A Margaret Moser primer: Essential articles from Austin’s greatest music champion

After over 30 years serving as scribe, presenter, superfan and supporter to the Austin music scene, Margaret Moser stepped down from her post as a writer for the Austin Chronicle and show runner for the Austin Music Awards in 2014. She was facing colon cancer, what she brushed off as a “stage 4 death sentence.” She moved to San Antonio with her husband, Steve Chaney, set up shop in the city where she came of age and, for the next few years, seemed to be thriving despite the bleak diagnosis.

RELATED: Sex, music writing and the Margaret Moser interview that never happened

Then, in early June, she publicly announced that she was entering home hospice. The news was greeted with an outpouring of warm and wonderful tributes. Countless friends and fans she’s accumulated through a lifetime immersed in the mystical magic of music — in sweaty bars, seedy backrooms and the occasional rock star’s bed — spoke of how her vivid stories and magnanimous personality impacted both their own lives and the Austin music scene in general. The pieces written by current Austin Chronicle music writer Kevin Curtin and Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski are particularly poignant and moving.

An epic thank you video, organized by TV/radio personality and writer Andy Langer, and this week’s issue of the Austin Chronicle, a gathering of tributes from more than 40 artists and industry folks, are a testament to her influence and reach.

But what about the younger music fans and newer Austinites, who arrived too late to fully grasp Moser’s essential role in shaping the Austin music scene? First, the party’s not over. On Saturday, a new Moser-curated exhibit celebrating blues legend Robert Johnson’s Texas years opens upstairs at Antone’s. Second, here are six articles by Moser to get you up to speed on why Margaret Moser matters:

Margaret Moser, left, presented the inaugural Margaret Moser Award to Susan Antone at the Austin Music Awards during South by Southwest 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

1. She’s about a mover: Portraits from a life shaped by music, Oxford American, December 2014

If you have time to read only one piece by Moser, this long-form story written after her retirement from the Chronicle is a glorious swan song that weaves rich Texas music history into an engrossing personal narrative about her evolution as a music lover, from her early infatuations with rhythm and melody as a child in New Orleans to mature reflections as her life nears its end.

Choice passages:  

By the summer of 1969, enterprising local hippies ran hugely popular Sunday rock concerts at the Sunken Garden Theater in Brackenridge Park, where a youthful Christopher Cross honed his estimable guitar chops, and a group called Homer turned a country songwriter named Willie Nelson into a rock composer by electrifying “I Never Cared For You” on 45. Meanwhile, San Antonio was the first stop for touring bands like Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, who played there three times in his short career and whetted the Alamo City’s celebrated appetite for hard rock. This was all heady stuff for a teenager for whom rock & roll was the chief salvation from adolescent agonies of bad skin, worse grades, and a deep, echoing sense of alienation from the rest of my high school milieu. Redemption came through stacks of spinning vinyl and three minutes of freefalling into the promise and lure of lyrics and rhythm.


It’s a cruel luxury to know death will come soon, but it’s a bizarre comfort to know how it will likely come. For me, chemo is really just one big Whack-A-Mole game I’ll play until I get tired of keeping the cancer at bay or the illness simply takes me over. Once I stop, the clock begins ticking louder and faster. Yet being ill afforded me the chance to step out of the pressure of growing old in a field where few women ever get this far, and away from the threatened print medium I have loved.

A life writing about music wasn’t part of the plan, but then I’d had no plan. I had dropped out of high school, didn’t attend college, had no special training or talent for much, other than a knack for making a place for myself where places didn’t exist. I’ve long joked that I got in through the back door, so whenever I am let in through the front door, I run to the back to see who I can let in.

