It's been nearly a decade since legendary Dallas band Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians played a show in their hometown. It's taken years for them to work out all the logistics for a proper reunion, which is finally poised to take place at this weekend's North Oak Cliff Music Festival in Lake Cliff Park. After all the effort to make things happen, the band won't be letting anything get in the way of their plans -- not even the unfortunate recent injuries of two of the band members, bassist Brad Houser and guitarist Kenny Withrow.
"Brad was like, 'OK y'all, first of all, don't cancel the gig, but I chopped the tip of my finger off," recalls Withrow with a laugh. He's seated outside Davis Street Espresso on a cool, overcast morning. As he sips at his frothy latte, he gingerly rubs the now blood-stained bandage on his index finger, which had its own grisly meeting with his front door earlier this morning. "I'm hoping I don't need a stitch," he muses. "It's pretty deep!"
Withrow has been an Oak Cliff resident for eight years, and has long been an important figure to the local music scene. He not only performed at the time of a burgeoning new scene in the '80s and toured with the New Bohemians, he's also been an integral member of Forgotten Space, a Grateful Dead tribute act, and when he's not touring or performing with numerous other local acts, he spends his time teaching guitar at the Kessler Theater and in the after-school music program La Rondalla at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. Withrow, not unlike the other members of the New Bohemians, is busy.
"It's actually been about three years from sort of negotiating different things to trying to get it together, and everybody lives in different places," Withrow says. "The rest of the band lives in Austin. Edie of course has been really busy, making records and is doing really great, that great record she made with Steve Martin."
That great record Withrow speaks of was a collaboration between Martin and Brickell, who now lives in New York. Martin had sent her three songs to choose from, and Brickell, with her fluent ability to improvise and write music at the drop of a hat, quickly turned around all three.
"I don't know if she did it in one night; I like to say so, but I don't wanna put words in her mouth," Withrow says. "But I think it was really fast. I think it was a day or two and she sent back all three songs completed."
Today, Withrow is the only member who still resides in Dallas, where this seminal act made its humble beginnings. "I am the stubborn person that is still in Dallas," Withrow says. "You know, I like Dallas. A lot of people are like, 'You are insane for saying that,' but I mean people like Jeff [Liles] and people who are involved in the community, they understand."
Jeffrey Liles, talent buyer at the Kessler Theater, has had an ongoing dialogue with the band about a date for their performance, and has watched them develop and establish their place in the Dallas music scene as a friend and fan over the years.
"They played at pretty much every venue that I was booking back then: Theatre Gallery, Prophet Bar, Club Dada, etc. Those shows were always special," Liles says. "Really hard to beat seeing and hearing that band underneath a full moon in the backyard of Club Dada."
Now with the music festival just days away, not only will this community's rich history and culture of funk and blues be properly represented, it will be capped off with an appearance by Oak Cliff native Brickell.
"I'm excited to play in Oak Cliff because I was born in Oak Cliff and my musical expression, career-wise, was first born with the New Bohemians," Brickell says via email. "So for me, it's a celebration of life and living a life you love with great people."
"Yeah, I feel pretty good about it," Withrow says. "Getting to play with these people, there's really no replacing it. People that you went to school with and came of age with, that connection can't be replaced. It's just different. You honestly have the same roots, you learned how to play your instrument with these people. So I mean, I'm not saying you can't get as good of a connection with other people; it's just [that it's] not the same."
Brickell and her band mates all attended Booker T. Washington -- save for Houser, whom Withrow dubs "an honorary Booker T. Washington person" -- and planted their roots when Dallas' music scene was undergoing a transitional period.
"There was a whole other blues scene that happened," Withrow says. "And that all kind of died out, and Dallas became like cover bands. You were just the entertainment in the corner of the club. If you were going to play somewhere they wanted you to play something you can dance to and cover music and that was Dallas."
Original live music was sparse. With the exception of a few punk bands, the idea of popping into a venue on any given weekend during that time and hearing fresh material was a mere novelty.
"In fact, this guy, Russell Smith from The Dallas Morning News, wrote this article with a big picture of Edie on the cover of the weekend guide, and it said, 'This is happening in your town.' And people were like 'Oh wow, original music!'" Withrow says. "Actually that article helped a lot to kick-start what was happening."
Within a year, the band became a regular fixture at North Texas venues, playing some 20 shows a month. "I wouldn't say 'It's not like when I was a kid' or whatever, because somebody is doing what we were doing," Withrow says. "We were fortunate, I don't know, that something connected in the community and a lot of people came to every show."
Even all these years later, chances are good that Brickell and the New Bohemians will draw many familiar faces this Saturday. Withrow concedes that their shows tend to have a distinct family vibe. But with their set list penned and rehearsals coming together, their known inclination for spontaneity and hashing out new material will have to be curbed to a degree for their Dallas appearance.
"We're going to have to be disciplined because we're going to have to play songs that people know, right?" Withrow says. "What tends to happen is we get together and we start writing songs and it's like, that's cool, we're having a great time. But it's like people want to hear the songs too, they want to hear what they remember. So we're going to have to walk that tight rope."
Brickell admits she's as guilty as anyone about veering from the usual plan. "I'll rehearse as much as I can with the guys but we always end up writing new songs more than rehearsing older ones and then I get all excited to play those," she says. "So I'm pretty worthless when it comes to rehearsing. The freshest expression piques my interest more than any because of the authenticity of the present-moment feeling."
Yet that spontaneity is one of the primary things to celebrate about the New Bohemians, which makes getting them back together a definite treat. Withrow's love for live performance is nothing short of infectious.
"I just love the ritual of live music, you know," he says. "When the audience is there and you're playing and the show reaches a point where it's completely spontaneous to everybody and everybody's there and there's no line between the audience and the band, and everybody's just celebrating this third thing -- the music -- that's still why I do what I do."
North Oak Cliff Music Festival 11 a.m. Saturday, October 25, 300 E. Colorado Blvd., www.nocmf.com
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