Our old friend Fats Kaplin was in town on Friday, playing with Kevin Welch and Keiran Kane at the Cactus Cafe. They go by the name Kane Welch Kaplin -- it's the three of them along with Keiran Kane's son Lucas Kane on drums. It's been a while since I heard such beautiful songs and beautiful playing. J and I were friends and neighbors of Fats and his wife Kristi Rose when we lived in Nashville, Fats produced and played on the record we made there (The Hey Y'all Soundtrack), and we met Kevin and Keiran at the Kaplin's house, probably more than once, but somehow I never paid attention to their music.
The Cactus Cafe is a funny place. It's a small listening room-type venue. The shows there are usually in the folk/Americana/Texas singer-songwriter camp which is revered here in Austin. It's on the U.T. campus, in the student union building, but I'm sure most of the students have no idea it exists. The audience is older, the grey ponytail and Hawaiian shirt crowd. It's the crowd that J and I spent so much time and energy wooing when we were doing Y'all. A faction of that audience loved Y'all, but we were never an ideal fit because we wanted to do more than sit and play. (The fact that the "more" that I wanted to do became, over time, different from the "more" that J wanted to do is what pulled us apart eventually.)
Kevin and Fats and Keiran sit and play. The stillness is what makes it soar. There's no detectable showmanship -- though they're charming and engaged -- but the trick is to make the audience feel like they're sitting in your living room, and these guys are good at it. I guess at some point, in the life of a touring folk musician who spends as much time on the road as at home, these little acoustic venues become their living room.
I fancied myself that kind of songwriter, because I love that stuff so much, but I wasn't interested in developing the musicianship that this genre requires. The simplicity of the presentation is what makes it so affecting, and it is also what makes it crucial that you be a very good player, because it's only you and your song, your voice and your guitar. I was aware of my musical shortcomings all along, but Friday night it was really clear to me.
I came home and downloaded from iTunes one particularly gorgeous song they played called "I Can't Wait." If you're a fan of songwriting, you might want to check these guys out.