A Little Closer To Home

Inside it reads, "Helluva show! It was right dumb of you not to be here. Love, TRS"

Inside it reads, “Helluva show! It was right dumb of you not to be here. Love, TRS”

I enjoyed very much the Roots Family Reunion, and soon will be posting a pictorial w/ links and all the trimmings so you can have a sit down, sip your whiskey, and fall to pieces when you realize what a great show you missed.

Matt Frye 2While that’s in the works, I want to write about a very excellent find in the musical stylings of Matt Frye. He came on stage in sneakers, shorts, t-shirt and a raccoon hat. He looked like a dork, and the audience at large seemed to deem him off-putting, and it appeared as though they deemed him so throughout. I loved him. His music is better suited to venues like Goodbye Blue Monday (a refuge in my early, miserable Brooklyn days) than ones filled with more earnest country singers, bluegrass pickers, and southern rockers. Not to say that musically he had no place. I hear Hank in him, and Woody, and more personal to me, David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. There’s a seeming jackass on stage. Like early Ween, he gives the appearance that he doesn’t take any of this seriously when in fact his music is quite skillful, and his lyrics are more carefully worded and meted out than their humor and cheekiness let on.

He also achieves something that I hope these others in BK Country will see to follow suit. He allows Brooklyn to influence his roots music directly. There was nothing wrong with the rest of the lineup, but in this BK Country scene it is as though these musicians mean to steadfastly preserve the sound and conventions of their roots music. They give a spirited exhibition of proficiency and exactitude when some recklessness and  a sense of fuck-all could get the crowd closer to the stage. And I get it. It’s the sound and music of their home. It’s who they were growing up, and is engrained in their identity as well as who they see themselves to be. If this wannabe writer who cannot play any instrument or carry a tune in a bucket could impart some advice, it would be this. Brooklyn happened on your way to country greatness. Your lives here are made unique in regards to your stay-at-home counterparts. You have trains, taxis, and every walk of life at your door step. You gave up pick-up trucks and porch sittin’, and all those easy “simple times” to grind and hustle, to be met with every form of rejection both personal and professional in order to earn some hard won breath catching moments. Open up them big ol’ hearts to Brooklyn, she’ll only love you for it.

matt frye LIVE _ livin’ at joann’s from Hilo Media on Vimeo.

But, anyway.

Matt Frye’s music made me remember sitting in front of our tv as a kid, that big ol’ glass tube encased in finished wood. Cable finally became affordable to us trailer park dwellers. On MTV a man named Dr. Demento had a music video program that showcased all the smart asses and goofballs of the music world. Some novelties, like the Fish Heads song. Others were musical geniuses that the world was not then ready for and so relegated to the weirdo bin. I discovered Weird Al Yankovic, They Might Be Giants, The Dead Milkmen, Camper Van Beethoven, and mother fucking DEVO. I discovered that I was a weirdo, too. It was good to know we had anthems. It’s like Leonard Cohen sang, “Clenching your fist for the ones like us, who are oppressed by the figures of beauty. You fixed yourself, you said ‘Well, never mind. We are ugly, but we have the music.’” So, I’m glad Matt Frye is out there reminding us to fuck the norm.

And here’s a little bonus music.

Lightning Unbottled

Roots Family

The Road Southern's Intrepid Photographer

The Road Southern’s Intrepid Photographer

In an attempt to prime you for tonight’s Roots Family Reunion show, permit me to tell you about the last time I saw Barefoot & Bankside. It stormed and it thundered. These Brooklyn streets were rivers. I was pinned under a storefront awning waiting on an unceasing downpour, and so was everybody else. I braved the waters and met up with Andreea, official Road Southern photographer. She had forgotten her camera. We ate ramen noodles. That part’s a little lackluster, I know. Also, the rain let up and it was an easy walk to Union Hall, but the storm that had just passed was as nothing compared to the storm to come.

Sorry, just trying to set a tone.

We got to Union Hall a little late. We missed the first couple of bands. We did get there in time for Chris Q Murphy. He’s a song writer from Brooklyn. He’s definitely a student of Americana. At times he sounded country, at other times like those old bar bands in New Orleans I used to go see, a straight up rock and roll vibe as it was when electric guitar was just moving away from its R&B genesis. A supreme lyricist, his storytelling is complex and deep, yet easily accessible and understood.

