Singer Christine Albert called it a “pseudo Austin style Flash Mob” as she rallied the troops to gather at Donn’s Depot for a surprise party to celebrate her husband Chris Gage’s 21-year anniversary of his Monday night piano residency. Apparently Austin knows how to do Flash Mobs just fine.
Hundreds streamed in and out of Donn’s, a former rail station on West Fifth Street that was converted into a bar decades ago, from 9 p.m. till well past midnight. They toasted Gage and sang along with favorite songs, basking in the quintessential old-Austin atmosphere. A handful of guest singers, most notably Jimmie Dale Gilmore, sat in along the way. But this was Gage’s night in the spotlight, complete with a table full of potluck dishes, an old manual typewriter set up for leaving personal messages, and short speeches by those who know him best.
That included bartender Michelle Beebe, who has worked Mondays with Chris for more than 10 years of his residency. “What you do every Monday night is magic,” said Beebe, referencing Gage’s ability to pull out an amazing variety of songs from his repertoire on any given evening. “I never know what to expect, but I always know it’s going to be a masterpiece.”
On this night, the selections ranged from classics such as “You Don’t Know Me” and “I Always Get Lucky With You,” to Lucinda Williams’ “Howling at Midnight” with Gilmore on lead vocal and Albert singing backup, to Craig Calvert and Kristen DeWitt singing Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken.” Before a set break, Albert brought the house down with her French/English torcher “No Regrets.”
The highlight of the party came when a roll call of singers passed champagne glasses baton-style in an extended “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” serenade. Best of all was when the glass ended up in the hands of Austin legend Jerry Jeff Walker, whose band Gage has played in for many years. Walker seemed to appear out of nowhere, sang a chorus, and just as quickly vanished, like a Scamp apparition.
Walker was one of many renowned local musicians who tucked into the Depot’s funky nooks and crannies at some point during the evening. The roll call included Walker’s former Lost Gonzo picker Bob Livingston, songwriter Bruce Robison and his onetime Chaparral bandmate Jeff Hughes, roots-music treasures Marcia Ball and Rosie Flores, husband-wife country rhythm section Brad Fordham and Lisa Pankratz, and younger-generation singer-songwriters Barbara Nesbitt and Jaimee Harris. Then there was Oliver Steck’s lively troupe of local jazz players, which suddenly entered the bar and paraded through the crowd like a New Orleans second-line crew.
A special salute to Gage came from Depot owner Donn Adelman, who took over the bar from former teen singing sensation Billy Cowsill in the mid-1970s. He closed with a hopeful vision for the future, courtesy of his son Matt Adelman, who now runs the bar with Donn. The son recently told the father, “Let’s do this forever,” Don related. “And I said, ‘OK.'”