Texas Troubadour Abroad: Leaving Philly
My name is Keegan McInroe, and I am a singer-songwriter from Lubbock who’s been living in Fort Worth off and on since 2001, when I began my four years of study at Texas Christian University. Over the course of my 10 years writing, performing, and recording original music, I’ve played hundreds of shows and traveled thousands of miles throughout the United States and Europe. My latest tour is taking me to New York City, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague, Barcelona, and dozens of stops in between. Whether you’re an independent musician like me, a fellow budget traveler, or simply a reader who loves a good tale from the road, Texas Troubadour Abroad –– my (mostly) weekly travelogue published here on the Weekly’s website –– will have something for you.
“I don’t leave the highway long enough / To bog down in the mud / ’Cause I’ve got ramblin’ fever in my blood.” –– Merle Haggard
It’s early morning in Philadelphia, and the Starbucks at 20th and Market streets is a steady bubbling of suits and ties and business skirts, legs and rapid talk. Starbucks and McDonald’s: the world traveler’s consummate companions, where WiFi needs are met ever so reliably –– save in Italy, but we’ll get to that a little later.
Almost 10 years have passed since my last visit to the City of Brotherly Love. That trip I was picking up a couple of fellow Horned Frog chums in my now long-gone ’98 Volkswagen Bug at the Philadelphia International Airport. It was around the summer of 2003, and I was following the Southern-rock band Widespread Panic around the country for three weeks, slinging original bootleg t-shirts in the parking lots outside the shows in a successful, albeit borderline illegal, effort to fund my expedition.
My two friends were joining me for a five-show run down the East Coast and back west to Texas, where Panic was playing what is now Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie. We spent the early part of that night in Philly at a now defunct bar called Abilene’s on South Street, where one of my friends talked me and the guy performing onstage into letting me play a couple of songs, performing being still mostly a novelty for me at the time. We spent the latter part of that evening sleeping in my tiny car in a parking lot –– two of us did, anyhow. But those tales are best left untold here.
There was essentially one reason for my present sojourn to Philadelphia. I met her in Austin during this year’s South by Southwest festival after a killer show by The Hanna Barbarians, in which lead singer Blake Parish played stripper pole with a second-story window partition, swinging out over the concrete below and then back inside and then out again and so on while bellowing his lyrics to the delight of a raucous, swampy, tightly packed room of fellow lunatics. Details of the aftermath are fuzzy, but suffice it to say, I made a friend, and she lives in Philadelphia.
But my South-by friend was unable to receive me upon my early morning arrival from New York City the day before, so I took in some sights and brushed up on my American Revolution history.
I walked about Washington Square, where the bones of many a body rest underfoot, as it served several times in the past as a mass grave site for slaves and for the less affluent and for American soldiers who died as prisoners of war in Philadelphia jails, along with an unknown soldier watched over by a statue of George Washington and an “eternal” flame. I also toured The State House of Pennsylvania, better known as Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed by all those famous and less-than-famous names; I took a picture with the Liberty Bell, cracked and silent; I visited Ben Franklin’s grave and watched a gaggle of school children toss varied coins atop his tomb, for luck, I presume, though I didn’t bother asking; I walked several miles looking for the famed Geno’s and/or Pat’s to get my authentic Philly cheesesteak fix –– I would have been happy finding either establishment, though several locals assured me Pat’s is superior –– only to eventually settle, defeated, for a less-than-stellar burger at a quiet pub on South Street.
And, eventually, late into the evening, I met my friend at Mac’s Tavern, where the cast from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia reportedly hangs out –– apparently one of the cast members owns the joint. Their pictures adorn the walls, documenting several personal visits to the club, though I wasn’t fortunate enough to bump into the gang. I’d love to have seen “Frank.”
I got to Philly from my base of operations and the city from which I will depart for Europe, New York City. Megabus will carry a body to Philly from Manhattan and back for $10.50, plus or minus a few bucks. You can find rides for as low as $1. And they call at several cities in Texas. Tip numero uno.
Philadelphia was a nice respite from a tour just barely under way. Up until then, I had played only one gig: The Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan’s Lower East Side two nights earlier. The Rockwood is actually three different venues, two of which –– Stage One and Stage Two –– are for music. The other is solely for drinking, though the drinking room does have a giant projector screen with a live visual and audio feed from Stage Two.
Both music rooms are relatively small and somewhat dimly lit, with just enough touch of grunge and class to make it appropriate for any and all performers. Stage One is the smaller of the two, with occupancy for maybe 60 people, including band and bar staff, and when I walked in to check it out, there was a rootsy three-piece consisting of banjo, upright bass, and guitar giving a shout-out to Willie Nelson for his 80th birthday before easing into a nice take on “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
Stage Two, where I performed, is a bit larger but still quite intimate and cozy, complete with a romantic balcony where I continued to catch glimpses of couples necking. I had no such reason to go upstairs. Both acts before me were full bands and quite rock ’n’ roll, so when I went on at 12:15 a.m. on that Tuesday as a solo act, I was unsure if I would be able to maintain the late crowd’s interest.
New York crowds are somewhat notoriously apathetic and difficult, or so I’ve been told numerous times, but though the audience left for me was not particularly large, they were highly attentive and kindly responsive, and they stuck around for my entire set. A fine kickoff to the tour. Of course, I gave my own Willie birthday nod: Townes van Zandt’s “Poncho and Lefty.”
I play tonight in Brooklyn at a rockabilly dive called Hank’s Saloon, and the three following nights consecutively I’ll be performing around New York City. Monday I hop the pond for London, where I’ll perform Tuesday night before heading to Paris and then onward, crisscrossing through a little more than 15 countries in 90 days, sharing my music and doing general ambassador work for the great state of Texas before returning to the East Coast to close this lovely and sprawling beast out.
May 2, 2013
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Programming note: Stay tuned for Keegan’s next missive, this one from Paris.