This began when I met Amanda Simpson Neill of Barefoot & Bankside. A pretty woman, straight brunette hair. Tennessee born. Perpetual smile. I’m not being flowery, her smile is constant. She wasn’t a part of B&B then, but a new manager to a restaurant I worked in Cobble Hill. I didn’t want to like her. I didn’t think she was a bad person. In fact, I took her as a very good and decent woman. Her upbeat personality is, well, overwhelming. Very “cutesy,” I would have called her then. Very, very sugary. Every day I was entreated to “Hey, Jody! You’re my little lamb! Could you be any more precious! You’re just a little doodle bug! Oh, my god, I just want to eat you up, you’re so sweet and awesome!” These aren’t separate examples, this was all in one breath. Nor did it start after she had gotten to know me, but, like, the second day I met her. For a while her onslaught of unearned accolades and encouragement did annoy me. But it was on me, really. I’ve always been a bit dour and cynical, and my thinking was that jaded, thick-skinned NYer was something I wanted to be.
Then, I don’t know, her cheer and friendship are unstoppable. This despite her seeming saccharine praise, and despite the fact that she’s a church goer. Suffice it to say that of the many reasons I left my home in Georgia, religion and church culture are chief among them. There is no ill will in Amanda, no cynicism. This is what makes her so off-putting at first. But, her unyielding happiness and enthusiasm are what give her momentum. They chip away at you. They find the cracks. She is my friend. She is a friend to everyone, all are friends to her. Yet, each of us, I imagine, somehow feel unique in this universal friendship culling.
She and I left that restaurant, and went our separate ways. I think we said a few How-you-beens on Facebook. In that time I had taken to doing my reading and writing at Roots Café. Realtors will tell you it’s in South Slope, but old school Brooklyners will say it’s Sunset Park. I can tell you with certainty that it is on 5th Ave, at 18th Street in Brooklyn. Here I made the acquaintance of Jamey “Brother” Hamm. Jamey has the sort of mean look that I’ve learned usually indicates a really nice person. Jet black hair, long full beard, gauges in both ears and tattoos a plenty. Nicest guy in the world. He owned and operated Roots Café. Other than pleasant salutations when entering or exiting the café, we never really had a conversation.
Cut to last summer. Amanda had been Facebooking about her new band, and I started getting invites to their first show at the now defunct Bar 4 on 7th Ave in Park Slope. I know I saw her in person a couple of times, and she then, too, invited me to see the gig and let me know how super, amazing and insanely awesome everyone in the band is, and everyone involved in putting the show together is, and how everyone in the whole wide world is. I wasn’t going to go. For a couple of reasons. She told me how her band met at church, and, again, I have a bias against that sort of thing, church sorts of things. I didn’t want to go to some 2014 version of my 1996 youth church outings of the “cool” “hip” Christians. And to be honest that was very present at my first ever B&B show. Also, I didn’t want to go see a “my friend’s band” show. Especially their first show. I’ve been to enough of those, and didn’t feel I had it in me to remember “Oh, shit, the song’s over, this is where I clap!” followed by false praise. As luck would have it, it was crazy hot that night and I wanted out of my apartment. And I literally could not think of one solid thing else to do. So, I trekked to Bar 4. I said, hi, to Amanda, and said “holy shit” when it turned out her music partner was Jamey from Roots Café.
I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. Barefoot & Bankside began their set. To my surprise, I thought they sounded great. Then Amanda was given her first opportunity to close her eyes and let loose on vocals. On that sweltering night in Brooklyn’s Bar 4, among those good Christian souls, and my friend’s little band on their first night, my only thought was “God damn!”