B&B had been on hiatus performance-wise. Jamey Hamm had a newborn to see to. However, he and Amanda Neill had acquired an official backing band and sequestered themselves to a rehearsal space over the past few months. It paid off in spades.

Jamey normally did triple duty at a B&B show: lead singer, guitarist, and percussions. A veritable one-man band, this guy. He was impressive and great at simultaneous performance duties, and I am a huge fan of talented one-man bands such as Quintron, Owen Pallet, and Possessed By Paul James. Now he’s delegated those duties to exceedingly capable musicians. All of this has led to the blowing away of myself and the audience by Jamey’s full attention on vocals, and hollerin’, and stompin’. No one in the band was worried about timing, or remembering notes to songs they just learned. It was all muscle memory, which allowed them to open up, pour out their hearts and souls, and leave it all on the stage. Hearing Jamey’s vocals push up to and past what I’ve grown used to from Amanda was amazing, AND it caused Amanda to go even harder, which I thought could not be possible. B&B is a band busted out of its cocoon. It is no longer in its infancy and has become a thunderous force of nature.

Trisha Ivy followed. I was a bit anxious to see how this would go. B&B’s set was high energy and had everyone up and moving and cheering. At the first couple of songs the crowd had dissipated. This is not due to her actual performance. Those first songs were slower ones, the amped crowd was using the down pace as a moment to break. Trisha, a consummate performer, remedied this. She picked up the pace, she let loose her own voice. That there exists a monster in Trisha’s voice has always been hinted at in her shows despite how in control of it she can be. I was happy it was out that night, as I was happy Jamey’s own monster voice was out, and Amanda’s.

Roots Family 1In my notes that night I wrote down the best thing I’d written in a while, maybe ever. And near perfect, I think I’ve only touched it once or twice, so that its original form is 98% intact. Full of gratitude, wonder, and bourbon I wrote, “Tonight I am misty eyed at the quality of music put forth to me, and that by it I am filled with the ever elusive holiest of grails that is the present moment. I came to join and am enjoined by these talent filled, hope filled friends and strangers who connect me to my old world, and to this both fierce and gracious new one.” BK Country, y’all.

The Way Is Forward


Amanda & Jamey American Gothic Style

Jamey Hamm had a little baby girl. Amanda Neill bought Roots Café from him so that he could be a stay at home dad. This was back in February. There was little BK Country for me at that time, yet I still hatched the idea to begin a blog revolving around the southern/country scene of Brooklyn and NYC at large. I swear it’s that photo of Trisha Ivy that got me saying “BK Country.” Maybe something Jamey said or wrote…? “BK Country.” That sounds like a thing, doesn’t it? Feels like a thing, anyway. Thing enough for me to start this. Somewhere in that BK Country lull, I heard a song. It gave me the title of this blog, and once the blog had a name, lull or not, it was time to begin.



The first show I went to with notebook in hand was Trisha’s performance at Hometown BBQ. This was also my first trek into Red Hook. Geographically speaking, it’s close by, but no trains go there. Busses barely go there. However, my bicycle got me there in a flash. It’s odd when a city has remote areas within itself. This makes bicycle travel feel freeing. There were people I wanted to invite to the show, but they would not be able to make the journey without more planning. Not me. One pant leg hiked up to keep it out of the gears and with the wind in my hair, I got there faster than cars, even. Once inside Hometown, I said, hi, to Amanda and her husband, and took a spot at the bar. The interior of Hometown BBQ is that of a road house. Big open floors with old-wood tables. A couple of giant ‘Merican flags. They smoke their own meats in house. A ball field is next door, and a softball team was in line with me. There were families. There were fat old men and women. There was beer and whiskey. It felt like I was back home. Later, I would be surprised the owner, Billy Durney, is Brooklyn born and raised. A big fella, his attire struck me as “Walter” from The Big Lebowski. He traveled around the south, all of it. He said he liked what he saw, and liked what he ate.

Trisha IvyTrisha played. She had a guitarist, Mike Beck, that picked and strummed as country as any, but I found out he, too, is a Yankee, and a jazz trained one at that. Amanda got up on stage with her. They make a unique pair, Trisha and Amanda. Amanda who retains a Sunday modesty in her dress; very humble, but not at all shy. Trisha, with a measure of flare, asserts herself before her audience. Amanda, a raw and reactive nerve in regards to that voice of hers. Trisha exudes more control as she reigns in and unleashes accordingly. Jamey has this quality, as well. This is not to say Amanda is wild or impulsive. She simply gets lost in a song, and Trisha and Jamey are wise to let her.

