The sun’s going down and we’re cruising a section of the Bronx that feels almost rural, with neglected fields filling with weeds and tall trees casting long shade, but the streets are so alive, turn a corner and there are young Latinas hanging out in shop fronts, many young New York dudes doing whatever modern dudes are doing, we’re from California and we’re out of touch. New York is heavy with the continuum of something happening, like a higher voltage Paris or Rome. It’s still happening.
We abort an attempt to get to our hotel in Elizabeth, NJ. It’s a Friday and everyone’s trying to get out of town. The 95 Cross Bronx is jammed. We turn around, a series of urban passageways, magic, through warehouses and tall projects, and we’re on the BQE, then we’re off on Atlantic Boulevard, spectacular view of downtown Manhattan and the docks, the ghosts of the Twin Towers looming as they will forever. We pull up at Hank’s Saloon, another fearless New York attempt to replicate a Texas culture more foreign than Kurdistan, but it’s so fearless that it works. This place is funky, tiny stage, long bar, big window through which the band and Brooklyn can stare at each other.
Tony Gilkyson and Rob Douglas help us dump our non stage gear in the ancient cellar below the street, we set up, and soon enough we’re playing. A good rocking set by the Hawks, seconded by Tony and band. The Plowboys from South Carolina set up, but we’re out of there, Shawn and Paul M to Elizabeth, NJ, Rob and Paul L whisked away by patron saints Charles and Gina to their new and elegant high rise digs in the South Bronx. Charles has just learned to drive, and he handles the late night cruise along the Harlem River like Seinfeld—very relaxed.Next day the Hawks rendezvous at Joe’s Pub in the Village, in the big and old New York Public Theater building complex, which has been divided into a series of stages and performance halls. We wander the halls through the old, venerable reading rooms. We feel the history of New York theater rising up out of the floor. Literature makes it’s stand against music once again in a competition of the arts. Which is better, more powerful, stronger? How many artists have faced these questions and looked for the grand compromise between the two? Leonard Cohen comes to mind first, if only because “Suzanne” is playing through the iPod. Then, of course, there’s Roger Daltry, Robert Plant, and the rest. The Public Theater tries to bridge the gap, and succeeds. Joe’s Pub is a great room, modernized with black sound baffling, a great sound system, comfy couches and low tables. The Hawks and Tony race through a quick and pro afternoon soundcheck, then scatter across the Village.
Washington Square hosts acrobats, comedians, and impersonators these days though the occasional folkie still struggles to be heard among the hyped-up electrified modern performers. ISHILA is glad to report that a strong cappuccino is still easy to find in the Village. Some artifacts still remain from the lost Beatnik revolution. Returning to Joe’s Pub that night, we catch the tail end off what seems like a parody of foundation grant performance art: a tap dancing female poet backed up by a fusion bass player, French percussionist, and oud player. Poet recites poetry, tap dances, bares her soul. The audience is rapt. The Hawks are redneck simpletons baffled by this cultural mashup. Is it terrible, or simply pretentious? It’s certainly well executed. Later we find out it’s no joke at all, these articulate hucksters are the beneficiaries of a generous grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. Can someone who knows this game please get us some money?
NYC is like L.A.: you have to play here again and again and again, and you still might not have a following. Which we don’t. Enough friends and country rock fans fill Joe’s Pub to make an audience quorum, and the Hawks do a solid set. Tony’s set is fiery, lighting the dark recesses of the room.