Saturday Where: The Pier, 1703 River Hills Road Tickets: $10; children younger than 12 free if accompanied by an adult Information: 327-4562, www.frontgatetickets.com. More: Food and drink will be available; lawn chairs permitted. Also performing: Jane Bond, Misspent Youth, the Time Bombs, Liberation Suite, Contagious Blues, John Peyton & the Mighty KLBJ All-stars, Joe Richardson Express, Bugs Henderson. Festival and silent auction benefit Palmer Drug Abuse Program. "I was always interested in the origins of music," Monsees says.
Even a Ramones song would send her digging through pre-punk history. She easily reached the proper conclusion. "I just discovered that blues music was the basis for pretty much all American music," she says. Ironically, some cuts on the album are pure British Invasion: The Rolling Stones' "Surprise, Surprise" and "Stupid Girl"; the Searchers' "Needles and Pins." But anyone who knows anything about rock knows where the Invaders got their inspiration. They built on American blues foundations. As for "Needles and Pins," the Sonny Bono/Jack Nitzsche classic, the Ramones covered it in 1979, and Monsees is a big fan of the punk prototypes.
But the Exiles version is truer to the Searchers' 1964 hit. They also do justice to the old R&B romp "(Mama Come Quick, and Bring Your) Lickin' Stick" and a few other vintage tunes. Monsees' few originals meld so seamlessly into the mix, one has to study the sleeve credits to figure out which songs they are. Lanky in her day-job outfit of a T-shirt, knee-length cutoffs and Converse All Stars, Monsees looks like she belongs behind the counter at Antone's Records, where she's practically lived since 14, rather than onstage at the Continental Club, where she'll celebrate her eagerly awaited 21st birthday in a few months. But when she puts on a dress and picks up that hollow-bodied turquoise Epiphone, the maturity she conveys during an interview is immediately evident.
She definitely holds her own with Exiles co-founder Buck, who's also in the LeRoi Brothers and was an original Fabulous Thunderbird; Sparks, a Doug Sahm bandmate; and Pinkerton, who has a standing gig whenever harp player Lazy Lester comes to town. "I'm really lucky to be playing with guys that have been doing this a while," says Monsees. She frequently bounces ideas off drummer Buck, who also works at Antone's Records. "I'm constantly learning so much from him," she says. "He's very passionate about music." Buck and bassist Sparks share a long history of playing together, including with the late Sahm. She's not sure exactly when she got to know Buck's friend Pinkerton, but she remembers sitting in with him one night, and they clicked. "It's very hard to find two guitar players who don't step on each other's toes.
And for whatever reason, he and I just seemed to fit right together. It felt real comfortable," Monsees explains. "All of us are friends and we get to play what we love." Monsees' oldest musical friend is Gary Clark Jr., whom she has known since third grade and who also appears on the festival bill. They started playing together when they were about 12.
By the time they were 15, they were sitting in during blues jams at the former Babe's on Sixth Street, soaking up all the information they could from willing instructors. And Austin proved to be a rich educational environment. A Houston native, Monsees says she's lucky she grew up here, where she has experienced a musical atmosphere that's much more supportive than competitive. Having Clifford Antone as one of those supporters doesn't hurt. According to Monsees, he helped open a few doors for the band. She's among a long list of artists who give loving on-screen testimonials to him in the recently released documentary, "Antone's: Home of the Blues." It was through Antone that Monsees and the Exiles joined the Lake Austin Blues Festival, a benefit for the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, which provides free 12-step recovery programs and activities for teens seeking alternatives to drug use. Whether it's about playing music or avoiding drugs, here in Austin, as Monsees notes, "Everybody's willing to help each other out." Read more on Last.fm.
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