One Night on Garrison

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 184 views 

FORT SMITH — Garrison Avenue is only 13 blocks long, but within a five block span of it you can traverse a range of music that would otherwise take you many, many miles to find.

While the street was allegedly named as such because it was wide enough to accommodate an entire Garrison turning around, today it is wide enough to simultaneously hold a range of music from country and bluegrass to blues, folk, rock, heavy metal and to techno-hip hop.

On Friday night (May 18), a walk down Garrison offered The Brandon Butler Band playing at La Huerta Mexican Restaurant at 400 Garrison Ave. Offering an outdoor stage, an open-air eating environment and truly outstanding country music coming from the stage, the audience enjoyed covers such as “Already Gone” by the Eagles, “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash and “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

If country music wasn’t your thing, all one had to do was walk a few steps. Across the street at 409 Garrison Ave., Hero’s Food and Spirits was serving up Smokin’ Crawdadz, a local band fronted by Matt Wilson who says, “People think we play Cajun music because of the name, but it actually came from a Beverly Hillbillies episode.” The band offered its first-ever complete set of original hard rock — loud drums and screaming guitar — sounds to Hero’s fans Friday night.

Old Town Grain & Feed, an establishment with a long reputation for good music, stands at 503 Garrison Ave.  Brandon Patterson and Dave Holland of the Crumbs were thumping out some good ole time bluegrass music for those lucky enough to hear this talented duo. Patterson came directly to this gig from rehearsing for a Fort Smith Symphony concert. This was not amateur night along the Garrison.

Two doors down, at 507 Garrison Ave., Webby D’s hosted Earl and Them, a band whose members alone are enough to make you regret not being there— Earl Cate on vocals and guitar, Jason Davis on vocals and guitar, Dave Renko on saxophone — not to mention Levon Helm’s nephew, Terry Cagle, on drums. Every single song coming from this band filled the soul with rejuvenating vibrations.

Walking along in the 600 block one could find Fort Smith’s perennial favorite musician Tom Ware joined by Lacey Thomas and the inexhaustible bass of Anthony Ware at R. Landry’s New Orleans Café, 603 Garrison Ave. While audience members enjoyed their blackened steak and shrimp, the Tom Ware trio treated them to originals and covers that could pull the shell away from a crayfish. Keeping with a levee theme for a few songs, the trio moved from “Drowning in Dixie,” an awesome Ware original, to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” on which Ware and Thomas alternated verses with orgasmic vocal eruptions that echoed Robert Plant’s righteous voice. The music and food were exceptionally satisfying.

Some venues start music later in the evening and go into the wee hours of the morning. Rooster’s Bar and Grill at 801 Garrison Ave. featured Keyla Reed and the Magic 8 Balls playing a range of blues and rock with no cover charge.  Long after most other places have closed you can still find some live music here.

The Velcro Pygmies were in the middle of a three-night gig at Neumeier’s Rib Room at 817 Garrison Ave. Even if one is turned off by the name, the furry pink booties or the guy-liner and the bare-chestedness of front man Cameron Flener, it is time to check all prejudices at the door and partake in the Pygmy experience. Backed up with a small brass section of saxophone, trumpet and trombone, the band performs rarified covers of songs ranging from “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks and “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.” Patrons needed only to remind themselves that everything would be all right in the morning.

If none of these genres fit one’s mood or style, the Havoc Nite Club at 301 Garrison Ave. gave music lovers the ability to stretch their imaginations with some techno hip-hop from DJ Spin spinning some Pitbull off the floor.  As they say, you never know until you try it — you just might like it.

Such is the musical diversity that one can find on the much-storied Garrison Avenue every weekend.  Local singer-songwriter Desirae Souverville captured some of the grit and emotion of the Garrison Avenue experience in her song entitled “Garrison”: Standing in the crowd/I'm always singled out/there's something about this town/As much as I wanted to say/that I would never stay/it's somehow a part of me now.

Indeed, Garrison Avenue is wide awake for those wishing to partake of the inspiration it offers.