June 3, 2008
Austin is a guitar town. You can’t throw a pick into an audience without hitting a guitar player – and he’ll probably just toss it back because it’s not his brand or thickness. Anyway, nice throw because he was standing in the back of the room with his arms folded thinking, “This guy isn’t such hot shit.” After the show he’ll come up to the stage and shove a napkin into the tip jar on which he’s scrawled his MySpace page with his girlfriend’s eyeliner pencil. You can pretty much bet that if you go, there the first thing you’re going to hear is diddly diddly diddly wah diddly diddly diddly. Fuck. He is better than you. What were you thinking? You just got suckered into the musical equivalent of looking at other guys’ dicks in the shower. Turns out your show isn’t nearly as impressive as you thought it was. Lesson learned: Keep your head up. Hendrix kept his eyes turned toward the heavens. Why? Not because he was checking out the competition, but because the only person he had left to impress was God. Besides, as every true guitarist knows, if you have to look down at your fretboard, you’re a hack. SRV kept his eyes closed for entire songs, and on the rare occasions when he did open them, he was playing guitar behind his head – not just cheesy hammer-ons but complicated, jaw-dropping improvisational runs that barely drowned out the collective whoosh of thousands of panties hitting the floor. Why were Stevie Ray’s eyes closed? Because there was this other kid, a hometown hero named Eric Johnson, who was playing a bizarre clusterfuck of jazz, fusion, and rock with New Agey elements tossed in – intricate, technically dazzling, and mathematically precise fretwork that earned hushed respect from metalheads to chicken pickers and everyone in between. E.J.’s lead runs sound like something Steven Hawking would dream up in a sensory deprivation tank. Perhaps even more intimidating is that he looks like he got his clothes and hairstyle at the mall. Seriously, if you’re going to blister like that, you at least need to pop a few buttons on your shirt and throw some scarves around your neck. Being a guitar god in a guitar town ain’t easy. You can’t walk around Mount Olympus in a plain, white tunic and expect that everyone will recognize you as Zeus. Even Redd Volkaert rocks that Notre Dame mascot beard and a leather hobo hat. Truth is, there are just too many awesome guitarists in Austin. Our D-list is an average city’s A-list. If you really want to test your chops as a guitar god, there’s no better place to do it than right here in River City. On any given night, you can see at least five or six guitar slingers who will blow your socks off. For instance, this Sunday Antone’s is hosting Guitars Rock for Van Wilks and Prostate Cancer, a benefit to both raise awareness about prostate cancer and to help with medical expenses incurred by veteran Austin guitarist Van Wilks, who was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer last Christmas. The heavyweight lineup includes Eric Johnson, David Grissom, Carolyn Wonderland, Derek O’Brien, Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon, the Dave Sebree Band, Joker Fireants, and, of course, Van Wilks. If all that musical talent depresses you just remember: Keep your head up.