For the sixth installment of this monthly series, we took the most obvious opportunity in September to check out a wide swath of local music from sunrise to midnight: HAAM Benefit Day. The 11th annual fundraiser benefiting the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians proved an ideal fit for our series theme of checking out shows all over town — and it provided a nice twist, as many HAAM shows happen at businesses that don’t ordinarily traffic in live music. Here’s what we heard:
6 a.m.: Nakia & the Blues Grifters at Whole Foods Downtown. The home base of HAAM Benefit Day is this grocery chain’s flagship store, which does its part to Keep Austin Weird by booking music before dawn. HAAM director Reenie Collins and Austin mayor Steve Adler delivered short introductions and proclamations before singer Nakia Reynoso and his band kicked things off with a solid set of blues and R&B standards.
They included, at Adler’s request, “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?” It probably wasn’t Nakia, who said afterward he’d gotten only an hour and a half of shut-eye after his band had played late at Antone’s the night before. Here’s hoping he got a nap before they regrouped for another HAAM show Tuesday evening at El Mercado Backstage.
7 a.m.: Scrappy Jud Newcomb at Whole Foods Downtown: It wasn’t like there were a lot of other options to choose from, with most HAAM-participating venues not yet open, so we stuck around for some migas and a great solo acoustic set by this guitarist known for playing with top-notch Austinites including the late Ian McLagan.
Supplementing his own songs with well-chosen covers including local songwriter Lee Barber’s “It Rained All Night Long,” Newcomb served up a perfect transition between darkness and daylight. It seemed fitting, then, that one of the highlights of his set was a rockin’ original tune called “Where Did The Time Go?”
11 a.m.: Betty Soo at Whole Foods Gateway. There was work to do on Tuesday too, so this wasn’t a wall-to-wall marathon for us. But more HAAM shows started to bubble up around the lunch hour, including many at other Whole Foods locations. We trekked north to hear the high and sweet voice of Betty Soo, who played under a small tent outside the store’s entrance.
Though Soo played many original tunes from the handful of albums she’s issued over the past decade, two of the best set choices were covers. Explaining she was excited that her husband had bought her tickets to Dolly Parton’s upcoming Erwin Center show, she sang a sterling rendition of Parton’s “Do I Cross Your Mind.” And to start her set, she noted that her friend Bonnie Whitmore was playing another HAAM gig at the exact same time a few miles away, then launched into a song co-written by Whitmore and Austin songwriter Jaimee Harris. It was a nice way to stress the interconnectedness of the city’s music community, and its unified support for HAAM.
Noon: Margaret Slovak at Peoples Rx Pharmacy (North Lamar location). An instrumental jazz guitarist, Slovak wedged herself into a narrow aisle between the pharmacy shelves and the busy lunch counter at this popular north-central drugstore. If it was a tight squeeze, it also underscored what’s special about HAAM Benefit Day — that live music really can happen anywhere in this town.
Respectful of those who were just stopping in for a prescription pickup or a sandwich, Slovak kept the volume low for her performance, but the tones were beautiful, turning a noontime errand into an easygoing artistic encounter for those who stopped by. A volunteer dutifully stood by with a smile and accepted donations in one of the HAAM boxes that were on display at all participating locations across town.
12:45 p.m.: 80H Project at McDonald’s (South Lamar and Barton Springs location). Performing on the patio outside the hallmark fast-food chain’s most centrally-located Austin spot, the four members of this smooth Latin-pop ensemble noted that they’d played HAAM Benefit Day here last year too but had to quit after two songs when a storm came through. “We already beat that!” they said with a laugh as they continued their full set on a mostly sunny day with no rain in sight.
Band member Ady Hernandez probably was born to make music, following in the footsteps of his father, leader of the Grammy-winning Tejano group Little Joe y la Familia. He and his bandmates made lunch diners smile with feel-good tunes that stressed bright three-part harmonies and steady-groove Latin percussion.
1:15 p.m.: Freddie Krc at Stella San Jac. The new downtown Westin Hotel opened with a flurry of intriguing early-evening lobby performances last year before pulling the plug on the series after a few months. But they bought in again for HAAM Benefit Day, with longtime Austin songwriter and drummer Krc playing solo acoustic near the entry to their in-house restaurant.
