Given Austin’s claim to fame as the “live music capital of the world”, I felt it only proper that I head out to find some. On the recommendation of my friend and guitar hero Jim, I headed to Antone’s. Antone’s is an Austin institution – everyone who is anyone in the rhythm and blues world has played there, not the least of which was Stevie Ray Vaughan. I never had the chance to see SRV, but my appreciation for his music is such that even going to a venue where he had played was a must-do for me.
Antone’s was worth the visit, for the history if nothing else. The band was good, but SRV they weren’t. They looked to be college-aged, young enough that I’m not sure they could have fully appreciated what an honor it was to be playing on the same stage that had hosted the likes of SRV, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. The crowd was a mixture of college-aged kids, many of whom seemed to know members of the band, and somewhat older folks like myself who I suspect were there more for the venue than for the music. I stayed for an hour, then headed out in search of the blues.
I found it at a place just down the street. An eerily spot-on cover of Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” lured me in, and it was nothing but the blues for the next two hours. Unlike the 20-somethings band at Antone’s, these guys had been around for a while. The lead guitarist was pushing 50 and looked like Ned Beatty with a ponytail, but the guy could flat-out play. And that was why I was there.
As I listened, I reflected on how difficult it is to make a living playing music. Most of the band members were my age or older, and they were easily as good as anyone that we have in Charlottesville, which fancies itself an up-and-coming music town in its own right. Yet, they were playing for tips and hawking their CD for 5 bucks.
This hits close to home for me. My brother has been at it for over two decades, and despite talent and dedication, still lives a day-to-day existence. The friend who directed me to Antone’s is a gifted guitar player, and lives two lives – career to pay the mortgage by day, and passion to soothe the soul by night. I have another friend who is in the same situation as a singer – he has more talent than many who are making a living at it, but finds himself victim of not enough opportunities to go around. He’s got to get tired of people asking him why he doesn’t sing professionally full-time. He’s been trying to – for 20 years.
Personally, I don’t have anywhere near that kind of musical talent. I can fake it a bit, but whenever I’ve gotten up on stage, I’ve found that I start to think and overanalyze things too much to be a real musician – sort of like when I step into the batter’s box on the softball field. Real musicians feel more than they think. That’s why they can get up there night after night. It may not make economic sense – their shot at making it big may have long since passed, if it ever came at all – but when they are playing, there is a sense of joy up on stage.
I’m envious. I’ve looked for that sense of joy in law practice, and in the corporate world, and have come up empty. Maybe I’m asking too much to expect to find the sort of joy in my work that musicians find on stage. But I’ll keep looking.