Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

The song and the fury

As rotten as Friday felt, as low as my spirits fell listening to that pompous ape talk about “American carnage,” as hopeless as the next four years seemed as the relentless rain fell, we salvaged some lightness that evening with — what else? Music.

Have you ever been to a house concert? Where a professional-level player shows up in someone’s living room and puts on the same show he’d do at a club or concert hall? Well, our new liberal friends Kenny and Jenny invited us to the latest in a series of these at a neighbor’s house right here in beautiful downtown Cool, California — the spectacular roots/blues player, David Jacobs-Strain, accompanied by harmonica virtuoso, Bob Beach. That’s them in the clip.

The host, another Kevin, along with his wife Barb, have repurposed their downstairs family room as a performance venue, complete with about fifty folding chairs, an actual stage, lighting, and a killer sound system. Beforehand there was a potluck, where attendees brought everything from chili in a Crockpot to dynamite pulled pork barbecue. The wine flowed freely. Sure, we were all utterly bummed by the political events of the day, but slowly/surely our mood started to drag itself out of the trench, anticipating the show.

Kevin did a short set of his own tunes, including a sweet one from the point of view of the moon speaking to Earth. Best line: “I have a dark side, one that you’ll never see …” Nailed it!

Then came David and Bob, and they launched right into an uptempo blues, with David sliding on an awesome vintage-style resonator guitar that Blind Willie Johnson himself would’ve killed to play. These guys were hot, man, and David’s lyrics were both humorous and touching, full of rural detail and a slightly cocked point of view. He has a warm and funny presence, and being so close to the stage gave us that intimate relationship with the performer that lets the music get right in.

Bob juggled his harps like a Benihana chef, changing mid-song and rolling through quick runs into an old mic like you see Little Walter hooting at. Then — believe it — this man turns around and produces a flute! Have you ever heard blues flute? He made that silver stick cry, my friends. And then he played it one-handed so he could toss in some harmonica clucks at the same time.

Whither the flute in blues music? Cool, California!

When it was over, my wife and I ran to our car in the cold rain, having totally forgotten that it was still January 20th and some billionaire gasbag is now sitting in the biggest chair on Earth, and we realized that the only way to fight the negative that’s going to be shitting down on us is to seize the best things that are out there. Music, friends, common minds,  communal purpose, and the goodness in people around us.

Hey, at least it’s worth the try.

Meanwhile, check out David’s website and see if he’s coming anywhere near you this year. We paid twenty bucks a head for the house concert, plus I got to high-five him at the end. Well worth the price, and braving the crummy weather. And as Jorma Kaukonen says about him: “He is just one of these guys who is in his own class. A great singer and guitar player.”

My advice: Let David and Bob, or someone else in their line of work, help you in these times of trouble.

13 comments on “The song and the fury

  1. islandeditions
    January 22, 2017

    I fashioned the literary salons I organized in Calgary after house concerts. We charged admission and all money collected at the door was divided among the authors who participated. We even created limited numbers of chapbooks for each salon that we sold. And a bookstore set up to sell copies of the authors books. (I even sold eBooks through that bookstore when I published my first novel.) It all worked very well, but was dependent upon finding a house large enough to accommodate a crowd with homeowners willing to host each event. I still believe this “house party” idea would work as well for promoting authors as it does for musicians.

    We charged $10/person, but I understand the music parties were charging $60, with no refreshments. We served coffee, tea, and sometimes wine and snacks, depending upon the hosts and what they wanted to do.

    And the reason we charged admission then gave all the money to the authors was to instill the idea that the authors should be paid for performing.

    Here’s a blog post I wrote that recapped the series: https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/2012-a-year-of-alberta-books-canada-literary-salons/

    I’ve had more ideas on developing a means of holding an online salon and inviting authors and readers from around the world to participate, but will require a techie to “host” such a salon. And it won’t be quite the same as gathering in a private home and meeting personally with the authors.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 22, 2017

      Sounds good on paper, Susan. I love the idea of authors getting paid for such an appearance, unlike the bookstore readings where, at least in the Bay Area, a lot of stores require the author to pay them! Or at least to guarantee a certain number of attendees.

      Book club appearances in private homes were a little like salons for me, and though I didn’t get paid, five or ten people at a pop bought my book, which was nice.

      • islandeditions
        January 22, 2017

        I’ve never heard of bookstores requiring the author to pay or even guarantee bums in seats! Publishers are usually required to foot the bill for promotion but not the author.

        I ran into another glitch with this promotion idea … someone said that they’d never had to pay to hear authors read from their work before so would not attend. The interesting thing was that it was a traditionally published author who said this to me. I think she was miffed for not having been invited to read. I often wonder whether she would have turned down the payment if I had included her.

      • Kevin Brennan
        January 22, 2017

        Maybe Canadian bookstores still have a moral code. 😉

  2. kingmidget
    January 22, 2017

    What an incredible experience. I’m glad you found your oasis.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 22, 2017

      It really was awesome. Made me want to learn a little slide guitar too!

  3. John W. Howell
    January 22, 2017

    Sounds wonderful. Was nice to know you found peace.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 22, 2017

      Peace? Only tonight’s Tanq martini will bring peace … 😉

  4. Audrey Driscoll
    January 22, 2017

    Music — yes!

  5. Tripper
    April 27, 2017

    What a blast – would love find that kind of venue/group out here in the Twin Cities! Smaller venue the better in my book! Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2017

      I agree, especially after having seen Leo Kottke once in a fairly small venue. I bet if you put feelers out you’ll hear of something.

      BTW, you’d have loved the resonator Strain was playing. It was a custom Pogreba with an amazing vintage look and sound. http://larrypogreba.com

      Thanks for stopping by!

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2017 by in Music and tagged , , , .
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