moragmacpherson: (Default)
moragmacpherson ([personal profile] moragmacpherson) wrote2014-08-30 01:27 am

More Than Half a World Away

I'm sitting at my favorite musical perch of all time – a small, concrete abuttment at Stubb's in Austin, Texas, watching G-Love, Special Sauce, and the racial divide of the country play out in front of me. I should have known from my arrival: out of work and in search of free parking, a homeless man helped me parallel park a few blocks up. “Thank you,” I told him, shaking his hand through the passenger side window.

“Thank you for not spitting on me and calling me a nigger.”

I blinked. “Why the hell would I do that?”

“Plenty of folks take it upon themselves. Probably because I'm homeless.”

“Well, fuck that.” We live in an ATM world, so I handed him a twenty. “Thanks again, and please: go do something that makes you feel good,” I tell him, echoing the words of the friend who'd bought me the ticket to the G-Love show: please, go do something that you think is fun.

And yes, the G-Love show is definitely fun, here in the navy blue heart of the country's reddest state. My friends in attendance are three Soldiers, none of whom are registered to vote. “One vote doesn't make a difference,” the youngest says – he was ten years old during Bush v. Gore. That's the one form of diversity I can see in the crowd – aging hippies to teens, but otherwise, the crowd is all but lily white. G-Love, awesome though he is, grew up in “The Philadelphia Story” Philly, not West Philadelphia, born and raised, and the crowd doesn't even reflect the overproduced pablum which Wil Smith rapped. Ah well, at least they won't notice me. The opener, Keb' Mo', is playing some fantastic Delta blues (and maybe some NOLA – I hear a “Whodat” at one point) and also rocking a very natty trilby. I defend this to a friend via text message: trilby's aren't hipster if worn by a black blues man.

G-Love shows up to rap during a blues standard (possibly “When the Levee Breaks”) and play some harmonica, but continues to confuse the lily white Austinites. G-Love plays here regularly, he must know about Stubb's notorious bedtime: because Stubb's primary stage is an outdoor venue, the music stops at 11:30. The corners of my lips tug up: it's 10pm, doors opened at 7pm, and Keb' Mo' is still on stage. People start trickling out – mostly younger. It's Austin, and while classes have technically started, it's Friday and no one has any real work to do. By most measures, the tickets were pretty cheap, and I guess the mothers of these nice white folks had told them to “stay away from that dirty, old jazz-man,” so they just... well, I call it their loss.

The act change happens so quickly I barely notice it: a few Special Sauce radio-friendly hits before he asks the crowd. “Would you like the clean version?” After the boos settle, he chuckles and says, “Good: I only know the dirty one.” It's something I don't recognize of his (frankly, it's tough to keep up with G-Love's discography with Special Sauce, not to mention his other collaborators), but it has a nice drum and keyboard bridge where the double bassist has a chance to wipe down his strings before they transition seamlessly into a surprisingly soulful version of the notoriously soul-less “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” The band walks off under purple stage lights at 11pm and more of the crowd hustles out. “Are they done,” a woman asks her husband.

“No, ma'am: the lights are all purple. Roadies don't break down the stage until the lights are white. Purple means rearranging for a second set or setting up an encore scene,” I say, speaking from years of concert going and also concert lighting. Even so, I'm hard-pressed to say what the second set was. I do know that by now the number of black folk onstage dwarfed the number in the crowd. G-Love and Keb' Mo' do two more NOLA standards – the first has that one walking beat that's in half of all 50s-60s blues, the second is “In the Right Place at the Wrong Time.”  Purple lights return and Weezer comes over the P.A. Ferguson, MO may as well be on another planet... or on the other side of I35, I don't think anyone in the crowd would have noticed either way.  Now G-Love's calling more local blues and hip hop artists up – the one name I catch is Gary Clark Jr. – and they play right up until the sound regs say the music must die – we've got people living in condos nearby that can't stand the sound, you know.

One of my friends has purchased a t-shirt, and with it, the right to meet the performers after the show. She asks if I want to come along, but I'm old, tired, and have most of this article scrawled on the paper plate from my dinner. “No, head on down to Rainey with the guys: I need my beauty sleep,” I tell my friends. I'm too much of a coward to say that I wouldn't have been able to help myself given the chance to meet the performers. “Welcome to Austin, Texas: where we claim to be proudly Blue in a sea of Red, but where it's hard to miss the white ostrich feathers while we keep our heads buried, exposing our yellow-bellies all too well.”  Austin, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., and the only one of the top twenty-five where the African-American population is shrinking. After eight years of living here, two years of working for local not-for-profits, after tonight, I think I might be on the way to understanding why that's true.

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