by: Thomas D. Mooney
“If I knew this was my last night on this earth, I’d be spending it with my family. But since it’s not, there’s no other place I’d rather be than playing music with my friends.”–Stephen St. Clair
Sundays are easy going. Go out to Local. Go out to Bar PM. For the most part, the bar patrons aren’t there to get shitfaced, but rather to recover and ready themselves for the following week. They’re there for a few beers, some face-to-face conversation with friends and acquaintances. They’re there because of Brandon Adams, Keegan McInroe, Dave Martinez, Stephen St. Clair, and Nic Shute.
The two bars have been doing it for a while, but they’re really banking on becoming more listener friendly–especially on Sunday nights. They’re still hit and miss here and there, but people are coming to hear mostly local songwriters–and mostly acoustic–swap some songs.
Shute jumps up and throws some trumpet on songs. You wonder if he’ll ever record a series of albums with cheesy album titles such as Straight Shute-er, Shutes & Ladders, Shut ‘Em Up, and so on. Guys like Shute, they’re often described as the icing on the cake, but they’re more like the glue that holds things together. They’re able to play with three varying styles of songwriter on a given night and connect the dots between them. It makes sense.
At Local, you wonder if a Lumineers music video had just been shot that afternoon. Over the quick walk to PM, you wish all of Lubbock was within walking distance and not just a giant parking lot.
Small stages in small bars are naturally intimate settings. Narrow rooms create a close quarters. Off-brand Sportscenter silently plays on walls above you. Door men know the songs and sing along on the chorus to themselves as they see the NFL free agency rumors scroll on a television screen.
You see the performer’s eyes. You make eye contact during songs. You hear why they close them during others. Clarity arises.
Martinez points out the similarities between a new song, “Swore You Didn’t Dance” and a Sam Smith song–something pointed by his seven-year-old daughter. The small crowd laughs. Later, he’s playing a song called “Sleep” when I overhear someone say that it’s so damn sad. Martinez ends and mentions the lullaby was written for his daughter and while it does sound sad, it’s actually one of his happier tunes.
Watching and hearing St. Clair, you know why he’s both mentioned by many Lubbock songwriters as one of their absolute favorites and why he’s relatively unknown by the masses outside of that exclusive club (The Lubbock Singer-Songwriter Club). There’s this jazz sense to St. Clair’s songs–and it’s not just because Shute is playing trumpet. If anything, Shute’s stellar play just amplifies the fact. St. Clair is admittedly not a lead guitarist. His vocals aren’t overpowering, but still have some power. He says he’s not an incredible lyricist, but rather relies more on melody and hooks. I’d protest that thought.
McInroe goes into a Tom Waitsesque rendition of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” St. Clair nudges me and says, “This is what’s amazing about Lubbock. Keegan just got back from playing in Europe. He’s big over there. People absolutely love him over there. Here in Lubbock, he’s just another songwriter.” He doesn’t mean that in a negative way, though. He’s just pointing out how here he is in Lubbock playing with his friends doing a Willie Nelson cover.
Adams plays “Left This Town.” He plays old and new. He paints Small Town, America about as well as anyone ever has. It’s never cliche. It’s simple, honest truths that shine through. “Can’t See Heaven” and “Dancing” capture that sad, sinking feeling. The isolation and despair you feel late at night. He’s a pioneer in the truest sense.
It may not ever seem like it, but Lubbock is about to boom–or it’s about to (I swear, you never know the “good ol’ days” were the “good ol’ days” until they’re long gone.) Four songwriters over the course of a few hours share their songs and why they’re their songs. Adams, McInroe, Martinez, and St. Clair are all readying new material that’ll be due out sometime this year. It’s not the “Oh, we should have something out because that’s what musicians do and we’ve not had anything out in a while and we’re really hoping we get something out” kind of affair either. They have tentative album names. They have rough mixes. There are pieces that aren’t just ideas, but actual tangible pieces.
Unrecorded songs are like fading memories or dreams. You hear these new songs by these four (and more) and you know them, but you don’t really know them. It’s only in the moment that they’re playing that you can physically feel them. Once their finished, you can sorta hear them in your mind, but there’s something missing–something substantial that can’t be replaced by replaying over and over in your head either.
You need to hear Dave Martinez’ voice actually sing the words. You must hear Brandon Adams pretext the song. You get the point. You need to hear those songs more than once a week in a Lubbock venue.
That’s how a lot of Lubbock is right now. It’s not just Fridays and Saturdays that matter. Sundays matter too.