“You’re right” I called across the bar, “The website says it starts at eight.” I was early. I’m not usually early but it helps to make a mistake about when the thing starts. There were two people sitting at a high boy table deeper into the bar. They were enjoying delicious looking hamburgers and keeping to themselves. I ordered a Blue Moon and chatted with Layo at the bar. He’s the manager of the Horseshoe and just happened to be there that night. He’s a happy guy who smiles and laughs easily, a mood which has expressed itself in the establishment itself.
The place is purposefully shabby around the edges to be sure but in a way that makes you feel comfortable. Perhaps the word for it is unpretentious. With a history in theatre I’ve learned a thing or two about making a façade. Often there is nothing but untreated two by fours to hold up The Palace of Versailles. The Horseshoe shamelessly bares similar underpinnings.
As you might expect there is a section of the bar shaped like a horseshoe. It is made from nice buffed steel which gleams with obvious cleanliness and novelty. Sidling up to it, however, quickly reveals the lumber holding it together. It makes one more comfortable though. Someone made this thing. The marks of their trade are there to be seen. The performance area is decorated on one side with wooden shutters screwed to the wall and a pair of antique looking mirrors across. Unpretentious, that’s definitely the word.
Layo and I chatted with the sound guy about low budget monster movies and the re-birth of Nazis as the perfect unsympathetic antagonists. Eventually a few more people filtered in, ordered their beers and installing themselves throughout the bar. Most everyone knew better than to eat before arriving. They wanted the Texas style BBQ advertised on the sign out front. Ribs, pulled pork and huge burgers began to fill the space with delicious smells. Overcome, I ordered a burger with pulled pork and frizzled onions on top. I’d tell you what it was called but I can’t recall and the bar is in desperate need of a website that includes its menu. The one complaint I have for the whole experience is that the pulled pork topping was a bit meagre and instead of frizzled onions there were onion rings atop this creation almost serving as a corral for the pork. The burger was pretty good and the bits with lots of pork were awesome!
Finally the musicians started arriving. First was a pianist in hipster shoes and neat hair, Steve Slagg. He loaded his keyboard in and got everything set up. Steve was followed closely by Lee Ketch a floppy haired guitarist who was quick to claim a chair from the wall and get himself situated. Laura Joy, a mousy brunette, came in next. She knew someone on the small congregation and went to give him a hug before pulling out her guitar. Everyone playing seemed at least passingly acquainted with each other adding to the friendly atmosphere.
After a few more minutes Larry O. Dean walked in. He’s an unassuming sort of guy but all of the musicians flocked around him. They all had quick questions and clarifications for him and he handled the questions with ease as he took off his coat to reveal an unexciting t shirt with an elephant on the front. He is a middle aged man with the air of someone who has done a million such gigs in a million such cultivated dive bars. This was nothing new or special to him but he was still having a good time. He smiled at the sound guy who came over to explain the plug ins and everyone got their cord situation all figured. Then it was time to begin.
Larry explained to us that “Folk You!” is a singer songwriter round robin. A chance for the musicians he has assembled to play new songs they’re working on, songs they want to brush the cobwebs off of or just songs they want to play for this crowd. With that brief introduction he launched into his first song. As with every song he played thereafter it began with one jarring chord. It called for our attention on the incredibly honest and heartfelt lyrics which he delivered in a distinctly American voice, slightly nasal and heady. His songs are the lyrical equivalent of an inane conversation with a best friend. His rhyme schemes are… unpretentious and his stories are personal and unapologetic.
Lee Ketch was next. He had a sweet nature and style. His guitar skills are unquestionable. He reminded me a bit of a mix between Bob Dylan and the Plain White T’s. Lee quickly revealed that he was in a band with Steve, the pianist. The song he played from their catalogue was delightful and more well crafted. I enjoyed his solo work but it was clear that he was more comfortable working in a group.
Laura Joy was the next and she was great. She has a broad vocal style and a focus on lyrics which didn’t compromise her guitar playing. She brings to mind Sarah Barielles and Joan Baez. I wanted her to sing “Diamonds and Rust” just so I could compare. Her subjects were a lot more general than the gentlemen and she showed an attention to the modern world of commuting and existential crisis.
The final in the round robin was Steve Slagg. Naturally seeing one piano among guitarists had me intrigued and he did not disappoint. He showed a tender style and smiling delivery which made me wonder what Bo Burnham would sound like if he took himself seriously. I think Steve may be the answer.
The round robin approach was excellent. It gave each singer/ songwriter a chance to show off a little and then rest and it really gave a great opportunity to appreciate the breadth of folk music as represented by these artists. It even gave us a chance to hear from Lee and Steve playing together, their band is called the Mooners. As mentioned before Lee was really in his element when playing with Steve and it made all the difference to have the piano accompaniment.
If you are looking for a great night out I cannot recommend enough a visit to the Horseshoe at 8:00 on the third Friday of the month. The show is free and lasts about an hour and half to two hours. Larry invites different guest artists each month so you can keep coming back and get a different show each time.