Category Archives: Life as a Texan

Mama K & The Shades

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

 

Mama K & The Shades are definitely a local must-see with their jazz-soul-R&B-funk combo of high-energy sound of a 10-piece band you have to see to believe. If you’re a night owl, catch them on the SXSW schedule: Maggie Mae’s Rooftop Bar on March 15 and Half Step on March 18, both at 1 AM.

White Light Exposure - mama k and the shades-1Mama K & The Shades have been together for almost three years and range from ages 22 to 62. Lead singer Kelsey Garcia says that they are much more than “just bandmates.”

“It seems like we’ve known each other forever—we’re family,” she said. “We’ve been playing together for long enough now that we’ve really developed our own true sound. We’ll always be influenced by 70’s and 80’s funk, but we’re not a replica; we’re our own thing entirely.”

Who exactly is this dime? Well, the vocalists are the leading —and only— lady Kelsey Garcia and Willie Barnes. The instrumentalists consist of: Johnny Storbeck (guitar), David Thacker (keyboard), Lee Braverman (bass), Chris Barnes (drums), Wesley Gonzales (percussion), Joseph Morrow (trumpet and flugelhorn), Dustin Hunter (tenor and baritone sax), and Donald McDaniel (trombone). Whew. Yeah—it’s a lot. Which means—big sound! Big sound does not always mean great sound, but in this case, it truly does. Somehow, they make ten people on a stage look and sound like every band should follow suit.

mama k -4Their first album, “Honey Made,” is dedicated to David McKnight, their original sax player who passed away two years ago. Their second album is in the works and will be out next year.

“He was the creator of the band, my best friend, and roommate,” Garcia said. “Whenever something was going really well, he used to always say, ‘Ooooh that’s honey made!’ [hence the album title]. Those were big shoes to fill, and we went without a sax player for a long time, but Dustin is incredible.”

If you’ll be at home avoiding the SXSW craziness this year, they’re also really excited to open for Big Freedia and The Soul Rebels at Mohawk on April 1. Or hey, need a vacation? Mama K & The Shades will be heading to Denver for their first out-of-state gig and the start of their first tour April 20! You get it—you have a ton of opportunities to check out these awesome local artists on their race to the top of the charts.

“Everyone’s passion is the music,” said Garcia, “and we just love sharing that with whoever we can.”

Weekends Lately

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I was walking barefoot down the grungy sidewalk, carrying my t14752526wo black wedges and sipping from a giant can of Arizona Green Tea. Maybe it would’ve been better if it was a canna beer or a bottla wine, but nope. It was the same 99 cent turquoise garbage that I’ve been buying from convenient stores since high school.

The pop top gleamed under the street lamp and I spat loudly into the night, trying to swat a moth away with the only free “hand” I had. I wondered what anyone would think if they saw me walking toward my apartment building looking like this. Mascara and short, white hairs caked on my sticky cheeks from sobbing into a puppy’s neck, dress torn if you looked close enough, heels in hand, taking huge gulps of tea every few steps as if they were shots of tequila. I looked like a dime-store whore, and I laughed up at the branches at that thought.

There’s something about hurting that makes you not give a shit about what you look like–about anything really. I climbed the gritty steps, feeling bits of dirt (and who knows what else) fall off my feet and new bits of dirt (and who knows what else) collect on my feet.

I wished, in that moment, that I could’ve held my head high and sashayed out of that house, into my car, and out of my car like a movie star, like a rock star, like any star. I wished my whole look and demeanor and attitude and confidence and poise and ferocity had been untouched, an unwavering smile, unfaltering mirth-filled eyes, always.

But that’s just impossible, right? You’re the loser of the story in your own life…a lot. Often times, you’re the minor character–the one that looks like a hot mess, probably cracked-out, drunk, and pregnant with a one-way ticket to jail, a comedic relief. The ridiculous best friend, not the one who gets the whole plot line.

Other times, you’re the funny girl at the beginning of a rom-com who’s chugging Arizona Green Tea like it’s unicorn blood–and then something crazy happens and then something hilarious happens and then something cute happens and then something romantic happens and everything is rainbows and butterflies and all is well in the world for that silly little dime-store whore in the end. Right?

 

 

P.S. These are all real things…??? Need.

Galen James

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

Remember when music was recorded on tape—a few takes, in the moment, no digital sound effects with a million computerized edits along the way?

Galen James, who recently moved to Austin to be a part of the Live Music Capital of the World, remembers, and wants to recapture that purity.

“That’s how The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix did it—they were great musicians and I don’t want people to lose sight of that,” he said. “It takes a lot of work, and you have to be really solid, but it sounds a lot warmer—a band, exactly as they truly are.”

Galen is the real deal—he even worked with Doug Messinger, the guitarist for Van Morrison, to create his Pop-Jazz fusion analog tape masterpiece.

