By Patty Andrew
Photography by GH Andrew
The Galveston Bay Area not only has some of the best live music around, it features a wide array of performers and bands that provides a great buffet of all kinds of sound and motion.
Chris Hess has done it again with a new project: Bootleg Rodeo, a Country & Western band that plays lots of Texas melodies from over the decades. Inspired by the songs he grew up listening to with his Dad in the truck, Chris takes over the front man duties of lead vocals with a solid wall of musicians behind him: Ethan Ravey on lead guitar, Jenni Hess on backup vocals, Chris Kidwell on bass, and Kirk Swann on drums. Except for Ethan, these musicians also play together in the wildly popular Wake Zone, a local Rock & Roll group that graces locales across the Galveston Bay Area.
So why a new band? Chris explains that he started playing these songs at their Wake Zone rehearsals but they never really fit into that formula. So, at Jenni’s suggestion, Chris created something new – a second band formulated from their Texas roots that appeals to local audiences who enjoy singing along with the oldies from Robert Earle Keen to Jerry Jeff Walker.
Bootleg Rodeo performs these honky-tonk tunes with foot-stomping, beer-drinking fun. Chris belts out great Country favorites with the help of his trusty acoustic guitar that finds familiar paths whether it’s Pearl Snap Shirt or Truck Drivin’ Man. He did throw in a George Strait song for his mom, like any good Texas boy should, much to the delight of the dancers at T-Bones Tom’s. Chris really found his voice on Green River, a great Creedence Clearwater Revival Anthem that shows true rockabilly influence that enlivens both of Hess’ bands.
The other Chris, Chris Kidwell, comes from multiple generations of musicians. He is an accomplished cellist as well as a guitar and bass player for the bands. His musical expertise flows from him as he improvises with the others on stage, providing that grooving bass as a foundation to the layers of texture to ballads of love lost (and won), trucks, and beer. His shiny blue bass gleams with personality just like Chris and his electric smile, especially when everything comes together in glorious accord.
While Jenni’s main duties for Bootleg are backup vocals, she does take the lead occasionally. Her radiating smile frames that all-star voice while she delivers powerful renditions from some of the Queens of Country Music such as Patsy Kline – Crazy and Dolly Parton – Jolene. Listen for her solid harmonies, and don’t be afraid to ask for an encore of her solos.
Kirk has Country music in his blood and his drumsticks. He played for years with other C&W bands, even opening for Merle Haggard, who warned his band NOT to play any of the country legend’s songs before he went on. Kirk not only provides his ready, steady drum to keep everyone together, but he also sings back-up with gusto, taking over the lead vocals when needed.
Be sure to watch Ethan as he becomes one with his guitar. As his eyes coax his fingers to pull out the chords, his head nods slightly with the beat, jaw set, lips tight, willing out the riff to just the right strum. Notes are dancing off the strings while he plays melodies or undercurrents, just waiting to spring out in the next opportunity.
So as Bootleg Rodeo throws in a slow one to get close on a chilly night, listeners smile knowing that these great C&W hits will keep them warm with memories for weeks to come. They will be bustin’ out as the weather warms for more boot-scootin’ and midnight croonin’.
Follow them on Facebook at Bootleg Rodeo Band (@bootlegrodeoband.)
Well, shiver me timbers and batten down the hatches – the Pride O’ Bedlam once again has sailed into port at the Second Annual Seabrook Pirate Festival at Barge 295. This well-known pirate band that appears regularly at the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF) every fall has twice now provided lively sea shanties and bawdy fun at the local Pirate Festival. While their band of talented scallywags does shift a bit with the winds, the Pride O’ Bedlam always provides a phenomenal show with plenty of songs and giggles for all.
Present at this year’s Pirate Festival was none other than Captain Basil Drake (vocals), Broadside McGuiness (vocals), Black Jack (guitar), Bermuda (bass), Tea Bag (Drums), and Keelhaul Kate (fiddle). Dressed in full pirate gear, they entertained the crowd with greats such as Maggie May, Heave Away, The Old Black Rum, and The Bonny Ship The Diamond. Fans knew to listen closely to hear the not-so-hidden double entendres in both the sung lyrics and spoken banter for extra laughs and enjoyment.
Captain Drake and Broadside co-founded this group is 2007, following years of involvement as pirates in the TRF Performance Company. Even though they are now part of the musical entertainment, TRF mandates that they keep their pirate personas going both on and offstage. The Captain and Broadside use their years of experience to provide the ad libs during the Pride’s performances wherever they are much to the delight of their audiences.
Broadside is quick to point out that, while all the musicians have day jobs (and real names), they perform because they love and enjoy their alter egos and the music they create. Interestingly, even though sea shanties and sea songs originated from sailors well over a hundred years ago, they have worked their way into the modern folk song genre, thus creating the need to research licensing requirements to perform or record them. Each of the Pride’s 6 CD’s (5 hard copies and 1 digital) has gone through the same rigor as other professional artists’ recordings due to restrictions and copyrights.
