I’m winding through narrow dimly-lit streets deep in South Austin. The gravel parking lot is filled to capacity at the acclaimed retro dive bar. An attendant gives me directions through the neighborhood to some overflow spots behind a massive backyard and I pull off into knee-high grass.
Faded-neon beer signs glow above dozens of friends and relatives. Every red leather and wooden seat packed above vintage blue-checkered carpet is filled, its original color faded into a distant memory.
Shaun Brennan, founder of Splice Records, shuffles across the dance floor with a tall-boy Lone Star as others join in. John Evans is warming up the crowd, grinding a macabre rockabilly that fills the scratched-wooden dance floor.
Evans’ head nearly grazes the low ceiling as his guitar blazes through the room. His vibrant take on rockabilly seems truly predestined, a mission to keep the sound alive. He croons in his slicked-back hair and glasses like star in the sequel to “Six-String Samurai.” It hypnotizes like a 3 a.m. crackling intro to Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM.
John Evans warms up the crowd. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
The atmosphere is incredibly rich as Evans exits the stage. After a brief wait, Folk Family Revival lead singer and rhythm guitarist Mason Lankford appears and is slowly chiming a spiritual bowl while the crowd becomes silent.
“Someday these days will be worth remembering,” a spot-lit sign reads on the back wall at Sam’s Town Point. Those words certainly won’t go to waste tonight, friends and family made the trek northwest and filled the joint to celebrate the release of “Electric Darlin’.”
Inspiration at Sam’s Town Point. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
The Lankford family grew up as “holy rollers,” in Magnolia, Texas, serving in a strict Christian church where rock and roll was seen as a form of rebellion. Their father Greg served as a deacon, lead the church band and was on the path to becoming an associate pastor. After the Lankford children started performing their original music in local venues the leadership became concerned.
“The church decided we had to choose the Devil’s music or God’s music,” Mason said. “We flipped the coin and landed on the Devil’s side, you know. They kind of kicked us out.”
The church leaders were concerned with the influence the group had on the congregation, drawing a lifetime of friends and connections through worship to what they considered a lewd, drunken bar scene waiting to lead them down the wrong path.
“They just didn’t want us to be drunk in a bar on Saturday and then play in front of everybody on Sundays,” Mason said.
The children were excommunicated from the church for their desire to pursue music, and after 14 years their father was given a letter explaining that his services were no longer needed in the church.
“For my parents it was kind of devastating,” Mason said. “My Dad’s hardly even picked up a guitar since.”
From an audience perspective, one would never realize any of the pain still lingered in their parents’ hearts. Their father’s burly, jovial persona shines brighter than ever as he greets friends with hugs and handshakes like they were entering a sanctuary on Sunday morning.
Lead guitarist Caleb Pace moved in with the family in his early teenage years and it must have been fate, the atmosphere he creates transforms the room, and his attack on the solo keeps energy pulsing throughout the night.
Splice Records Founder Shaun Brennan introduces Folk Family Revival. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
“Electric Darlin’” is an important step in establishing the sound Folk Family Revival is known for. The album begins with atmospheric and spiritual sounds, introducing characters for the concept album to take you on a desert ride.
“There’s a lot of truth behind the fiction,” bass guitarist Barrett Lankford said, “but it’s the first time where we kind of took the liberty of taking the pressure off of telling a story as it was told, and tried to look through someone else’s eyes.”
Mason Lankford performing with Folk Family Revival. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
The album was recorded live in-studio with only minor corrections added, a refreshing distance from previous releases that included hot-shot studio slingers with no personal connection to the material.
John Evans’ served as producer, and his direction of the sound is certainly present in the mixture of hard driving rhythm and dreamy background that holds the tracks together. The crowd was fire as the album was presented, dancing and shaking as the night rolled on.
“The Austin Folk Family Revival Release party was one of the best shows I have ever been a part of,” Brennan said. “I fell in love with the band and the venue all over again. That feeling made us contact the owner of Sam’s Town Point to see if we could do a residency in October and end it with a backyard bash, and it is happening…”