It was the hope of discovery that brought my son and I to the ETX Brewing Company in downtown Tyler, Texas on a brisk Fall Friday evening, the 29th day of November, 2019. I had seen ads and comments about Jake Penrod, but had missed his most recent previous Tyler appearance. He had performed his History of Country Music at Liberty Hall on the downtown Tyler square several months prior to this night. He was to perform this evening, solo, which I found interesting as he typically performs with a 4 or 5 piece ensemble including steel guitar and/or fiddle in addition to the standard guitar, bass and drums, with Jake playing guitar as well.
“If Jake was bold enough to go out on a limb, alone.
We were certainly willing and brave enough to listen! “-SDA
Arriving well in advance of showtime in order to gain a seating advantage, I noticed a fellow sitting parked out front of the venue in a late model suburban. As we walked closer it was Jake, sitting quietly behind the wheel of one of Detroit’s behemoths. Contemplating his first set I suppose. I didn’t bother him as he looked very focused. We went inside to find the place fairly busy, but certainly not crowded. After perusing the menu, we chose some snacks and sat at a table near the stage.
It was immediately obvious that this stage was an afterthought in the layout and design of the room. Situated in a corner where the fire sprinkler system is fed through giant pipes painted red, the “I see a red door and I want it painted black” stage was open on the front, with glass walls, perhaps even roll-up overhead doors in a previous life, flanking the rear and right sides. The left side had a railing to block any unwanted traffic from that angle. On stage was a chair and a mike, both looking lonely and possibly a little sad. In addition there was a sound system monitor pointing back at the mike, and sitting beside it was a small metal bucket. The bucket was decorated with a blue image shaped like the State of Texas and painted on that was a cattle brand, a Rockin’ JP. It took a few minutes for that to soak in.
“It stood for Rockin’ Jake Penrod, of course!“-SDA
We finished our food and about that time Jake appeared on stage with his guitar in hand. He sat down on the chair, adjusted the iconic Shure 55SH to his liking, then he addressed the audience. He introduced himself, said he was glad to be back in Tyer and mentioned that he usually works with a band. Without further adieu, he broke out into his first of dozens of original songs and covers that he knocked down that evening.
His voice was strong and guitar playing much better than expected. I was immediately glad we came. Here was a really talented singer-songwriter, playing solo to a friendly audience of about 100 people. In less than optimum circumstances, including a struggling sound system, everyone there seemed to be encouraging, upbeat and positive. As Jake went through his setlist, he set up each song by describing what caused him to write the particular song or some other anecdote related to the tune and/or it’s composer. This made the music come to life and imprinted his personality on each and every song. During the evening, Jake had to compete with several distractions. Once a car parked in front of the venue had it’s lights turned on shining high beams right into the stage area and front row seats. They remained on for at least 10 minutes. Lighting is usually welcome, but these were just bright and glaring in peoples eyes.
“But Jake didn’t flinch. He continued as if nothing unusual was happening. “-SDA
A few songs later, a lady customer decided it was time to shoot some baskets on an arcade machine located on the side of the room near the stage. Bells, whistles, lights and all! Fortunately, she gave up after about 15 minutes and didn’t make the siren go off! Talk about distraction. But a seasoned hand, Jake Penrod, just put his head down and sang his way through it all. I was again impressed by his demeanor, rapport with the audience, his voice and singing, his songwriting and his guitar playing. He’s at least a five tool player!
The night was not without Jake’s own foibles as he had to restart a couple of cover songs that he had in the wrong key or tempo. But we’re talking live performing here, with nowhere to hide and no band to help cover mistakes. It was all Jake, all the time! It was right after the episode with the basketballer that a lady came forward and dropped something in the bucket. She then returned to her seat. I didn’t put it together right away, but the bucket is for tips. Jake not only braved the cold night air after driving from who knows where to play solo in this chaotic atmosphere, he was playing for tips! This man is dedicated! Over the course of the evening I witnessed at least 20 drops in the bucket. Even at $5 a drop that’s plenty of money to get enough gas to make it home tonight. At $20 a drop it’s steak night at the Penrod’s.I hope it was the latter or better. We gladly did our share at the higher level. After all we enjoyed a wonderful evening of music and tales. Surely that is worth $10 each!
We really enjoyed Jake’s acoustic solo performance and would encourage him to do more of this format, however, he would be wise to do it only in a proper venue with better acoustics, a superior sound system and no distractions.
“If Jake were to hone this intimate style, I’d go out on a limb for him and predict he could OWN a lost market of Country Music fans.”-SDA
Those who no longer or never did go to clubs, bars, honky tonks and dance halls, but who would savor and enjoy a quality live performance in a recital format. Jake, buddy, if you’re out there reading this I hope you’ll seriously consider this idea! I know I’d be there, in the front row, right aisle seat! Armed and bucket ready!
Steven Dickey Arnold