2. San Antone on a hot dusty night. Austin Chronicle, August 18, 1995

One of Moser’s gifts as a writer is her ability to transport a reader into the scene, in this case, the Sunken Gardens in San Antonio. Another is her fearless honesty. Her autobiographical works are stunning. This story begins with Moser losing her virginity at age 15, and this passage about the transformative power of music is pure magic:

There was a specific spot at the top of the hillside seating area – on the far right as you faced the stage – that I would seek out when I knew the acid was peaking. At that spot, the sound from the stage bounced off the rock wall at the back of the theatre and clashed in a sort of aural wind shear. Often, I would gravitate toward The Spot, not just when the acid was kicking in, but if the mushrooms were just too trippy, or when the music would simply command it. The effect was deafening and struck the deepest part of my soul. Close my eyes for the ultimate rush. Up would rise the moon, like magic, smiling its crooked grin at all of us dancing in its cosmic light. Like heaven.

And heaven I believed it was. My friends and I reveled in the teenage innocence that allowed us to believe that peace and love – whatever those vague concepts entailed – could change the world. We really believed it, and rock & roll was such a powerful medium for this message that rock concerts seemed to become as much a vehicle for the exchange of these well-meaning but half-baked notions as it was for the performance of music.

3. Lust for Life, Austin Chronicle, August 11, 2000

Long before anyone coined the term “slut shaming” as a description of something one ought not do, Moser wrote fearlessly about sex. She wrote about zany escapades with her glittery, giggling girl gang, high on life and assorted other illicit substances. She seemed to laugh in the face of anyone who dismissed her as just a groupie. Her posse of rock-loving gals, the Texas Blondes, were the life of the party and she was the queen of the groupies. Recollections of seedy backrooms and bleary sunrises seen at the tail end of rocky nights are scattered throughout her stories, but in this one she goes all in.  It’s loaded with juicy tidbits, but the emotional core is the tale of her relationship with John Cale, the musical thorn that stuck hardest in her side. She beautifully tempers the vulnerability with a dishy story about a rebound hookup with Iggy Pop:

When Cale returned for two Club Foot shows in May 1981, he brought Risé, the woman he would marry. I was devastated, and Sturgis knew it. Plus, deerfrance was now gone from the band, and I missed her.

I was at the hotel with Sturgis and rode in the band’s van to the club, sitting in the seat behind Risé and John. Cale all but ignored me (as he should have), so Sturgis tried to console me by making faces behind John’s back. It was a long, slow, and tortuous three days. Sturgis invited me to the two Houston shows and I went — miserable. I wouldn’t see John again for almost four years.

I had committed the ultimate groupie sin, the Bad Thing, the I-told-you-so part: I’d fallen hard for John and my heart was no longer into sex, even with musicians for fun, after that May 1981 show. Still, when Iggy Pop came through, promoter Jim Ramsey called me up.

4. Family Circle, Charlie and Will Sexton, Austin Chronicle, December 20, 1996

Once again Moser draws us into the scene with a breathtaking lead about the first time she saw the Sexton brothers:

The two young women sitting in front of a pile of cocaine in the South Austin duplex probably should have been enemies. One was the live-in girlfriend of the Cajun drug dealer/ne’er-do-well who had supplied the coke, the other was his non-live-in, sometime-girlfriend. The women had only recently developed an uneasy alliance: If he wasn’t with either of them, where was he? But it was the mid-Seventies, and cocaine had a way of numbing the senses to such things as common sense and standards.

The three of them talked mindless cocaine babble on that cold winter night and continued to chip at the glittering white rock on the mirror before them, the radio playing in the background to mute the conversation and laughter, and numerous joints smoked to take off the edge. The young women warmed to each other, noses frozen and eyes glassy, as the night seemed to go on forever. In a burst of generous spirit, the live-in girlfriend turned to the other woman with a smile. “Would you like to see my sons?”