The Pride connects with any audience, but is especially fond of the huge flock of pirate fans that follow them at the various festivals and events around Texas. Dressed in authentic-looking boots, hats, and costumes, these pirates eagerly gather, full tankards in hand, at any opportunity available to hear the Pride sing “their” songs of the sea, women, and rum. They cheer when Keelhaul melts the strings of her fiddle with feverish flare. (She is a classically trained violinist and a bonified Irish Fiddler, after all.) The pirates sing along with the Captain’s swaggering ballads of port of call romances or Broadside’s comical ditties of misfortune. For this evening, the assembly of privateers and seadogs were transported back into another time when the shanties echoed through ship hulls and crowded taverns as spirit songs for life on the sea.
The Pride O’ Bedlam is available for your own pirate party or event. For more information on the Pride O’ Bedlam, visit their website at www.prideofbedlam.com, or Pride O’ Bedlam (@prideobedlam) on Facebook. Stream their music on YouTube, Amazon, Spotify, and other apps. Yo Ho Ho!
Pamela Hart, Austin’s first lady of jazz
Pamela Hart brought her special brand of talent and grace to the University of Houston–Clear Lake through her brilliant concert of jazz, improvisation, and conversation in February. Ms. Hart, a renown vocalist from Austin, Texas, grew up in California and listened to her mother playing classic jazz on the radio. Even though she graduated from UCLA with a degree in Economics, she developed a desire to learn more about the music that had framed her childhood once she moved to Texas. So, she went to the Austin Public Library and checked out records of the great jazz artists to learn about them and their styles as they musically interpreted their songs. From there, she developed a career of performing, teaching, and preserving jazz through her unique vocal expression and impeccable style.
Referencing a tough 2020 year with COVID-19, Ms. Hart approached her music by looking for home, the familiar, the comforting, the timeless anthems that transport her back to that natural environment. She is currently working on an album of those songs that are not just an homage to nostalgia, but a testament to the endurance and strength of her music. Ms. Hart is very secure in singing jazz, believing she has a voice built for it. She also speaks of how it matches her personality as there are no hard and fast rules in jazz, so it allows for more freedom of expression that other types of music.
As the head of the Women in Jazz Association in Austin, Ms. Hart had worked diligently to support musicians with the help of the City of Austin and the Texas Commission of the Arts. She developed Project Safety Net for Musicians who lost work due to the Corona virus, finding ways to keep musicians busy when jobs were scarce and providing financial assistance to those in need. Ms. Hart has raised money through house performances on YouTube that are still available for viewing.
During a preamble of Q&A, Ms. Hart shared some of her musical insights with the socially distanced audience at the Bayou Theatre prior to the concert. She championed always being open to the new: learning new things and enjoying new experiences. Ms. Hart told how she was drawn to songs that tell a story and that all parts of her are involved in the telling: voice, hands, arms, face, and feet. Jazz is not to be sung standing still, but it is brought to life with movement so she can express it the way she feels it that day. Because jazz is improvised as it is performed, a song is typically not sung or played the same way twice. Each musician in the band may approach it their way, knowing that they are going somewhere together as they all have the same destination. She tells the instrumentalists that they must, “lay your coat back over the water so the soloist can come back in. A good band cradles the singer.”
Pamela Hart proved this night that a good singer cradles her listeners as well. Ms. Hart surrounded her listeners with a voice of polished richness, cushioned in confidence and poise. While she made each song uniquely her own, she did pleasantly surprise with some unexpected delights such as Go Away Little [Boy] (Girl) with a lively Latin beat and a jazzy version of Happy Talk from Rogers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. She had the band “put some grits” into Wonder Why to add soul to her scat and fluid movement. Ms. Hart showed her sweeter side with Wild is the Wind and silky smoothness in Feeling Good. Her rendition of Etta James’ At Last testified to the back row with powerful emotion. The true crescendo of the evening was Summertime, starting with the slow familiar ballad style before launching into a faster, jazzed-up version with more scat and pizzazz where the true power of her voice reigned.
During this night of music, Ms. Hart had a really good band that she could “relax and sink into.” Darrell Lavigne smoked up his keyboard during Duke Ellington’s Ain’t Got That Swing and Sergio Mendez’ So Many Stars. AJ Moyler provided a solid foundation with his stand-up bass and Jeray Jackson provided shimmering cymbals and pulsing rhythms on drums. Kevin Cowart dazzled with his stunning saxophone solos and improvs in Send Me and Etta James’ Don’t Go To Strangers. It was an impressive performance of incredibly talented musicians who had never played together as a group, much less as a band performing with as exciting of a jazz singer as Ms. Hart.
Pamela Hart charms with her brilliant smile, endless energy, and graceful movements as she entertains with her golden voice. She was accompanied by her husband, Kevin Hart, who provides her with the support and organization needed to keep her on her mission. Ms. Hart mentioned that she also makes pickled peppers and other good things to sell, showing us that there is no limit to her talent. She certainly provided the music lovers at UHCL a great reason to have hope as she optimistically offered her COVID anthem, We’ll Be Together Again. Jazz is important and we are grateful that Pamela Hart is helping it stay vibrant and alive.