Mary Gauthier

Mary Gauthier
Cactus Café
Austin, Texas

Before Mary Gauthier made her appearance on stage in the cozy Cactus Café, she let her band, composed of musical pair Scott Nolan (vocals, harmonica, guitar) and Joanna Miller (drums, backup vocals), open for her. The two are no strangers to Cactus Café, and noted that this was be their third visit. They started the night with “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” a familiar song to country fans since it was covered by Hayes Carll in 2008, though it was originally written by Scott Nolan himself. After they finished the song, Scott lightly joked that concert goers frequently question him why he starts his set with a cover. In their following song, they picked up the tempo and the energy as they got the room tapping its feet to “Shake It Loose.” The pair then performed a song Nolan wrote in dedication to their late road manager, Ernie Blackburn, titled after Ernie’s motto, “You Rock, We Roll.” True to its title, the song featured rock tones and a strong, catchy beat. In “One Little Spark,” they switched back to a slower and lighter mood with this humorous song about Guy Clark.

Mary Gauthier joined Scott and Joanna on stage and the trio started with Gauthier’s song “Your Sister Cried,” in which Scott played a beautiful guitar solo. They then went straight into “Cigarette Machine,” which got the crowd loud and enthusiastic. After the applause died down, Gauthier explained the story behind “Last of the Hobo Kings,” which was inspired by an obituary she read about Steam Train Maury Graham, who was elected King at an annual hobo convention. When she later found his picture online, she claims he “looked like Santa Clause the day after Christmas.” This elegy to Steam Train was followed by what Gauthier called “a medley of my hit,” which was, of course, the song that had the entire audience singing along, “I Drink.”

In her next number, “Christmas in Paradise” Gauthier grabbed a harmonica as Nolan moved to the keyboard. The band took a break from playing for a while as Gauthier related the story behind “Sugar Cane.” She was raised in Louisiana, adopted by an Italian family in Thibodeaux, and every year during harvest time, the sugar cane fields would be lit on fire (to burn off the leaves, making the harvest of the cane easier). Gauthier recalled the way that her mother would always curse at the smoke, claiming the fumes to be toxic. She performed the upbeat song, filling the room with her contagious energy. Following “Sugar Cane,” Gauthier dove into a battery of train songs, starting with “The Rocket,” followed by a new song, “Another Train,” then “I Thought I Heard a Train,” and finally “Hurricanes and Trains,” written as a reflection on the events following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. She revealed to the audience that the reason she seems to have collected so many train songs is that trains are the perfect metaphor for the comings and goings of the human heart. Gauthier went onto say that her Muse heals her through her work, and that “the broken heart gets better when you sing train songs.” She ended the show with a loud and upbeat number, “Wheel inside the Wheel.”

Following a standing ovation, Gauthier stepped back on stage for a solo encore, singing “Mercy,” a song that, according to a tweet she’d recently received, is currently being recorded by Boy George.

Gauthier’s performance was deeply honest and her emotions show through in her lyrics and melodies.

by Olivia Lin