5. General Lee and Me, Austin Chronicle, October  26, 2007

A cardinal rule of music writing is that you’re not really supposed to be in the band, but since when did Margaret Moser care about rules? This is the story of her stint in the ’80s as the longest-running Jam and Jelly Girl with shock-rock-punk-funk band Dino Lee’s White Trash Revue. Again, she brings us into the story with a staggering lead that sets the scene with her lying on her back onstage at one of Austin sleaziest topless bars:

Three of the club’s dancers, all topless, join me and the other three Jam & Jelly Girls, who aren’t topless. The packed house is cheering us on as I simulate oral sex with Dino Lee to the brassy punch of showstopper “Everybody Get Some.” This has been a rough night because I’ve had a huge fight with my husband, Rollo Banks, over this show and its location. Right now, though, I’m afraid of getting splinters in my back.

6. The girl who met Robert Johnson, Austin Chronicle, August 3, 2012

It wasn’t all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll for Margaret Moser. She is also one of Texas’ great musicologists. This story reverberates with glee as she revels in the discovery of a Shirley Ratisseau, a white blues singer who shared with Moser a missing link, a story of meeting and fishing with Johnson in Rockport, Texas when she was a young girl:

The life of Robert Johnson is among the most mythologized in all of music. From his largely undocumented 27 years springs rock & roll’s infamous supposition of selling one’s soul to the devil for musical stardom. What is known is that during that same year Ratisseau cites, 1936 – in Novem­ber – Johnson made his best-known recordings in San Antonio at the Gunter Hotel. The following June in Dallas, he completed a second batch. Also cataloged from this period is that Johnson was arrested in San Antonio for vagrancy and beaten. Don Law, who produced the Gunter Hotel sessions, sprang him from jail and rented a room in a boarding house for him while the songs were recorded.

What did Robert Johnson do between November 1936 and June 1937?

Shirley’s account of meeting a young musician her family described as “ill,” “sickly” – one in a state of physical disrepair as though he’d been roughed up – is beyond tantalizing. Given the Ratisseaus’ reputation for tolerance and welcome at the Jolly Roger camp, it’s entirely possible Johnson got advice that a few hours south of San Antonio on the coast, he could rest and recuperate. And fish.

During the Depression, fishing was eating. To eat was to live.


Austin360 On The Record: Midyear favorites among local releases

How much music is made by Austin artists every year? We don’t get to everything out there, but we try, and in the first half of 2017, our Austin360 “On the Record” column has reviewed or noted more than 100 recordings.

They range from high-profile major-label releases to simple homegrown indie projects, covering everything from indie-rockers to singer-songwriters to electronica adventurers to soulful blues belters to country twangers and beyond.

For a deeper look, including more high-profile Austin records, notable EPs and more, check out our feature in today’s American-Statesman:

» An overview of Austin records released in the first half of 2017

What follows is a look at our ten favorites so far this year, not necessarily in order. Check out the Spotify playlist above to hear a track from each record.

Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child.” The best album yet of Nelson’s late-career resurgence mixes originals such as the humorous hit “Still Not Dead” with memorable covers including Donnie Fritts’ “Old Timer” and Gary Nicholson’s great new song about Merle Haggard, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.” At 84, the legend is still in the making.

Slaid Cleaves, “Ghost on the Car Radio.” A dozen records into a quarter-century career, the Maine-born singer-songwriter stays relevant because he’s gotten better all the time. These 12 songs attest that Cleaves is now a master, from the opening rocker “Already Gone” to the tender car-themed finale “Junkyard.”

Fastball, “Step Into Light.” Once that rare local act with Billboard Top 40 hit singles, the trio of Tony Scalzo, Miles Zuniga and Joey Shuffield remains Austin’s best rock band. Their first record in eight years features a dozen songs that range from Zuniga’s Beatles-esque acoustic gem “Behind the Sun” to Scalzo’s instantly memorable pop tune “I Will Never Let You Down.”

Shinyribs, “I Got Your Medicine.” Expanded from the original quartet to an eight-piece juggernaut, Kevin Russell’s Shinyribs has pushed the broad boundaries of Americana music even further out than he did during his two decades with the Gourds. The central touchstone is soul, steeped deeply in the swampy roots of Russell’s native Beaumont.

