Saturday, July 22, 2006

Southern Texas: Good for fish/freaks out of water

I think I’m beginning to realize that I enjoy being a fish out of water, if only because it makes me aware that I am not limited to being a fish. The latest morphing places for me are the hills and plains that encompass the area of and between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, and all these places rock! The truth is, after getting accepted to the University of Texas at San Antonio, I didn’t think much about having to adjust…until my fellow New Yorkers and New Jerseyans kept bringing it up. I had to step back and think, “Hmmm, maybe Texas IS going to suck…maybe I’ll get lynched or something!” Well, I’m happy to say that not only have I not been lynched, but I’ve also managed to find several spots that may destroy the idea most folks north of the border have about the state they call Texas (I tend to call it Tejas or Mexico which, given the majority of the population, seems more appropriate to me, at times).

I’ll start with Austin.
First of all, Austin’s unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird!” I’m not joking. There are t-shirts, stickers, buttons and posters all over the place with this motto, and when Vincent (my husband) and I saw a 70 year-old white woman outside of a hip-hop bar in the Red River Music District start bopping her booty to the music that spilled outside, we knew the motto to be based in beautiful, deep-seated weird. That particular night was spectacular. We started at the Old Pecan Street CafĂ©, a historical place where the host asks you upon entry if you’ve come for dessert or dinner – yes, the desserts pull in just as many diners as dinner does. Along with glasses of cool Pino Grigio, Vincent had seafood crepes and I had chicken crepes, within the old, exposed brick walls and thick wood shutters. This mouthwatering dinner set us back $30 and I nearly fell off my chair thinking that the server had made a mistake and undercharged us.

After dinner, we walked down the street (oh, yeah – it was $6 to park the car ALL NIGHT LONG) to Emo’s, one of the coolest live music venues to exist on the planet Earth. Huge, funky artwork with S&M “Flintstones” and acid trip elephants dominates all of the walls around the indoor stage, and an enormous patio and seating area surround the outdoor stage. On this night, and usually on every night in most of Austin’s venues, several bands were playing: Georgie James and Camera Obscura outside; Ume, The Arm, and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness inside. Five bands – could be expensive, huh? Nope. $10. We got to see Georgie James first and after hearing them I bought the CD. One of the members of Q and Not U (now disbanded) started Georgie James and I am so glad. They are happy, punky and really tight live. I couldn’t believe that we had only paid $10 to see them, and there were still more bands coming! Next, we went inside to see The Arm – a totally angry punkish band. Nice change. Then, back outside to see Camera Obscura, which seemed to be the major draw that night. CO was very soft and pretty, and I thought it was interesting that such different bands could all be part of the same show. We didn’t stick around for ILYBICD because we’re catching them at Austin City Limits.

Instead, we decided to go to another show! We walked a couple of blocks to Headhunters, a heavy, heavy, heavy rock venue that is decorated in tiki idols and fluorescent lights. We paid $5 to see six bands, although we only stayed for three: Hognose, Chuch, and Super Heavy Goat Ass. Hognose was playing when we got there…wait, I mean WAILING. At this point Vincent had to laugh at me because I honestly started to feel bad that such talented musicians were probably not getting much out the five dollar cover. We went to the patio (apparently all the places have indoor & outdoor stages) and Chuch was setting up. These guys are from Vermont and they play real southern rock about real people with real problems – and it was great! Midway through the set the drummer, Justin Crowther, totally surprised us and just started freaking out on the drums with a solo ala Bonham, and this time it was Vincent who went over to the indy store on the side and demanded a Chuch CD with the drum solo on it. We found out their manager is from New York, so we talked to her for a while and she gave us stickers and buttons. Sweet. The next band was why I wanted to go to Headhunters: Super Heavy Goat Ass. It was absolutely necessary that I see Super Heavy Goat Ass. First of all, the name is one of the best names I’ve ever heard. Second, the song “SSOB” has some of the funkiest guitar work I’ve ever heard (we got a pre-show listen online). Third, it’s SUPER HEAVY GOAT ASS…isn’t YOUR curiosity peaked? Well, the guitarist was A-MA-ZING live and they had a decent set, but the “sloppy” nature that is implied by the name was quite evident. However, the inebriation of SHGA only added to the pleasure of the moment; it definitely beats a drunken Tommy Lee on Rock Star: Supernova.

