(Ed. Note: This blog has been updated with a link to the featured song.)
By Bob Johnson
I’m probably the only person in the audience who remembers what Tom Russell said just before he opened his second set at Austin’s cherished Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus a few years ago.
I describe the café as “cherished” because, not long after that concert, university officials began considering ideas for the space occupied by the café for more “lucrative” endeavors. As if that area of the campus needed one more fast-food option for the school’s students.
Once word got out, artists who had played the venue, including Russell, helped the café’s management mount a campaign that ultimately saved the space for live music. You can buy a hamburger anywhere, but a well-crafted lyric is a precious thing.
So what was it that Russell said into the microphone as he returned to the Cactus Café’s small stage after about a 20-minute intermission?
“Hey, Andy, could you please get me a glass of Chardonnay?”
Andy is Andrew Hardin, a guitarist extraordinaire who accompanied Russell on the road for the better part of 20 years. Russell was going to perform the first song of the second set solo, so Hardin stayed in the back of the room, near the concession area, where Chardonnay, Merlot and White Zinfandel were among the beverage offerings.
Obviously, the only reason I remember Russell’s request is that I’m a “wine guy,” and it was fun to learn that one of my favorite musicians — one of the great singer-songwriters ever — was a wine drinker.
Last month, Russell released his most ambitious album in a career that includes several records that could be described similarly. It’s called “The Rose of Roscrae,” a two-CD package that Russell describes as a “frontier musical” and includes 25 original songs.
Among those songs is one called, “Midnight Wine (White Lies and Cold Chardonnay).” In it, Russell demonstrates more than a passing knowledge of the topic, thanking God “for the vineyards near that wild Russian River,” a prime Chardonnay growing area of Sonoma County. He even references what makes that area so special for grape growing, noting how “the breezes off the ocean kissed those grapes.”
Russell, who possesses a rather dark sense of humor and disdain for commercial music (the kind manufactured by Nashville, in particular), has written only a handful of love songs over 30 albums, and “Midnight Wine” is one of them, albeit of the wistful variety.
Lord can you tell me where love goes
When it slips away?
Leaving nothing behind
But white lies and cold Chardonnay?
Here’s a toast to survival
To all those that love’s left behind
In the bars and back alleys… and bedrooms
We’re just partners in crime.
But we stole a moment of bliss
from this ol’ midnight wine.
Here’s a link to “Midnight Wine” on YouTube. And this YouTube video provides a wonderful description of “The Rose of Roscrae” project and album — one I highly recommend buying and listening to with a glass of your favorite Chardonnay.