READ MORE: Shinyribs grew from little band that could to big band that is

Spoon, “Hot Thoughts.” Still the kingpin of Austin’s indie scene and a national heavyweight for more than a decade now, Spoon continues to innovate. On “Hot Thoughts,” Britt Daniel twists his pop-music kaleidoscope through art-damaged grooves that draw on old soul, modern electronica and even hints of hip-hop.

Suzanna Choffel, “Hello Goodbye.” The onetime contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” left for New York but came back, and she re-engages fully with the singer-songwriter community here on her first album in four years. The brilliant collection of eclectic pop songs rightly places her alluring vocals front and center.

Ruthie Foster, “Joy Comes Back.” Covering everything from Stevie Wonder to Black Sabbath to Mississippi John Hurt, Foster embraces the broad-umbrella nature of Americana music. Soul and gospel are at the core of her boundless energy, but folk, blues, country, rock and more find the way into her wheelhouse as well.

READ MORE: Ruthie Foster comes full circle with “Joy Comes Back”

Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, self-titled. Recording apart from his wife, Kelly Willis, for the first time in a while, Robison mixes original material with tunes from largely under-the-radar Austin writers including Christy Hays, Damon Bramblett and Joe Dickens. The album’s loose, laid-back vibe recalls the magic of Austin’s 1970s outlaw-country heyday.

Sunny Sweeney, “Trophy.” It’s been a big year for country starlet Sweeney, who opened a couple of shows for Garth Brooks (including his South by Southwest bash at Auditorium Shores) on the heels of releasing her fourth album. “Trophy” balances barroom rockers with beautiful ballads such as “Bottle by My Bed” and Chris Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight.”

Dale Watson & Ray Benson, “Dale & Ray.” The respective bandleaders of honky-tonk mainstays the Lonestars and western swing torchbearer Asleep at the Wheel team up for 10 tracks of often-humorous originals. They dip into Willie Nelson’s deep well for, ironically, “Write Your Own Songs,” a pointed rebuke of mainstream country’s starmaker machinery.

If you’re going to Willie’s Picnic, here’s who’s playing which stage

Willie Nelson at his Fourth of July Picnic in 2015. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

It’s almost that time again. Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic happens on Tuesday at Circuit of the Americas, and the venue has now announced the order of performers for acts on the event’s two stages.

Exact set times have not yet been released, but gates open at 11 a.m., and music on the smaller Plaza Stage begins at noon. In the past two years, music on the main Pavilion Stage (in the Austin360 Amphitheater) has started just past 3:30 p.m. Here’s a rundown of who’s on each stage, in order of appearance:


  • Ray Wylie Hubbard
  • Hayes Carll
  • Margo Price
  • Turnpike Troubadours
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Willie Nelson & Family


  • David Allan Coe
  • Raelyn Nelson Band
  • Folk Uke
  • Billy Joe Shaver
  • Insects vs. Robots
  • Johnny Bush
  • Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
  • Asleep at the Wheel
  • Steve Earle & the Dukes

Texas author and songwriter Kinky Friedman returns as emcee on the Pavilion Stage, with Eric Raines of Austin country station KOKE-FM doing the honors on the Plaza Stage.

As concessions at Circuit of the Americas are pricey, it’s wise to take advantage of the following exception to the venue’s usual no-outside-food rule: Concertgoers may bring “one (1) 1-quart sized clear plastic bag with food, per person.” A single 20-ounce factory-sealed water bottle is also permitted, per the venue’s standard policy; those bottles can then be refilled at water stations on the grounds.

RELATED: Advice from an 18-time veteran of Willie’s Picnic

We’ll have more on Willie and the Picnic in Sunday’s American-Statesman, including an interview with Buddy Cannon, the Nashville producer who has been central to Nelson’s recording career in recent years. Here’s an excerpt involving Cannon’s mother, Lyndel Rhodes, who wrote the opening track on Nelson’s new album “God’s Problem Child”:

Last fall, after Cannon and Nelson finished recording her sweetly hummable tune “Little House on the Hill,” Cannon drove to his mother’s house in Lexington, Tenn., and filmed a short video of her hearing it for the first time. It’s been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube since then.

