Just off one of the finest little town squares in North Texas, a recurring series of free gigs is starting to draw a real following. At 5:30 p.m. on every other Tuesday, an insanely early time for a gig in Denton, some unlikely heroes take to the stage in the form of a Herb Alpert and His Tijuana Brass tribute band. Yes, A Taste of Herb are a six-piece with a rotating lineup and a dazzlingly deep selection of Herb Alpert tunes in their playbook.
Of course, if you ask some of the members of the audience, it's every Tuesday, or mainly Thursdays, or they're confused as to why ATOH aren't on the other side of the square at Gerhard's, or even at Sweetwater Tavern. Put it this way: This Herb Alpert tribute act has an early evening following, and these people will follow the brass wherever in Denton it goes.
The Herb crowd could definitely be described as senior to the usual Denton crowd of college kids and men with incredible beards, although there are some of those thrown in too, but by the time I get there, just five minutes after ATOH take to the stage at Dan's that looks appealingly decrepit even in the blazing sunshine, all the tables are occupied, full of white-haired ladies and gentlemen tapping their toes to the rhythms and smiling along.
It would be cruel to attribute everyone's confusion as to where ATOH regularly play to their age, so let's just assume ATOH play all over Denton all of the time, which I would imagine is made easier by the availability of substitute players in the event that the band's full-time cast can't make it (from my previous time watching them bust out some Alpert, only the two brass players and percussionist remained).
Regular members or not, these guys know their stuff. A two-hour set with only a short break is no mean feat for a free gig in the late afternoon heat (Dan's is more shaded than particularly air conditioned), even if the music is the fluffy easy listening Herb's brass spent their careers serving up. It's not like the music itself is complex stuff: It requires no microphones or soundboard, just a fine appreciation by the band of relative acoustics. A guitar solo here, two percussionists there, some wordless choral tenor chanting elsewhere, and baby, you got a stew going.
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ATOH whip along in a way that never makes you think, "Man, what am I doing at a Herb Alpert tribute show on a Tuesday afternoon?" but instead makes the drink flow easy, keeps the listener relaxed, and makes the time fly. It was 6:30 before I even stopped my toe tapping and looked away, to be blinded by the sunlight I never expect inside a shady Denton venue. I'm pretty sure I saw parts of Dan's that have been shrouded for years.
Of course, Dan's has a history of putting on free shows at 5:30 -- the regular appearances of Denton supergroup Hares on the Mountain on Sunday afternoon has been described by our own Rachel Watts as "Denton church." While not strictly related, other than being free gigs at Dan's, the two events have a developed audience that have incorporated these happy hours in the company of some agreeable music into their own little rituals. If you do find yourself in Denton in the afternoon on a Tuesday, or a Thursday, or possibly any of several possible days, be sure to check Dan's for a Tijuana dance party combined with drinks specials that just won't quit. You might make your own little ritual.
Worried about peaking too early? It's Denton. There'll be another gig somewhere else later on, too.