We took my son, August, to my parents across town. He was looking forward to relaxing in their cozy home, while we set out on our impromptu tour.
An eight-hour drive later, we pulled up to TJ and Jill’s Hansel and Gretel style house. We put down our bags, exchanged hugs, petted the dogs, and headed to McGurks, an Irish pub in the Soulard District.
At night in the French district, we could have been in New York City, or New Orleans, but it was definitely old world. McGurks has massive
Back at the house, we descended into TJ’s basement sanctuary. It had comfy couches, an entertainment center, and an old-fashioned bar hand-built by TJ himself. We ended up spending many friendly hours there on our visit.
The first night TJ told us stories about his tour of duty in Iraq. We heard about his five-day caravan trek across Iraq to the base where he spent six months, about huge camel spiders, about the locals hired to fill thousands of sandbags only for the plastic to biodegrade quickly in the sun. As much as he told us, there is still a lot more he didn’t tell us.
The next day we were on our own while TJ and Jill were at work. We checked out the Delmar Loop and visited Meshuggah Coffee House. We had a tasty breakfast with good coffee. The owner and patrons were friendly and curious about our instrument cases, but early Friday afternoon was sleepy on the Delmar Loop. A couple elderly buskers played for the few passers by.
We drove toward downtown, looking for the action, and taking in the sights. The famous stainless steel Gateway Arch adds a surreal science fiction feel to an otherwise normal cityscape, like something out of a Space Odyssey. It is simple, awe-inspiring and beautiful. I knew from a childhood experience not to travel up the arch. The five-seater egg-shaped capsules that rotate and ratchet people up and down are a claustrophobic’s level seven nightmare.
Our plan for that evening was to busk outside Cardinal Stadium for the playoff game. Busking in St. Louis is legal without any permits, as long as it’s on public property. Also, Mark, TJ’s brother, had gotten us a gig at Kilroy’s, a sports
The streets were a sea of people dressed in red. Homegrown buskers had claimed the best spots, and reigned over large swaths of prime territory with amplification. Casey and I found a spot to play, in view of the Purina Headquarters. “Great Purina! It’s a sign!” I said, remembering the way the dogfood plant odor dominates Bricktown, where we sometimes busk. The people of St. Louis were kind, giving us lots of smiles. The most common feedback we got was, “Wow, that’s different!” TJ later explained, “Blues music prevails in St. Louis, I’m sure they just enjoy hearing something different.”
Shamrocks Pub is in a massive old brick building, nothing fancy. In it’s past it had been a convent, a bottling plant, and an advertising agency. The owner Pat, who loves musicians and music, gave us a tour of the upstairs. He shared his vision of turning it into an iconic music venue. It already had a wonderful very large wooden stage. I could understand how the space would make someone want to dream big.
In the seventh inning the Cardinals were locked in to win the game. We wanted to busk for the mass exodus from the stadium. We set up on a corner, in a light drizzle. At the end of the game rabid, drunken fans descended and rowdy madness ensued. The people were really unhinged. We retreated to Shamrocks, where it was safer.
Women and girls gathered around and danced like we were rock stars. Pat had hilarious Russian dance moves. It was a feel good moment.
Saturday we all woke up late and with plans to take it easy. Toward evening we drove to Eureka, MO, an beautiful suburb outside of St. Louis. Jill’s nephew Nick was turning three. It was a family celebration in a tall house on the edge of the woods. We ate lots of delicious homemade food, and everyone gathered around to hear us play some music. It was cozy and old timey, even little Nick settled down to enjoy the songs with his family. TJ teared up a little and later confided, “That’s what it’s all about man! Family, friends, and music! You guys are great!” We drove home in the dark watching for the deer that were all around.
Again we watched movies until Casey was the last one standing.
It is in the Grove District, which reminded us of Oklahoma’s Plaza District plus the 39th Strip rolled into one. There are colorful contemporary murals everywhere, fun bars like the Atomic Cowboy, trendy coffee shops, art spaces, tattoo parlors, skateboard shops, and lots of rainbow flags. The Grove is a small creative community recently birthed amidst rundown, broken, boarded up old brick townhouses.
Inside the Handlebar we quickly figured out there was a bicycle theme. It was a hip space, with a courtyard, covered in funky murals. At four in the afternoon it was pretty dead, so we decided to relax and enjoy a few drinks before we dropped in on TJ’s family for Sunday Dinner.
We arrived at the home of TJ’s parents, Linda and Mike, at dusk.
TJ made a fire out back by a splashing fountain. His older brother Phil and his son showed up. We all gathered around the fire and Casey and I played tunes. It was lovely.
On the way home we passed by the Handlebar, if it was rocking we’d stop in and play, but on a Sunday night it was mostly empty. I said, “Oh well, I guess we didn’t make much of a splash in St. Louis. We were naïve to think it could be so easy.” And Casey answered, “Yeah, but I’m happy with how it turned out. It was more important to hang out with TJ and go with the flow. This trip wasn’t so much about the music, it was more about friendship.”
In the mood for more on St. Louis? We recommend St. Patrick's in St. Louis 2015