At one point, Krc transitioned from “Surfer Girl” to an old country standard to his own “My Whole World.” “That’s the positive thing about ADD, is that it sends me all over the place,” he joked. “I go from the Beach Boys to the Carter Family to one of my own songs.” Attendance was light, as it was at many of the daylight-hours HAAM shows, but big turnouts never really have been the goal. It’s more about a show of solidarity, and a reminder to residents that Austin treats music like a natural resource.
5 p.m.: Sophie Johnson at Little Darlin’. After another office stop, we headed south to this relatively new joint near South Congress and William Cannon, a small bar with a huge backyard. Performing with a drummer and upright bassist, recent British transplant Sophie Johnson cranked out some killer leads on a hollowbody electric guitar as she mixed country and swing standards with original tunes from her upcoming album “One Year.”
A foreigner’s perspective was important here. When she moved here last year, Johnson said, HAAM played an invaluable role in helping to sort out her health insurance options. That was all new territory for Johnson, “coming from the U.K. where everything is free” when it comes to health care, as higher taxes support a single-payer system.
7:15 p.m.: Dawn & Hawkes at Threadgill’s. We’ve learned on our “One Night In” series that best-laid club-hopping plans sometimes don’t pan out. So when local band the Mammoths was just finishing the last few seconds of their first set at the new South Austin Brewery on East Saint Elmo Road when we arrived, we realized we’d need to grab a bite to eat and head on to our next stop. That was a Threadgill’s outdoor show sponsored by House of Songs, a local organization that arranges collaborations between visiting foreign songwriters and their Austin counterparts.
Local folk-pop duo Dawn & Hawkes was charming the modest crowd when we arrived with songs such as their hometown anthem “When Are You Coming to Austin.” Soon they were joined by Taasha Coates, a House of Songs visitor from Australia, for a tune they’d written this week based on lyrics from the legendary gospel tunesmith Albert Brumley.
- READ MORE: House of Songs reaches toward new horizons
8:15 p.m.: Adam Ahrens at Deep Eddy Cabaret. “Turn your lamp down low,” Adam Ahrens sang as his trio featuring guitarist Grady Pinkerton and harmonica player Doc Bridges covered the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and the lyric was a spot-on personification of Deep Eddy’s dark and cozy environs. Backlit by one of the city’s coolest jukeboxes, the trio entertained a few dozen folks who were there largely just to soak in the old-school Austin bar’s unique ambiance.
After a few songs, Ahrens turned things over to singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa, who provided a HAAM Day highlight with her version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” followed by a Mexican folk song at the request of a friend who was celebrating her birthday. If HAAM Benefit Day represents at its core the spirit of Austin, this hour or so at Deep Eddy was a quintessential immersion in that spirit.
9:15 p.m.: Calliope Musicals, Wild Seeds, Jaimee Harris and Bonnie Whitmore at High Road on Dawson. Shifting from the low-key warm blues of Deep Eddy into the bright-light psychedelic freakout of Calliope Musicals at this Bouldin Creek hideaway might have induced club-hopping whiplash (does HAAM treat that?), but it certainly demonstrated how this day is all about the diversity of Austin music. An all-ages crowd was grooving to Calliope’s strobe lights, flashy costumes and smiley-face backdrop as we arrived in time for the band’s last two songs.
The wind-down that followed included short sets from long time local rock ‘n’ roll die-hards Wild Seeds plus up-and-coming songwriters Bonnie Whitmore and Jaimee Harris — both joined by Betty Soo, who’d sang their song way back in the a.m. hours up north. It felt like HAAM Benefit Day was brought full-circle, even as more shows continued at other venues well past midnight.
One Night, By the Numbers: The idea was to cast a geographically wide net, and so we racked up 38.6 miles on this one, from the first point to the last. $1 spent on parking (street meter downtown during the day). Admission charges: All of these HAAM Benefit Day events were free admission, with donation boxes at each stop. We chipped in a few dollars at almost every location. At the Whole Foods Downtown kickoff, HAAM director Reenie Collins said this year’s goal was $500,000, of which they’d already secured $470,000 via sponsorships. Participating businesses donate 5% of HAAM Day proceeds; adding public box donations to that, Collins seemed confident the goal would be reached or exceeded.