It's an early summer Sunday morning and I'm lying next to a man in a bed in Uptown, trying my best to be miserable over a relationship that's been failing from the start. Waking up, hungover, falling back asleep. Waking up, hungover, falling asleep again. Trying to be miserable. But every time I wake up I hear this in my head: "I'm goin' OUT with mah BOOTS ON," followed by some wicked slide guitar noodling.
Come on. No "How... can you mend.. a broken heart?" No "I can't live... if living is without you?" Nope. As much as I tried to embrace heartache, my brain wasn't havin' no Nilsson, no Bee Gees. "I'm goin' OUT with mah BOOTS ON."
Randy Houser's top ten feel-good, eat shit 'cause I'm gonna wear these dirty boots to the bar and hit on women all night long hit "Boots On" has since become the anthem of my summer. So plop me down at the Cabooze on a Wednesday night for Houser's show, stick a Budweiser in my fist, and I'm happy as a swine relaxing in feces.
By my recollection, I think Houser's Cabooze show was the first urban country bar show I've been to. I grew up seeing country music at county fairs and in tiny townie bars, and now casinos seem to be the venue of choice (or rather, of necessity). So I was excited to be able to see a legitimate, Top 40-style contemporary country music recording artist in a big bar. Where I can, like, walk around. And buy beers from a long bar staffed by men in jeans and not from a tiny stand with a bartender in vest and bow tie.
Photos by Nikki Miller
I felt like the armchair anthropologist in the field for the first time, perusing the crowd wide-eyed, swilling liquor until comfort found me. The place delivered. It appeared the masses of country fans from the outer, outer, outer ring suburbs--Delano, Rockford, where farm meets urban sprawl--were out in hats and boots for the show. One of the many women shouting "Wooooooo!" after every song from local openers The Mason Dixons and posing in front of the stage for facebook photos with friends nearly poked my eye out when she went grasping for the K102 shirts being thrown from the stage between bands. And she, as a result, almost got punched in the face. But violence waited until just moments later, a few songs into Houser's set when two men engaged in a good ol' fist fight right in front of the stage. The Cabooze staff broke the fight up real quick, but not before it contributed to the drunken ambience of the evening.
Houser delivered as well, with his roadhouse bar style dirty country rebel rock (sans the icky redneck Dixie pride vibe), and his bluesy, rich voice. His influences are clear: a little southern blues mixed with all the good 'uns - Waylon, Willie, Cash. And if these influences weren't clear enough, he introduced one of his first songs by saying he'd written it for Waylon, and his set included covers of "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" and "Whiskey River." Houser's stage presence sold it, as well. Throughout his show, even when drunk boys were rasslin' with bouncers in the front row to the sound of breaking beer bottles, Houser was present and engaged with the audience. Giggling on stage, smiling at the band and at those of us he could see up front. Unlike a lot of phony over-stylized country dudes you'll see around these days, Houser can't be accused of phoning it in.
And speaking of phoning it in--I may have walked into the Cabooze following a full month of "Boots On" in my head, but I walked out singing "867-5309." A raucous night at the Cabooze was brought to a close when some guys hanging out on the patio introduced us to Tom, of Tommy Tutone, who was at the bar to see the opening band.