From the side to the spotlight
Steel Monday marks two years at Sam's Town Point in South Austin
“Thanks for booking the freaks, Rose!”
Gary Newcomb is on stage with his trio at Sam’s Town Point, coaxing all manner of unusual sounds from a pedal steel guitar. His offbeat shoutout goes to Rose Sinclair, who’s seated a few feet away at the bar. It’s to her credit that a small but appreciative crowd has gathered for another Steel Monday. You're unlikely to find another residency in town that celebrates a specific instrument quite like this.
Sinclair, who plays steel guitar (the nonpedal variety, she notes) with veteran country act Wayne Hancock, suggested a weekly steel show to Ramsay Midwood back in 2017, not long after the singer-songwriter took ownership of the longstanding venue indeep South Austin. Midwood’s almost always game for a curveball, and soon Steel Monday was born.
September marks the residency's two-year anniversary, a fitting occasion to declare the gig our Austin360 Residency of the Month. The official birthday celebration will be Sept. 2 with Marty Muse, longtime steel guitarist with Robert Earl Keen. That’s just the first of five Mondays this month with steel players whose styles range from country to swing to jazz to Hawaiian.
Steel Mondays are so laid-back and local that it’s slightly surprising to learn they were inspired by much grander national gatherings of steel aces. “I started playing at steel guitar conventions in 2009 and enjoyed the variety of music being played, the camaraderie and general geek factor,” Sinclair says. “So instead of waiting all year for the Dallas, St. Louis or Phoenix shows, why not hold a tiny steel show here in Austin with one player each week, as opposed to 100 players over a weekend?”
So far, Sinclair has presented 16 different steel guitarists. “I see the steel guitar as an endangered species and wanted to shine a spotlight on the instrument,” Sinclair says, “as well as provide a venue for steel guitar sidemen to stretch out and play tunes that they don't regularly get to play on the bandstand.”
Newcomb’s late-August set for Steel Mondays underscored that opportunity for stylistic breadth and reach. He showed off inventive technique in solos during Roger Miller’s sardonic “Pardon My Coffin” and consistently pushed into left field for sounds he’s described on his Facebook page as “sonic Rx and aural tincture.”
Geoff Queen, a regular with Texas singer-songwriters Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Hayes Carll, has played many a Steel Monday in the series’ first two years and will be back for another round Sept. 9. “It is just really cool to shine a light on an instrument that gets overlooked and misunderstood these days,” Queen says. “That, combined with the opportunity to play whatever we want, is the really cool and unique thing. We’re all side-men and -women, so as daunting as it was at first to be put in the spotlight, it’s really cool to be able to play stuff that wouldn’t fly on our main gigs.”
Queen has referred to the show as “the only steel guitar residency on the planet,” with the winking qualifier, “as far as I know.” Monday nights in Austin do have a history with steel guitars: Three decades ago, fans flocked to North Austin dive Henry’s Bar & Grill to hear country yodeler extraordinaire Don Walser with a band that included the late, great Jimmy Day, who recorded with everyone from Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline to Willie Nelson and Ray Price. Day died in 1999; otherwise, he’d no doubt be in Sinclair’s Steel Monday rotation.
The vibe: Regulars hang and drink (sometimes there’s food, too) as they take in the music, some rising to dance every now and again. It’s a tight enough scene that Newcomb frequently called folks out by name from the stage last week. “What’s up, Andrea Dawson?” as a fellow musician strolled in. “Nice dipping, Crystal and Rich” to two dancers after a country number. Pun-filled kudos to a key staffer: “Hey, how 'bout Ben behind the bar, running sound — he’s a sound bartender.”
The venue: Tables and chairs flank either side of the stage, with more seats aside a long bar that stretches toward a pool table in the back. There’s also lots of outdoor space — a deck with benches, a fire pit and a rambling yard with a stage that’s occasionally used for larger gigs.
The lineups: Featured steel players usually are backed by small combos. Here’s who’s scheduled for the second-anniversary month:
• Sept. 2: Marty Muse
• Sept. 9: Geoff Queen
• Sept. 16: Steel Vibes with Bobby Snell
• Sept. 23: Bobby Horton
• Sept. 30: Herb Steiner
If you go: Music begins at 7 p.m.; the band plays for about an hour and a half, usually straight through. Cover charge at Sam’s is self-service; upon entering, you’ll see a metal pail on a table and a sign that reads, “Place $5 in bucket, please!” Sam’s is located at 2115 Allred Drive, tucked away in a residential neighborhood a few blocks southwest of Manchaca Road and Slaughter Lane. The dirt parking lot out front can get crowded on the weekend, but there’s usually enough room on Monday. Find more information at samstownpointatx.com.
OTHER RECENTLY FEATURED RESIDENCIES:
AUSTIN360 RESIDENCY OF THE MONTH
Outdoor festivals, industry confabs and a legendary TV show all had a hand in creating Austin’s reputation as a music town. But the primary reason we’re considered the Live Music Capital of the World is what happens in the clubs week in and week out. A huge part of that is residency gigs. From weekly shows with world-class musicians that last for years to temporary spotlights on rising stars that run just a month or two, residencies consistently offer great opportunities for both locals and out-of-town visitors to hear what Austin music is all about. In this series, we’ll spotlight a different residency each month. If you have a favorite ongoing residency gig or know of a cool limited run coming up, drop us a line at email@example.com. Check out our residencies guide at austin360.com/residencies.