"There's divorce, drugs, and drinking in the first scene, and it doesn't get much better from there," says alt-alt-alt-country singer Wild Bill of his new Christmas play, Honky-Tonk Holidaze.
The Flipnotics mainstay, known for his liberal use of theatrics and bargain bin humor, plays a "magic dust"-addicted Santa who gets the boot from Mrs. Claus, so he moves to Texas with his trusty elf Swervin Irven. Disenfranchised by the Lone Star State's Jesus-loving youth and their lack of belief in him, Santa enters into business with the mysterious Krampus and gets framed for murder. His only hope exists in one atheist kid who believes he's innocent.
"It definitely explores the concepts of freedom, America, and believing in things that aren't real," reflects the neo-cosmic cowboy.
Acting and singing alongside Wild Bill is a cast of 15 Austin musicians (and one homemade robot) that include his backing band the Lost Knobs, Whiskey Shivers, and Ghosts Along the Brazos' Jacob Jaeger, all helping to perform an original score with titles like "Jesus Is the Reason for the Season (But I'm the Reason She's Leavin')" and "Too Broke to Get Drunk for Christmas."
While all that might sound deranged to holiday traditionalists (Sunday's A Charlie Brown Christmas at Antone's this ain't), Wild Bill's brand of weirdness is more good-natured silliness than shock-value profanity. Honky-Tonk Holidays debuts Saturday at the White Horse, then plays Dec. 15 at the Hole in the Wall and Dec. 18 at Antone's. All proceeds benefit Austin Pets Alive!.
"You're going to laugh at the songs, you're going to laugh at the play, and you're going to laugh at the acting," explains Bill, who's been working on the production since midsummer. "It's an event where people can celebrate Christmas, get wasted, and enjoy themselves before they have to go spend the real holiday with their family."
I'd heard talk amongst my fellow musicians about Space, a new rehearsal and recording facility on the south side of town. Needing to see it for myself, I made my way down Manchaca, a mile or so past Ben White, and found a modern compound on the grounds of an old private school. The lobby has a library of music books, and there are paintings on the walls instead of promotional swag. Practice rooms aren't gray, windowless cells. They look like classrooms. Will these accommodations make me a better musician? Probably not, but it's nice to feel someone gives a shit about making a decent practice space for my kind.
"I told the architects it needs to look like an art gallery, not a La Quinta," explains owner Will Harrison, who, with manager Sonny Bishop, devised the idealist facility. Harrison describes the building's complete renovation as "the coolest science project you've ever seen." They enlisted Steve Durr, the acoustic engineer behind the Moody Theater, to collaborate with the architects on sonically focused construction. The building's second floor "floats" on rubber pads for maximum sound separation, and the on-site recording studio features a tracking room with a 40-foot ceiling for a bigger acoustic response.
Check out the Space at its open house today (Thursday), Dec. 6, with free food, drinks, and a performance by the Black Angels. RSVP at www.facebook.com/spaceatx.
In a harmonious meeting of local food and music cultures, East Side King has taken up residence in the back room of the Hole in the Wall. The kitchen will be food cart magnate and Top Chef: Texas winner Paul Qui's first ESK without wheels. The menu features greatest hits from his trailers, plus several ramen dishes. Qui admits reluctance about opening near campus, but says the venue felt right because it's a "classic Austin spot that's been there forever." Hole owner Will Tanner's just glad it's not the same old wings and burgers. "We've tried that, and I'm not saying I'm above it, but this is a better fit because they have unique food." East Side King's go-to artist Kengo Hioki, known better as Japanese punk rock spaceman Peelander-Yellow, decorated the new digs with a massive indoor/outdoor mural.
› The Burning of Rome's "Cowboys and Cut Cigars," mixed by the Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary, has apparently become the Dallas Cowboys' touchdown song. The guitarist reported hearing it five times last weekend when the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles. "It has long been a dream of mine to achieve 'jock rock,'" declares Leary. "Having my mix blasted at Cowboys Stadium after Cowboys touchdowns is sweeter than anything I could have ever imagined. For me it's right up there with playing David Letterman's show and working with John Paul Jones." He's bringing the L.A. band to Austin this spring to begin production on its next album.
› The Old Settler's Music Festival, the Americana-focused music festival that happens every April in Dripping Springs, has announced a partial lineup for next year. Performers include Leftover Salmon, Son Volt, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Del McCoury Band, and Justin Townes Earle. Early bird tickets and precious camping passes are on sale now: www.oldsettlersmusicfest.org.
› South by Southwest has released a second wave of performers for the 2013 music conference. The new lineup includes Aloe Blacc, Bonobo, Cold War Kids, the Crystal Method, Robin Hitchcock, James Hunter, Kid Koala, Man or Astro-Man?, Midlake, Royal Thunder, Richard Thompson, and the Bernie Worrell Orchestra. Find out more at www.sxsw.com.
› The Family Stone, minus Sly, spends its New Year's Eve in Austin. The soul, funk, and hit machine, with a current lineup starring veteran members Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson, and Greg Errico, plays two sets at the Zach's new Topfer Theatre on Dec. 31.
› Maurice Eagle remains my favorite photojournalist. His sharpened, light-enhanced, full-band bar photography continues as an unmistakable documentation of Austin's live music scene. Eagle, who publishes his work for free online, looks to upgrade his gear with a Kickstarter campaign. For a $50 pledge, he'll photograph your band and, trust me, you want to see yourself through his camera eye.
› Last week saw the launch of the Austin Music Map, an online documentary project that diagrams all the great, unexpected places where music happens in town. Click on Barton Springs and find Minor Mishap Marching Band performing in canoes, or select East MLK and hear the sounds of the Juneteenth parade. Add both to your customized playlist and listen to the streets come alive. "It's a way for us to document the aspects of the music community that fall outside Austin's mainstream music culture," describes creator Delaney Hall. The project creates a platform for locals to share photos, audio, and video by tagging #AustinMusicMap on sites like Instagram, YouTube, and Soundcloud. Check it out at www.austinmusicmap.com.
› One month ago, the Scoot Inn returned to the scene with a packed show on its outdoor patio. Since then, the calendar has been relatively low-key. I asked head booker Travis Newman what the future had in store for the venerable Eastside haunt. "There's two Scoot Inns," he explained. "The indoor room, which we've been able to book on short notice and get the place rolling, and the potential Scoot Inn, which will be a major touring destination. That's what I'm excited about." Newman says the Scoot's patio will soon be expanded to fit 1,000 people, and bus parking with power outlets will be added to meet the technical riders of prominent bands. The outdoor stage won't get used much during winter months, but come March, he plans to put on large outside shows that will still look and feel like the classic Scoot Inn, except "the production value of lights and sound will be through the roof."
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