Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taking Flight with the Thieving Birds

So I had this gig writing for a music magazine. It was fun while it lasted, but we mutually parted ways after having a deep philosophical divide about the musical influence of the late great Waylon Jennings, compared to the bro country babble of one Luke Bryan. I was hired as the Indie music contrarian and they want to now go more mainstream which is certainly their prerogative, but my musical tastes are not in line with that vision and faking articles I am passionate about, is not why I write.

I am proud of some of the stuff I wrote including a few articles that were rejected as too far off the mainstream path. Today I am sharing one such article about a band called the Thieving Birds.

by Travis Erwin

From small towns to big cities, they are all the same …

A scratched, dented bar. Stools to perch on. Not too comfortable, but sturdy and more than adequate to take a load off. Off in the corner, the golf video game replays glory shots of games past. Beside it, a man is taking shots, not of liquor, but at pixelated deer with an orange plastic gun …

… the neighborhood bar.

Under the soft glow of neon two men play pool. The clacking of balls a natural accompaniment to the clink of beer bottles. The flotsam and jetsam of conversation rises and falls to just trump the volume of the music. There, in the space between songs you catch a shiny bit of confession not hushed in time.

It is early still. The back corner where the small stage sits, if you can call a few raised planks of plywood a stage, is dark. Waiting.

Most of the crowd came to drink. They'd be just as happy if the band didn't play. Talking over the jukebox is one thing, but they’ll have to shout once the band kicks off.

There are a few of us who came for the music.

But not the rowdy happy hour holdover holding court at the bar. His suit jacket tossed to the side as forgotten as the crappy work day that drove him to stop in for a beer or ten before heading on home. He'll call in sick tomorrow, not really remembering what went down, but neither will he regret the night. Except maybe for the dry cleaning bill to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from his suit jacket. But even that is okay, because hey, he nearly talked that waitress, the one with two inches of tanned flesh showing beneath her Senor Frogs tank top, into going home with him …

… the neighborhood bar.

The band arrives. Checks in at the bar. Everybody but the base player orders a beer, because the bar provides domestic bottles or drafts free of charge to the talent. The bassists doesn't care. He pays for a Jack and Coke because he likes that whiskey burn. Because he needs that moody edge.

The band takes the stage to tinker with their equipment. There are no roadies here. These guys are their own roadies. For that same reason the t-shirt and CD table stand empty until after their set.

This same scene is played out night after night. Could be any bar. Could be any town. Could be any band.

But on this night there is magic in the air.

The Thieving Birds are playing more than three hundred miles from their home in Fort Worth, Texas. They are playing for less than fifty people in a nondescript bar. In a nondescript town. Lead singer and guitarists Ace Crayton looks like Val Kilmer, circa Doc Holiday in Tombstone, but like the band's genre, Crayton's voice is harder to pin down. Smooth entering the notes, but rawer on the exit. Every word packed with emotion. Are the country? Are they rock? In the end it doesn’t matter, because they are just that damn good.

The band has undergone a few changes. Kenny Hollingsworth has taken over at guitar joining Crayton, bassists Rody Molder, and drummer Beau Brauer, but their music is raw, emotional, thoughtful and rebellious somehow. Listening to them is liberating in the way adulthood seldom is. Like a stolen smoke in the junior high bathroom, or that rush of adrenaline the first time you talked your girlfriend into sneaking out the window after midnight. Live and on stage they interact with their audience and are playful between songs. Readily accepting shots from their handful of admiring fans, the band didn’t seem to care how many were in attendance just so long as those in the room enjoyed the show.

And enjoy it they did. In the middle of the set I looked around. The pool balls sat idle, the orange plastic gun dangled from its tether. The happy hour business man took a break from his pursuit of Miss Senor Frog and settled happily onto a not-too-comfortable stool, whiskey in hand. The Thieving Birds had captured the room, taking flight with energy, magic, and talent.

These birds are no doubt headed for greatness and my thoughts after listening to both of their albums (Gold Coast and Thieving Birds) only reinforced that I was lucky to catch them in such intimate terms down …

… at the neighborhood bar. 



Jenn Jilks said...

Sorry for your trials and tribulations. Good writing!

Anonymous said...

Travis' wife says:
Love it!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Damn, Travis, that's good writing!

the walking man said...

Travis that you can wrote well and express not only your point is a given. What is charming is that you stood where you stood and let the tide not roll over you but around you.

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