Unplugged at The Grove Says Goodbye to Jimmy LaFave

Last Thursday, the 24th season of KGSR’s Unplugged at The Grove came to an end as friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Jimmy LaFave, one of the series’ founding artists. LaFave passed away at his home on May 21st, at the age of 61, due to spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. On Thursday, we not only waved goodbye to this season’s Unplugged series but also bid our farewells to an era that LaFave created.

During the summer of 1994, the Americana legend was presented with an intriguing opportunity. Promotional wildcatter, Marsha Milam, was in the process of developing an unplugged music series at Austin’s Shady Grove and requested that LaFave be the series’ opening performer. LaFave had just released his second studio album, Highway Trance, and was beginning to receive national notoriety. He liked Milam’s idea and accepted her offer to open the inaugural Unplugged at the Grove and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, twenty-four successful years later, Unplugged at the Grove is the longest running free music series in Texas and LaFave is the artist that started it all.

With the exception of 2014, LaFave had returned to play Unplugged at The Grove every summer and was scheduled to be the series’ closing act this year. “At one point, I held the all-time attendance record at the Grove,” claimed LaFave when I spoke to him in 2015. Then, with a satisfied smirk he noted, “But, I’m pretty sure that record has been broken by now.”

Considered one of the great songwriters of our time, LaFave helped give name to the Americana genre. His style was simple, yet heartfelt and bold with lyrics often stirring emotions of the open road. Born in Wills Point, TX, LaFave moved to Stillwater, OK during his school years and maintained strong musical ties to the state’s “Red Dirt” style of music throughout his life. It was no secret that Woody Guthrie was one of his main musical inspirations and LaFave even served on the Advisory Board of the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. However, LaFave had called Austin home since 1986 and credited Butch Hancock as his major local inspiration.

LaFave’s extensive music career spanned nearly five decades and he had received numerous awards and accolades including multiple Austin Music Awards. In May of 2015, he released his seventeenth album, The Night Tribe, along with Trail Four and Trail Five in 2016 on his record label Music Road Records.

He was adamant to spread the Americana genre beyond the reaches of Nashville and his label remains committed to recognizing both up-and-coming and established roots artists. He continued to be inspired by new musicians and was happy to see the genre open up beyond country and into bluegrass, blues and even Jazz. However, as Americana grew more popular and mainstream, LaFave’s style remained his own. “I’ve never drastically changed…I’m pretty much just doing the same stuff I’ve done over and over…I just hope to keep playing as long as I can.”

And LaFave did just that when his farewell concert arrived on May 18 at the Paramount Theatre. Amid friends and family, and the entire Austin music community, LaFave took the stage sitting in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen machine, and led a powerful finale of “Goodnight Irene.” Here’s to hoping LaFave is somewhere out on the open road doing what he’s always done.

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Feature photo by: Anie Walsh

https://aniewalshphotography.myportfolio.com/

 

LaFave photo by: Phillip Leach

 

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Mexican Chocolate Talks Family and Future

With such richly sweet and soulfully smooth vocals, it’s no wonder Mike Robledo wears the moniker Mexican Chocolate. The full-time family man and part-time Ray Prim wingman has developed into one of Austin’s most beloved male vocalists and is by far one of the most welcoming entertainers to be around. He’s a passionate father of three, with a huge laugh and joyfully infectious disposition that immediately attracts. I suppose, technically, Mexican Chocolate’s title in Ray Prim’s band would be ‘backup singer.’ But, to witness him perform, it’s immediately evident that Mexican Chocolate is so much more than backup. Prim may sing the lead…but, it’s Mexican Chocolate that paints the canvas with a sugary sweet coating evocative of his namesake.

Mexican Chocolate is still working to define his own sound. But, with the help of Prim and the city’s support behind him, this smooth vocalist is well on his way towards something big. Track Rambler caught up with MC prior to Ray Prim & Band’s Unplugged at The Grove show on June 22. Hear what he had to say about family and future below.

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You’re a loving husband and full-time family man. How do you balance a musician’s schedule with your personal life and still keep everyone happy?

Honestly, man, I can do it because of my wife, Rita. Without her help I wouldn’t be able to balance all of this. She’s at home right now with the kids…taking care of them, feeding them, giving them their baths and getting them ready for bed. They’ll be in bed by the time I get home. If it wasn’t for her and family members like my mom, and my mother-in-law I couldn’t to do this.

Ray Prim & Band was recently awarded a large grant from Black Fret and with that comes a few requirements such as touring outside of Austin. Will you be missing family time on the road soon?

We just got back from doing a couple of shows in Houston. We were set up to be really busy in July…just Ray and me. But, unfortunately, Ray’s going to have shoulder surgery soon. So, all of those plans have been put on hold for the time being.

Ray half-jokingly considers you the ‘true talent’ of the band. Does it ever get difficult having to carry the old man all the time?

Naw, man. I couldn’t do this without Ray and his insight. His vision has given me a vision of what I want for myself and what I want for the band. I want to put out the best music, the best product for people to enjoy and have fun listening to.

With that being said, do you ever see yourself putting out a Mexican Chocolate project?

Yeah! Right now, I’m going through the process of trying to find my own sound, you know? I could easily just put something out. But, that’s not what I want to do. I want it to be ‘me’ and I want it to not sound like everybody else. So, as soon as I figure that out…you’ll see something.

What are you and the band working on right now?

Well, actually we just had a live album come out, Live at Strange Brew Lounge Side. We did that with Goose Creek Records and we just finished recording the studio album. It’s in the process of getting mixed right now and then it will move on to be mastered. We’re trying to put that out in September. But, with Ray’s surgery, it may have to wait until October.

Well, us here at Track Rambler can’t wait to hear it. Always a pleasure talking with Mexican Chocolate.

Take care. Hope to see you at the show.

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Photos By: Corey Mendez

http://www.coreys-photos.com/

 

Swimming With Bears Play KGSR Unplugged at The Grove Photo Review

Austin alternative rockers Swimming With Bears played a sweltering set for KGSR’s summer concert series at The Shady Grove. Photographer Corey Mendez was in attendance to capture the spectacular images below.

 

http://swimmingwithbears.com/

http://theshadygrove.com/

 

Photos by: Corey Mendez

http://www.coreys-photos.com/