A Music Clubhouse

Houston's ultimate jam session: Lyle Lovett & his Fair friends take over the HoustonPBS studios

Houston's ultimate jam session: Lyle Lovett & his Fair friends take over the HoustonPBS studios

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The final song was a reunion between old Anderson Fair artists and new ones. Courtesy of Houston PBS
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Anderson Fair owner Tim Leatherwood and Lyle Lovett Courtesy of Houston PBS
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Ernie Manouse and the PBS Fall Membership Drive volunteers Courtesy of Houston PBS
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Producer Jim Barham and owner Tim Leatherwood speak with Ernie Manouse Courtesy of Houston PBS
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News_Houston PBS_membership drive_Lyle Lovett
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"This is so much fun," musician Bill Cade says. "They're going to make this illegal. I know they will."

Enthusiasm pervaded the HoustonPBS studios on Wednesday evening. The broadcasting station screened For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair and held an Anderson Fair reunion concert in conjunction with their Fall Membership drive. Songwriters of decades past convened with filmmakers, volunteers and a few lucky guests in the studio for the event.

Post dinner and pre-screening, my table was abuzz with excitement and reminiscence. Neighbors to the left, John Kajander and his wife, were eager to reconnect with Don Sanders. Kajander still owns Sanders' old albums, and talked about the etching of Texas on the B-side of one. "We should really have it framed."

 Lyle Lovett, hair as wild and vertical as ever, made the social rounds between on-screen discourse and donation seeking with PBS host Ernie Manouse, who was charming despite his two broken hands. 

On my right, Amy Robinson was anxious to see Denice Franke, whom she befriended at summer camp more than 30 years ago. "Denice had such a beautiful voice, even then."

Lyle Lovett, hair as wild and vertical as ever, made the social rounds between on-screen discourse and donation seeking with PBS host Ernie Manouse, who was charming despite his two broken hands (vestiges of a recent bicycle accident).

Shake Russell, Matt Harlan, and Vince Bell were other Anderson Fair artists in the crowd.

After the documentary aired, CultureMap caught up with producer Jim Barham to find out what compelled him to take part in the award-winning film.

"Bruce Bryant, the director, and I have been longtime patrons of Anderson Fair," Barham explains. "Bruce did a lot of work with the artists early in his career, filming them at the Fair, so the project was really dear to his heart."

Whenever Bryant and Barham pitched the idea to Anderson Fair's owner, Tim Leatherwood, all he could say was, "What took you so long?"

The team spent more than seven years putting the film together. They worked in fits and starts, sifting through hours of archival concert footage, reconnecting with artists to conduct interviews, filming present-day shows on the stage at Anderson Fair.

The result is a beautiful, genuine story of a place that has served many different purposes — a refuge, a meeting place, a venue for musicians to debut, and a muse — to many different people, throughout the decades.

"We started off without a storyline," Barham says. "We just hoped that we could extract a narrative from the interviews. It revealed itself."

Joy Lewallen is one of the threads in this narrative. She works during the day as a local school teacher, but she volunteers her time to tend bar at the Fair, without pay, every Friday night. She has been a part of the Anderson Fair family since 1972.

"Back in college, I lived down the street from the Fair, so I was there all the time," Lewallen says. "I just fell into it, and started tending bar there."

Listening to Lewallen describe her experience at the venue felt surreal. She described Anderson Fair as a clubhouse, where she went to study and listen to music, to connect with friends. Lewallen went to high school with Leatherwood. She was Nanci Griffith's gal pal. All of the musicians were, and still are, like family. And the space itself has a life and a sound of its own.

 Lovett invited all of his friends up on the studio stage for the last song, a touching tribute to the venue they love so much. 

"I do it for the music," Lewallen says. "It was always about the music."

Lovett, something of a Texas music legend, has met great national success — with four Grammy awards and a dozen albums under his belt. But he claims to owe that success to his beginnings on stage at Anderson Fair.

"It's not a part of Lyle's past. It's a part of who he is," Lewallen says.

Throughout the night, Anderson Fair artists played live studio sets, culminating in a performance by Lovett. He invited all of his friends up on the studio stage for the last song, a touching tribute to the venue they love so much.

It was a special night for HoustonPBS as well. The station raised $28,000 from 256 pledges, and the calls continued to come in even after the show ended.

If you missed the documentary the first time around, it will be re-aired Friday at 1 a.m. and on Saturday at 9 p.m. And if you haven't donated yet, you have until Sept. 30th to contribute toward HoustonPBS's $425,000 Fall Membership goal.