I meant to end the night at Andy’s Bar, but this NX35 thing demands spontaneity. Every venue is a few blocks away from all the others. You will pass coffee houses along the way with workers (I refuse to call anyone in Denton a barista) who will advise you on that night’s bands. Oh Denton, Texas, College Town, you are a revelation to someone who matriculated through two degrees on the mean streets of suburban Richardson.
The basement of J&J’s Pizza necessarily sacrifices 25 percent of its floor space to the band because the space is that tiny. Once the music starts, you feel like you’re at a great party at somebody’s house. Even the pool players were attentive to musician Dan Montgomery, visiting from Memphis and using amps on his acoustic guitar and his bandmates’ electric guitar and bass (overkill, guys). A white bowl of spaghetti and meatballs partnered with a one dollar can of Schlitz sat on the table next to me; somehow comfort food and canned beer seemed ideal symbols of the scene’s welcoming vibe.
Meanwhile, A.M. Ramblers were sitting outside of J&J’s nursing one dollar cans of beer (the impact of this price upon my psyche cannot be overstated). Suddenly I’m hanging out with a band right before their gig – does that sort of thing happen in Austin anymore? All six members – Andy, Brandyn, Cory, Jordan, Mark and Will – were telling stories of Denton band life and hugging passers by. Some have known each other since childhood, some worked jobs together, and of course, some met during college days. Will once fell asleep on stage. Brandyn drives the tour bus. Jordan is the comforter (“I give them cookies”). There were confessions of watching Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls. You know, band stuff.
Members have been added and subtracted over the years, and at one point A.M. Ramblers played traditional Irish music. That sound still permeates their music, and while comparisons to The Pogues are on the mark, I was reminded of the Rolling Stones’ guest appearance on The Chieftains’ Long Black Veil album. Every A.M. Rambler sings and writes. They play strange instruments. Mark plays fiddle, concertina and tin whistle. Cory plays a mandolin and Brandyn, bouzouki. The tiny J&J’s basement was packed, and a whole lot of people knew the songs and waited to participate.
At Hailey’s, beer is more than one dollar. I caught the end of Matthew and the Arrogant Sea – I will seek out this band again. Bosque Brown, subject of Art & Seek’s next Track by Track podcast, followed, filled the house, and sounds a lot like Blossom Dearie.
I wimped out and did not see Riverboat Gamblers as planned (no planning in Denton). On the way back to my car, a happy young stranger urged me to go into Banter to see The Angelus. I asked if he was with the band since he was promoting them to strangers on the street. “No they’re just a good band. I played already last night.” No shameless self- promotion in Denton? No, baby, it’s all about the music.