Birthday Tribute to a Mystery White Boy
The Austin Java Company location at 12th and Lamar hosted the 6th Annual Jeff Buckley Birthday Tribute event Friday night to a packed house of eager Buckley fans. The Java Lounge was filled with a standing room only crowd gathered around the tiny outdoor stage to watch a host of local musicians pay tribute to the man who would have turned forty Friday night. Tragically, Buckley drowned in a freak accident in 1997 shortly before he was scheduled to record the follow-up to his first major studio album, 1994’s critically acclaimed Grace.
The evening featured some Austin staples including Kazki, KhattieQ (of the Tuna Helpers) and Dave Madden as well as new comers Jade Day, Jaime Garcia and Tina Rodriguez.
“This is my first gig,” said Rodriguez to the crowd midway through her set. The fledgling musician, accompanied by Ben Hahn on guitar, gave a great debut performance of some of Buckley’s more obscure original material.
Buckley, himself no stranger to lending his own genius to other musicians’ songs, would have been pleased with the interpretations of his own work.
Dave Madden launched his set off with a full band before performing the rest of his set alone on acoustic guitar. Madden’s vocal styling certainly owes something to Buckley, apparent in the original material Madden performed in between the tribute covers.
“I fell in love with Grace about two years ago,” said Madden of the watershed recording. “It’s been a big influence on me.”
Buckley’s influence shone through in all the evening’s performances, but none more so than in Jade Day’s take on “Eternal Life.” Day’s rich voice, which draws more comparisons to Michael Stipe than Buckley, conveyed all of the emotional and dynamic range Buckley was so adept at delivering. Accompanied by Jamie Garcia, the duo covered another Buckley gem, the ethereal “Dream Brother,” this time with Garcia taking a convincing turn on vocals.
The hardcore Buckley fans in attendance could be seen nodding and mouthing the words along with the bands.
“I’m a pretty big fan,” said Steve Sisson, a U.T. coach. “The performers were a good reminder of how Jeff has touched a lot of us here.”
The Capital Area Food Bank was this year’s non-profit beneficiary; attendees were encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for donation.
“It’s a good cause, especially this close to Thanksgiving,” said event coordinator Kristina Vallejo. This is Vallejo’s sixth consecutive birthday tribute event which coincides with other events around the world.
“The [Buckley] estate has been really helpful,” said Vallejo, herself a self-professed Buckley fan. She chose the Austin Java Company location for its relaxed vibe – an homage Sin’e, the New York City coffeehouse where Buckley came into his own in the early nineties.
The evening was a subdued affair with the crowd often listening to the performers while watching images from the Live from Chicago DVD projected on a giant screen behind the stage. Almost 10 years after his death, this somewhat obscure and overlooked genius proved again what a powerful hold he still has on musicians and fans alike.