Joel Hofmann

Show Review: Joel Hofmann at Redbird Listening Room

Show Reviews

There’s a feeling one gets under the spotlight that makes you shake in your boots, where the hardwood floor squeaks with every step in the silence and every breath you take projects into the darkness in stereo.

The Redbird Listening Room in New Braunfels has a way of producing that vulnerable feeling for more artists than I could count. Each artist receives a level of respect from the audience that only a listening room provides, that they think they’ve been waiting for only to recognize the notoriety this homegrown stage has received in only a few short years. Some of the greatest Hill Country songwriters have left their mojo on this stage and there’s an energy floating around the walls that is unlike any other venue I’ve attended. If musicians ever received a gallery showing, this is it.

Joel Hofmann brings decades of experience from the banks of the Guadalupe River as he takes the stage with Big John Mills on lead guitar. Hofmann, owner of the historic Riley’s Tavern that has hosted dances since the mid-1800s, has a commanding stature that cuts through the pressure as he tells stories of family and picks old western ballads with ease.

Joel Hoffman

Joel Hofmann and Big John Mills perform at the Redbird Listening Room. Photo by Andrew Blanton.

Hoffman rides into the set with “Gold Rush Town,” a new single penned with Ted Russell Kamp.

“I spent my last dollar just to get here, my suitcase and hopes in my hand,” Hofmann sings. “Each story of a soul of each miner who struck gold tell me this could be my promised land.”

The search for a new life told through the eyes of a prospector parallels the lifestyle of a songwriter in so many ways, always seeking adventure and the one break that could change everything.

“I will stake, stake my claim. ‘Til the day fate calls my name. How it’s gonna glisten, how it’s gonna shine when I finally see the gold I’m bound to find,” Hofmann sings. “This Gold Rush Town is the only thing I’ve found where prayer will find its answer deep in the ground.”

“Gold Rush Town” is reminiscent of Marty Robbins and the great western songs of the twenty-first century.

“Y’all don’t have to be totally quiet,” Hofmann says as the audience laughs, “since we’re all kind of in the same family here. I don’t care if I hear beers opening or a little laughter, a little whisper here and there.” There’s this suffocating pressure that just owns this room regardless of the experience of the performer, like your gripping the wheel on a mountain without any brakes.

“Here’s one I wrote a long time ago,” Hofmann said as he led into a song about his country heroes. “I don’t quite feel as bad about the state of country music right now as I did then, but here’s how I felt a decade or so ago.”

The song speaks of how two key figures, John Wayne and Jesus, shaped Hofmann’s upbringing and goes on to wonder what Hank Williams would think of our music today.

“Sometimes I think about quitting and shutting this thing down,” Hofmann sings, “selling off all my gear and moving on out of town. But I get to thinking ‘maybe not this year, If I don’t sing these songs nobody will get to hear the legends of our past, how they’ve all about disappeared.’”

Mills and Hofmann tell jokes between songs, teasing our neighbors to the north and wondering why they even put FM radios in cars today. Hofmann quiets down the audience with the heartfelt “Daughters” as his loved ones looked on.

“I wrote that song about my daughter Abby and now she’s like a teenager back there, she’s rolling her eyes,” Hofmann said. “So Abby, remember that if you’re ever in a bad spot in your life that’s how I feel about you, so you can always come to me for anything… and quit rolling your eyes. I can see you even in the dark back there.”

Big John Mills played beautiful melodies throughout the evening, and gave some tongue-in-cheek advice for aspiring musicians.

“They’re called Snarks,” Mills said about the popular guitar tuners, “don’t ever buy one. I gave all mine away to people that didn’t know any better.”

“You’re not that mean,” Hofmann responded, “to me anyway.”

Joel Hoffman

Joel Hofmann and Big John Mills perform at the Redbird Listening Room. Photo by Andrew Blanton.

Mills coined a new title for the aging musician in the upbeat blues song “Retro.”

“I’m not getting old, I’m just retro,” Mills sings. “Everything I own’s coming ‘round and it’s back in style.”

Mark Nelson was on hand painting watercolors of the artists as he does every Thursday at the weekly songwriter’s night. The special attention given to the performer in this remodeled home has built their name so quickly. You really feel that respect from the staff for the hard work you’ve put in while performing at the Red Bird LIstening Room.

Mark Nelson paints

Mark Nelson paints portraits at the Redbird Listening Room. Photo by Andrew Blanton.

“It’s fun to sing in here” Hofmann said. “Thank you guys for coming and being here and being up close and personal with us. This is why this place is such a good vibe. We need a balance of bars and honky tonks and listening rooms… the venues where we can go hear their songwriting, the venues where we can hear their band loud and everyone’s having a party and a good time, and we need some venues where people can dance. We need all of that going on and that’s what places like this bring to the table. We need this balance of venues and it’s good to have one of these spots right here in New Braunfels where there’s so much songwriting going on. It’s good to be here.”

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