Notes From The Underground Bluegrass Scene


Deceptively huge venue inside.

This past Monday TRS went to Pianos on the Lower East Side to hear Alex Mallett and Dylan Sneed do their singer/songwriter thing. There will be a post on that later after intrepid photog, Andreea, sends me her pics of the event that as usual capture the inner rock star of her subjects, and lends this blog far more integrity than it has earned.

This story begins after the show. Dylan and Andreea, sleepy-bear photog, called it a night. Alex wanted to go to this bluegrass jam session. I was game. He, his wife Sammie, and I walked the small LES streets where rock and roll youngsters bustled and smoked cigarettes. Little hipster fashionistas sipped insanely priced drinks in the gastropubs. They’re probably all good people, just dressed like dumb kids.

This area is also old stomping grounds for me. I was living in Bushwick still, but worked at a Starbucks on Delancey & Allen. Yeah, Starbucks. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the worst job I’ve had in this city. That honor goes to Buffalo Wild Wings at Atlantic Center where patrons would jump managers over fifty cent wings taking fifteen minutes too long, where customers would brandish pistols causing a riot—where one night detectives showed up to ask me if I recalled a particular person dining the night before. I did. Just before sitting at my table he had beat a man to death with a baseball bat and immediately went to B-dubs for a meal with the dead man’s credit card. My reaction to the news was indignant because that murderous mother fucker didn’t even tip with the stolen credit card.

Be ye warned: If you come to NYC with less than a professional transplant and/or trust fund, you will be humiliated. You will be humbled. You will be broken way, way down before you are able to build yourself up. So, past the age of 30 I was mopping a bathroom in a Manhattan Starbucks when I finally snapped. Well, I had just finished cleaning the bathroom. This nice guy, I mean it, he was totally nice and respectful, came to me and asked to use the restroom, and that he would be quick and clean and apologized for the trouble. I wasn’t even in a bad mood that day. Up until that moment I was fine. I’M a nice guy, I’M friendly and respectful, but for no reason, I told him, no. I told him to go to a bar around the corner that is friendly to most interlopers in need of bladder emptying. He apologized again and stressed that it was an emergency. This actually infuriated me, and despite the fact that I believed him. He had been in the joint all night pounding shitty, watery Starbucks coffee while studying. I flat out said, no. Meanly. I squared up. He, baffled and feeding off my energy, became equally pissed. It became a shouting match. I don’t remember what all was said, but I remember seeing his eyes flash in hate and his body language indicating he was about to shove me or throw a punch. I remember thinking, yes, hell yes! I remember thinking it is important that I either beat this man’s ass, or get my ass beaten by him. That is a badass line, but it is a profoundly stupid and shameful way to behave. He wound up leaving in a huff. I assume a strong need to urinate and good reasoning that this was dumb and I am an asshole led him out the door.

Sometimes they get my name right.

Sometimes they get my name right.

A friendly regular came up to me and asked if I was alright, as what he had just witnessed was out of character for me. He said, nicely, that in NYC it’s a law that if you’re open and have a public restroom you can’t refuse anyone its service. Which I knew. His tone had told me that basic human curtesy should have been the rule. Which I knew. I felt terrible. I kept hoping I’d see Mr. Full-bladder in the days that followed so I could apologize, get him some shitty, watery coffee on the house. I never saw him again.

jamboreeAlex Mallett and his wife led me to Rockwood Music Hall. We were all here a few weeks back for the Songs of the South show with Trisha Ivy, B&B, and Dylan Sneed. The probably-good-people-that-are-dressed-like-dumb-kids peopled the main floor. The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” welcomed us over the sound system. I’ve actually been having a Cure renaissance in my listening life, and was singing along upon entry. We went downstairs, below street level. Robert Smith could not reach, and just before I could lament not having closure with the favorable song, the doors to Stage 3 swung open and we were swallowed whole by the lively sounds of mandolins, violins, guitars, and banjos. It was a packed room, and everyone had a stringed instrument in their hand. On stage and off everyone in the room was playing along to old bluegrass standards. The scene was old, young, all colors, all creeds gathered up in a room. No one was left out. Everyone got a chance to pick a song, lead a song, and/or solo. Alex told me this isn’t even an nth of the country/bluegrass scene in NYC. There aren’t just scenes here, there are worlds. Comfort is not the reward of those early hard and humiliating days. Discovery is.


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