For “One Night in June,” the third installment of our monthly series in which we visit a half-dozen local music hot spots in one night, we showcase what Austin has to offer on the slowest night of the week. Who goes out on Mondays? Quite a few Austinites, it turns out, and that’s largely because the city’s Monday residencies provide a wide range of options that make it easy to start the week on a high note.
Some of these are well-known and well-documented: Blue Monday with Derek O’Brien et al at Antone’s; Bob Schneider’s Lonelyland at the Saxon Pub; the Continental’s jazz-country double-dip with the Church on Monday band upstairs early followed by Dale Watson & His Lone Stars downstairs late. Any of those would have made for a great night out, but what’s remarkable is just how many other places you can go in Austin on a Monday. On this journey, we made it our mission to check out some that might be hidden treasures even to club-hopping regulars.
6:45 p.m.: Doc & the Medicine Man at Patsy’s Cowgirl Cafe. On the Highway 290/71 access road en route to the airport (or East Ben White, for old-timers), Patsy’s is a humble old-school comfort-food restaurant that also serves up music six nights a week. The Monday fixture is a trio featuring Doc Pointer, Mike Blue and Joe Zito. They play easygoing country-folk covers that serve largely as background music for those dining on modestly-priced entrees or sandwiches with names like the Cactus Pryor and the Greater Tuna Melt. (Did we say old-school?)
Sometimes the magic on a Monday comes from sit-in guests. That was the case here, when Pointer generously turned over the mic for a couple of songs to Andrea Dawson. The vocal intensity immediately kicked up several notches as she delivered passionate takes on Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” Give Patsy’s extra points for great happy-hour specials and a colorful stage backdrop.
8 p.m.: Bluegrass Night at Radio Coffee & Beer. A long-running tradition that essentially migrated south after the Barton Springs Road coffeehouse Flipnotics closed in 2014, this jam features “world class string players assembling in random rotation,” per Radio’s website. That was true enough on this night, which featured Greencards mandolinist Kym Warner, MilkDrive veterans Dennis Ludiker (fiddle) and Jesse Dalton (bass), and Matt Downing on guitar.
The scene at Radio is idyllic: In the fading twilight, Austinites in their summer clothes dot the small front yard on blankets, in lawn chairs and at picnic tables, with kids and dogs equally welcome. The players pick their way through bluegrass standards; part of what you’ll find at most Monday residencies is a reliance on covers rather than originals, but in Austin, that often means smartly-chosen material from musicians who really know their stuff.
9 p.m.: Chris Duarte at One-2-One Bar. In the late 1980s, a young Chris Duarte frequently could be found at Sixth Street hot spots such as Steamboat and the Black Cat, scorching the room with guitar leads that traversed blues, jazz and rock territory in equal measure. Eventually Duarte moved to Atlanta, and he’d been gone for the better part of two decades before moving back to Austin in January.
His new Monday residency at One-2-One Bar seems to have largely slipped under the radar, perhaps overshadowed on the blues front by the long-awaited return of Antone’s downtown. But Duarte, who fronts a guitar-bass-drums power trio at these shows, remains a legit guitar talent; if he never quite became the next Stevie Ray Vaughan as some projected early on, he’s had a long and successful career as a touring musician. We’re fortunate to have him back, as he showed on material ranging from rock-solo show-offs to high-energy R&B to a nicely toned-down rendition of the Beatles’ “For No One.”
9:45 p.m.: Matchmaker Band at the Highball. This classic soul cover band and covers/originals crew the Nightowls (who we profiled in 2014), who play the late slot on Mondays, had spent a year or two at One-2-One while the Highball was being remodeled, but they moved their dual residency back across the street last year. The new Highball is a great room, with a spacious dance floor, bar and table seating, and drinks that range from high-end designer cocktails to $2.50 PBRs.
If last night’s crowd was any indication, this may be the hottest Monday spot in town. A packed house of mostly twentysomethings grooved to some of the coolest Motown cuts from the 1960s, delivered by a 10-piece band that seems to be having as much fun as the crowd is. If you’re young and in love with the new Austin, you’re probably going here on a regular basis. And even if you’ve been around a long time, it’s still a pretty cool scene to check out.
10:40 p.m.: Chris Gage at Donn’s Depot. Purely on the basis of song selection, pianist Gage’s every-Monday shows at the converted railroad-car bar might well be our city’s greatest hidden treasure. I haven’t visited a lot, but every time I do, it’s like a live rendition of the late DJ Larry Monroe’s much-missed “Phil Music” shows, where you just know that whatever he’s going to play next is going to be a really special chapter of the Texan or American songbook.
Gage’s gig at Donn’s sometimes gets overshadowed by his wife Christine Albert’s popular “Mystery Monday” show at El Mercado Backstage, which books a special guest each week for early-evening dinner shows. But Gage often gets great unbilled sit-in guests, and on this night, he coaxed troubadour Conrad Olson out of his chair to sing four tunes by the late Guy Clark: “Dublin Blues,” “Boats to Build,” “The Randall Knife” and “Desperados Waiting for a Train.”
When Olson departed, Gage went straight into Jerry Jeff Walker’s signature classic “Mr. Bojangles” — a song he sure knows well enough, since Gage plays in Walker’s band. That’s how it goes on Mondays at Donn’s, every time: Walk in and surrender yourself to one of the wellsprings from which the beauty of Austin music overflows.
11:45 p.m.: Little Elmore Reed Blues Band at King Bee Lounge. It would have been easy (and no doubt rewarding) to just finish out the night at Donn’s, but I’ve been intrigued by this residency in the heart of the east side, with a band that includes well-traveled roots/blues guitarists Mike Keller and Willie Pipkin. They were on break when I arrived, but just past midnight they took the stage for a final set, ready to play until 1 a.m.
Usually Box Kickers harmonica ace Greg Izor is out front, but he’s touring his new album overseas for the next few months. Capably filling the lead spot was Josh Fulero, who’d joked on Facebook earlier in the day that he’d be “getting rich with the double dip” after playing earlier in the night with another band at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul. An added attraction after a few songs was a sit-in cameo from Guy Forsyth.
Join us again next month for “One Night in July” — date to be determined.
One Night, By the Numbers: 24.6 miles driven. $0 spent on street parking. (That’s a bonus of Mondays: Meters don’t operate after 6 p.m., and it’s easy to park very close to most venues. Many of these had their own lots.) Admission charges: Highball, no cover; Donn’s Depot, Patsy’s Cowgirl Cafe and Radio Coffee & Beer, no cover (tips accepted); King Bee Lounge, $5 cover; One-2-One Bar, $8 cover ($5 for advance tickets).