Monday, February 28, 2011

Play every crowd like it's Carnegie

Almost ten years ago, I was at a party with some family friends out in Del Rio, Texas. It was early March, and one of those late-season northers had the daytime temperatures down in the 20s. That night, we stood in a barn heated by wood-burning chimneas and listened to this kid named Eric Hanke belt out original songs, one after another.

I was in college when the whole "Texas Music" movement was really taking off, and I'd been into Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, and Cory Morrow for a while. But this guy was different. He wasn't doing cover songs, and he wasn't trying to write songs about Texas this, Texas that, Shiner Beer, or pickup trucks. He understood the poetry and imagery in the lyrics of guys like Keen, VanZandt, and Nelson much better than so many of these other college acts who claimed them as their influences and progenitors. I became a fan and he became a longtime friend.

Eric just released his second album, Factory Man. His first record, Autumn Blues, was critically well-received but didn't get the airplay that many of us felt it deserved. Eric is due some attention, and Factory Man is the real deal and ought to bring him just that. It has country, it has some funky blues, it has an understated story song, and it even has a piano-driven love song. And, to my ear, it has some radio hits.

Eric is patient, though. Even though he's made several appearances at Gruene Hall, he's also playing small venues, building true believers one listener at a time. Alisa and I saw him Friday at the Bugle Boy in La Grange, Texas (by the way, the Bugle Boy is a cool place if you care about actually hearing the music instead of the drunk, screaming college kids and getting to interact with the artists). The crowd was dissapointingly small, but he got up there and played his guts out. The playing and singing was spot-on, and the story telling between songs reminded me a lot of Robert Earl Keen.

It made me think about what I do, and how few people actually have the guts to go out and do what they know that they were put on this earth to do. Big crowds, small crowds...big airplanes, small airplanes. We lucky few do what we need to do regardless of who's listening, because we know the payoff will come. We play to every crowd like it's Carnegie. Is there any other way? If you don't feel this way about the way you're living your life, there is only one person who can change it.

"Don't you ever give up on your dreams; won't you come and fly away with me?"
-Been Knocked Down by Eric Hanke

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