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November 5, 2000: Doug Sahm Birthday Party Hole in the Wall

The word "clusterfuck" was bandied about early and often on this Monday night, as this good-hearted birthday salute to Doug Sahm was a little slow out of the gate thanks to the absence of a certain local bass player. It was almost 11pm before the music started, but at least that gave the Austin American-Statesman delegation extra time at the bar with Monday Night Football . They were still there when the motley crew of Joe "King" Carrasco, John X Reed, Rusty Trapps, Bill Bentley, and stand-in bassist Matt Giles wasted no more time by lighting into "She's About a Mover." Almost immediately, the cracked linoleum floor filled up with dancers eager to shake a tailfeather. They boogied through "Nuevo Laredo," the long swamp jam that was once "Mendocino," and a fierce Chuck Berry-style "Adios Mexico." After a heartfelt "Happy Birthday" thick with Old San Antone flavor, Alvin Crow jumped onstage and changed the call from mashed potato to two-step, revisiting his old pal's countrier moments like "Who Were You Thinkin' Of?," "Revolutionary Ways," and a windswept duet with Carrasco on "(Is Anybody Goin' to) San Antone?" Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," a favorite of Sahm's, was spellbinding. After a set change, the youngsters in Tortilla Flats demonstrated the extent of Sahm's cross-generational appeal. The fivepiece, with local singer-songwriter Charles Alberty on dead-ringer lead vox, homed in on Sir Doug's psychedelic years with a fuzzy, tactile sound that lent a mellow Sixties patina to lost Sahm classics like "Texas Ranger Man," "Float Away," and "Country Groove," plus a version of "Key to My Heart" that made clear why Jeff Tweedy and Uncle Tupelo were such fans. Giles, still on bass, stepped up to the mike for a very Bobby Blue "Just One Moment With You," answering Alberty's earlier rhetorical question, "Are we too rock to dance?" Closing out with a streamlined "Catch a Man on the Rise" and bouncy "Nuevo Laredo," the Flats captured the essence of Sahm's secret: It's all about the groove, baby. Special guest Tary Owens had a nice groove of his own on "T-Bone Shuffle," and then, right about last call, the Gourds came up to take it home. Filling in the obvious holes from the essential Mercury 1990 best-of ("Michoacan," "Texas Me," "At the Crossroads"), the Gourds share Sahm's vision that roots can be liberating instead of constricting. A chugging, churning "Hello Amsterdam" (and hello 2:15am) found no end in sight, and when the foot-stomping "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" finally closed out the evening, it was an appropriately spiritual climax to a night of old heroes and good grooves.

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