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Rich Banks

Rich Banks
Austin, Texas, USA
November 15
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SEPTEMBER 9, 2008 9:29PM

Some Dames I Saw

Rate: 7 Flag

The Texana Dames, September 5, 2008, Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe


Traci Lamar of The Texana Dames

Traci Lamar

Conni Hancock of The Texana Dames

La Conni Hancock

The Texana Dames

The Texana Dames--Traci Lamar, La Conni Hancock, and Charlene Condray Hancock--graciously allowed me to photograph their show at Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe last night.

 It was a great show, too! They performed many of their songs from The Supernatural Family Band days. Also, it was Charlene's 70th birthday. She gave a really nice talk about staying "in balance" that couldn't have been said better by Sensei Matl himself.

 I don't get out enough to be able to name the Dames entire line-up--there were seven musicians on stage at least for some part of the show--but the incredible Eric Hokkanen, one of Austin's premiere fiddle players, played throughout most of the set, and their lead guitarist, whose name I don't recall, was excellent!

I encourage people to visit the Texana Dames Web site. The Dames are a family band who have been playing in one line-up or another since the 1950s. Their photo slideshow, which I looked at yesterday, is pretty darned incredible.

The service at Patsy's was excellent. The chicken fried steak was pretty good--the steak itself was extra large; I couldn't eat all of it; the mashed potatoes were foo-foo, not whipped, full of all sorts of herbs or something, and therefore not authentic; the gravy was way too peppery. I can make better mashed potatoes than any restaurant, but only my dad knew how to make great chicken fried steak and gravy, every time. Both require cooking with bacon drippings, and no self-respecting restaurant is going to do that nowadays.

Me, I think restaurants should try to get by with a little less self-respect and better gravy. But I'm a dreamer.

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Not just to a European, Stellaa. Although I'd seen and sampled chicken fried steak a few times, when I asked an aficionado in Texas what it was made of, he hemmed and hawed, but didn't know. Same thing happened in Oklahoma once when I asked what was in the pot of reddish-brown lumpy sauce simmering under the heat lamp. "It's barbecue!" "Barbecued what?" "Barbecue!" "No, What kind of meat is it?" It's barbecue, hon, bar-be-cue." Maybe it's better not to know.
Hey, Stellaa -- I'm going to attempt to explain chicken fried steak in the next para. That's challenging. Your question is much easier: when is the best time to come to Austin? For me, this is an easy one: Come to Austin for the South By Southwest Music Festival. Hate music? Come for the SXSW Film Festival, or the SXSW Media Conference. All take place in mid-March (i.e., Spring break). The weather will most likely be mild, and there will be over 1000 bands, old and new. The party is all day and all night. Buy a conference music pass, or just watch bands for free. Everywhere you look, there's music (and beer). SXSW in Austin is just about the most fun a person can have, this side of Judo.

Hey, Biblio -- Chicken fried steak is "round steak", a poor cut of meat. Therefore, it is tenderized (with a mallet or in a machine), batter dipped and fried (preferably in bacon drippings, as I mentioned, but most likely in canola oil in most restaurants). The cream gravy is made by adding additional flour to the oil after the meat has cooked in it.

In Texas, barbecue means beef: ribs, brisket, or sausage. There are as many opinions about preparation as there are people. I can recommend some great barbecue in and around Austin.

I prefer the Tex-Mex to the barbecue, myself.
stellaa, the best time for Austin is April. Unless you want the all-out music scene, then March, for the SXSW music and film festival.

By April, you have the best weather and the wildflowers. UT is still in and it's still lively. Everybody is in a great mood; the heat won't start for another month. You won't see the bats yet though, and the bats are an awesome sight.
Chicken fried steak is outlawed in Boulder. Yeah, like it's illegal.

I'm coming to Texas.

Read my comment to you on my blog about Simba the peeing cat. Your stories were hysterical Rich and deserved of their own post.
Stellaa, I lived in Austin for 8 years, and in addition to kelly's recommendation of April, which is a good one. If you find yourself there in the summer that's the best time to go to Barton Springs Pool, which is spring fed and 68 all year long. But for my money the absolute best time to go is in October, especially if you like going to the occasional college or high school football game under the lights. The days are warm, the nights are starting to cool off, there is a definite (though slight, by midwestern and northeastern standards) fall. You can eat outside again - it's not too hot anymore for that. You can get up from your chair and not worry about sticking to it. You can actually run anytime you want, not just before or after sunrise. You can even drive with the top to your car down. And the students are back, which breathes life into the city and, therefore, the music calendar - October is a fantastic month for seeing live music in the many outdoor live music venues.
Sandra, I respectfully disagree about Austin on 2 counts:

I lived there for 10 years, and although the students enliven the city to an exciting degree, in October they are rambunctious, and by April they have partied out - making it lively yet calmer.

And unless allergies are a problem (as they are for most Central Texas dwellers) it is green and lush and beautiful in April. All of my visitors came then, and they were blown away by how much it did NOT resemble the "Texas" they had in their head.

