Hoping for Normalcy, Leo Rondeau’s Back in the Honky-Tonks
Ex-Austin country singer returns for a month at Sam’s Town Point
By Kevin Curtin,
9:00AM, Fri. Jan. 14, 2022
It’s Thursday night, halfway through the last calendar page of 2021, under the red lights of the White Horse stage and Leo Rondeau’s got 150 people twirling, stepping, dipping. Old friends, scrunched to the side of the field of dancers, sing along to the worn-in favorites like “Here’s My Heart.”
The scene: it’s damn near honky-tonk perfection – and also a throwback show with the grinning familiarity of a family reunion. The Eastside country bar, celebrating 10 years of twang, had summoned Rondeau back for the anniversary so everyone’s come out. In the decade before, the wiry songwriter with memorable songs, a propulsive band, and understated vocals had been a staple pre-weekend attraction, playing that gig dozens - if not hundreds – of times. So a Kodak roll of Thursday night memories might be rotating through his mind if he isn’t so decidedly in-the-moment, thinking about how this is his first time fronting a live band since 2020 and being pleasantly surprised that folks around here still remember him.
“I didn’t know how it was gonna go,” Rondeau now reflects on last month’s performance. “Austin’s a very transient town and I hadn’t been here in almost three years so I did have a little bit of concern, but everybody came out and the band remembered everything and it all fell into place pretty good. It was a warm feeling.”
Rondeau lives in Nashville now, a place he’s always had some romance for – including it seeming like it could be the setting for a great and not-as-despairing-as-it-sounds song titled “Washed Up Troubadour” from his 2019 LP Right on Time.
“Since I’ve dedicated my life to country music, I owed to myself to go to Nashville and see what it’s all about,” he reasons.
In the year he left Austin, 2017, the winds of change were blowing… really strong.
One night in February he was sitting at the table in his travel trailer outside the village of Webberville, TX listening to a rain storm come in when big gusts of wind started rocking the camper. The power cut out and the radar app on his phone showed a red storm cell come right at him.
“At that point the trailer is moving more than it ever had and stuff is starting to fall off the shelves, so I open the door and the wind slams it, but the water comes in,” he recounts. “I decide it’s safer outside. It’s still dark too and I don’t have any shoes on, so I’m trying to get the light up on my phone. I get it on and see my boots sitting on the floor and I throw them on and just as soon as I step off the step of the trailer, the whole thing just blows over onto its side.
“The next morning I go back and the trailer is on the side. My stuff is scattered everywhere and I’m wondering if the kitchen is going to fall on my head,” he continues. “I go looking for my acoustic guitar, my most important thing, which wasn’t in the case and its completely fine – it didn’t have any damage to it.
“I’m not much for signs from the universe, but that could have been interpreted as such: kid – get out of here.”
With his trailer destroyed, he found refuge shacking up at South Austin honky-tonk Sam’s Town Point for a while, then moved to Tennessee. Not long after he was set up in Nashville, Rondeau hit the road hard – touring extensively through the United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia. Finally home in 2020, he planned to ingratiate himself in the Nashville scene and explore cowriting, but not too long after he returned, the pandemic hit – an era that, of course, befitted solo performance.
Following Rondeau’s triumphant return to Austin stages at the White Horse last month, he’s rounding out his Texas trip with Friday’s in January at Sam’s. He says he’s excited to be playing with his old band, working in some new songs (we hope he plays "I'm Asking You"), and performing to a room full of two-steppers – a scene that he notes is pretty unique to Texas and Louisiana. All those things had to wait an extra week after a run-in with COVID wiped last week’s show off the books.
Asked what he’s looking forward to the most about the remainder of his Friday residency at STP: “Just trying to find some sense of normalcy,” he sighs. “That’s the number one intention.”
Aren’t we all.
Leo Rondeau hits the stage at Sam’s Town Point tonight at 10pm.