There was a ton of food afterwards, and plenty more drinks. I got to meet everybody. Amanda’s husband, Christian, advised me to seek out The Lone Bellow who live in Brooklyn. Riding home on my bike drunk was its own liberation. Until I got to 4th Ave, it seemed like I was the only soul in Brooklyn. The air was chill, and at night even the Gowanus canal can appear charming. I thought about the idea of making The Lone Bellow a mission. I thought about Trisha helping to clean the restaurant after we ate, and Amanda’s new ownership of Roots Café. I thought of all the hours I’ve put into day jobs here. Work, toil, is not meaningless in this city. At least, not for those of us who came here with the wholly daunting and nigh-unreachable goal of becoming who we know we can be. A father. A successful business owner. A BK Country star. A real writer.

The song that brought me this blog’s name is not a country song, and not from the south. In fact, if someone had described it to me, I probably wouldn’t listen. It’s not necessarily my thing. But its post-industrial rhythms, its art-pop ambition, and its encouraging lyrics that never dip into platitudes give me a sense of trudging forward, maintaining vision, and keeping balance. It’s become my anthem.

In Between Days

Roots Family 1

Amanda, Jamey, Trisha

From those early Barefoot & Bankside and Trisha Ivy shows, it’s a year later now that I tell the tales of my Brooklyn dwelling southern kin. At the second and third shows, I just felt like I was returning for good music. But what was I feeling after that, upon more returns, after hearing the same songs again and again? I wasn’t homesick. Actually, the only time I feel something close to homesickness is when I’m away from NYC for too long. One reason as to why I keep returning is that it feels oddly like I’m amid a mysterious and wholly other culture. Yet, it is my culture, too. I grew up with this music, this food, and these people. These people who met on a Sunday in church. After a show, the nostalgia unlocked isn’t in the form of actual memories, it’s more that I’ve come to an unpeopled home and I can pick up the little southern fetishes off the shelves, like a crystal angel or pewter crucifix, turn it in my hand and wonder what this trinket could mean to someone.

I get asked what happened to my accent. I left it in the trailer park. A church group ran by some rich white people would come scoop us barefoot children up in a van and take us to one of their giant houses in an attempt to save us. So concerned they were about our everlasting souls they locked us in a room and wouldn’t allow us to leave until we spoke in tongues. I went up first. I babbled out some holy and literal gibberish. From that trailer park, even at ten years old I’d seen stranger things and knew sometimes it’s best to put fear aside, stand up straight, and lie your little ass right out the room. I visited the other half of my family on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. My aunt and uncle took me to their church. There an old preacher jumped up and down, flapped his arms, and shouted about working in the fields for Jesus. By his behavior, I felt the preacher was pretty disgusted and pissed off about all the shit we had to do for Jesus. He threw his jacket at us. In high school, to get in with the cool kids, I found myself at the gigantic modern churches that now scour the land like Wal-Marts and Best Buys. There I met with middle to upper class clean white kids. I say white so much because at the time this was an all-whites county, as it was made so in the early 1900s. In the enormous and contemporary church I could be around the girls I had crushes on. I’d make them laugh. I learned to let them save me. This was a church that would have Christian rap concerts for the youth, Christian rock, and Christian pop. You know, replace “baby” with “Jesus.” Replace angst with implicit trust in authority. Sacrifice the heart of a music style for God.

I never found no Jesus, nor him, me. I don’t expect to find any Jesus, either. When you’re a kid you find him because you have been inundated with indoctrination, and they just love you so when you engage yourself in any Jesus-ry. When you’re a teen you find Jesus a lot because the Christian pool has some pretty sweet tail swimming around in it. Maybe that was just me. But at my age now you only find Jesus because everyone you love won’t have anything to do with you anymore, you can’t remember more than 10% of the last three weeks, and you know just because they haven’t found you after running that kid over doesn’t mean they’re not about to. Past thirty, Jesus only comes around after you’ve fucked absolutely everything you can up.

