While driving to a family reunion in the hills of northern Georgia last weekend, I stopped for the night in Knoxville. I knew that Tennessee cities are famous for live music and wanted to know who was playing where. Someone told me the Bistro on Gay Street had great food. Their website led me to the performer of the night, a singer-songwriter from west Texas I had not heard of named Kevin Higgins.
I went early for dinner to make sure I had a good seat for the nine o'clock show. Soon after eight Kevin arrived with his wife Barbara, the second person in his two-piece band. They looked tired, but began setting up their instruments and speakers. They had arrived with a local resident who was their host, and shortly before nine a few of his friends showed up. Kevin and Barbara began right on time, and played and sang their entire concert - for 6 people.
I loved every song. Kevin writes and sings about traveling across America, experiencing gratitude and heartbreak, making love under the stars, about small-town dreamers, drifters and schemers. I felt a connection, perhaps partially because he's not much younger than I am, and realized the gulf that separated us from the next generation. The Sapphire down the street was packed with hundreds of young people laughing and drinking, but no one wanted to hear the songs of a lifetime of hopes and disappointments. Even a few tables at the back of the Bistro had customers noisily enjoying each other but expressing not the slightest interest in the music. I was wondering how impolite it would be to ask them to please shut up.
At the intermission I went up to buy their latest CD, Find Your Shine, and struck up a conversation with Barbara. She was from Rochester and had found her way to Los Angeles as a young woman to immerse herself in heavy metal. Ten years ago she met Kevin. They both realized the LA scene was no longer theirs, and moved to west Texas to write and perform their songs. They were beginning a one-month tour that would take them up the East Coast and across the mid-West before returning home. They had been doing this for the past 10 years.
I wondered how they could make a living. Then I thought of the thousands like them, driving hundreds of miles every day to perform their songs to small crowds in bars, clubs, and restaurants across the nation. If I had a list of heros, I think people like Kevin and Barbara would be near the top.
You can hear some of their songs as well as check their schedule here as well as here. One of my favorites from the Find Your Shine CD, entitled Alone Star, goes like this:
Life and limbo in a motel lobby,
Call it a career or call it a hobby,
Grab your free cup of coffee and a muffin
and the road goes on....the road goes on.