The blues and zip-a-dee-doo-dah

Ana Egge picks up her guitar and takes it to the River

It's a crazy-hot Saturday evening at the Dessau Music Hall, a dancehall in far North Austin. It's so hot that the sun sweats all over the people in the parking lot outside. The place is abuzz--even the mosquitoes know something's up; they're out in force. The people know it too. They saunter outside the concert hall, sweating and swatting and waiting to see this classic Lone Star guitar-picking, fat-chewing, noodling-with-the-folks gig.

Guy Clark and Terry Allen--two of this state's finest singers, songwriters, and storytellers--are on stage right now, and before the night is over, Allen's son, Bukka, will be cajoled on stage for a cameo; Robert Earl Keen, too, will get nabbed for a few ballads. Tonight's is the kind of show where just about everybody who's anybody in the Texas acoustic biz is in the audience or onstage, or both. It's the kind of gig a young, up-and-coming balladeer would beg to be part of.

Only, Ana Egge doesn't have to grovel. The 22-year-old, who opens for Clark and Allen tonight, is more apt to rely on her plaintive lilt and lush guitar style than a big-shot manager or a pair of kneepads (she has neither of the latter). Egge requires no supplicating; the girl is charmed. She's hardly old enough to belly up to the bar, and already she's opening for heroes and legends. Or headlining Austin's beloved La Zona Rosa. Or getting eight minutes of fame on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

In less than a year, Egge has become part of the Austin buzz, that rarefied realm where only the seriously charmed saunter from nowheresville to storyville. You know, The Buzz: that hot spot on the horizon of Texas music where mosquitoes don't sting, but instead bring record-label promises of milk and honey. So far, the major-label mosquitoes haven't swarmed Egge, but some industry folks insist that, given her banner year, that's just a dotted line away. As it stands, the singer-songwriter's 1997 debut CD, River Under the Road (co-produced by Egge and Asleep at the Wheel drummer Dave Sanger), is the only consumable piece of proof that Egge is as promising as "they" say she is. But there are lots of theys.

They could be the who's-who of acoustic bluebloods featured on Egge's CD: Mary Cutrufello (on baritone guitar), bassist Sarah Brown, Bad Livers banjo player Danny Barnes, guitarist Steve James, and Sanger. They might be Shawn Colvin, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Iris DeMent, who have all taken Egge on tour in the past year and a half. Or they might be Roseanne Cash and Eliza Gilkyson, who've each invited Egge to open dates this fall. And there are the theys of the Austin Music Awards, who voted Egge the Best Singer-Songwriter and Best Folk Artist of last year. That's a sensational array of endorsements for an artist who has no manager, no band, and no major-radio play, and who has only just finished writing the songs for her second, as-yet-untitled CD.

"It's pretty weird," Egge says one afternoon a few weeks after the Dessau Music Hall gig. She is sipping coffee at Flipnotics, one of her favorite Austin haunts, and talking about how things have happened so quickly and seamlessly. She's talking about how it's strange but good, and how her youth can only be a positive thing. And she's talking about Colvin, whom she credits in her CD's liner notes as a prime inspiration and patron.

"I owe so much to Shawn," she says of the Grammy-winning Austin transplant, who took Egge on a 25-date tour last spring. "I didn't do anything to deserve that. I just want to give so much back to her."

Sitting at the outdoor table--her short hair slicked back, her skin as pale and liquid as a field of midwestern wheat--Egge looks like a University of Texas student, or maybe a teaching assistant in the music department. But there is something simultaneously young and old in Egge, something in her voice, not her words, as she talks about her first encounter with Iris DeMent last year.

"She called out of the blue and was telling me she loved my record--I was absolutely, completely shocked, because I got her first album for my 16th birthday." The two carried on a phone friendship until the day in January when Egge worked up the nerve to ask DeMent if she ever needed an opening act. DeMent called later that week and offered to take her on tour in California.

A similar thing happened with Colvin, whose brother-in-law is Egge's booking agent. A die-hard fan of Colvin's, the New Mexico expat made a point of going to as many of Colvin's concerts as she could, staying after each performance to say hello and deliver a copy of her demo cassette. Eventually, Colvin got around to listening to the tape. Then she called to thank Egge for thanking her in the credits.

"I was like, 'What?'" Egge says. "The very first time I heard Shawn play live, I thought: 'That's what I want to do'--to be able to play and sing and capture people as a solo performer."

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