The South Austin Moonlighters (S.A.M.) know a good thing when they see it. This, and a genuine love of music is something they all have in common. For bassist Lonnie Trevino, Jr. the combination of the two has helped establish a musical career, one that has now evolved into a place in the band. Trevino recognized a good thing at one of his first gigs where he played rhythm guitar: “Afterwards, a man came and handed me a five dollar bill. I remember thinking. Man, this is it. This is the life for me.” It is clearly the life for each and every one of his fellow Moonlighters as well, all of whom make no bones about the challenges of life in the music industry, especially in a town like Austin, where the sheer number of musicians means five dollars might be the best that new acts can hope for. However, through hard work, dedication, and talent, they have all managed to make this band happen, and boy does it happen.
The South Austin Moonlighters came by their name honestly. Deadman’s Trevino, Phil Hurley of Stonehoney, Aaron Beavers of SHURMAN, Josh Zee of The Mother Truckers, and Phil Bass of the The Wylie Bros are all, quite literally, moonlighting from their aforementioned bands. While this arrangement might appear problematic, it is, in fact, central to the band’s sound and dynamic. “We had all heard each other’s work, and there’s an intense amount of respect between all of the members” says Beavers before Hurley jumps in: “We each bring something different – but it’s the level of trust that really allows us to go beyond our comfort zone and try new things. It’s unlike any band we’ve ever played with before.” The guys admit that moving beyond that comfort zone does not always work out as planned, but it has provided an opportunity for growth that they are all more than a little excited about. When asked to describe what the band is about in one word they don’t hesitate to answer – “Joy,” they respond, all nodding emphatically in agreement. Talking to them about their music, one is overwhelmed with the excited conversational volley that suddenly takes off. Ask a question and they are suddenly all talking, one over the other, not out of rudeness but out of sheer enthusiasm for what they are doing.
Slouched comfortably back in the booth or talking around the table at The Saxon Pub in South Austin, they are without a doubt in their natural environment. “It’s like our living room” says Zee. This is the place where it all began after Trevino finally turned vague suggestions and promises to jam sometime into an actual set one not-so-long-ago Tuesday night—the first hint of the good things to come. It was not just the music they were making that solidified the band, but the overall shared experience with their South Austin audience. They quickly found that the joy they had discovered on stage was hardly limited to the performers. It spread to a devoted audience and that Tuesday night test run quickly became a routinely anticipated set, which has since grown into a Thursday night residency at the self same pub and hopes of an album. Watching them now and seeing the following they have developed, it is hard to believe that they have been playing together for a mere six months.
While each of its members continues to play in their other individual bands, as a group, the South Austin Moonlighters has taken on a life of its own. Despite the variety one can expect from the average S. A. M. show – Memphis blues, rock and roll, classic Americana – it never feels in any way disjointed. “We played together a few times and despite the fact that everyone was choosing their own cuts, we discovered we had a sound,” says Hurley. It is a sound fans can expect to hear more of on their upcoming album which the band is looking to get started via Kickstarter. While their sets at The Saxon often include deep cuts and favorite covers, the album will consist of all original material.
But to refer to a typical show by the South Austin Moonlighters as “average” is misleading, if the reaction of the audience is any indication. Many are dancing, the rest are swaying in their seats, and even the most reserved cannot help tapping their toes. As you sit there, you almost swear you have heard it before– not because it is unoriginal, but because it feels so classically good, as only something familiar can feel. The smiles are contagious – they are not just on the faces of the audience, they are clearly evident on those of the band as well. This is no place for apathetic hipsters; it is just an unabashed good time. The musicians are real, the music is real, and most importantly to the band, the joy is real. The South Austin Moonlighters know they have found a good thing and it is obvious that their audience does too. If the packed house is any indication, it does not look like either of them will be giving it up any time soon.