New kids on the block: Calder Allen and Shooks follow in their forbears' footsteps
"Just in case you didn't know, this is his first band gig ever."
Guitarist Charlie Sexton was introducing Calder Allen, a young singer-songwriter making his ACL Fest debut in the Tito's tent on Sunday afternoon, to a crowd that likely was not familiar with Allen. They might have known everyone else onstage: In addition to Sexton, whose day job is touring with Bob Dylan, the cast included keyboardist Bukka Allen (Calder's uncle), guitarist Billy Cassis, an ace rhythm section of bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummer Conrad Choucroun — and, for the final two songs, fiddler Martie Maguire of the (formerly Dixie) Chicks.
Calder didn't miss a beat. "They're making it pretty easy for me, if you can't tell," he said with a big smile.
Calder's grandfather is Terry Allen, a world-renowned songwriter and sculptor originally from Lubbock, and many of these musicians also play in Terry's band. There's no way he was going to have a bad debut with these folks. But while their presence definitely kicked things up a notch, the musicianship ultimately served Calder's nine Americana-based songs.
Sexton was a big part of the sound, adding harmony vocals and perfectly tasteful leads to support songs that seemed pretty solid for a guy who just graduated from high school. Seven songs in, Maguire joined at stage left, her fiddle runs adding to the intensity of final two numbers (one anthemic, the other a slow-building tune that reached full boil in its final minute). This may have been Calder Allen's first band gig, but we're likely to hear lots more from him soon.
It was an all-in-the-family afternoon at ACL Fest: On the other side of Zilker Park, the VRBO Stage kicked off its Sunday offerings with Shooks, a local indie-rock band fronted by Charlie's son, Marlon Sexton. They'd existed for a couple of years as Marfa Crush before the recent name change.
It's almost impossible to watch Marlon onstage and not recall a young Charlie, who graced the cover of Spin magazine while still in his teens. That can be both a blessing and a curse — expectations for being Charlie Sexton's kid can be kind of high — but Marlon and his four Shooks bandmates seem determined to carve out their own territory.
In fact, if there's one local band they'd most likely be compared to, it's not anything Charlie has been involved with, but rather Spoon. Like Britt Daniel, Marlon dresses sharp, cuts dramatic moves onstage, writes angular punk-pop songs, and sings with a cutting rasp.
Will either Shooks or Calder Allen reach the level of their forbears? It's too early to tell. Austin has yet to have a next-generation breakout along the lines of say, Loudon Wainwright's son Rufus, or Billy Ray Cyrus's daughter Miley. Creatively speaking, the best so far may be Curtis McMurtry, who's succeeded largely because his music sounds very different from his father, James McMurtry.
For now, the couple hundred folks who showed up for these early-afternoon gigs seemed to appreciate what they saw. It's hard to take your eyes off of Marlon when he's thrashing about onstage; and those in the Tito's tent gradually realized they were seeing quite a coming-out party for Calder. We'll keep a close eye on both in the months and years ahead.