Welcome to St. Louis, Missouri; the launching pad for the Lewis and Clark expedition, which led to the “settling” of the West (by throwing smallpox infested blankets at natives and then penning up the survivors on reservations), home of Rush Limbaugh and Tea Party Ground Zero, the true “middle America” in every sense of the term—and yet, is also the city that produced T.S. Eliot and Tennessee Williams, a breeding ground for modern jazz and blues music, and a true intersection of American cultures unrivaled by any other American city.
I landed at Lambert-St. Louis airport where a recent wave of tornados destroyed a portion of the airport and leveled the town of Joplin, Missouri, a town about six hours southeast of St. Louis. Signs in the boarded up terminal read, “Thank You For Flying St. Louis: We Weathered the Storm Together.” St. Louisans can’t seem to catch a break, meteorological-ly speaking. The weather, which the local weatherman referred to as “downright oppressive,” has caused 20+ deaths and forced roads to buckle across the Midwest.
Avoiding the heat, I started the night eating sushi on Delmar Blvd (aka “The Loop,”… don’t pretend Nelly didn’t teach you what that was already, snob). After a 10-15 minute tirade directed at my friend, Whitney, about how there is no ocean in the Midwest and I won’t eat raw fish because, most likely, it’s that petroleum-slicked shit from the Gulf (…and she blamed the hangover vomiting on drinking!), I finally sucked it up and washed it down with Little Blue Ocean’s finest house white.
After eating what I could only gather to be BP-poisoned fish, that surprisingly tasted good (…like that good feeling we West Coast BP Boycotters get when we fill up at an Arco), we headed across the street to Blueberry Hill, the world-famous restaurant and music venue named for the song popularized by Fats Domino. Once a month, St. Louis resident and music legend, Chuck Berry, plays for one hour in the “Duck Room,” where Whitney and I settled in with some of the shittiest California wine (who cares? Everything is half-priced in the Midwest) to watch headliners Thrift Store Cowboys (from Lubbock, Texas) and openers The Skekses (from St. Louis, Missouri).
The Skekses are a local, hipster-blues-folk-country, genre-mashup duo of Ellen on the rhythm guitar and ukulele and Evan on lead guitar and harmonica. Although their songs are often monotonous in rhythm, frank lyrics, and sincerity propel the melancholy soul that carries the music. When Ellen switches to ukulele, beautiful, Midwest island music is born.
Thrift Store Cowboys sauntered on stage with the modest nonchalance of humble Southerners. All dressed in cotton T’s and dirt-washed jeans, they portrayed the aesthetics of the expected alt-country, poppy, blues band. Their music, however, was thunderous, attention grabbing, and soulful. Although dark bluesy rock, they emanated a rockabilly-like energy that had everyone bouncing along. They combined acoustic and electric guitars, capitalizing on the sounds of both to create a complex sound, while expressing their original lyrics to the listeners.
Long, drawn out strumming, and slowly timed drumming exerted a modern country appeal.
The dark honesty and empathetic lyrics, along with “knee-slapping energy,” made for my first music choice to blast in my headphones the whole way out of town…
NEXT STOP: LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
-By Angela Bacca with Whitney Priebe