Rhodes, 93, wrote the song around a decade ago after visiting Cannon in Nashville one day. “She just wanted to get back home to her little house up on the hill,” Cannon said. “She wrote the song on the way home. I didn’t know she had it written for nine years or so.

“One day when I was visiting, she started showing me these songs she had written. I had her sing into my phone. And this one just stuck in my head. When we were getting ready to make this album, I made a little bit cleaner demo of it with me doing the vocal and I sent it down to Willie. In about 10 minutes, he emailed me back and said, ‘I love this, let’s put it on the album.’”

It’s the first time his mother has ever had a song recorded by someone. “She doesn’t quite realize what it means to have a Willie Nelson cut, you know,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve tried to tell her that if every songwriter in Nashville only got one song recorded and it was a Willie Nelson cut, they would feel like every dream they ever had came true.”

The full article is now online here:

» Buddy system: Willie Nelson makes great music with Nashville producer

Former Austinite Renee Zellweger wins award, donates money to SIMS Foundation

Renee Zellweger was recently presented with the Changemaker Award at the Greenwich International Film Festival in Connecticut, an award that “honors artists who have used their public platform and the power of film to further positive social change.”

Zellweger, an Austin native, promptly donated the money to the SIMS Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing mental health and substance abuse services to the local music community.

Renee Zellweger speaks on stage during the Changemaker Honoree Gala during the Greenwich International Film Festival on June 1, 2017 in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Greenwich International Film Festival)


“We are beyond words for her generosity and love for Austin musicians. Thank you, Renée!” reps from SIMS said in a press release.

The SIMS Foundation was established in 1995 after Sims Ellison, bass player for local band metal band Pariah took his own life. Zellweger and Sims dated for three years when Zellweger was an unknown local actress and Sims was a rapidly rising artist.

Former Statesman writer Michael Corcoran, wrote a wonderful piece remembering Sims to honor the foundation’s anniversary in 2010.

Ed Sheeran, Father John Misty, Herbie Hancock add ACL tapings

Ed Sheeran will tape “Austin City Limits” in August. Erika Rich for American-Statesman 2015

Season 43 of “Austin City Limits” just got a lot hotter. The long-running music television program has announced tapings by young pop superstar Ed Sheeran on Aug. 20, indie-rock sensation Father John Misty on Aug. 22 and jazz icon Herbie Hancock on Oct. 12.

Tickets for the tapings, held at ACL Live, will be given away via the program’s website about a week before each show, with giveaway announcements and updates provided on the show’s social media pages.

It’s a return “ACL” appearance for Sheeran, who first taped the show in June 2014. Since then, the 26-year-old English phenom won his first two Grammys (both for the song “Thinking Out Loud”). In March, he release his third straight platinum-selling album, “÷” (which followed “+” and “-“). Sheeran is playing mid-August ticketed shows in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, but not Austin, on his current tour.

Father John Misty is working his “Austin City Limits” debut into his tour schedule well before he plays two shows at Bass Concert Hall on Sept. 29 and Oct. 2. The Sub Pop recording artist, who’d previously performed under the name J. Tillman released his third album as Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy,” in April. His shows at the 2015 Austin City Limits Music Festival were among that year’s highlights of the fest.

Hancock, 77, is a living legend of jazz who played with Miles Davis in the 1960s before launching a solo career that has included dozens of albums and earned him 14 Grammy Awards (the latest in 2011 for a collaborative version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that included Pink, Seal, Jeff Beck and others). He’s never appeared on “Austin City Limits” before. The timing of the taping is curious: It’s a night before Hancock performs in Dallas, but it’s also between the two weekends of ACL Fest, which suggests the festival could have booked him but didn’t.



