“Everything happens for the best” Does it really? In a continuation of last month’s theme of reality being how we perceive it, perhaps the better motto is: If it’s not working out for the best, readjust your expectations.”
My big birthday trip to Austin was not the first trip I had planned, but the others fell through due to friends’ schedules. I went to visit a city that I heard that people really loved, and I already knew I was super fond of the family I was visiting.
But a young family has young children going through different phases of development and when I landed the little girl I had known (turning five a few days after I left) was going through a horrendous stage. The stage of “My baby sister (one year old) is getting way too much airtime and I will not be outshined.”
I woke up to screaming children and on that first morning in their beautiful home my own tears started to pour out of my face. Little one, I will raise your meltdown and pony up an adult breakdown. I was in the guest room, door closed, no one saw or heard. A few friends got panicked texts. I was encouraged to get into town and do some sight seeing. I told my hostess I would uber into town. That day was about $65 in transportation. First to breakfast at Phoebe’s Diner, then went to the famous Allen’s Boots, bought a cowboy hat, had coffee and cake at the highly rated Mozart’s Coffee Roasters on the Lake, where there was a singer songwriter playing music on their patio. The music was okay, better than the cake and coffee.
I had no idea that Austin was like Los Angeles in that it is a sprawling town. I can’t say I got a handle on the city. I am not sure what part of downtown I saw. Did I even see downtown?
Yes, I had to have…I saw the Performing Arts Center and it was a cool building. It had this tall, raised, concrete circle around it and that architectural detail was giving me Disneyland monorail vibes. I wonder does it light up at night?
Thus concludes my information on Austin.
I regrouped and decided my desire to get a feeling for Austin was not big enough to spend hundreds of dollars on ride shares. There was a golf tourney in town driving up the costs of everything: hotels, rental cars, and ride shares. The trip I had in my head would need to change. I would search out music contacts and see what the trad jazz scene could offer.
My hosts were people I had met at a jazz festival. Young swing dancers and hot jazz lovers. Their growing family meant the love of that entertainment would take a back seat. They had not gone out to dance or enjoy live music for over eight years. That was about to change.
I reached out to a local musician Johnny Serrano. I timidly messaged him on FB asking if he remembered me. He was so unbelievably gracious and said “OF course!” I asked him where I should go to hear the cities offerings. Johnny gave me a great breakdown with a refrain I would hear a lot. “It’s a shame you are not here next week,” apparently all the great bands I had dreamt of hearing were playing the next week. Even a band my producer had told me to catch if I could. He gave me the run down and said come hear the two groups I play with this week. He asked me to sit in that Friday night which was my birthday.
My hostess friend Kelly was taking me to a Tiki-themed restaurant and the plan was afterwards we would go hear music. Her husband would graciously be on baby sitting duty.
We hustled from dinner in the hopes of catching the last set.
My friend wanted to bail after dinner. She is too sweet to say those words, but I heard key words like “parking bad” “don’t know area.”
I did something very unlike me. I held on tight to my birthday trump card. Normally I would feel my imposition and back out of the plan. We arrived and we needed not worry about parking—it was down a side street in a desolate-looking area. I’m guessing the last time that street saw any maintenance was in the 1960s which, from my research, is ten years after it opened in 1953.
We made it to the Carousel Lounge in time to find my friend Johnny outside of the place on a break. YAY?! We made it for the last set!
I watched Kelly’s face taking in the creepy circus-themed ambiance. I am so glad I had not googled the place beforehand. There are some things you don’t want to ruin with preemptive knowledge. “Creepy” was her word…I thought the kitschy factor was fun! I was in a new mood and that mood needed any kind of adventure that might present itself, even if that meant dragging a mother of young children to a semi-scary lounge. Not really a real bar because it was BYOB. I think if this out-of-the-way, down-a-dark-deserted-road, haggard place had served alcohol it might have crossed over into the category of unsafe. You know David Lynch had been there for research.
Here are some words that I found on the website after the fact:
In spite of (or maybe because of) its out-of-the-way location and bizarre circus theme—complete with elephant and lion-tamer murals and an actual carousel behind the bar—the Carousel Lounge is a highly popular local watering hole. You never know what will turn up onstage—this place has hosted everything from smaller musical acts to belly dancers. – Frommers
There were more people on stage playing their instruments than in the audience. I mean this was a proper NOLA styled trad jazz band! Two Banjos! Can you believe it? I have a joke I could put in here but since my friend Johnny was on one of the Banjos I won’t. It was magnificent and something I had not heard since I was in New Orleans and as the first chord was played and I got my “overture tears.” I often tear up in a theater when a live orchestra starts their overture. Only a big, beautiful sound can unleash all the dreams and desires that live inside me and don’t have any place to go.
I looked over at my friend and a smile was eating her face. She was in heaven. No words were necessary. Her faced beamed with memories. Memories of a love that had come before children and marriage. A love that played a part in her courtship to her husband.
I was so relieved.
I was warned that the band was made up of seasoned folk and people wanting to learn the old style of music. Some songs were better than others but overall, they were truly very good! I don’t just give away “overture tears”—you got to earn them. They are known as Chaparral Dixielanders, and on March 24, 2023 I heard:
Clarinet: Tere Coats, Cornet: Sean Newton, Trombone: Dave Stoddard, Banjo: Johnny Serrano, Banjo (guest): Blake Smith, Piano (guest): Ritika Battacharjee, Tuba: Bill Troiano, Drums: Victor Celenia, Sax (guest): David Lloyd.
The next outing was to hear another band that Johnny was in, and on that afternoon the entire family went. It was a very fine swing combo called The Sunny Side Six—they played at The Brewtorium. My friends broke their non-swing dancing streak and had a lovely time.
That band: Guitar: Johnny Serrano, Sax: Nick Conte, Trumpet: Cale Montgomery, Drums: Matt Hart, Bass: Kyle Smith.
The rest of my days there were spent doing family stuff, eating, nursing my back (which was still wonky). I am happy to say that when I got home, I realized that the trip had done me good. It felt nice to be a part of their family and after so much isolation perhaps that was the birthday I was meant to have.
Plus, I told myself I could have another birthday adventure because this birthday is making up for three and will be celebrated for an entire year…you see, if you don’t have children, occasionally you can act like one.