“We actually used the same tape recorder used by Pink Floyd for ‘The Wall,’” he said. “It took an entire year—and I also recorded the whole thing and put it up on YouTube. It’s easier to use a computer and a mouse and move things around—you can do a thousand takes just singing one line. That sort of thing doesn’t happen on tape. You have to rewind, manually turn up the knobs, and restart the whole thing over again.”

When he’s not trying to bring back the transparency of music, the Jazz Studies major is teaching piano, jazz theory, and voice lessons at Eastside Music on 5th Street.

He’s played on Rainey Street, at Lucky’s Lounge, Speakeasy, and more eclectic spots all over Austin—and is lining up more shows currently.

If you haven’t looked this guy up yet—do it! His style is truly hard to place, which is awesome—you’re not sure what genre you’re listening to, but the jazzy undertones are amazing. The only close comparison that I can make is Jason Mraz.

“All my music is about my life, which is one of the difficult things about it—there are a lot of emotions artists can tap into, which makes playing very difficult sometimes,” he explained. “But I like challenging myself, that’s why I recorded on tape.”

Galen has two albums out right now and is releasing a new EP this summer. You can find all of his work on Amazon, BandCamp, or purchase them at his next live show. Visit his http://www.GalenJames.com for more info!

 

Friendships Age Too

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Everyone always talks about romantic relationships and how difficult they are–the compromising, the settling, how hard it is to be single, how hard it is to be married, blah blah blah.

No one ever really spends too much time gabbing about how difficult friendships can be. Friendships are supposed to be easy, right? Comfortable, lasting longer than any romantic relationship you’ve ever had. I guess that used to be true.

Somewhere around Real Adult Life (not Fake Adult Life), you realize how tough friendships can actually be. Hangouts no longer consist of last minute happy hours that turn into long, carb-filled dinners that turn into late-night pillow talk and accidental sleepovers. Hangouts now have to be planned weeks in advance. Alcohol and carbs are out because someone is on an insane diet. Late nights and accidental sleepovers are out because someone has to wake up early for work or get home ASAP to a baby or a husband or a boyfriend. Suddenly, you’re not a priority in their life anymore–you’re third or fourth fiddle, at best.

At some point, jobs and men, raises and promotions and…men became more important than keeping up with what you’ve been cooking for dinner or watching on Netflix…GASP?! It’s normal, I know. But that doesn’t make it suck any less.

The worst part is, you want to be happy for them, you TRY your damnedest to be happy for them…but mostly, you just feel deflated. There was a time in my life when I talked to my friends every day (usually multiple times a day). Questions like, “Hey, did you wind up buying that necklace?” have turned into “Hey, how’ve you been?”

I’ve never been one of those 27 Dresses types–I’ve always had a close-knit pack of two or three women who were more like sisters to me. I’m currently down to…one. Insert the *eek!* emoji. Yeah. One bestie who keeps up with my woes pretty well–not like she used to, but still pretty well.

Is it because she and I are the only single ladies of the once-wolf-pack? Perhaps. But more likely, it’s because we’ve been best friends since we met in middle school, when she saw me bleeding from my knees and lip and asked if I was OK (ridiculous Spanish Dancing Club incident). Hopefully, she’ll be my person forevs, but let’s be real…she could turn into a Husband-Hungry villain at any moment… That, folks, will be the day I adopt a handful of pets and babies or move to an island and live out the rest of my days befriending only coconuts.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here, I apologize. I have a few acquaintance-types who are fun, but they’re seeking the same thing I am–people to fill in the gaps leftover by once upon a time best friends, sisters. It’s great to have people who you can share a meal with, but it’s crazy to feel like you don’t have anyone to tell the deep, dark stuff to.

It can be pretty lonely, here in adulthood. No wonder people kept getting married even after property promises and dowries weren’t a thing anymore–it’s the only way of ensuring that you won’t slip and die in the shower, your remains left rotting under an enormous water bill for weeks. I kid, I kid.

How do we keep friendships, even after X, Y, or Z? How do we balance other life obligations with these people who know way too much about us? How do we remain understanding, even after being shoved aside to make room for “more” or “different” or “better”?

Questions

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Oh hey, WordPress. I broke my “post once a month” rule. Crap.

And here to make up for it is a list of asinine questions, none of which I really need an answer to, but they’re funny so whatever.

