July 14--Across the street from the Bullock Texas State History Museum, a banner for an exhibit at the neighboring Blanton Museum of Art reads: "Old Masters, New Visions." It was a perfect backdrop for old master Roky Erickson on Friday evening as he blasted his way toward new visions with his next-generation backing band, the Hounds of Baskerville, to kick off the annual "Music Under the Star" series in the Bullock's front plaza.
More than 1,200 people filled up the place to hear Erickson and Shiva's Headband Experience, another survivor from the late-'60s dawning of psychedelic hippie culture in Austin. They stretched out in front of the plaza's huge bronze star in folding chairs, spilled over into the grassy areas near the street, stood in the nooks and crannies around and behind the stage, and generally made the entire grounds feel like one big carnival where you could party like it was 1968.
The party extended into the museum, where the Bullock extended its usual hours for free viewings of "The 1968 Exhibit," which opened in June and runs through Sept. 1. Wandering through a maze of displays took you on a loosely chronological trip through that watershed year in American history, with artifacts including a Vietnam-era military helicopter and a lever-activated voting booth from the 1968 presidential election. (Visitors could cast a ballot in a fictional election of "what if" candidates; on Friday evening, Robert F. Kennedy led runner-up Ronald Reagan by 0.2 percent.)
The exhibit also features music prominently, of course. Most ingenious is an album cover display where you can create a personalized digital album cover using computer templates of the era's design elements, and then view it in context with classic covers of 1968 records by artists such as James Taylor, Otis Redding, Merle Haggard and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Upstairs, a selection of local music posters -- including an iconic Jim Franklin work for the Velvet Underground's 1969 performance at the Vulcan Gas Company -- helped customize the "When Austin Got Weird" exhibit for the evening's occasion.
Out on the plaza, the hulking Bullock provided welcome mass shade as a crowd of largely old-school Austinites gathered for the reconvening of Shiva's Headband Experience, an outgrowth of the original Shiva's Headband ensemble that Spencer Perskin brought to national attention in the late 1960s on the Capitol Records album "Take Me to the Mountains."
With Perskin's fiddle out front and a sound that drew upon connections between rock 'n' roll and country, Shiva's was slightly out-of-sync with its time, not quite fitting the psychedelic world of Erickson's 13th Floor Elevators but coming a few years before the seminal cosmic cowboy and outlaw country phases of Austin's musical development.
Nearly five decades later, they still sound refreshingly steeped in their own realm. If the majority of Friday's audience probably was there to hear Erickson, they seemed to appreciate the rambling, rootsy adventurousness of Shiva's Headband Experience as well, grooving to the organic sounds as they kept cool with the free bottled water graciously handed out by local company Texas Music Water.
The museum exhibits closed as a full moon began its twilight rise, beckoning Erickson to the stage with his Hounds of Baskerville backing ensemble that includes son Jegar Hamilton as a musical director of sorts and Jegar's wife, Kaylie Bernhardt, on keyboards. The couple just welcomed a child in April, and Roky's performance befitted that of a loud and proud grandpa, full of charismatic spirit and his signature screams.
The material skipped over much of the obvious Erickson catalogue -- no "Starry Eyes" for the "Music Under the Star" occasion, oddly -- in favor of a heavier dose of old-school Elevators material, which suited most of his faithful fans just fine. A set of more than an hour concluded with a couple of classic bones tossed out to the crowd, "Two Headed Dog" and "You're Gonna Miss Me." How can we miss him if he won't go away? Thankfully, Roky is still with us 46 years after 1968, defying all measures of reality and time -- just as an old master of psychedelia should.
The Bullock's "Music Under the Star" series continues Friday with another smart pairing of Austin acts. Tish Hinojosa, whose country-folk records in the 1990s helped raise the bar for local Mexican-American singer-songwriters, shares the bill with Carrie Rodriguez, who has blazed her own trail with a series of acclaimed albums in the 2000s. The music starts at 6 p.m., and admission is free. The series concludes July 25 with a double shot of country and western swing from Ray Benson & MilkDrive and the Jason Roberts Band.
Gimble's in the Wheel house
And speaking of Ray Benson: The Continental Club's website is promoting this Friday's show by the Warren Hood Band with the teaser, "Emily Gimble's last show before joining Asleep at the Wheel!" Late last week, Benson's office confirmed the news about Gimble, whose vocals and keyboards were an integral part of the Hood Band's acclaimed 2013 debut disc, and whose grandfather Johnny has been a formative influence on Benson's 44-year run as leader of Asleep at the Wheel.
"What a pleasure to announce that Emily Gimble will join Asleep at the Wheel, starting in August!" Benson said in a statement. "Her grandfather Johnny has been our musical guide and inspiration for over 40 years, and her father Dick is a trusted friend. Despite her youth, Emily is already an accomplished piano player and singer, so I can't think of a better person to extend the legacy of western swing music and this band."
Gimble noted that "I am not quitting the Warren Hood Band, but will definitely be playing with them less due to my new venture with the Wheel. Hopefully we'll get to do some gigs here and there ... if they'll have me."
She added, "I grew up listening to and playing western swing with my family, so that music holds a very special place in my heart. I am honored to be a part of keeping the tradition alive with Ray and Asleep at the Wheel."
Gimble fills the spot created by the recent departure of Elizabeth McQueen, who played her last show with Asleep at the Wheel on New Year's Eve 2013 after eight years with the band. McQueen's husband, David Sanger, remains the group's drummer.
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