I left my home in Georgia, but I haven’t left the land of ubiquitous churches. In Brooklyn there’s one on practically every block. But, the cynicism is mostly gone now. Barefoot & Bankside, Trisha Ivy, and other bands I’ve heard at their shows are mostly secular, but their Christian roots remain. I’m partly glad. I admit it lends authenticity to their roots country vibe. I also admit, as living in Brooklyn has sheared off many layers of my former heathen self, that I’m fine with their Jesus-ry. I know how hypocritical my fellow atheists can be. I know how slanted and untrustworthy news sources on both sides, on any side of anything, can be. And I know what I can see with my own eyes. And I do know why I’m at these shows, why I’m mending southern ties. Maybe some velvet morning I’ll post that reason.

There’s a lot of reasons to be turned off by church, and they can have little to do with God or Jesus.

Trisha Ivy And My Forgotten Country

I think this is why I started saying "BK Country"

I think this is why I started saying “BK Country”

I’ve been introduced to Trisha Ivy on a few occasions. The first time I met her she was sitting on a stoop with Amanda outside of Bar 4 after a Barefoot & Bankside show. She didn’t perform. She was just there for support. She’s another hailing from Tennessee. Trisha is very pretty. I state that as a fact. Long, curly blonde hair. Big dark eyes, and a shining smile. Something deep down in those dark eyes, though, tells me she won’t put up with a schlub or an ass for too long. There’s nothing mean in them. At every encounter she’s flashed the warm smile and said, hi. I don’t know, maybe I was just suddenly feeling like a schlub and an ass before her. She’s very pretty. That’s a fact.

The next few times I would see her she did perform. Her shows are solid. Trisha is a charismatic singer. When she bellows a sad, somber note I feel for her. When she gets a little ruckus going, I really wish someone would teach me a country dance because toe tapping and head nodding don’t really speak my heart. Christ, is this silly wording latent, resilient country boy, or a newly acquired affectation? Whichever, Trisha’s music, like B&B, inspires me to join in. I hope I can convey the achievement that this is as this blog continues. I meant to leave my home in Georgia. I never meant to (re)ingratiate myself with the southern/country scene, ANY southern/country scene.

B&B is a band in its infancy, still trying to find and secure their groove. Trisha Ivy, on the other hand, seems to have her act together, literally. Her sets are paced well. She knows after a couple of sad songs when the patrons are staring a little too sullenly into their beers to kick it up and give them something to move to. She even has patter and jokes between songs. That sort of thing pleases me, when the stage time and the show has a “just another gig” quality, but only when it’s backed by sincere enjoyment and dedication as her gigs are. She has a day job, night job, rather, as a bartender at Hometown BBQ in Redhook (more on that joint later). This aspect draws me to her, as well. It’s obvious she came to Brooklyn to bust ass. She’s very pretty, but she doesn’t rely on that, and she doesn’t need to. I can relate to her. Not in the good looks department. Jesus, maybe not in the talent department either. I came here with a complete manuscript of my novel thinking “realistically” I’ll be a big billy badass paid writer within about two years. I’m in my sixth year. I work in a restaurant. You feel me?

I bought her ep, “Cotton Country.” At the time I found it I could have gotten it for free, but I went to amazon.com, anyway. It was five bucks, which is nothing, especially for her songs, and I wanted to help out, because with this blog and these new found good times here in the city, I feel I am being helped. I agree there’s a more traditional pop appeal to her than, say, with B&B. She doesn’t have the hard-rocker edge I normally lean toward in my listening life, nor is she trying to be a hard rocker. Her songs are melodic, pretty. Listening to the ep with my headphones on the R train I was able to hear the lyrics much clearer than I could while half-lit checkin’ her set out at Hometown or Union Hall. She’s a talented writer. Co-existing with the prettiness of her music are lyrics that bespeak a soul who’s been around, and is being honest about it. She has wit, grit, and an excellent grasp on succinct storytelling in a song.

Trisha 3 by Beth

Thanks to Bethany Michaela for this pic.

I know I don’t speak too well of my hometown, because of its history and my own history and experiences there. However, I do have friends and family there, and beside them are good memories. Listening to that Tennessee girl up there on the stage, well, it helps to shed some of the southern grudge. Some cracks in my shell have recently been discovered, and Trisha’s music pries at them making me remember southern sweetness. I used to climb Sawnnee Mountain with friends. We smoked cigarettes and looked down upon our little town. We all had a dream of leaving it. We knew more had to be out there in the world. I had picnics in fields under a shady tree with my beautiful sweethearts who would provide all the food and blankets because I was a mostly worthless boy. I could make them laugh, though. Here I am now in the big city far, far away from home and a long time gone. And here, now, are these wonderful new southern friends set in my path with their familiar accents, and their kind hearts. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe I was a mostly worthless boy for too long, blind from dreaming too much. Maybe I squandered too many kind hearts in my life. You feel me?

