I came to Austin for the first time in late August, 1996, at the end of a month-long road trip. We drove all night from Arizona and crashed at a friend’s house in North Campus.
I had impressions, but really no idea what Austin was. Friends took us out that night to shows at the Elephant Room, Emo’s, the Continental Club. At the brokedown Split Rail, we were feet away from the Old 97s, in their early cowpunk years. In the course of that evening, I was sold on Austin and its claim to being the live music capital of the world.
I observed something then that holds true to this day: that the backbone of Austin’s music scene is the artist-in-residence. Most of them are talented but unheralded musicians who play the same venue at the same time on the same day of the week. Some have played as sidemen for legendary acts like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Most have day jobs. Others get by on $5 covers and what they collect in the tip jar.
Austin hosts more weekly residencies than any one music fan can keep track of. Some residencies are emerging, while others began decades ago. The result is a wildly dynamic music scene that defies easy description and has no equal.
Beyond the honky-tonk, Texas country, blues, and singer-songwriters, Austin has one of the most vital jazz scenes in the world, along with conjunto, soul, cabaret, boogie-woogie, Irish, reggae, garage, hip-hop, Americana, metal, rockabilly, folk, and more.
This blog series aims to celebrate this unique cultural phenomenon, with the intention of providing Austin residents and visitors some sense of the music scene’s depth and diversity, and options for a night out, whatever day of the week. It also pays tribute to the musicians, club owners, and staff who bring this world to life every night.
Artists In Residence, Take 1: The Candler Wilkinson Quartet
The band: A three-piece combo that plays Western swing, jazz, cabaret, honky tonk, Americana, and lots more. The Quartet features Candler Wilson on jazz guitar, Curtis Sigur on stand-up bass, and Adrian Voorhees on drums. They’re one of the very few Austin residencies to be recognized with a standing feature in The Austin Chronicle’s weekly online music listings.
Where: Long Play Long East, 1910 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin, TX 78702; www.thelongplaylounge.com/lpeast
When: Thursdays 9:00pm-1:00am, year-round. The band even played Christmas Eve, 2021.
The scene: Long Play Lounge East is a low-key club with swanky décor. A comfortable place to settle in for a few hours. Locals and tourists come and go. Almost never crowded. Bartenders are friendly and accessible. Grab dinner next door at Lou’s Bodega.
What’s Special About this Artist: Perhaps no working musician in Austin today better embodies the art of the residency than Candler Wilkinson IV, who leads an upbeat trio called the Candler Wilkinson Quartet, tongue always in cheek.
Candler has another weekly residency, Candler Wilkinson and Friends, Sundays 9:00pm at the Hole in the Wall (2538 Guadalupe, 78705). Singer-songwriter Hayden Hoodoo often opens, playing gritty originals. This residency predates Candler’s gig at Long Play and represents yet another promising artist to emerge from the Hole.
Under the radar, they play every Thursday at Long Play, 9:00-1:00pm, performing an array of classics and originals that generally can be described as western swing, with frequent departures into nearby genres, primarily jazz, classic country, honky tonk, and every now and then an Iron Maiden tune.
As a musician Wilkinson has three gifts. To begin, he’s a virtuoso player who seems to do anything he wants on guitar. The band seems most energized when bouncing from one key to the next in the bebop jams of Charlie Parker. Candler’s second gift is a deceptively powerful voice. While he can lull an audience, he has the rare ability to yodel, maybe better than anyone since Don Walser. His vocals are most arresting when he erupts in a finale, like he does on his cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” On many nights, he’s brought conversation to a halt for the operatic crescendo of “Santa Lucia,” a Neapolitan folk ballad of unknown origin. He likes to play old songs. His third gift is sensibility, an ‘x’ factor that defies easy description. Among other traits, Candler is consistently, subtlety, profane in a way that tends to endear him to the audience. It’s so understated many never notice. For those that do they seem to be charmed by Wilkinson’s wit and generosity of spirit.
“Welcome to beautiful East Austin, Texas,” he said one February night. “Where the men are hot and the women are hotter. Where people of all kinds have a place to be themselves. And if you have any requests, keep them to yourself.”
The band delivers an old tune popularized by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, “Everybody’s Doin’ It,” with infectious humor.
Down in Austin on the street
You can hear those dancin’ feet
See them people everywhere you go
You can hear ‘em signin’ “hidey-hidey ho!”
You can see ’em dancin’ and truckin’
You can see ’em swingin’ and f—-in’
Everybody’s doin’ it now
Candler, Adrian, and Curtis maintain a running commentary that rewards listeners who take a seat up front. “If you have any complaints write them on the back of a $100 bill and put it in the tip jar.”
The crosstalk between the band explains its core dynamic—at his most adventurous Candler is pushing, changing course, challenging his bandmates to follow.
“I could have followed you if you’d stayed in E flat. I was thinking damn dude, just stay in E Flat.”
Their playing evokes the cabarets of Paris, Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, and Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace. Wilkinson is a talent. Curtis and Adrian create the platform for Candler to roam. An evening with the Quartet is edifying.
“I just feel like a dude making music. I’m happy to do it. I’m grateful to do it,” he said spontaneously toward the end of one gig, to an appreciative audience that grew larger as night grew later.
Article by Fred Richardson