- PHOTO BY ASHLEY BELANGER
- AUSTIN LUCAS AND JON SNODGRASS
Right now, acid-fried Orlando sun punks Me Chinese are in New York for CMJ amid a good bit of advance noise. Unfortunately, the blowup is over their moniker and not their music: It seems there was a jihad to get them booted from the festival. Thankfully, some of the venues and promoters have maintained sobriety and kept Me Chinese on instead of caving to all the theater. But at the front of the push is Amanda B., the apparently very sensitive frontwoman of an NYC band named – get this – Crazy Pills. Some of the drama can be seen on a Brooklyn Vegan post, which thankfully also published Me Chinese’s direct response to her.
I don’t position myself as some expert on what is or isn’t offensive (can you imagine?). I’ve never been exceptionally touchy about this kind of stuff, even as both a liberal and a minority. But as someone who cut my early scene teeth having to dodge real threats like jackbooted boneheads in Skrewdriver shirts, I have a very different level of alarm when it comes to objectionable bands. In case you haven’t noticed, political correctness can get pretty fucking fascist, so being offensive is all relative. If you can’t tell the harmless from the pernicious, just remember that this is rock & roll, not politics. Amanda B. is Asian; I get it. But I am, too. And guess who else is – one of the members of Me Chinese. So take a pill, people.
Since the alt-country scene is crowded with refugees from other, heavier genres, many of its singers have adapted the sound of country to their established styles. But Austin Lucas is different. Although he comes from a heavy music background, his sterling, heaven-reaching voice rings with the clarity and conviction of true American folk roots. The daringly traditional Midwesterner owns one of today’s finest, purest country voices.
Several years ago, he hung around town a lot. Back then, he was a bundle of potential just beginning to make a name in the underground. Now he returns as a signed man on primetime Americana label New West Records for a headlining show alongside Jayke Orvis, Jon Snodgrass and Northcote (Oct. 12, Will’s Pub). Man, was it good seeing him on an Orlando stage again. His shining performance just reaffirmed things we’ve known about him and have been proclaiming for years, things that thankfully more people are now awakened to.
One of the signature show strategies of this scene is fraternal conspiracy. This one, just like Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour, was a showcase of overlapping sets elevated by collaboration and the economies of collectivity. The deepest collaboration was between Lucas and Jayke Orvis, whose desire to play together is what sparked this tour in the first place.
A former member of Milwaukee’s .357 String Band, Orvis has lots of outlaw bluegrass pedigree, so it’s no surprise that he was, by far, the night’s sharpest picker. The man totally shreds on mandolin. But as different as their sensibilities are, Orvis is an optimum partner for Lucas. The former’s crisp string style is an ideal frame for the latter’s beautifully orthodox voice.
But it was an off-script thing that illustrated just how tight-knit and neighborly this alt-country scene is and how special that quality can make these shows. Knoxville country-rocker Matt Woods, another celebrated out-of-towner who’s become part of the local fabric in recent years, was in attendance, just hanging around town until his own headlining show later in the week with Johnny Knuckles at the Milk Bar (Oct. 17). Lucas announced his presence and then summoned him to the stage, where they dug into a George Jones song together (“Why Baby Why”) before giving Woods the spotlight for a bit to play one of his new songs.
To close out the show, Lucas and Orvis went down onto the floor and went fully unplugged, in a move that was both folk and punk at the same time. With a warm campfire finale that brought all four billmates into a performing huddle, it was the most human of concert experiences.