That First Show (or How I’m Learning To Stop Being A Bitter Southerner and Just Enjoy the Damn Music)

Jesus, it was hot. When I left my home in Georgia I naively thought I’d escape the muggy heat of our summers, but it gets as humid and hot here in Brooklyn. Add to that an apartment with windows strategically placed to let in blasting sunlight, like, all damn day! Add to that baking garbage, and to that subway stations like kilns. But, also, ladies in dresses. My favorite vision when I can catch it, is an attractive lady in a summer dress, skin flushed, and sweating. She’ll be sitting in the shade with the dress pulled up as far as common decency will allow, because she hates being hot, too. I don’t dislike summer in Brooklyn. It can remind me of home.

I had been running my A/C, and decided it and my ‘lectric bill needed a break. When I turned it off I had about an hour to get an evening game plan before my room became as hot as the Dickens again. My friend Amanda was texting me to come see her show at Bar 4. They were the opening act, and I was pushing it as far as being able to walk there in time. All the other people I was desperately trying to get in touch with for something else to do were declining. So, fuck it, I went to see Barefoot & Bankside at their first show.

I expected little. I figured it would be a band of friends who sounded ok together. I knew Amanda had a nice voice from hearing her sing along to songs at the restaurant we both worked at a few years ago. So, I thought she would sound nice, and pretty enough. I imagined the audience would be a few people from the church where Amanda had met her bandmates. When I left my home in Georgia I never wanted to sit in a church crowd again.

It was my first time at Bar 4 which had been a Park Slope institution for fifteen years. Park Slope now is young, hip couples with strollers. Back then it was hookers and drug dealers. I really liked the bar. You know how a movie despite bringing nothing new to the medium can be excellent solely because of how well it works within established conventions? Bar 4 was like that. It was a bar done right. No frills added, no corners cut.

The joint was packed for B&B. It was filled with good, clean looking white kids. By how few had drinks in their hands, and how utterly congenial was their collective attitude, I assumed correctly these were Amanda’s fellow church folk. Up front and singing with Amanda was a man named Jamey. Slicked back, jet black hair, full beard, ear gauges and lots of tattoos, but nonetheless a good Christian man (and I do not say that disparagingly), Jamey was the owner of Roots Café, a place I often go to write.

Jamey, being B&B’s primary songwriter, is plenty steeped in old roots country music, and with a tinge of darker southern gothic atmospherics. Jamey can sing, by god. And Jamey’ll stomp his boot to keep time. He’ll play his guitar and holler his songs like every time is the first time, best time he’s ever done it. And Amanda, forget about it! Beyond nice and pretty was her voice. She was back-up for the first couple of songs. Though in front with Jamey she seemed to hang back, sway and bob with the music, harmonize here and there. Then came the first song she was able to let loose on. Her eyes closed, her hands did these weird witchy gestures and her mouth opened, and for me the whole Barefoot & Bankside operation came to life. I was reminded of Loretta Lynn in her hay day. I was impressed. I was proud. I wasn’t just appreciating the show, I was feeling it. So was the crowd.

After her first belt, the band could not be heard over the cheers in the room. Later, I would bring other mutual friends to see Amanda. I’d watch them react the same when they saw her let that voice loose for the first time in the set. Those friends would come back on their own, and they would bring their own friends. After the set, the crowd left to the disappointment of the following acts. Everyone was there to see their friends in Barefoot & Bankside. This reminded me of the very real and working community aspect of church. How lucky would some indie rocker in Billsburg be if he/she had the same network? Or I? Most of us who come to NYC seeking our fame and fortune come here alone. Very alone, afraid and in over our head in a city that truly doesn’t care for any previous hard work or effort. Damned if none of us didn’t wish for a hug, friendly cooked meal, and friends, and friends of friends, giving us support for just because. For just because why not be decent and have a little fun.

Feeling lighter and directly inspired by my friend Amanda’s performance, within the next couple weeks I went to my first open-mic stand-up and made a few cynical fellow-comic wannabes laugh. If I’m going to use the word “baptize,” if I’m going to be shaken into giving a shit, it’s going to be by music. That night a little of my anti-southern cynicism, and that New Yorker thick skin was sloughed off.