Monday, June 10, 2013
When I learned the Austin, TX band Shurman would play a half block from my house in a bar that never has music, it seemed providential. Like cosmic UPS delivery. I almost expected a comet over the Red Garter, or roses raising its foundation.
Humble but mighty, the restaurant and bar has a main room clad in fake-blond-wood-paneling, covered with a neon, mirrored or animated sign for every commercial beer known to ESPN. It's right-sized and comfy, but who knew it could sound good? On Wednesday (a Wednesday!) Shurman sat at the south end on bar stools and played and told road stories for all the world like they belonged there.
Turns out a guy knows a guy. A local musician and friend of the band, who is also friendly with one of the Garter's owners, scored the gig for Shurman as a pit-stop on the road to Puerto Peñasco with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers' annual Circus Mexicus tour. Luck had it that the stop was timely: The cost and inconvenience of a detour via Pep Boys for a new wheel bearing was a running joke through the set. Merch was moved.
More words and music, and an essential list, after the break.
Resolving how the Red Garter happened to host Shurman in a one-off may be easier than understanding what such veteran showmen as Shurman were doing in an unknown venue like the Garter. The band's been touring and recording for a decade, having played both the Rialto and Phoenix's Crescent Ballroom among other well-known halls in the U.S. and Europe, even Australia.
Their music approaches ground zero in what was called, by then-No Depression-magazine co-editor Grant Alden, "the roots rock scare" of the 90s. In a record store you'd look for them behind the card with the Backsliders, Whiskeytown, the Bottle Rockets and the Old 97s. (Locally, think a Kevin Pakulis-Four Killer Flats mashup, but with killer blues chops in the back pocket.)
Band leader and songwriter Aaron Beaver tells how Lucinda Williams encouraged the band early on, introduced them around and gave them confidence. The story from there is a familiar one in the Americana genre: Shurman was shuffled among top-label suitors and management but nobody seemed to know what to do with them. From that point, band members cleared themselves the path followed by the successful few. "We learned how to do it all ourselves," Beaver says. "We learned how to produce an album, and then how to package and distribute it ourselves. We learned how to screen t-shirts and do our own booking." And mostly, they learned how to tour, and to tour their asses off, regardless of their position on the bill. "We've opened for everybody," he says, rattling off names including Robert Earl Keene and an A list of other Americana acts. "Our first show we opened for John Doe. Our second, we opened for Whiskeytown."
Beavers is philosophical—a journeyman outside his creative core. He keeps close, in his phone, a list of the bands that keep him going. He calls it his "inspiration list" — bands that were "a huge influence but not a huge success." He talks about building an audience one fan at a time, and touring... always touring.
"We play about 200 nights a year," he says, in all kinds of venues. "But it's a good problem to have.
"We're a working band."
Scroll down below the music to see Aaron Beaver's inspiration list.
AARON BEAVER'S "Inspiration List"
Dead Hot Workshop
The Anti Heroes
The Bottle Rockets
Follow For Now
Drivin' & Cryin'
The Mother Hips
Old & In the Way
Scud Mountain Boys
Wise Monkey Orchestra
Sky Cries Mary
Swimming Pool Q's
Big Head Todd & the Monsters
Chattahoochee Coochie Men
Fish & the Seaweed
The Neighborhood Bullies
Bill Malonee & the Vigilantes of Love