Every Sunday, musicians gather at Galveston brewery to keep old tradition alive
“Hootenanny” isn’t a common word these days. But in the 1950s and early 1960s, such a gathering with musicians was a mainstay of the folk music revival. During a hootenanny, musicians, with neighbors and families, sing and play traditional songs and a few new ones in a relaxed setting.
Every Sunday afternoon, there’s such a gathering at Galveston Island Brewing on Stewart Road.
In this contemporary island iteration, initiated last year by Kevin Anthony, the musicians sit or stand in a circle, each in turn proposing and leading a song after calling out the key and the chord changes.
There are just a few rules. For example, “There should be no more than three or four chords in a song,” Anthony said. “Any more is just showing off. I call them ‘jam busters,’ with a bunch of chords nobody can follow. I want this to run smoothly, with everyone participating.”
Song callers should know at least most of the verses of the song they launch, and, of course, each instrument must be accurately tuned.
Amateurs, in all stages of development, as well as professionals, are welcome. But there can be no amplification other than Paulo Castillo’s bass guitar, which softly holds the songs together.
“No one’s going to turn away a bass player,” Castillo said.
Many of the attendees at the Sunday Hootenanny at Galveston Island Brewing are multi-instrumentalists. Chris Smith Gonzalez, for example, plays bass, guitar and drums.
Eric Martinez is a pilot for Southwest Airlines. On his time off, he plays guitar and writes songs.
Another amplified instrument is Jim Hall’s pedal steel guitar, a key element in what Anthony calls “Americana Country.” On “Faded Love,” for example, the pedal steel provides a plaintive lead, while the other musicians join in on the well-known number.
The tall, stainless-steel tanks of the brewery serve as the backdrop for the dozen or more players, many with their families. Outside the open loading-dock door is a lawn with picnic tables and playground structures. Children and leashed dogs run around, all having a good time as the music plays. It’s a distinctly “family friendly” scene.
Mark Dell’Osso, a tugboat captain, founded Galveston Island Brewing in 2014, having learned his craft as a home brewer and at the Beerfoot Brewery near the seawall.
“We’re committed to the Texas Gulf Coast, and supporting our community,” Dell’Osso said. “We added live music to the tap room two years ago, and then Kevin Anthony proposed the Sunday Hootenanny.”
Dell’Osso’s vision of the brewery always included a venue of this kind, and it was exactly what Anthony was looking for.
Anthony was born in Galveston and lives with his wife and son just across from where he grew up. His heritage is Cajun, though; His parents are from Lafayette, La. The custom of outdoor Sunday get-togethers with family and neighbors to play music, eat, socialize and drink beer is a big part of his background.
After college, Anthony moved to New York City, where he played mandolin and fiddle with several groups while training in the repair of Apple products. Those groups played Irish, Cajun, country and western and folk music at clubs around town.
After more than 10 years in New York City, Anthony moved to Minneapolis, another music-friendly town, where he set up a recording studio, worked as a session musician, and composed music for television commercials. Meanwhile, he organized touring groups of traditional musicians who played gigs around the country.
“I came home to Galveston in 2011, and began to look for people to play with,” Anthony said. “These casual sessions are a good way to access musicians.”
He formed other groups, while establishing an appointment-only workshop on Stewart Road to repair Apple products.
“Now, I’m based here, and we only tour in East Texas and Louisiana,” Anthony said. “We often play in Lafayette. We play crawfish festivals and shrimp boils, Mardi Gras, that sort of thing. We travel usually as a family when we tour. Even my mom and dad come along.”
His 6-year-old son, Wyatt, is learning to play the fiddle.