The Red Dirt Circuit

Brad is dragged along to a convention in Texas by his parents. Left alone in the hotel while they attend the convention dinner, and told not to wait up for them, he decides to hit Sixth Avenue, take in the Austin music scene, and then return to the hotel, before his parents get back. The rewards are fraught with "complications."

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11. The Muscial Buffet

Raucous rock and roll peeled out of another bar, the sheer volume drawing Brad towards the storefront. The house lights were full on and everyone in the place was standing and moving to the music. As he got closer, Brad made out the lyrics and was amazed. Instead of songs from the catalogue of a heavy metal band, he made out the lyrics of an ABBA tune. They were covering Dancing Queen. That was disgusting. There was something very wrong about that. The look didn’t match the bubble gum sound.

Brad walked past the bar and continued up the street. He was getting hungry but didn’t see too much chance of getting anything to eat in the bars, especially if they were anything like the last place. During the day, he noticed food trucks wherever there were open lots. He didn’t notice any open lots here in this downtown grid of streets?

The lights were dim in the next bar and the music, jazzy. Brad was more interested in feeding his other senses so he passed, continuing down the street until he came to the intersection. The sidewalk was all dug up and a dumpster nearby. He saw groups of kids drifting off of Sixth and down a side street. He decided to follow one group. They turning the corner and, there it was, a lot with two different food trucks, parked alongside several picnic tables. What luck? One was a Mexican food truck and the other some sort of Thai or Chinese food. His stomach growled at the anticipation and he realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch at least nine hours ago. Beer on an empty stomach—not good.

The food was great and even though it was hot, sitting outside at the picnic benches was comfortable. Food always tastes great when you’re starved but he was willing to bet that this food was tasty anyway. It filled the hole.

Now that he was fed, Brad could think. His choice of Sixth Avenue as a starting point had been lucky, so he traced his steps back to the strip. On the opposite side of the street a sign, “The Thirsty Turtle,” beckoned and he noticed there wasn’t even a bouncer carding kids. That’s a break.

The music was more subdued and the lights were low. The last place washed sound on you like someone emptying a bucket of cold water on your head. He could mellow out here. Once inside, he made his way to the back where the crowd thinned out. There was a long bar all along the back. In front of the bar, between the low stage, were high round tables that could accommodate three to four people. The high seats were pulled from sounding tables, leaving some with one or two chairs, some with none.

The empty table in front of him had seven or eight beer bottles. He noted the local brand and asked the bartender for the same. Five dollars, not bad. He settled on a high bar chair and turned sideways, leaning on the bar and taking a sip from the icy cold bottle.

The band wasn’t playing and the low music came from a juke box in the corner. Still, the music was a step above the usual juke boxes he knew. He doubted Justin Beiber or No Direction was anywhere on these machines. He wondered if they were and if he hazarded a quarter, would a fight break out?

 The band drifted back from their break. Only the bass sported a cowboy hat. Out on the street, Brad noticed that one in three guys had cowboy hats, another had worn baseball caps but most others were hatless and nearly all had some sort of shirt with the University of Texas longhorn. It wasn’t that hot, maybe about seventy-five degrees and nobody wore cargoes, just jeans. Some girls had tight shorts but mostly jeans were the rule of the night. Brad was glad he guessed worn jeans before he left the hotel, especially the one with the busted knee.

The rhythm guitarist was talking to a young guy in a tie—he had to be their manager.

The drummer was settling in behind his kit, and looked down around his feet for something. He wore a tank top and had a single chain around his neck which was thick. His shoulders looked muscular and he probably provided the driving power behind the group’s sound. A long, straight ponytail completed his look but Brad suspected a “look” had little to do with his drumming.

The lead guitarist wasn’t on stage. He was talking to a guy and two girls on the far side of the large dance floor. The girls were all smiles and their friend was laughing. The lead wore a crashed-in black cowboy hat, looking like he had just fallen off the steer he was riding and used the hat to knock the dust off his thighs. He was tall and heavyset, not fat but big-boned. His arms were powerful and the guitar seemed light as if made of balsa wood. If he wasn’t careful he looked like he could snap the neck with a quick twist of his wrist, but he held the instrument softly, as if made from eggshells.

From some abandoned tables, he saw evidence that this bar had a kitchen. He ordered a burger, fries and a draft and decided if the music was good, he’d settle in for a longer spell. The band finally coalesced at about the same time as his food arrived. They didn’t disappoint. He was rewarded with exactly what he was looking for: rock and country crossover music.

The band manager made his way to the back of the room and sat down next to Brad who ate and swung around to watch the band play. It was awkward to eat and turn around each time between bites but the group was fascinating. The sound coming from the band was solid and unified. The other bars had groups with members apparently fighting for attention. This group played as a unit.

The lead guitarist, who had been content to blend in until now, stepped up to the mike at the front edge of the stage and framed the sound with lyrics. His voice had a grit that gave the impression that he was western but not exactly Texan. There was enough twang to place him in the western south but not enough to specifically locate his origin. He was easy to listen to and engaging.

“Whadya think of my boys?” the manager said, nodding in the direction of the stage. The two girls who had been talking to them at the break were now solo dancing just in front of the lead.

“They’re good, great sound,” Brad said. “How long have they been together?”

“As a band, only about two months, but I’ve been working with the guy with the broken in hat for the last nine months or so,” he answered. “Wow, almost a year. He’s come a long way in that time.”

“Where’s he from?” Brad asked.

“I didn’t mean distance, I meant his style.” The manager signaled to the bartender for a beer. “He was just doing covers of some common bar stuff. I got him to switch to some Red Dirt tunes and then we found that he was born for that music.”

“What the heck’s ‘Red Dirt’ music?” Brad said.

“It’s more of a sound, than anything else—hard to describe.” The bartender placed the longneck beer in front of him and walked off with his twenty dollar. “First off, it’s kindda an Oklahoma-Texas thing. There’s some sort of jazz thrown in.”

“Like New Orleans?”

“That’s a whole lot different because NOLA has a lot of different jazz styles. Music on the Red Dirt Circuit keeps to one jazz style, and that’s it, exactly,” the manager said, pointing the top of his bottle towards the stage.

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