Austin glam punks, A Giant Dog, release sexy summer scorcher, “Bendover”

“Toy,” the next Merge Records release from Austin’s favorite bar bruisers, A Giant Dog, is slated to drop in late August and it’s an ecstatic platter of grimy, sexy madness.

» RELATED: Duo behind Sweet Spirit, A Giant Dog go all in for art, music

Today, the band released the video for “Bendover,” and it’s a lusty, leatherclad, summer scorcher.

“Toy” is currently available for pre-order on CD, digital or limited edition lipstick red vinyl.

A Giant Dog is currently on a promotional tour for the new album. The band is scheduled to play Sound on Sound Fest, alongside Andrew Cashen and Sabrina Ellis’ alter ego pop outfit, Sweet Spirit, in November.

Sabrina Ellis of A Giant Dog performs at The Merge Records Party at Barracuda at South by Southwest on Thursday March 16, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Weekend music picks: Young man, there’s no need to feel down, Village People hits town


Friday: Sidewalk Chalk at Stubb’s indoors. The six-piece sound machine from Chicago blends hip-hop, jazz and soul. Caught these cats bringing the heat to a South by Southwest day party a few years back and their live shows unfold as an energetic explosion of booty-moving grooves. The band’s fourth album, “An Orchid is Born,” is their strongest work to date, lyrically incisive and melodically appealing. It dropped in early June and  the band is currently riding a slow-building buzz from around the country. $10. 9 p.m. doors. 801 Red River St. stubbsaustin.com. — D.S.S.

Saturday: Bush and My Jerusalem at Stubb’s outdoor. Riding the same wave of British alt-rock that brought the likes of Oasis and Blur to stardom in the mid-1990s, Gavin Rossdale’s band Bush had three straight platinum or multiplatinum albums before calling it quits for most of the following decade. Since reuniting (with a different lead guitarist and bassist) in 2010, they’ve issued three more albums, including the new “Black and White Rainbows.” Opening the tour is Austin rock group My Jerusalem, whose profile rose when last year’s album “A Little Death” came out on Washington Square Records. $35-$40. 7 p.m. doors. 801 Red River St. stubbsaustin.com. – P.B.

COMING NEXT WEEK: Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic | The definitive history of Willie’s Picnic

Sunday: Village People at Empire Control Room. Hey “Macho Man” (or woman), celebrate your freedom to boogie down with the costumed crusaders from America’s favorite gay disco crew. Through the years, some of the People have left the group and been swapped with new members rocking their signature costumes, but Native American Felipe Rose (who is actually Lakota Sioux) and “G.I.” Alex Briley are founding members. Lead singer Ray Simpson who plays “the Cop,” joined in 1980 and was featured in the VP flick “Can’t Stop the Music” released that same year. $25-$100. 7 p.m. 606 E. Seventh St. empireatx.com — D.S.S

Allen Eyestone/2007 The Palm Beach Post



Mike Flanigin Trio with Jimmie Vaughan & George Rains at C-Boy’s


Gloria Trevi vs. Alejandra Guzman at Erwin Center

C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, Peterson Brothers at Antone’s

Summer Jam with Stoney LaRue, Wade Bowen, Granger Smith and more at Nutty Brown Amphitheater

Duke Dumont at Vulcan Gas Company

Ozuna at El Coliseo

Milligan Vaughan Project, Erika Wennerstrom at Continental Club

Kiko Villamizar, Gio Chiamba, Como Las Movies, Conjunto Los Pinkys at Hotel Vegas

James McMurtry, Jonny Burke at Threadgill’s South

Star Parks, A. Sinclair, Glass Grapes at Hole in the Wall

Hard Riffs EP release, Easy Cap, Hippo at Barracuda

Madisons, Denny Freeman at Saxon Pub

Coffee Sergeants at Cactus Cafe

Beat Root at El Mercado Backstage

Boss Street Brass Band at Stay Gold


Ian Moore & the Lossy Coils, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes at Antone’s

