There's nobody here. That's not even that big of an exaggeration: the crowd is so small, that at one point Sara Routh makes everyone go around the room and introduce themselves. And yet, this place is what you wish every show could embody.
The venue. Holy shit, the venue. JJ's Alley Bricktown Pub is a tiny, dirty, glorious clusterfuck of kitsch. The walls are covered with such a jumbled, eclectic collection of doll heads, signs, doors, toys, glasses and various random fuckery as to be nearly overwhelming in their incomprehensibility. The first thing one does when entering JJ's for the first time is gape.
When we first arrive, local musician Greer Gambill is on stage, playing a grimy, rusted tenor sax while a guy legitimately called Jimmy the Hat sings. Jimmy's got a voice like ground up glass, and he's crooning songs like "I'd Rather be Tied Up than Tied Down," while Gambill burbles casually alongside.
When they finish, Gambill gives Routh a giant hug. Here is Routh's biggest non-vocal strength laid bare: there's no way of knowing if she and Gambill met years before or five minutes ago, because she has a way of treating everyone like a long lost, well-trusted friend. For is part, Gambill is a rapacious flirt with a quick wit. I like him immediately.
By the time Rae Davis takes the stage to start her set, there are maybe half a dozen people in the joint. Located in one of the trendier districts in OKC, JJ's blasts their on-stage entertainment over a speaker out onto the street traffic, and more people poke their heads in as the sets go on. Few people stay long, but the crowd size bounces from 5 to a dozen and back.
Neither musician is on their A game tonight. With the exception of Routh's set in Omaha, both performers are still clearly working out some kinks in the early days of the tour. However, tonight's show becomes the first time that either performer invites someone else on stage, as Routh goes through a version of "Sitting on My Window" with Gambill accompanying on sax, then Davis brings him back for a little help on "Fair Weather Friend."
It also marks the first time both ladies are on stage at the same time, as they muddle their way through a bit of a round robin finish to the night, which is really more entertaining because they are both a few whiskeys into the night by that point.
From an observer's standpoint, this is clearly the most fun show of the tour's early days, and I don't think either performer would argue with that assessment. When the crowd is small, quality will always trump quantity, and the folks at the bar are clearly enjoying themselves. A few CDs are bought, a couple large bills are tossed into the tip jar, and Davis and Routh both make a few new Facebook friends before they walk out the door.
As mentioned at the last stop, these tours aren't about money. Hearts and minds are the name of the game for the self-funded tour, and any cash made just helps you get to the next stop a little faster. But the hour or two spent in claustrophobic dive bars with too much shit on the walls and Pat Benatar blasting from an upstairs party is where you are constantly reminded that the financial irresponsibility is worth it. I don't imagine there is a musician or artist alive who would't drive a few hours to sit and drink with people who love the art they create.
There are a lot of miles to be covered before a pair of shows two states away, so the ladies don't get to stay at JJ's nearly as late as they would have liked to. But that's just another part of the constant balance between joy and sacrifice on an indie tour: you drink with amazing people, but never for long.
But as you leave one group of friends behind, there's the long road ahead, waiting to take you to the next group, and the one after that. Some are old friends, some will be new, but they're all loved.
Miles traveled: 597