  1. Now that my ex-boyfriend is engaged to my ex-roommate, will he change his HBOGo password? Because my life will be ruined without full Jon Snow access.
  2. Is there any real possibility of convincing my parents to NOT vote for Trump? I’ve tried almost everything. Welcome to new ideas.
  3. Why are crime podcasts the best thing on the planet and am I a psychopath for loving listening to murder stories so much? My Favorite Murder and In the Dark are my latest obsessions–check them out if you’re a weirdo like me. Also, (not to answer my own question) I think I like them partly because they play into my extreme anxiety and constant paranoia. Now I can quote 1980s court cases if someone makes fun of me for locking my doors meticulously (and checking to make sure they’re locked).
  4. Why do rapists often times serve little to NO jail time? Everyone should watch Audrie & Daisy on Netflix…it’s sickening but important, for teenagers especially. I wish it were appropriate to show in my classroom–I’d love for my students to watch and learn about a) the true meaning of consent b) the horror social media can cause and c) the repercussions of your actions and how some mistakes can haunt you (and others) forever.

On that bright and shiny note, I leave you. Off to try a “salt cave session”…I don’t even know. The Groupon obsession continues.

Grandma’s Hairspray

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I don’t really use hairspray anymore, and it’s not because I don’t like it or need it. I choose to curl my hair and have it fall flat, frizzing pitifully in the Texas humidity.

The reason? I don’t want to throw away my hairspray–my grandma’s hairspray.

After her funeral two years ago, my family was handing out random items from cabinets–“Which teapot do you want? Which porcelain figurine?” I know they had good intentions–they wanted us all to have a memory or two to take home. But I just felt so weird about it all. I wanted to go home, away from my family and away from all the teapots. My mom gently said something like, “Alysha, there must be something you want to remember Grandma. C’mon, just pick something.”

I asked if I could have her hairspray. We were standing by the restroom, I looked and saw it, remembered mine had run out recently. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Mom laughed and handed it to me.

That was two years ago…and the silver bottle is still sitting next to my sink. I use it sometimes, but never too much, and I always get anxiety afterwards that I used too much, that I’m going to run out soon.

Because I mean…what will I do? Throw it out?! I’ll feel like I’m throwing out my grandma! A freakin’ hairspray bottle has become a weird version of an urn.

The truth is, every time I see it, smell it, feel it in my hair–I remember her wispy white curls and salmon dress pants and funny little British laugh. I miss her cooking and I miss her calling me “my dear” and I miss sitting in her kitchen on those awful wooden chairs telling her about my day.

I can’t throw away the hairspray, because it’ll be like Uncle Chuck’s salsa all over again. I kept the most giant jar of Uncle Chuck’s homemade salsa in my fridge for SO long after he passed away. I couldn’t even open it–the seal seemed to be intensely fused on. I finally made myself throw it away and have regretted it ever since. I miss seeing it every time I open my fridge.

It makes you wonder what weird items people would take from your place if they had the chance–to remember you by. Does anyone care at all about my favorite yellow cup? My wacky paintings, dusty books, giant seashell? Will anyone want my grandma’s teapot that’s on my stove or her porcelain figurine that’s on my writing desk?

El Talisman Coffee

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

 

The Alvarados are a lot like any other typical Texas family—they work hard, they play hard, but the most important thing in their lives is each other. Yuri and Johanna Alvarado are political refugees from Nicaragua—they moved to the U.S. as teenagers, escaping the Sandinista revolution and Contra war that followed. They beat all odds and created a happy and successful life, plus, they’ve raised two children, Johanna and Fernando.

The next step of their dream involves one of my favorite things in the world—coffee. El Talisman Coffee, straight from the Alvarado’s farm in the mountains of Matagalpa, Nicaragua is absolutely incredible. Johanna and Yuri are fifth and sixth generation coffee farmers—who still plant, prune, clean, harvest, and process by hand—which used to, of course, be the only way.

When I spoke to Yuri Alvarado, he said, “My favorite part of the job is growing the coffee in Nicaragua. I love the level of involvement required to produce good quality coffee. We tend to each of our 50,000 coffee trees individually. We still do all the work by hand, like our ancestors did over a century ago. Growing good quality coffee is truly a labor of love and I love doing it.”

You can truly taste that “labor of love” in every cup. And it’s not just me that thinks so highly of the smooth taste—El Talisman Coffee has been selling out all over Central Texas! They’ve recently been a hit at the Kyle Market Days, Barton Creek Famers Market (find them here every Saturday, rain or shine!), the Downtown Buda Farmers Market, Plum Creek Front Porch Days, Ten Thousand Villages of Austin World Fair Trade Day, and the Kyle Public Library.

“Working with my family has been by far the most exciting part of this experience,” Yuri explained. “It has been amazing for me to see Johanna and Fernando connect at a very deep level, with something our family has been doing for five generations. It’s been wonderful to see the amount of passion and energy each has brought to this endeavor.”

If you’re not sold yet, I urge you to go meet one of the Alvarados at one of the aforementioned markets—they are the friendliest humans on the planet, I promise you. A smile from them and a sip of their delicious coffee will make your day. While they work on getting their online store up and running, they will continue with farmers markets every weekend. As Yuri said, “We absolutely love having the opportunity to meet every customer personally!” Next time you need your morning caffeine, support local Texan families and check out El Talisman!