Second Annual Labor Day Festival at the Doris Miller Auditorium

2nd Annual Labor Day Festival

Doris Miller Auditorium, September 4

Two things were evident right away. One was the fact that khakis and a bowling shirt were underdressing for the occasion. Second, the audience was almost exclusively middle-aged -- quite a switch from, say, Emo's. The crowd of 60 or so folks sat at tables, drank, talked, and laughed, buying setups from Doris Miller's small kitchen and making mixed drinks. A little getting acquainted was in order while waiting for the music; a conversation with promoter Ernie Morris led to meeting Sweet Pea, another promoter I remembered from several years back. We talked of the rich history behind the hall, a building obviously overhauled in the mid-Sixties and hardly touched since. The auditorium, though, is still in immaculate condition. The basketball goal in front of the stage was hoisted up out of the way, and a small PA was set up for the band reminiscent of a small-town high-school gym. Sweet Pea reminisced a bit about his childhood taking in acts like the Ink Spots, Duke Ellington, and Louis Jordan there. We discussed how the place has fallen out of favor somewhat over the years, about the stigma attached dating back to times when Doris Miller was one of the only places available for black audiences to see live music and blacks were scarcely welcome west of the highway. It's a bit of an anachronism, especially in light of Eastside redevelopment issues. In time, the pickup band stretched out on a couple of instrumental jams -- the auditorium's hangar-like acoustics are a problem -- but eventually 9:30 rolled around without headliner Rue Davis. Houston's Little Buck took the stage; the brick-like man belted out gritty covers of "The Thrill Is Gone," "Disco Lady," and "Knock on Wood." Dressed in a Stetson and double-breasted suit, Little Buck can throw down with the best of them, with a voice reminiscent of vintage Joe Tex. If blues to you is white guys in Hawaiian shirts, Panama hats, and Ray-Bans with beat-up Strats and Stevie Ray fixations, you may want to think again. Unfortunately, the night wore on and still no Rue Davis. It was disappointing, but it looked as though the "The Honey Poo Man" and his hits "Shoopedoo" and "You Need a Man" (according to the block-letter posters) were no-shows. The audience didn't let that get in the way of their good time, though, as tables full of revelers laughed and drank. If Doris Miller is a throwback to the past, let's hope some "forward"-thinking person doesn't bulldoze it into oblivion. Austin still is a small town; you just have to know where to look. Hey, it was a party.

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