Most people who know me know that I feel music deeply. I tie songs, musicians, albums back to a particular person, place, or thing. I could talk about it for hours, especially when it comes to my favorite artists. I can remember back to who may have introduced me to the artist, when or where I first fell in love with their music. For me, Shakey Graves is one of those.
Despite being introduced to his music over a year prior, I surprisingly didn’t truly fall in love with Shakey Graves until I saw him live at Old Settler’s Music Festival here in Austin. Sure, I knew a few songs of his, “Dearly Departed,” “Tomorrow,” and the top tracks on Spotify, but I hadn’t yet fully immersed myself in his music. It was as if seeing him perform live completely flipped the switch, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say part of it was due to learning that his name and identity as “Shakey Graves” originated here in Austin, Texas.
If you’ve seen Shakey Graves perform live, you know that he’s a storyteller, both through his music and his quirky anecdotes on stage. It’s one of my favorite things about him, and the story of how he got his name will forever be one of my favorites to share with others. So in the spirit of SXSW and his recent homecoming to Austin, I want to share it with all of you. I’ll caveat by saying I won’t do it justice.
Before Shakey, there was Alejandro. After time spent in Los Angeles, Alejandro was desperately ready to come home to Austin, Texas and spend much needed time with family and friends, but first and foremost, he wanted to go to Old Settler’s Music Festival which had become a tradition of his prior to moving. With not much of plan, Alejandro hopped off the plane and had his best friend pick him up from the airport. Upon picking him up, he soon found out that his friend actually didn’t have tickets to the festival, but that he was instead earning his pass by volunteering on the trash crew. Given Alejandro had not officially signed up to be a volunteer, his friend hid him in his trunk and snuck him through the front gates of the festival. With no credentials, Alejandro wandered the campsite, played his music, and enjoyed the scene (he eventually did earn his stay by joining the trash crew as well).
One night as he and his friends were playing music at their campsite, an eccentric man passed by and struck conversation with them all (as does happen at a music festival). After 20 minutes, the man bid farewell to the group by shouting something along the lines of “Beware of the spooky wagons!” Alejandro and his friends laughed having no idea what the man meant by that, but they soon thought to themselves, “Hey, Spooky Wagons could be a great guitar-picker name.” They then proceeded to give each other guitar-picker names, and from that night forward Alejandro became Shakey Graves.
During his performance at Old Settler’s, Shakey mentioned how amazing it was to be back at the place where he truly found his voice. I can imagine he feels that same gratitude every time he comes home to perform in Austin, so it was no wonder when he announced he’d be performing here again at SXSW, and three performances at that! I was lucky enough to attend his show at the Capital One House at Antone’s on March 13, but before I get into that I’ll backtrack to a funny occurrence just a couple days prior.
After a long day of SXSW festivities, I suggested to my best friend and boyfriend that we go hang out at one of my favorite spots in East Austin, farther away from the downtown chaos. We hopped in the car and headed towards Stay Gold. On the way there, I’d say a good 75 percent of our conversation revolved around Shakey Graves and his recently released Tape Quest promotion. What is Tape Quest? Well, in a nutshell it’s his own version of a scavenger hunt. In anticipation for his upcoming new album, Shakey partnered up with Meow Wolf (honestly, what better organization for him to team up with?) to hide 13 boxes containing a tape with a new track of his, some nicknacks, and four tickets to an exclusive listening party and performance. My boyfriend and I had been determined to find a tape, and it was honestly something we couldn’t shut up about for days (we sadly never found one). But I digress, back to the story.
We arrived at Stay Gold and had been there for maybe an hour or so. I stood up from our spot outside to go get a drink and immediately froze, “Guys, that’s Shakey Graves.” Both my friend and boyfriend looked up and thought, “Nah, that’s just someone who looks like him.” For a moment I wondered that too, but I’d seen him around Austin before and absolutely knew it was him. At that point I felt a bit starstruck, and whenever I see celebrities I almost always opt out of engaging with them, mostly just because I know I’ll be awkward, without fail. However, my boyfriend convinced us to go talk to him, so we very timidly walked up and introduced ourselves, often mentioning how big fans we are and how we were excited to see him perform in a couple days. He thanked us, and we chatted a bit about Tape Quest and his upcoming shows. Funny when you realize celebrities are normal people too, right?
Again, I don’t like to engage with these kind of encounters, but I was encouraged to get a picture with him. I ain’t mad about it.
Needless to say, this encounter made his show the following Monday that much better. I hadn’t been that excited to see someone perform live in a long time. The fantastic Star Parks and The Band of Heathens (two other Austin originated bands – more on them coming soon) opened up the Capital One House and Shakey ended the night with a bang, performing a few new songs of his along with many other goodies including my personal favorites, “Pansy Waltz,” “Tomorrow,” “Perfect Parts,” and “Nobody’s Fool.”
As always, Shakey shook the crowd with his bluesy, folksy, rock-and-roll tunes and eerie yet dreamy voice which left us inspired and wanting more. Towards the end of his set he wowed us with solo act songs, rocking out on his signature tricked out suitcase bass drum.
If there’s one thing I left wondering at the end of the night, it was what a particular tattoo of his means, as we noticed that he and all his band members have the same exact one on their right bicep. Perhaps if I ever meet him again (or get the opportunity to interview him) I’ll ask. But until then, it will remain yet another mysterious appeal of Shakey Graves.
Thank you, Shakey, for serenading us with your haunting yet enchanting melodies during SXSW, and please come home more often!
Stay tuned for more SXSW recaps, reviews, and interviews here.
Leigh is a native Texan gone temporary New Yorker and now proud Austinite. Passions include but are not limited to music (both as a spectator and dabbler), traveling & cultural adventures, film & television, true crime, design (of the fashion, interior, and graphic sorts), and photographing & writing about all the aforementioned. Self-acclaimed coffee connoisseur & wino, cat aficionado, book worm, and nature junkie.