The performing room at Blue Rock (a spacious living room) is at once relaxing, comfortable, and informal, as well as completely state-of-the-art and professional with regard to its audio and video set-up, providing a pristine listening experience for the capacity crowd of 150 or so. Billy and Dodee Crockett created Blue Rock as a peaceful, inspirational Central Texas recording oasis. The home/studio/artist-retreat is architecturally a neo-Spanish outpost, complete with an observation tower overlooking the surrounding hill country. Inside, however, is a high tech audio- and videophile's dream. Room after room is wired for hi-def video and sound recording, with one of the recording rooms designed such that one wall is a picture window overlooking the valley below, where you'll find the studio's namesake bluish boulder at rest in a meadow. Artists who record at Blue Rock can stay in the main complex or opt to live in a separate artist-in-residence building located a short walk away, through the trees.
Once a month, Blue Rock hosts a public performance. Cover charge is in the form of a suggested donation, usually $20 or so, of which 100% goes to the performer. These shows serve as both showcases of the artist and of the recording facility, as attendees are free to tour the entire complex before the show and during intermission. Refreshments are home-baked goods and Dodee's own peach iced tea, available at modest prices, with 100% of those proceeds going to Wimberly's Community Center Acoustic Enhancement Fund.
Billy and Dodee personally greet everyone at the front door, and tonight Billy's introduction of Steve Forbert was equally as personal. Billy empathized, "I know many of us in here have had a hectic week. While you’re in here, you can let that go. Take a deep breath. And enjoy.” Forbert took over from there, creating an inspiring night of music, his personal approach to songwriting relating to everyone in the room. After the plaintive and lovely “There’s Everybody Else And Then There's You” Steve explained, “That’s from the divorce record. Everybody has one. There are county records that prove it.” His sincerity, even in sarcasm and self-deprecation draws listeners in. His lyrics relate to the conviction and admission of imperfection in all of us. Introducing “Good Planets Are Hard To Find,” Steve admitted being pleased after writing this song because he thought he’d caught onto a clever concept, only to see shortly after completing it a bumper sticker containing the same phrase.
Throughout the evening Forbert warned, “I’m gonna play a couple fun ones and a not-so-fun one.” Though the notice of upcoming un-fun lyrical content was informative, even in his more serious songs he still manages to bouncingly critique our collective transgressions--against the environment, among politicians, and internationally via acts of war. Forbert plays with a youthful, almost elf-ish air. Though graying a bit, his slightly shaggy hair flips around while he jumps along to his songs. He refreshingly lets loose his younger self that he's never grown out of, his kicks and hops accenting his wonderfully imperfect, seemingly random strumming style.
I was fortunate enough to sit front row, which in this venue means directly in front of the singer's microphone stand. My knees touched the stage monitors. I was close-up enough, in fact, to watch the scorpion who passed the time by climbing around the stone hearth rising behind the singer. The setting had the comfort and informality of your own living room, while also rivaling the live music experience of any venue in Austin.
Steve played an old, worn guitar. The machine-gunning and bombing in "Baghdad Dream" was simply Steve making the sounds into the mic, as any boy does while playing war in the backyard. If you haven't seen Steve play, you also notice that he stands on a piece of wood, amplified so that his stomps and foot-shuffling adds percussion to his performance. Completing his one-man-band, he straps on one of his full-complement of harmonicas to play in many of his selections.
His audience knows and loves his songs. Steve will frequently not end phrases, allowing his eager fans to complete the lines. On this evening, the venue is a perfect fit for the personal show Steve Forbert puts on. Everyone seems to know one another at Blue Rock, just as they know Steve, his music, and how to let an experience like these few hours collectively transport us from our daily grind into a wonderful musical world of laughter, humor, and an all-encompassing familiarity.