Indian Givers

They induced the best national acts to play in a small barroom, and now they're shutting down. Blame the owners. Blame the Beach. Blame yourself.

From his stool in the sound booth, Drew Holshouser can look down on the Stephen Talkhouse like the pilot of a low-flying plane. His equipment, arrayed on a platform directly above the bar and across the narrow room from the stage, bears a resemblance to an airliner's cockpit, a confined space festooned with a string of Christmas lights the color of mentholated cough drops and dominated by countless electrical outlets and their inevitable tangle, knobs and levers, gauges and blinking LEDs. A gregarious, bearded mountain clad in shorts, boat shoes, and a batik shirt a child could pitch as a tent, Holshouser perches dead-center, peering through smudged eyeglasses at the top of Nil Lara's bobbing, stubbly head.

Holshouser's aerie is reachable only via an aluminum ladder at the far end of the curved bar that leads up to a short, low-ceilinged catwalk, across which one must scuttle stooped over. Posted next to the ladder is a foot-high red-on-white placard, one of those gimmicky takeoffs designed to resemble a "No Parking" sign. "SOUND GOD AT WORK," this one reads. "ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK."

When Holshouser bothers to stand up, which he does occasionally, he can see the stark room in which a few hundred of Lara's closest fans, the young women in particular, sway to the music like sawgrass in a concrete swamp. But mostly his eyes flicker between the singer and the mixing console, which dictates the volume and texture of the body-throbbing din that flows through the Talkhouse's floor-mounted subwoofers and EAW speakers suspended from the ceiling high above the stage. From left to right, each identical-looking row of controls in front of him corresponds to a microphone on the stage. The one pressed up close to David Goodstein's kick-drum. The one that sprouts from bassist Phil McArthur's amplifier. The one connected to Nil Lara's ukulelelike tres. The one in front of Lara's contorted face. Et cetera. On a strip of masking tape that runs the length of the console, Holshouser has magic-markered a shorthand notation of which mike goes with which row. Similar masking-tape reminders of past performances Holshouser has sound-engineered adhere to the booth's low ceiling, their ends dangling like stalactites.

Hundreds and hundreds of them.
For the past two and a half years, the Talkhouse has served as one of South Florida's most abundant musical resources, supplying the area's cultural cognoscenti with a constant flow of pre-eminent acts, national and local, well-known and obscure. Guitar virtuosi Leo Kottke and Richard Thompson. The unrivaled lord of laid-back, J.J. Cale. Lucinda Williams. Koko Taylor (200 pounds of lame-encased funk). Folk hero Richie Havens. Local hero Nil Lara. Natural Causes. Taj Mahal. Warren Zevon, Greg Brown, Ani DiFranco. The Radiators. Mary Karlzen. Aquarium Rescue Unit and Bare Naked Ladies. Vassar Clements, Trout Fishing in America. Donovan. Diane Ward. Holly Near. Boukman Eksperyans. Leon Russell. Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys. Joan Osborne. And from his little cloister littered with cassette tapes and empty Budweiser bottles, the Sound God has presided over nearly all of them. Look up and you could, if you were a mixing-console junkie, pinpoint the knob Holshouser twiddled to raise Joe Ely's trembling honky-tonk howl a whisker, or to mute the fuzz in Jorma Kaukonen's twelve-string guitar.

Next Sunday night, April 16, the Sound God will clamber up here as usual, flip on his Soundtracs mixing console and his Rane equalizer, his two reverbs (one made by Yamaha, the other by Alesis). His two sound compressors, also by Alesis. His system compressor. His BSS crossover and his Rane crossover. Nil Lara and his band will take the stage at about eleven o'clock, as they did this night. They will probably play two long sets with a break in between. Fifteen or twenty songs -- several hours' worth in Lara-time. Spent and sweating, they'll finally close the place down at about four in the morning.

After which the Stephen Talkhouse will cease to exist. And for any Miamian with the slightest ounce of passion for live music performed in a saloon setting, the loss of the Talkhouse is an unmitigated, unparalleled one, a goddamn shame.

A seven-year veteran of the trade, Peter Honerkamp finds himself looking at the music-club business from the far side of 40, though just barely. Born and raised in the borough of Queens, he has worked as a tennis pro and a journalist, putting in a three-year stint at the New York Post. In 1987, flat broke, having used up most of the decade living in Spain and writing what he describes as "a 1700-page shitty novel" A unpublished A he persuaded his relatives and in-laws to invest and bought a bar in Amagansett, New York, amid that enclave of astronomical discretionary income known as the Hamptons. The space, a converted nineteenth-century house, had been redone as a bar in the early Seventies. Honerkamp and his partners decorated Spartanly, kept the name of the establishment's earlier incarnation (the last king of the Montauk Indians, Stephen Talkhouse was a Long Island native), and began serving drinks and booking bands.

The concept A bringing in national acts to play for capacity crowds of about 100 A was well-received, and during the summers, when the well-to-do took their pleasure in the Hamptons, it was more than acceptably lucrative. During the off-season the bar battened down with mostly local musicians, tailing off significantly in attendance but managing to retain a respectable coterie of loyal year-rounders.

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