Wednesday, January 2, 2019


I read in the Houston Chronicle yesterday about the sale and impending closing, with a final NYE show, of a venerable, if not THE surviving live Houston music venue with great sorrow for the loss of such a cool venue but with happiness as well for it's owner Sara Fitzgerald, and I can understand the writer's description of Sara that after 42 years of operating this venue, Sara feels both "sentimental and not."

I can understand that well. Operating a night club is no easy thing. Music trends change, the generations of crowds that have lined up around the block to get in there have changed and our society has drastically changed over the lifetime of Fitz's, which is how regulars referred to it as.

This generational split over the years became nowhere more evident when an occasion arose in the early 2000's where on the same night and at the same time and with a sparse if not older crowd, I was watching a favorite Austin blues/funk band of mine, Papa Mali a/k/a Malcolm Wellbourne (sp?) And the Instigators, was playing the downstairs room and a "modern" screamo type series of bands was playing the absolutely packed main room upstairs that my then 14 year old daughter and her friends her watching. We "carpooled" to the gig. As I recall, they were *thrilled* to have me there at the same venue with them and thrilled beyond beyond that an act I liked was playing there the night they needed just a ride. Beyond. 

I've met the owner Sara numerous times, mostly in the mid to late 80's and early 90's, but was never close to her, although she was the kind of person that I would've liked to have known better. Funny, sarcastic, hospitable, and at the same time, an overwhelmingly decent human being who gave lots of folks who achieved fame and fortune their beginnings.

And she was ultra cool to a lot of local bands who didn't make it, or at least were not regional favorites capable of packing the second floor.

Through my playing drums for lots of acts that appeared at these places, I also knew the booker for the Fitzgerald's, and her contemporary over at the long gone but equally legendary jazz-folk-blues-rock club Rockefeller's. Like Sara, my bandmates were bigger buddies with these ladies than I was, but I knew them well enough where I could get in shows SRO for free since I was a gigging poor musician and law student.

If I recall, she owned the home behind and adjacent to it, and there was an elevated, second story walkway leading from the band backstage areas to her home. It's been a long time since I was walking backstage at Fitz's in a carefree manner like the late 80's and early 90's, but I was always welcome in those areas by Sara and the other musicians who might be hanging at someone else's gigs.

So I wish her luck, and I'm glad I got to play upstairs a couple of times in 1988, as well as many, many gigs downstairs at her place.
I spent a lot of time there listening, as well, but there was nothing like the big stage she had with pro lighting and sound, each of my drums with microphones and everything going through a house mixer (which made excellent cassette tapes, gratis, just for the asking by the band I played upstairs with).   That guy in 1988 was a great mixer and soundboard man. 

Like everyone else, I have a lot of stories from Fitz's, but one from my single, young twenties days, many years ago that I can't forget involved a date with a University of Houston classmate of mine, we'll call her "Nancy Penny". Nancy and I likely ate somewhere and then went to Fitz's. I could tell Nancy was the type of suburban Houston not experienced to the then relatively safe Heights area where Fitz is located. It wasn't gritty at all, as many parts of Montrose, across Buffalo Bayou, were. Nonetheless, she advised me upon arrival that the area was sketchy and she was not pleased with the venue.

Said venue, of course, had been chosen by her, by virtue of the regional/college radio star Joe King Carrasco whom she wanted to see. So that is why we were there.

Joe King, of course, was playing upstairs and we timed it just right to get there after the opening act and in time for Joe King, the main act. Slam dancing was a *thing* at the time with Joe's fans, with a mosh pit in front of the stage with some 50-60 people slamming around.

I stood cautiously back, way back, behind one of the large post that was a support beam for the roof and partial floor (I think) that ringed the main seating and dancing area. My memory fails.

But what I do recall is keeping myself out of harms way by being behind this 2'x2' beam protecting me from random, drunken slammers flung from the herd.

And I continually cautioned Nancy to do the same, but she chose repeatedly to approach the most pit, until finally getting knocked solidly on her arse by some spaced out spud flung from the herd with great velocity.

And then she began to cry. Not an "I'm embarrassed" cry, or "my butt hurts" type of cry, but that special wailing and struggling for breath as they cry that tells you *this date is over and I wanna go home right now*.

And yet we didn't. In between Fitz's and a place called the Comedy Workshop, I talked her into having a drink at the Comedy Workshop and seeing whatever stand-ups they had going on that night.

Ah, but that's another long and convoluted story, and to cut to the chase, poor Nancy found herself the innocent and unnecessary target and indeed, attack, of a drunken but later famous and now deceased comic and we left there in worst shape then we did from Fitz's. With firm resolve on her part to end the date immediately and to say as few words as possible (i.e. none) during the car ride to her home.   

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