by: Thomas D. Mooney
It’s 10:16 p.m.
The Lubbock winds are blowing just strong enough gusts that the stockyards north of town are making their presence known. There’s a small group huddled together on the front patio of The Blue Light puffing on cigarettes and trading jokes for laughs and smiles. They’re blowing off the steam of the day and taking the edge off with gulps of Lone Star and long drags.
A handful on the side are one upping each other on just how their day was really the worser of the two. It’s a war of attrition and vape clouds.
The bar inside is filled with songwriters and sitting and swiveling around on the round, rotating seats that for a rim around the slightly elevated space. The step, it’s snuck up on many throughout its’ time. Tonight, it’s taking a night off on embarrassing the locals.
There’s welcoming handshakes that come in rounds by usuals. Nervous introductions and plenty of “I’m unsure if you remember me, but maybe if I make eye contact, you’ll acknowledge our previous meet-ups” stares and waves.
The sign-up sheet near the stage is slowly filling up with signatures of first timers and the usual. Blue Light Songwriter Night Host, Jerry Serrano walks up on stage, grabs his acoustic and slings it over his shoulder. He strums a few times while simultaneously checking the vocal microphone. Both gradually raise in volume and he welcomes everyone.
There’s chatter in the corners of the room as he begins playing. The warmth in his voice slowly deafen the scattered laughter and babble.
He’s been on the job as host ever since former host, Benton Leachman, surrendered his duties around the first of the year.
Serrano, he’s still figuring his way around the night–which is more than playing five songs off the top and calling people to the stage to play their songs. In many respects, it’s being the unofficial voice of the prototypical Lubbock Songwriter. A voice of reason for those who become too full of themselves and an encouraging pat on the back when you’re in the midst of something special.
At this point, Serrano has a mental chalkboard with a plethora of ideas scratched up there on how he’s going to take the night and make it better. What’s that new wrinkle he’s going to have to bring in more. It’s somewhere jotted on that chalkboard. Now, it’s just finding it.
Charlie Stout’s name is the first one jotted down to follow Serrano’s intimate set of songs that’ll be making their way on to Serrano’s upcoming solo album.
Stout goes into “Rattlesnake–The Last Rattlesnake in West Texas.” It’s a new song he’s been working on. It’s clear he’s still chipping away on it. It’s a hell of a lot better and refined than last week’s version.
He’s played it to himself repeatedly since then. It’s now filled with a working second verse. There’s a bite to the harsh down strums. There’s kick in his heavy stomp.
It’s not finished. But he’ll play it again next week. It’ll be closer to competition, but still, maybe not finished. He’ll repeat the process until he has something of worth. He’s unafraid of letting Monday Night crowds be a part of the growth of a song.
It’s something others could take a stab at. It’s worth mentioning Stout isn’t playing just half-written songs though. He’s sharing “I See Stars” or “Feels Like Home” with untitled pieces. It’s something a few others end up doing as well–albeit, their “this is a new song” is either a trailing whisper or comes off as more of an excuse in case it’s a bomb.
Tonight’s filled with more songwriters than time. Jeff Dennis, Jim Dixon, Zoe Carter, Phlip Coggins, Cleto Cordero, Derek Bohl–folks who’ve been coming their share of Mondays are all in house. All have scribbled their names down.
There’s something to that. You’re never too big to not show up for Songwriter Nights. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your peers. Hell, you owe it to Lubbock and Blue Light. Putting in work is part of the job–no matter if you’ve released your share of albums, you’re charting on some Texas Radio listing, or think you’re above open mic nights in a college town in late March.
Tonight, there are folks who have driven in from Midland and other towns. It’s all their first time playing at Blue Light. The young, unknown talent in the room is much like the young, unknown talent in most songwriter nights. It’s coarse and raw. But here and there, there’s something to it. There’s a line that you buy into. A chorus of worth more than the eruption of applause it gets at the songs’ end.
Stout, Dixon, Dennis, Serrano, and Carter are sitting at a row of round tables in front of the sound booth. They’re watching and listening. Every once in a while, one gets up and goes to the bar or bathroom and another Monday vet replaces them.
“I hope they don’t think we’re here to judge them,” whispers Stout.
“Yeah, but isn’t that what you’re doing?” I reply. It is–and that’s not a bad thing either.
A couple dark horses emerge out of the pack.
Dixon is jumping on stage after Carter. She’s just played three songs on electric guitar. It’s the one and only plugged-in moment of the night.
“I hope I didn’t break any unspoken rules about playing an electric on Songwriter Night,” she says as she’s leaving. Of course not. This isn’t baseball.
Dixon gives an impromptu prelude to one of his songs. It’s about frustration of a talking crowd and goes something to the effect of “shut the fuuuuuuck up, shut the fuuuuuuck up, shutthefuckup!”
Those listening, it gets a chuckle out of. Those who aren’t, it goes over their head and some just think it’s a part of the song.
“A songwriter learns so much out of playing Songwriter Nights at Blue Light and Cheatham Street,” says Stout. “Here, you learn how to play a crowd who isn’t listening. There, you learn how to play a crowd who is. After a few dozen shows at both, you’re ready for about just everything and anything.”
Cordero has been pacing the place since he arrived a few hours back. Up in the sound booth. Over in the corner. Side stage. Outside for a breather.
The Flatland Cavalry leader has a record release in four days on the very stage. It’d be understandable if he was just in for a beer and to staple some posters around the joint.
He starts off with a new tune he’s working on. Carving away he goes.
It’s 1:33 a.m.
It smells like a light rain that’ll cover town by morning. The grey haze of low hanging clouds cover the dark night sky and hidden moon. Street lights give a soft glow rather than their usual piercing glare.