Our music series Busking with the Dallas Observer is now in its fifth year and heading into its 43rd episode (Old 97’s later this month). So I sat down with my co-producer Mike Williams (that’s Dallas Observer’s Best-Magician-in-Dallas Mike Williams) over some suspiciously chunky eggnog to take a look back at some of our favorite episodes and compile a list of favorites. The result is 12 Days of Busking, our gift to you.
Day 1, Episode 7: "Young" by Air Review
Casey Carr: This remains one of my favorite episodes. Mike and I walked this route several times to time it so that the song would finish inside Wit’s End with their crazy murals in the stairway there. Also this band is great live. They have a new album on the way. This song “Young” popped up in an Apple commercial a couple of weeks later, and we claim partial credit.
Day 2, Episode 17: "Slow Pour" by Sarah Jaffe
Williams: Pour yourself a little eggnog with a shot or two of brandy and cozy up next to the fire as you watch and listen to this hauntingly beautiful and personal acoustic version of Sarah Jaffe’s “Slow Pour.” It was filmed in an empty Majestic Theatre back in 2014, and Jaffe’s voice will give you all the feels as she sings about what she says is “sex, drinking, lust, confusion.” Let’s be honest, isn’t that what this season is all about?
Afterthought: I remember us all just being mesmerized by Jaffe's voice during this song. Her voice combined with the empty theater and soft strumming of the guitar created such a rush of emotion that returns every time I watch it.
Day 3, Episode 27: Robert Earl Keen
Carr: This was a huge thrill because I have loved Robert Earl Keen since No. 2 Live Dinner and have seen him a dozen times. Keen and I spoke on the phone a couple of times prior to the shoot and he was totally engaged and excited about what we were doing, and he had a lot of input on how best to capture these songs. They were on tour for Keen's Bluegrass album and his band was so incredibly tight. It was a masterclass of pure musicianship, and I don’t think they would have even broken a sweat if it weren’t for the sweltering midsummer heat inside Billy Bob’s Rodeo Arena. We borrowed some Copperphone microphones from Mark Pirro (of The Polyphonic Spree) to go with the boys' “old-timey” look, and they absolutely killed it.
Day 4, Busking Holiday Edition: "The Grinch" by Slaid Cleaves
Wiliams: Every December we find comfort in maintaining family traditions from years or even decades past. Over at Globe Trek Productions we keep with our customary Texas country music roots this time of year and enjoy the Texas winter classics such as REK’s “Merry Christmas from the Family,” Van Zandt’s “Snowin’ on Raton” and Slaid Cleaves’ version of “The Grinch.” Almost 20 years ago, Santa Cleaves gave us a special gift called the “Holiday Sampler” and back in 2014 we were lucky enough to hear his dusty voice sing about that “nasty-wasty skunk” outside Poor David’s Pub. Enjoy, ya filthy animals!
Afterthought: I wasn’t there, dammit!
Day 5, Episode 26: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra & Avant Chamber Ballet
Carr: This was our most ambitious shoot to date. It included a ballet performance in the water of the reflecting pool, and we had decided to film a substantial part of it on the drone. I remember Mike and I spent a lot of time at the AT&T Performing Arts Center choreographing and staging our shots, and we didn’t tell the girls they’d be dancing in the water until they got there. They were such great sports, and it really came out beautifully.
Day 6, Episode 31: "It’s a Dark Day" and "Longest Gonest Man" by Reverend Horton Heat
Williams: It seems this time of year we tend to reflect on the past: the good times, the dark times and the strange times. Today we take a look back at Dallas’ Deep Ellum through the eyes and memories of the good reverend himself, Jim Heath. Regarded by some as the “godfather of modern rockabilly and psychobilly,” Deep Ellum’s holy man describes his beginnings here in the late '70s and the resurrection of the scene in the '80s with shout-outs to the first bands in the area and classic venues like The Twilite Room and the first club Reverend Horton Heat ever played, The Prophet Bar.