So we saw six live bands at two different venues, and had dinner, and got CDs and stickers and buttons, and I had a couple of drinks – and it was darn cheap! What I think I liked the best was that the two venues we went to were so different. Emo’s has the nerdy, arty types, definitely gay-friendly, definitely people who want to be sweet and such. Headhunters had chicks in sleazy outfits everywhere, angry boys in chains, and seemed to take pride in being absolutely gross and tacky, yet when women who looked 40ish and dressed like soccer moms walked in, they were greeted with hugs. Vincent and I totally enjoyed this eclectic vibe and it is incredibly encouraging that we only went to two places, and there are at least a hundred more!

I’ll continue with San Antonio.
San Antonio is about an hour and a half south of Austin and that affects everything from the temperature, to the architecture, to what people like to do. While the music scene in Austin screams diversity, San Antonio seems to have more of a surprising edge within its traditional tastes. One of our earliest excursions into San Antonio included a trip to Hogwild Records, Tapes and CDs. This record shop has one of the best collections of punk music I’ve ever seen, and it’s run by a little Mexican woman. She doesn’t look punk at all. She’s cute and sweet. The place is right next to Sanctuary, a rock club that regularly puts on shows. Hogwild carries the CDs of the bands that play the shows, too. Not only does Hogwild cater to punk fans, it also has an extensive Spanish-language music section. This independent music store knows how to cater to the San Antonio population.

The actual population of San Antonio is interesting. About 60% of the population is Latino and nearly one-third of that group considers itself non-Mexican Latino, according to the 2000 Census. The city itself reflects both the Spanish influence, found in old stucco structures and many preserved Spanish missions, and the Southern plantation influence that continues to echo from the long, wrap-around porches found in beautifully preserved houses all over the city. In fact, most of the city is composed of single-family homes, although some are more rustic than others. What Vincent I especially enjoy seeing is all the shops and restaurants that are in former single-family homes. They are so cute! There are palm trees everywhere and if it weren’t for the high-rises in the center of San Antonio, I would struggle to call it a city at all, even though its 1,000,000+ population cannot lead to any other conclusion. People here say that San Antonio is a city that lives like a small town and I think that is appropriate.

In fact, Madhatters probably proves that point well. One of the next stops we made was Madhatters, a cute, airy house-restaurant surrounded by lush vegetation and cooled off by ceiling fans and spacious rooms. I found the restaurant listed on a website that provided gay-friendly hot spots, and Madhatters certainly is gay-friendly but I think its clientele and staff are simply friendly to everyone. You will see families there, people in suits who don’t want to lunch in the center of the city, students, artists (local artwork dots the walls in several rooms) and people from the neighborhood. They serve meals for both meat-eaters and vegetarians, and they have kid and adult events. Here, Vincent and I did something really Southern: we had high tea. They brought out several sandwiches on a tea service, a pot of tea and little mini-desserts. It was inexpensive, delicious, and even though we were in the city, we felt like we were transported somewhere else, perhaps because of the casual atmosphere.

Even one of the city’s major cultural centers has a mellow vibe. Being the artists and educators that we are, one of the first places we reached out to was the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. It is an amazing place that puts on Latino theater productions and festivals, teaches kids how to dance and act, and has media and literature programs. Those are just a few of the facets of GCAC. If you look at its website, it appears to be quite a place, and it is, but that is not the impression one might get when walking into its main office. Everyone is friendly, relaxed and so completely non-judgmental. If there were ever a time that I felt I was a New Yorker, it was when I met the folks at GCAC. I was ready to engage in some big talk, but none was necessary. They were cool, yo. Now, from what I hear, that doesn’t mean they won’t say to the neighbor, “Did you see that girl with the devil tattoo on her back? Mmm-hmmm. She came into the office today.” It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, but they do like talking about you. Seems that’s the same everywhere. And isn’t that part of the fun?

So, you might be able to see, after my earliest travelogue, I’ve concluded that Southern eccentrics are just fine by me. I like ‘em. I hope to become one of ‘em. I like the rock AND the tea.

Cool Links - if you have a book, check out their book fair info. - fun for kids of all ages - southern psychedelic rockabilly - not for the humorless feminist - sweet punk, neat funk