Depending on the summer and the year, October can be burned out drab, and still running 90+ every day.
Sandra and Kellylark -- I'm crazy for South by Southwest (SXSW), so to me that is the perfect time to be in Austin. My life is a living Hell right now, partly because I took a new job where I don't have the time and seniority to take off work that week every year.

Anyone coming to Austin should know that we have 4 seasons here: December, January, February, and summer. It can be miserably hot here, at least 6-8 months of the year. (And I can recall a day when it was 100 degrees here in February.)

Mary T -- Your incredible peeing cat story immediately put me in mind of Tiffany's dog, Bootsie. I hadread your comment, and agree that I need to mine my ongoing mauling at the hands (paws) of Bootsie for all it's worth.
Looks like a proper hoe down Rich! Being Southern, it's funny when we have to explain our cuisine to other folks. Coming from the Southeast, it's especially funny to hear someone reference sausage in connection to beef. Everyone knows if it didn't squeal in a former life and if it doesn't have outrageous amounts of sage in it, it can't be called sau-sage!
Any European, especially one who lives in or has visited Bavaria should easily understand chicken-fried steak as an American take on wienerschnitzel.
Stellaa -- I would like to hear more of your story. FYI, I graduated with a masters from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. LBJ was a great man, in many ways, and one of the last of the Texas Patróns (in the political sense of the word). I should tell the story sometime about Ladybird inviting my class out to the ranch for tea. It is a funny story.

Eric -- Opinions vary on barbecue. Everybody in the south and the midwest has it, and it's different wherever you go. I never could stand all the vinegar they put on barbecue in Tennessee. I don't know if that holds where you are. Here, the sauces (if they are used at all--even this is a point of controversy here) are more tomato- and chile-based, with only a hint of vinegar. And don't get me wrong: there is plenty of pork sausage, and barbecued pork ribs abound. But I do have to keep to the party line, and say that we're all about beef here.

Hey, Lonnie -- I'm thought I was going to need more explanation on the chicken fried steak/wienerschnitzel comparison, but I just googled it and damned if the first wienerschnitzel picture I saw wasn't a chicken fried steak!
No doubt, where the Europeans miss out is on the gravy. The best chicken-fried steak has awesome, creamy, not-too-peppery bacon-drippings-based gravy that ties together the meat and the potatoes. Wash it all back with some good, robust coffee or an ice-cold beer and man, you're talking goood eatin'.

When it comes to 'que, I'm a chopped pork shoulder man, with not too much sauce (tomato-based, a little heat, a little sweet and just enough vinegar to cut through the smoke), and cole slaw (also light on the vinegar and just creamy enough) on a white-bread bun. My ribs are full-rack short pork, dry-rubbed like they do 'em at the Rendezvous in Memphis. Although, by all rights, we should have been having this conversation before Labor Day.
Lonnie -- I'm flexible on my cole slaw. I do have to have it, but as long as it isn't to0, too sweet, I'm fine.

Stellaa -- Just let us know when y'all are coming, and we'll roll out the red carpet. Barbecue, Tex-Mex, the works! My wife cooks real good (and she'd be pissed if she heard me telling folks my dad's chicken fried was better than hers. Only slightly better, though.)
Hey Rich, fun post!

But I have to tell all y'all not to come to Austin for South by. Seriously, if you want not to be able to get a hotel room, everyone here to hate you, fight giant crowds of aholes, all for the sake of some music/film that half the time isn't from here? Shure. South by can be really great fun, not for the shows that require a badge, but for all of the other free shows going on around town at the same time.

The best time to come to Austin, IMHO, is the late fall/winter. Have some eats, chill when it's not obscenely hot or overly busy, see a few shows here and there. There's always something.

And as much as I love Texas barbecue, Memphis stole my heart in that regard.
Hey, Alix --

I cannot really argue with you about the downside of SXSW. It is just a personal fetish, and a relatively recent one at that. For myself, I prefer to see the out-of-town bands, when I do South by, mostly punk rock bands or female singer-songwriters.

Tom X and the Supernatural Family Band--now performing as The Texana Dames--are actually from an earlier era of my music listening. They are associated with a number of artists from Lubbock, including Butch Hancock, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and others, that I got to know by way of some of Larry Monroe's radio shows during the 1980s. We had emailed beforehand, and they were kind enough to let me photograph a big night of theirs, which was really cool. Usually, I have a lot less "history" with my photography subjects and I am not always good about getting permission and buy in from artists. SXSW gives me the opportunity to photograph bands, and just people on the street who are part of the scene, in an environment and atmosphere where most people respond positively. Last Friday night was a real treat for me, in other words.

I agree with you, and others, that April and October/November are good times to come to Austin, depending on what one has in mind. Summer is good, too, if you have a strategy for beating the heat. For music listening, I often tell people that it is possible in this town to experience the concert of their lives on any given night. The scene really is that great. There really no "bad" times to visit Austin.
Rich: agreed. I certainly have enjoyed SXSW myself. But I think it might be somewhat overwhelming for someone who does not know what all it entails.

Lonnie: Oh, the Rendezvous! . Somebody around here better get me some phenomenal brisket if Texas thinks it can outdo that shrine to carnivorous living.
Why does good stuff like this fall to the wayside? Thanks for blog... great pics!