Holy Wols - Porch Tour!

Holy Wols is David Feil and Amye McCarther, a Houston based Americana Duo that recently did a porch tour that caught my attention. I decided to do a small interview with Amye McCarther, not so much about the actual music, rather about the tour itself.

JI: Tell us a little bit about the porch tour, to start with, how did you come up with the idea?

AM: The idea came about organically. I think we were playing on our friend Zach's big porch over in Harrisburg and trying to plot a tour for the summer. The fact that we'd rather be playing on porches for our friends and neighbors than in venues for audiences occurred to us kind of simultaneously, I think. It made perfect sense because much of our music has actually emerged from lazy afternoons fiddling around on the stoop at David's or on the shady balcony at my house. So we started hitting people up for porches to play on, promising to croon and swoon and stomp our feet if they obliged.

This triggers my fascination for logistics! How was the tour organized?

Haphazardly. At first we were thinking that our porch tour would span our three favorite neighborhoods in Houston: Harrisburg, the Montrose, and the Heights. We secured a day to play at our friends' bookstore in the Heights on a Saturday evening. It has a quiet little back porch and we thought it would make a nice close to the day. Somehow neighborhood gossip and drunk talk carried fast and we had people asking if we would play on their porches - all of whom were in the Heights as well. So we narrowed our territory and planned a route for the afternoon of five porches from the northwest corner to the southeast.

What is the Heights like? And is there a 'scene' that you are a part of in Houston?

The Heights also has the tag "Historic Heights" and "The Small Town Near Downtown". It flanks downtown Houston and Buffalo Bayou to the northwest. Being an older neighborhood it sports two of my favorite things: huge old trees and grand verandas. The houses were built before the advent of air conditioning and in their day the verandas provided a shady breezy retreat from the stifling boggy heat which engulfs the city for about six months out of the year. Unfortunately, Houston's relaxed zoning and a recent trend of gentrification in the Heights has allowed many of these elegant older homes to be supplanted by newer, more chic looking structures sans verandas. Nevertheless, the Heights is the best remaining neighborhood for porches in the Houston area.

Despite the recent changes, the Heights still feels homey and cozy. It's become the place where young people go to try on domesticity for the first time, buy their first house, walk their dogs. And, like just about everywhere else in Houston, the warmth and damp make everything seem drowsy, the pace of life feels slow.

No, there isn't a scene that I'm part of in Houston. Or, rather, I'm part of many scene fragments. Chalk it up to sprawl, one of the fastest growing populations in the US, the dying off of independent music venues, etc. It really feels like you're operating in a vacuum here. Most musicians and artists eventually leave for that reason.

Were all gigs (is that word still used by the way?) the same day? Did you carry instruments with you? Was it just you and David that was biking between the porches or did parts of the audience follow you?

Yes, the gigs were all in one day.

As it happened we had a surprise guest that day, our friend Frank Davis. Frank is a sort of venerable, fun-loving folk/blues singer who has been performing in Houston since the 1950's. We went by Frank's on our way to the first porch and he asked if he could bring along his Daddy Banjo. We were delighted.

It was mostly the audience on bikes. David and Frank shuttled the instruments in the car. I rode on the back of my friend's bike. As we went from porch to porch more people came along, kids came out on their scooters, neighbors drifted over from other porches.

Our hosts were awesome. Everywhere we played they had barbeque, gin fizzes, lavender lemonade, and lemon bars. As the afternoon progressed everyone gradually got a little more boozy, the foot-stomping and whistling got a little boisterous. Good times.

Was it unplugged? Did you play the same set on all porches?

Yep, we played unplugged. David, Frank and I played on the porches and everyone else spread blankets under the trees in the yard to listen. We had already planned to play five different sets without repeating any songs. With Frank thrown into the mix it turned into a song swap. We sang on his songs, he sang on ours, someone would play solo while the others took a break for drinks and snacks. It was very relaxed.

Did the porches and the settings of the tour in general influence the performances? If yes, in which ways?

I think the music itself was, from its conception, influenced by porches. Also, I like things that have a conciseness or containedness about them and I think the porch tour achieved that. We wrote our lazy ballads on our own porches and then performed in the same fashion. The Southern hospitality, the temperate weather and good company knit together to create a sort of utopian atmosphere which we couldn't have made elsewhere. So, yes, I think porches were integral to the experience.

Holy Wols is touring in Texas, Arizona and California this summer. Listen to their tunes at holywols.com. Photos above by Andrew Lienhard and Oopey Mason.

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