Thursday, October 2, 2014

Catastrophes, Catharsis and a Bit of Ancient Juju

Evan Blaser Photo
It was a bad night. It wasn't bad in that we weren't unprepared. Not bad in that we weren't presenting the songs as I'd intended. Not bad in that I was just starting out and didn't have a clue. But bad in that it was woefully under-attended: empty seats outnumbered filled seats. I'm past this, I thought. Fortunately good hearts and open ears filled those few seats and music prevailed.
I knew I wasn't the only performer to have faced down such an evening.  I've been at countless other shows where I was the open-eared, good-hearted and unintentionally very select audience member enough to know it's a not uncommon scene.  Sometimes these shows haven't been promoted well; sometimes it's just an off night: The stars didn't align; the big game on the TV was more compelling, or countless other reasons that distract people away from the possibility of getting out to see live music played by dedicated artists.
I've had more than a few conversations of late, with other musicians — accomplished, very realized artists — who were puzzling how to get more people out to their live shows with few clear answers. Nonetheless, performers perform; players play; artists make art; and true practitioners of anything practice, despite the conditions or demand.
Which is why I was immensely appreciative to happen upon HowellDevine deep into the second set of their monthly stint at a local restaurant after my less-than-hoped-for show. First of all, it was the blues, and I had them. Second of all HowellDevine play Mississippi Hill Country, Country and Delta Blues very, very well. Third of all, they play no matter if the joint is heaving with jiggle and jive of 100s of bodies unable to resist their rhythms and beats—which is often the case —or the clatter of waitresses clearing the dishes and serving up last call.
It was late when we arrived. The peak musical experience of the evening was an hour or more past. A few other patrons were talking at napkin-strewn tables and the bartender was grumpy.  One pair of music fans shimmied slowly between the almost cleared tables. But like a trio of marathon runners who gets a second wind at mile 20, Joshua Howell wailed on his harmonica and slid his slide over the fret board that much faster; Pete Devine's arms and legs were moving in all directions, hitting every section of his kit with well-timed precision, while Joe Kyle Jr. more than ably kept time on his bass.
We ordered a piece of apple strudel to share and sat back in our seats to take in their last few songs of the night. Suddenly the night was sublime.
HowellDevine's new CD, aptly named Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju, is hot off the presses. Get it. Go to a show. Keep the music alive.

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