Always lots of Austin musicians in SF during this thing, which we realized five years ago. We were staying at the Sir Francis Drake, and every time we got in the elevator it was like being back stage with our pals. I remember Joe Ely, his band members, and probably Lou Ann Barton, (one of my favorite friends since forever) and dozens of others. This time we stayed at the Prescott on Post, went over to Sir Francis Drake bar, a really, really nice bar, for drinks, and Steve Earle was there, and some others. I had a Mitscher rye whisky, which was new for me, and quite good. The bartender also gave me a sample of Whistle Pig rye, at $20 a shot, one expects magic, and I have to say, it’s pretty good.
We’re huge fans of Dashiell Hammett, so when we’re in town we usually seek out the Hammett landmarks, but we’ve done a good deal of that already, as one might guess of a crime novelist and his wife who named their son Dashiell. We passed by John’s Grill (a haunt of both Hammett and his fictional protagonists, including the great hero, Sam Spade), but neither took a snapshot or peeked in the window. We’ve eaten there, but there are a lot better places to eat in SF.
Thursday night we dined with my nephews, Jay Sublett and Robert Woods, two fine gentlemen enjoying successful careers in the Bay Area. Robert is an engineer in the Coast Guard, Jay is in marketing, and Jay’s companion, JoAnna Karem, is a territory manager for Southern Wine & Spirits. It was cool to find Jay enjoying a Bulleit rye, my favorite drink, when we arrived at Chambers, the hip restaurant at Hotel Phoenix, and to find that Bulleit is one of the brands distributed by JoAnna’s company. Cool.
We knew there would be a lot of people in town for the music festival, but were unaware that it was also Fleet Week, and there were several major concerts in town, including someone from the eighties named Madonna, and someone from the nineties, Justin Timberlake. There were also bands playing in Union Square, near the hotel, including a great second line brass band. I couldn’t see them, but their music boomed around the streets Saturday morning in the most delightful way. First indication that it was Fleet Week was the humongous aircraft carrier I spotted on the way in from the airport, along with a couple of missile frigates. Something about a whole bunch of sailors hitting port, too, was in the air.
Every few minutes the Blue Angels would scream past and people would look up, often too late to catch a glimpse between the buildings, smiling with an expectation of wonder. It’s sobering to remember that in many countries, such as our Earth colleagues in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., when they hear American jets, they are not smiling, not anticipating something wonderful.
Buddy Miller! What an awesome musician. Saw him three nights in a row. First night at Great American Music Hall, starring the always awesome Nick Lowe, Buddy joined Elvis Costello and a lap steel guitarist for a tribute to Jesse Winchester, who was ailing and not able to open the show. Buddy owned the audience during his rendition of “The Showman.” Elvis sang “Black Dog” and a couple of other songs.
Nick Lowe, who I am privileged to call a friend, was even better than usual. We’ve seen him literally dozens of times, and he gets better every time. Where will this end? If he lives to be 100, he’ll be so good that it will discourage teenagers from even attempting to scale his lofty height. “I Trained Her to Love Me So I Could Break Her Heart” was a highlight, as usual, and there was a new song, “Tokyo Bay.” Sadly, “All Men Are Liars” was not in the set, but when you’ve got so many great songs, you can’t do them all every night. By the way, the first time I heard “All Men Are Liars” was shortly after he’d written it. He played it for us in the hotel after dinner. Great introduction to one of my favorite songs. Next time I saw him I gave him a copy of a vintage paperback crime novel titled ALL MEN ARE LIARS. Guy Clark also performed a short set.
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale levitated the sea of music fans at HSBG the next day on the Tribute stage. Buddy was joined by Joel Guzman, the incredibly talented Austinite, on accordion. The band had two drummers, churning out a nonstop monstrous swampy beat, and, as attested to by Buddy after the show, when I complimented him, a surfeit of drummer jokes. Emmylou Harris was in the wings, waiting to join on the encore, which also included Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Patti Griffin, and too many others for me to remember right now at 3 AM in the morning.
I didn’t want to bug Robert Plant by saying, Hey neighbor, saw you in HEB the other day, but I did snap a couple of iPhone shots in profile to have a later look at his brown leather man bag/purse. John Paul Jones had a nice one, too. Several other musicians were carrying smaller, narrower messenger type bags. I’ve been considering getting one for my iPad and other junk I need for my satellite espresso bar offices, but I think for the time being I’ll stick with my army bag, inherited from my father-in-law. Not only is it the perfect size but it carries a certain machismo that, frankly, is lacking in even the roughest looking leather man bag. Call me weird, OK, a purse adheres a certain testosterone boost with the knowledge that the last guy who carried it was in a forward artillery unit in Guadalcanal, the Philippine jungles, Papau New Guinea and several other rather touchy places.