W.C. Clark at the Townsend

Bob Schneider, Calliope Musicals, Avocados at Nutty Brown Amphitheater

Horti CD release, Sounds Del Mar, Wolfdork at Empire

Mount Pressmore album release, Bee Gees Songbook at One-2-One Bar

Mike Nicolai vinyl release, Apopka, DiMaggios, Militant Babies at Hole in the Wall

Ringo Deathstarr at Hotel Vegas

Joe King Carrasco at Threadgill’s South

Miss Lavelle White at Skylark Lounge

Walt Wilkins, Patrice Pike, Mandy Rowden at Saxon Pub

Cilantro Boombox at ABGB

Mrs. Glass, John Branch Trio at Blackheart

Chalkboard Poets, Lonesome Heroes at Cactus Cafe

Liquid Stranger, Luzcid, Perkulator, Widdler at Vulcan Gas Company


Bush, My Jerusalem at Stubb’s outdoor

Jabo & the Old Dogs, Miss Lavelle White at Antone’s

Jon Dee Graham & the Lo Jinx Orchestra at Continental Gallery

Resentments, John Gaar at Saxon Pub

Wagoneers at C-Boy’s

Watch: Poi Dog Pondering, burnin’ down the house at 3Ten

If you were fortunate enough to stumble upon Poi Dog Pondering in the fall of 1987, when the ragtag assemblage of Hawaiian travelers busked on the University of Texas’ west mall for a few weeks amid a cross-country trip, you probably remember it well.

The band, led by singer-songwriter Frank Orrall, won over so many fans in Austin that when they finished their journey a few months later, they returned to settle down here. Over the next few years, they gradually climbed the ladder of the city’s club scene and eventually secured a deal with Columbia Records, becoming one of Austin’s most prominent bands of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

When Orrall relocated the band to Chicago in 1993, some key members stayed behind. Singer Abra Moore got a Grammy nomination as a solo artist, and bassist Bruce Hughes became a mainstay in bands such as Stephen Bruton’s Resentments and Bob Schneider’s Lonelyland.

As such, return trips to Austin have become special occasions and semi-reunions. Sunday night at 3Ten was that kind of an event, as the band played for two and a half hours, revisiting material from its earliest Hawaii and Austin days and then charging forward into its long Chicago history. A sold-out crowd often sang along and danced the night away, caught up in the joy of the moment.

Poi Dog Pondering at 3Ten on Sunday, June 25, 2017. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

The band came to town largely for a private gig on Saturday night, at which Orrall had apparently lost much of his voice. For some bands, this would be a big problem. But Orrall is first and foremost a great bandleader, one who surrounds himself with major-league talent. And so everybody pitched in to help.

Moore sang the beautiful Hawaiian remembrance “Ku’u Ome O Kahaluu” solo to kick off the night. Violinist Susan Voelz stepped up for “Glad and Sorry,” the Ronnie Lane classic she once played with Lane himself in his Austin band of the mid-1980s. Hughes took the lead on “I Had to Tell You,” the 13th Floor Elevators gem he sang when the band recorded it in 1990 for the Roky Erickson tribute album “Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.”

Later, a trio of soulful singers from the Chicago contingent — Charlette Wortham, Carla Prather and Kornell Hargrove — stood out on a series of high-energy numbers. The energy gradually built throughout the night, with early-set favorites like the folksy, string-based “Pulling Touch” (with Austin’s Mark Williams returning on cello) giving way to mid-tempo beauties such as “Catacombs” and finally all-out throwdowns including “Complicated,” with its memorable “Gonna get it right this time” chant.

They saved the Austin-era hit “Everybody’s Trying” for the start of an extended encore, finally wrapping things up just before midnight. Drummer/percussionist John Nelson offered a heartfelt shoutout to the late George Reiff, a much-appreciated gesture that underscored Poi Dog’s still-deep connection to the city.

Their last show here had been in February 2014, when they played a three-night stand at the Continental Club that also served as an Austin-era reunion. Sunday night made it clear that Poi Dog Pondering shows in Austin need to happen more than once every three years.

