Carrie Rodriguez

The Cactus Café
Austin, Texas

Musician Carrie Rodriguez began her show at the Cactus Café with a casual, “Bienvenidos a nuestro laboratorio.” The crowd applauded her then, just as they would when she finished her set over an hour later. Most of them had seen her at the Cactus before, and everyone crowded the venue past its available seating to see her once again.

Then, keeping with the no-show-is-like-another design of the laboratorio setup, guitarist David Garza flanked Rodriguez for the entire night. He and Rodriguez are old friends, and they played that way, laughing between sets and leaning into one another where they each felt the music swell just right.

Together they explained their own upbringings between songs: Garza grew up in Irving, and Rodriguez’s family arrived in the Panhandle, in a spot called the Llano Estacado. Her history filled her songs, where women “sing the blues” in the Llano Estacado, where her great-aunt crooned to a majestic ballroom as “la novia de canción.” Spanish lyrics drifted in and out of the music and framed every song in Rodriguez’s sense of her heritage and family. Whether she played sultry swing, the roots twang, velvety acoustic, tender duet, and wavering flamenco, it all sounded like her own expressions. A new song for the laboratorio pleaded, “America, don’t break my heart,” and lamented that “la historia isn’t what we thought.” Not only did Rodriguez sing it sadly, but it blended with every other sound–she constantly let everyone in the room hear where she comes from.

That includes the Cactus Café as well, as Rodriguez has played there regularly. She noted that the venue celebrates its fortieth year in 2019 to cheers from the audience. “At least we still have the Cactus,” one woman informed her neighbor. And it seems when Rodriguez plays the Cactus again, her hometown family of fans will again pack the café to its brim.

by Kevin LaTorre