Chippy” that all three helped bring to life in the 1990s (along with several other Lubbock-raised pals).
READ MORE: Our interviews with Joe Ely and with Terry Allen
Jo Harvey’s recitations frequently served as a lead-in to one of Terry’s numbers on the piano, with guitarist Ely’s West Texas-themed songs such as “Because of the Wind” adding color to the canvas. They worked in some crowd-favorites — Ely’s “I Had My Hopes Up High,” Terry’s “Gimme a Ride to Heaven” — but perhaps best of all were “Fate With a Capital F,” which they traded back and forth, and “Goodnight, Dear Diary, Goodnight,” which played brilliantly off of a Jo Harvey recitation. A second set from Joe and Terry followed, but we were off to the next stop…
8:45 p.m.: Kelly Willis at Stateside at the Paramount. Celebrating the mid-May release of “Back Being Blue,” her first solo album in more than a decade, Willis was up against some pretty stiff Americana competition around town on this night. But the Stateside looked to be about 90 percent full, and she rewarded those who chose her show with an immaculate set drawing on new material as well as highlights from her three-decade career.
Her four-piece band brought out the natural country twang in Willis’s music without ever getting in the way of her exquisite vocals. The small-theater crowd kept respectfully quiet but expressed their appreciation with an emphatic ovation at the end of the 75-minute set. We arrived midway through and no doubt missed some high points, but her singing on the new-album standouts “Freewheeling” and “We’ll Do It for Love Next Time” (the latter written by Rodney Crowell) made this stop well worth working into the busy night’s itinerary.
9:30 p.m.: Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Dave Alvin at Antone’s. Gilmore going up against his Flatlanders bandmate Ely and his old friends the Allens was a crazy stroke of fate, but some folks seized upon the somewhat staggered timing and managed to attend both shows. We arrived just as Colin Gilmore, Jimmie Dale’s son, was wrapping up a solid opening set with his band. In striking contrast to the seated, air-conditioned, theater-quiet Stateside environs, Antone’s was hot and sweaty, brimming with nightclub buzz and packed so tight near the front of the stage that there was little room to squeeze by.
READ MORE: Our interview with Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Minor discomfort aside, all of that actually fit pretty well with the bluesy vibe of Gilmore & Alvin’s new album “Downey to Lubbock.” The show had its occasional acoustic moments, and both men told engaging stories between songs, but the heart of the evening was in blazing old-school numbers from the new album such as Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and the Memphis Jug Band’s “Stealin’.” A special treat was getting to hear new voices on signature songs: Gilmore added chorus harmonies on Alvin’s classic “Fourth of July,” and Alvin took a verse on Gilmore’s iconic “Dallas.”
11:45 p.m.: The Posies at the Parish. A power-pop band from the Pacific Northwest might seem like an odd nightcap for what was mostly a roots-music day and evening. On the other hand, the Posies’ home base in the early-’90s was Seattle’s Egg Studios, where Jimmie Dale Gilmore once recorded a song with grunge masters Mudhoney. There’s always a through-line.
The crowd at the Parish wasn’t large, but it was very appreciative of the band, who returned that respect with a wondrously energetic performance. Co-leaders Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow had played a duo show at Cactus Cafe back in February that put the spotlight on their vocal harmonies, but on this night they rocked hard, teaming with longtime drummer Mike Musburger and bassist David Fox for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. By the time we departed this long day’s journey into night, it was June 3. With George Strait and Asleep at the Wheel playing the Erwin Center, it promises to be another hot one, folks.