READ MORE: Poi Dog Pondering revisits Austin (2014)

Opening band Night Glitter was a pleasant surprise. With psychedelic moodscapes based on the interplay of keyboards and pedal steel, the foursome played 45 minutes that centered on the vocals of guitarist John Michael Schoepf (from local band the Happen-Ins) and LouLou Ghelichkhani of Thievery Corporation, an electronica act that also often features Orrall in their lineup.

Watch: Carson McHone’s new video for “How ’Bout It”

Austin singer-songwriter Carson McHone has been working on a new album in Nashville with former Austinite Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Heartless Bastards, Lee Ann Womack) producing. In the meantime, she’s just released a striking new video for the song “How ’Bout It,” which was featured on her 2015 full-length debut “Goodluck Man.”

READ MORE: Carson McHone takes a big step forward with her first album

The no-frills, homespun production was cut live with Project ATX6 director Chris Brecht. It features McHone and her bandmate Sam Kossler sitting side-by-side on a piano bench, him playing the keys while she sings.

Carson McHone will play at 3Ten on July 14. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015

McHone, who headlined a Saturday show at the White Horse this past weekend, hits the road Thursday for a two-week run through the South. She’ll be back July 14 for an early-evening set at 3Ten before Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit play the first of three nights upstairs at ACL Live. Later this year, she’ll be playing the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park.


This week’s music picks: Rodney Crowell’s reflections, Nakia’s reunion and more

Wednesday-Thursday: Rodney Crowell at Saxon Pub. When Rodney Crowell stopped by Waterloo Records on April 7 to squeeze an afternoon in-store between back-to-back nights of appearances at major tributes to Merle Haggard (in Nashville) and Guy Clark (in Austin), it seemed likely to be a quick-stop afterthought. Instead, Crowell played almost all of his spectacular and deeply personal new album “Close Ties” solo acoustic, laying out his heart on the store’s small stage and leaving the crowd in awe of the raw emotion they’d just witnessed. If these Saxon shows are anything like that, the ticket price will be well worth it. $35-$45. 8:30 p.m. — P.B.

Thursday: Nakia & His Southern Cousins reunion at Antone’s. Well before the 2011 stint on NBC’s “The Voice” that gained him wide recognition, soulful singer Nakia Reynoso had been a fixture around town with his Southern Cousins band, playing regularly at long-gone haunts such as Momo’s and Jovita’s. Nakia recently gathered up unreleased tracks from the sessions for his 2009 album “Water to Wine” and put together “Wine to Wine: The Water to Wine Outtakes,” a new digital and vinyl release. To celebrate, he’s gotten the old band back together and invited ace local singer-songwriter Suzanna Choffel and Jonathan Terrell to open. $12 ($100 for an up-front table for four). 9 p.m. 305 E. Fifth St. antonesnightclub.com. — P.B.

RELATED: Nakia Reynoso wants artist engagement at City Hall


Darden Smith plays KGSR’s “Unplugged at the Grove” series at Shady Grove on Thursday. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2016




  • Chon, Tera Melos, Covet, Little Tybee at Emo’s
  • Wine Down with Superfonicos at 3Ten
  • Super Thief record release, Popper Burns, Lung Letters, Augra Nowhere at Beerland
  • Tommy Shannon Blues Band, Bill Carter at Antone’s
  • James McMurtry, Elsa Cross at Continental Club
  • Blue Moon Jazz Quartet with Rosie Flores, Rey Arteaga at Continental Gallery
  • Texas Radio Live with Christina Cavazos and Amy Goloby at Guero’s
  • Warren Hood at ABGB
  • Ruby Jane Trio at Geraldine’s
  • Oscar Ornelas Blues Band Revival at Mohawk indoor
  • Rated Ex’s, Ohioan, Bad Boy Croy at Hotel Vegas
  • Donut Musik at Townsend