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The first time I saw David Houston perform with String Theory at Luna’s Café, it was the last Saturday in July. Despite the day’s triple digit heat, most of the seats were full, and the energy level was high. Requests were made. Stories were being told around the room and from the stage.
From her table in front of the stage, Eva tells me she has seen every performance Houston has given there, beginning in the 1980’s; she commutes in from Cameron Park, that evening with her friend, Susan, also a long-time fan.
“David’s probably too humble to say anything,” they are eager to let me know, “But the White Stripes are covering one of his songs.”
The previous week, I had my first encounter with Houston. He appeared for our interview dressed in black, despite the seasonal heat, and his equally dark glasses remained in place despite the indoor setting. If this sounds typical for a musician, it is the last time I think of him that way. He is gentle in his demeanor, and speaks so quietly at times, that I have to lean over to hear him, despite our already close proximity in the corner booth. When he describes his music as, among other things, “melancholy,” it feels apropos, even before I’ve heard it.
Houston’s modest manner should not be confused with reticence. He is generous, not only with information about himself, but in support of his fellow musicians and the local creative collective at large.
He believes the Sacramento music scene itself can be very supportive—“depending--but there are exclusive circles. I’ve always tried to cross those boundaries.” Houston makes an effort to go and see friends in other genres to support them.
He says he has also witnessed a lot of direct mentoring from various musicians over the years, seasoned musicians helping up and comers on their way.
“A current example of that is Kepi Ghouli taking a couple of really talented young acts, Dog Party and Pets, on tour.“
In his estimation, the challenges facing the community aren’t with its members, but with the community itself. He says the city lacks places for creative types to congregate, outside the typical club and bar scene, where young people can be included. He laments the loss of just such a place, True Love Coffeehouse, a now defunct café that kept late night/early morning hours and catered to an all-ages crowd.
Inclusion is a running theme in our conversation, and, as it turns out, among Houston’s friends and colleagues when they speak of him. It seems he has a connection of some kind to everyone, and his name sparks more reverence than revelry.
At one point in our interview conversation, after realizing we have a mutual acquaintance, he asks me to relay a message.
“Would you tell her that my mother passed away?” He adds, as if an explanation is needed, “She knew my mother.”
Later that day, when I forward the news, I receive a simple, one sentence reply: I loved his mother.
At his show at Luna’s a week later, it is clear that people also love David Houston. Not because the crowd is large, but because it is warm. Friendly.
The gig at Luna’s started some 13 or 14 years ago when Houston’s close friend Kevin Seconds (Seven Seconds) asked if he wanted to do a show at the café. After years of it being a regular thing, it was eventually added to the Luna’s event calendar the last Saturday of every month. Currently, it is David Houston’s stage, along with string quartet, String Theory, with whom he has played the last two or three years.
The opening act that night—it changes from month to month as Houston drops in on open mic nights or other events around town looking for talent that he thinks would be interesting to play with—happened to be Kevin Seconds and his wife, Allyson, who told me Houston was known affectionately as the “Dark Buddha,” a nod to his consistent wardrobe and wisdom.
Much like in the one-one-setting, Houston almost fades back, initially, his voice unfortunately close to being overwhelmed by the music. Eventually he gains a presence, and a certain balance is achieved with the strings
The strings are amazing. Strings are not what you’d expect to accompany this music, accurately described by Houston as melancholy folk/pop, and their addition brings a lushness to each tune that is at once fresh and classic.
Not all of the tunes are melancholy, and Houston’s humor is evident as the evening progresses. The show began and ends at a late hour, but friends and fans linger.
When I asked why he had chosen to play with a string quartet, Houston had said it was something different, and different was good.
“For instance, You don’t always want to say in the pop genre—first chorus, first chorus, bridge,” he continued, “Playing with real strings has a different magic. Their passion for their magic comes through.”
The same can be said about David Houston.
Michael Frost, viola
Alison Sharkey, cello
Shawn Hale, bass
Reylynn Goesslin, violin
David Houston and String Theory with special guests can be heard August 25th, 2012 and the last Saturday of most months at Luna’s Café.