Afterthought: Jim is a legend in this area, so getting the chance to spend a few minutes with the Dallas icon on the same street he started out on 30 years prior was nostalgia-overload for the Globe Trek team. This is a favorite because everything seemed to turn out perfect — from his voice to the sound of the guitar and the lighting on the street to the shots we got on camera — everything worked. Because we typically shoot these in one take, there’s usually something that doesn’t go quite as planned, which is part of the charm of our little series, but this time everything clicked.
Day 7, Episode 30: Blitzen Trapper
Carr: This was a special episode for me because we shot it in Deep Ellum at Off the Record and I was living there at the time and I could ride my skateboard to a lot of our shoots. I’d been listening to Blitzen Trapper since a friend turned me on to Furr a few years before, and they did not disappoint. Add the fact that they covered Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” for us, and this is easily one of my favorites.
Day 8, Episode 25: Blue Healer
Williams: ’Tis the season to hold your loved ones close and give that special someone a diamond or two, and so it’s only fitting we offer two music selections whose titles speak to each in their own way. Like the permanence of the tattoos offered at Gold Dust Tattoo and Fine Art on Lower Greenville, this episode of Busking has preserved the sound of a band-no-more: Blue Healer. The fleeting trio (David Beck, Bryan Mammel and Dees Stribling) begin with a trippy performance of “Hold Me Close” before they move on to a song that’ll have you dancing around the Christmas tree until it’s time to pass out for a long winter’s nap.
Afterthought: Having seen these friends transition from the folk-rock style band Sons of Fathers to a more indie-pop style with Blue Healer really made me appreciate their talents as musicians. I think this has one of our best openings in the series as the tattoo needle starts and the camera moves through the aisle as the synth and ghostly vocals begin.
Day 9, Episode 37: Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real
Carr: It’s not every day you get to hang out with Willie Nelson’s son, and Lukas is a superstar in his own right. My dad followed Willie around the country in the '70s and '80s, and my little brother was actually named after Lukas. Dad was sick at the time, and sharing this video with him meant a lot to me. Lukas was at the start of a huge year of successes, as he was a big part of A Star is Born as a songwriter and performer, and his song “Find Yourself” was rising up the charts. We were struck by his humility and we didn’t find out until we Googled it later, but the female backing vocals on “Find Yourself” were provided by none other than Lady Gaga.
Day 10, Episode 3: Topic
Williams: Each December marks the beginning of the ever-present quest to find a one-of-a-kind special something for that one-of-a-kind special someone in your life. At Globe Trek Productions, we pride ourselves in seeking out those special, unique and one-of-a-kind gems hidden within the Dallas music scene. Possibly the most unique act ever to grace our little series is the uncommon artist known as Topic. This episode takes the viewer on a stripped-down stroll through a bustling Deep Ellum as Topic lets loose his artful tongue.
Afterthought: The honesty of the lyrics in this episode combined with the guerrilla-style filming through the streets of Deep Ellum reminds me what a special series this has become and what talented people we get to collaborate with.
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Day 11, Episode 3: Sons of Fathers
Carr: This was episode 3, but it was actually the first episode we ever shot. Sons of Fathers was fronted by Paul Cauthen and David Beck, and we had been filming a documentary with them down in Austin for the recording of their album Burning Days, produced by Lloyd Maines. They were our buds, and when they came to play the Granada, Mike and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to try out an idea we had to take musicians out onto the street in Dallas, and the rest is history. The band broke up, but both of them are big fixtures on the Texas music scene — Paul with his solo act and David with his kickass Tejano band, David Beck’s Tejano Weekend.
Day 12, Episode 22, Busking Holiday Edition: The Polyphonic Spree
Williams: Those warm and fuzzy feelings are what we all want this time of year, and no local group gives those feelings to their audience better than Dallas’ own Polyphonic Spree. Back in 2014, Tim DeLaughter and his choir of angels and Santas joined Globe Trek Productions and the Dallas Observer to surprise a group of local music lovers at a Christmas party with a little bit of classic caroling. We were all feeling warm and fuzzy when we finished pulling this off — of course the drinks afterward helped, too.
Afterthought: This shoot was legendary. Enough said.