Wednesday, March 20, 2013

6 String Drag "Guilty"

I was looking at Jess’ blog last week, as she ran down some names of artists she was featuring on The Local Music Café during a fill-in stint.

Ken Roby’s name popped out, and a fun little memory popped in.

One of the best places I’ve ever been, to listen to music, is at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee.

It's been well over a decade since I've been there, and maybe it's changed.  Or maybe it's exactly the same.

The little, dark, smoky, dusty bar was in the middle of a economically-depressed, run-down downtown district in a town that wasn’t a Metropolis even in its heyday.  But going there at night often felt like you’d wandered onto the set of one of those 1980s post-apocalyptic films where all the people on Earth have eerily disappeared.

The inside of The Down Home was kinda odd, in that it was a long, narrowish space, but instead of the stage being at one far end or the other, it was against one of the long walls. This meant that if you were in the back of the room, you might actually be closer to the stage than the folks seated on the sides, who watched the performer in profile.

But the folks who ran the place were music lovers.  They weren’t trying to sell a lot of beer or a lot of food to make ends meet.

I know it’s hard to remember life before restaurants banned smoking, but in the heart of tobacco country, any show you went to see was usually viewed through a haze of cigarettes.  You didn’t even complain about it.  It just was.

But at The Down Home, they had a note on the table.

The simple fold asked you to respect the performers---you could smoke between sets but not during the show.

Respect the performers.

I had gone to see Scott Miller play at The Down Home.  He'd been part of the much-loved, from-just-down-the-road-in-Knoxville-Tennessee band, The V-Roys.  And this would be his first show since the breakup of that band.

Folks were filing into the venue, grabbing seats, finishing meals, waiting for the headliner.  There was a buzz of conversation, not loud but a consistent din, that rumbled below the sound of the opening act.

Kenny Roby was playing solo.  He was part of the band 6 String Drag, which had a following, but, based on the crowd's current reaction, that following wasn't necessarily in this room.  Some folks were listening, but some folks clearly thought of him as a placeholder, keeping the room alive until the man they came to see took the stage.

Roby, for his part, didn't appear phased by this.  I'm sure this scene has played over and over again in his career, whether being the opening act, or the headliner.  Sometimes the crowd just isn't paying attention.

Then something unfortunate happened.  Followed by something kinda amazing.

Roby had tried to adjust his mic stand a couple of times during his set.  It just wasn't quite staying where he wanted it to be.  He'd fiddle with it quickly between songs, get it in the right place, only to have the mic shift slightly during the next song.

Then, right in the middle of one of his songs, about 3/4ths of the way through his show, the mic stand collapsed.  So instead of the microphone being 5 or 6 feet high near his mouth, it had dropped to Roby's waist.

He kept strumming.  A look of frustration came and went from his face.  Then a quick calculation of his next move.  He decided.

He simply stepped to the front of the stage, past the microphone stand, and started singing, louder.

No amplification.

He just sang like he was a street performer.

And here's the amazing thing.

The room fell silent.

Roby's got a fine voice, but the crowd reaction wasn't "Oh my, this voice has stopped me in my tracks."  No, the crowd just realized, "Hey, if I talk, other people won't be able to hear this guy sing."

The crowd stayed quiet all through the last few songs, as Roby finished up his set and thanked the crowd for its patience.

I've seen a lot of shows, a lot of bands, a lot of opening acts in my day.  I've never seen an audience, en mass, decide it would be polite to shut the fuck up out of respect to the performer.

Like I said, I haven't been to The Down Home in over a decade.  Maybe it's completely different now.  Maybe it's completely the same.

I looked at their calendar of upcoming acts.  Scott Miller plays there in a few weeks.

If you go, listen.  You might hear something you didn't know you could hear at a show.  Respect.

Hear the song on Youtube.

No comments:

Post a Comment