The seventh installment in our monthly series takes a curveball approach. Typically the procedure is to catch one act in six different venues across town, but Friday night’s “Spooky Hoot” to benefit local bassist George Reiff offered an opportunity to flip that on its head: Instead, we caught more than a dozen different acts in one venue.
The place was the Parish, the upstairs Sixth Street showcase room that’s one of Austin’s best venues for original music. The ringleader was Shinyribs’ Kevin Russell, one of Reiff’s many longtime friends and collaborators in the local community. The players, in order of appearance: C. Mac & Mo’ Debly, Lincoln Durham, Carson McHone, Fastball, Monte Warden, Joe King Carrasco, Kelly Willis, Robert Earl Keen’s backing band, John Fullbright, Moonlight Towers, James McMurtry, Carolyn Wonderland and Shinyribs.
Oh, and one very special guest. Reiff, who hadn’t performed since he was diagnosed with cancer three months ago, received a warm welcome when he took the stage early in the show to accompany McHone and Fastball for two songs each. Reiff has undergone surgery as well as radiation and chemotherapy since then, so it was no surprise that played sitting down.
For the hundreds who attended, it was a special moment just to see him back where he belongs, lurking in the shadows and holding up the low end. “You know you’ll always have friends in low places,” Russell promised with a smile as he followed Reiff’s cameo appearance by corralling a bevy of bassists onstage for a cheeky dedication: Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom.”
The music began at 8 p.m. and rolled on for nearly four hours, with KGSR’s Andy Langer serving as emcee. When we departed at 11 p.m., McMurtry was deep into his epic “Choctaw Bingo,” with Wonderland plus Shinyribs’ closing set still to come. Check out the video above for some the night’s highlights. In keeping with the “Spooky Hoot” theme, most of the performers dug out covers that fit the occasion, including:
Carson McHone, “Psycho” by Leon Payne: With Reiff and Fastball among her backing crew, McHone put a cool country spin on legendary Texan’s haunted honky-tonker.
Fastball, “Up Jumped the Devil” by Nick Cave: Guitarist Miles Zuniga set down his axe in favor of stalking the stage to deliver one of the melodramatic Australian’s most Halloween-appropriate numbers, with Tony Scalzo’s keyboards keeping the spook-factor high.
Joe King Carrasco, “Wooly Bully”/”La Bamba”/”Twist & Shout” medley: If it wasn’t so much holiday-specific, Carrasco’s wild energy, given an extra spark by the Shinyribs horns and some guitar-duel clowning with Russell, helped kick the party into full gear mid-show.
Kelly Willis, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon: Straying well beyond her country comfort zone, Willis got the audience howling along with delight as she and Robert Earl Keen’s band put on their best Zevon.
Rich Brotherton, “Time Warp” from “Rocky Horror Picture Show”: After Willis departed, the rest of Keen’s band (sans Keen, who’s currently on an acoustic tour with Lyle Lovett) played a couple more, including Richard O’Brien’s gem from the iconic movie. Brotherton took the lead but got big assists from Shinyribs backup singers Alice Spencer and Sally Allen.
John Fullbright, “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball” by Shel Silverstein: The Oklahoma singer-songwriter not only traveled the most miles for the show, he also chose the coolest cover by far, smoking the house with Shinyribs behind him on this Silverstein classic that Dr. Hook recorded. He might even have had the next-best cover too, as he followed up with a glorious vamp on the Kinks’ “Apeman.”
One Night, By the Numbers: The usual miles-driven metric obviously doesn’t apply here, since we stayed at one venue this time. The big numbers, then, are these: $7,000, which is how much the event raised for Reiff, according to Russell’s Facebook post on Saturday morning. That included the tally of $20 tickets plus a silent auction for a framed Spooky Hoot poster. Add that to the $126,000 that has been raised via crowdfunding since Reiff’s diagnosis, and it’s clear how much he’s valued by his friends, fans and peers. Especially those in low places.