By Jenni Finlay
“Let’s do a renegade showcase this year,” Louis said, that devilish grin never leaving his face. “There’s no reason why we can’t pull it off.”
We’re sitting at my “office,” the Italian restaurant Enoteca in South Austin. I’m hesitant. After all, I always follow the rules and he brings this up only a few weeks before the Folk Alliance International conference. Also, this kind of thing had not happened since the conference’s original “guerrilla” showcases went legit years ago. I’d just quit the organization’s board of directors; launching my own off-campus showcase will ruffle feathers for sure.
“Come on,” he prods. “What’s the worst that could happen?” His entire face lights up with a giddy schoolboy smile. I agree. “Let’s do this thing,” I say.
I could never say no to Louis Meyers.
I can’t remember a single moment he wasn’t in my life. Always steadfast. Strong. Checking in for no apparent reason. Making sure that everything was all right, that I had everything I could possibly need.
Louis was my father’s steel player from before I was born until we started our Kent and Jenni Finlay Show family band. After that, he got us on the South By Southwest bill from 1989-91. But he wasn’t just supportive with music. Louis pushed my buttons even when I was a little kiddo. In the fourth grade, I had a horrible case of the chicken pox, but he wouldn’t let me back out from the gig. “The show must go on,” he insisted.
He was so proud when I came back from Nashville with my music business degree from Belmont. “Uh oh,” he joked, “You’re one of us now.”
Louis was the one who convinced me to attend the Folk Alliance conference, an experience that ultimately changed my life. And even though he was the main man, executive director, he would drop everything at a moment’s notice if I needed him. And oh, there were times I needed him. Like the year a wrong-headed rebel barricaded himself in my showcase room and absolutely, positively refused to leave. Louis knocked on the door until his knuckles literally bled and telephoned everyone to find me a new space.
Then there was the time, due to some air-conditioning fluke, my showcase suite was “the hottest room in town,” and Louis arranged for me to have an additional room so I could sleep. And the year Randy Weeks had sudden laryngitis and almost had to cancel his official showcase. We put together a “Songs of Randy Weeks” tribute in its place because, as Louis always said, “The show must go on.”
You think making me play with chicken pox was pushing my buttons? Try this: As soon as I got the ball rolling for our Rebels and Renegades showcase this year, Louis does the unthinkable. “You got it,” he says. “This is all yours.”
My immediate thought: “Jesus Christ, Louis! You are going to get me into so much trouble!” And, you know what? He did. There were glares from board members and sideways glances from skittish staffers. Plenty of uncomfortable conversations. I went through with it anyway, and the first Rebels and Renegades showcase at Knuckleheads pretty much sold out halfway through and stayed packed all night. A total success. A huge leap I never would have taken on my own.
I told Louis that even though it worked out so well, I felt like a pariah. He didn’t hesitate. “Good,” he said. “That means you’ve made it. Congratulations. OK, now let’s talk about what we’re gonna do during South by Southwest.”
Louis pushed me again. He traded me his Saturday slot at Threadgill’s — inside and out — for my outdoor show on Wednesday. The result: significantly raising my profile. I was so looking forward to seeing that smile all across his face when I took the stage to announce the showcase. Beaming. Proud. Like the soft and sweet uncle always rooting the hardest.
Then he died. He died out of the blue. I was at my recording studio when I heard the news and I fell straight to my knees and cried and screamed and cursed the fates. How could this happen? How could he be gone? I wanted to crawl into bed for two weeks and skip South By Southwest this year.
But I will not. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll listen to Willis Alan Ramsey, Sam Baker, all the artists he championed all these years. I will honor his memory by doing exactly what he would’ve wanted: I will show up at Threadgill’s on Saturday, present the showcase as planned and do everything I can to make everything a huge success for him.
After all, the show must go on.