Have I mentioned that I’m a HUGE fan of Preservation Hall Jazz Band? With their bulletproof cool, PHJB played after Buddy, a short funeral march set that included a version of “Didn’t We Ramble” that kept percolating through my backbone all weekend. Spoke with band director Ben Jaffe beforehand, reminding him that the band rented my upright bass for a gig a couple of years ago, and that I would remind him again next time I saw him, just like I did the last time, etc., etc., and he seemed quite relieved. I forgot who played next, but then shortly Jimmie Dale Gilmore followed in his ostrich skin cowboy boots and wowed the audience, as usual. Before he went on I asked him if he was relieved he didn’t have to follow PHJB and he agreed it was indeed fortunate. I mean… you know.
The O’Brien Family Band played next, and they were fine, although I am not familiar with their music. Tim, playing mandolin this time, sat next to me on the van ride, and is a nice fellow. The reason for our outing at this point was in fact for Nick Lowe’s performance of “Tennessee Stud” as part of the tribute that day, and Nick did a fantastic version, with his skiffle rhythm and honeyed brit drawl. He was apprehensive before, since they recruited him for this last minute, and he had to learn an awful long list of verses on short notice. But he pulled it off and then some. I forgot the name of the drummer, but the guy is just great.
Rode the van back to Hotel Monaco and, leaving for my hotel, heard someone call my name. Turned out I had just breezed past Andrew Duplantis, who was in town playing with Son Volt. I must say, Andrew looks really good in short hair and aviator shades. He’s got the old school musician look, you know? Back in the day, when a gang of musicians entered a truck stop or airport or wherever, you knew, people stared, they said, look at those weird, semi skuzzy creatures of the night. These days, you see a bunch of hipsters or nerds, they could be working for a high tech company or in the city parking department, but they’re carrying guitars like maybe they just bought a starter kit from Guitar Center. I don’t care if this sounds curmudgeonly, but it just ain’t right.
Anyway, that night we met our good pals Kathleen Maher and Jon Peddie at Le Colonial, a great Vietnamese restaurant in the little alley called Cosmo, right off Post. What a great joint. It really does look French Colonial. Dien Bien Phu and all that. Great bar upstairs, food was fantastic. Crab cakes, prawn and papaya salad, all great stuff. Kathleen and Jon are in the high tech industry and recently contributed short stories to an anthology of science fiction stories by people in the high tech industry. They’re sending me a copy. Jon and Kathleen are usually the sharpest wits in the room, and I’ve known Kathleen as a writer and editor forever, so I know their stories will be good.
So then we went with Jake & Lauri to The Chapel in the Mission District, which is the brand new Preservation Hall West. By brand new, I mean there was still sawdust here and there and some unpainted wall board in a few corners. The place opened for business last Thursday, and the hammers were still wailing that afternoon. Sound technician Doug Anderson was running the board that night and he said when he arrived with Robert Earl Keen’s entourage that afternoon, he took one look at the state of the place and said, Well, no way this is happening tonight. But they pulled it off. Doug, by the way, got a weird idea to build his own parlour sized guitar. He proudly showed off photos of this work in progress like a new father with baby pictures. I think the finished product is gonna be a real player and hope to get to plunk on it someday.
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale again rocked the house at this super cool benefit show at $150 a ticket. Elvis Costello again played a set, wearing a hat with a flat crown and a suit. On one song he played a tiny electric guitar for no apparent reason other than it looked silly. Bill Kirchen was often in the spotlight and burned, soared, rocked, thundered on his vintage Telecaster. Then he took the mic for Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” and boy oh boy, the house lifted up in the air. What a barn burner. Hooray for Bill. Keyboards by the abundantly talented Austin De Lone.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Elvis for the last set and shined, as always. Have I mentioned that I am a huge fan? Oh, yeah, guess I did but here it is again. Those guys are super cool.
Dinner at Farina, around the corner from the club, great Italian food. I had a locally brewed stout that knocked my socks off. Speaking of footwear, Nick complimented me on my Mark Nason distressed pointy toed shoes, saying, “You realize you’ve got the coolest shoes in San Francisco?” Nick is a dapper man himself, so this meant much more than receiving praise from a sales person at, say, Ben Sherman. Not to knock Ben Sherman, either. Actually, the Ben Sherman store is always one of our first stops in SF, and on this trip I bought a nice belt.