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Wednesday, 16 January 2008 00:00

Shine on you crazy Miners

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By Chris Cooper

A few years ago there was this gangly guy with a mop of shaggy blonde hair sitting on a bench reading Beneath The Wheel by Herman Hesse. I recognized the book because a friend of mine had recently acquired a copy, and I’d made a half-hearted attempt to work my way through it.

A casual sidewalk exchange ensued, the whole “Hey, I tried to read that book ...” thing that happens when strangers notice some random commonality between them. Afterwards, the guy hopped on his bike and rode away. I noticed “Beneath The Wheel” still sitting on the bench, and made a mental note that if I ran into him again, I’d remind him that he left it behind. Sadly, I don’t think it crossed my mind to actually pick the book up and do something with it. Oops.

Later, the aforementioned gangly fellow (Luke Webb) dropped off a flier (hand painted on a paper plate, I think) advertising an upcoming gig for a band called Shiner Miners. Or maybe “Stillborn Unicorn.” Possibly it was both, and it’s equally plausible that “Shiner Miners” was spelled “Shinre Minres,” at least for a brief period of time. I put the odd little poster up, and no, I didn’t go to the show.

Weeks (months?) later I was passing by the brick house across from Spring Street restaurant and heard some random music oriented rumblings coming from the basement. If I remember correctly, somebody was doing something kind of weird to Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses.” There may have been an early version of a tune I would later recognize as “Lurleen.” Whoever was responsible for the noise had a remarkable ability to dangle precariously on the edge of completely falling apart, but ... not. I mean, maybe they did wind up stopping at some point, but there was something about hearing them narrowly sidestep numerous impending musical trainwrecks that kept me engaged. Then I started to feel weird about standing outside of some stranger’s house listening to them rehearse, and went on about my business. But somehow, some way, I knew the band I was hearing was the Shiner Miners.

Sometimes it’s tough to write about local bands — at least it is to me. It’s also difficult to write about local bands that I happen to be friends with. Then there’s the whole deal where I worry that I’ve written about a band, or mentioned them, too many times. I reviewed two shows by the Shiner Miners, one back when they were a four piece — with Patty Dowdy on an intonation challenged keyboard, perhaps — and another over a year later when they settled into a trio, with bassist Jason Beck and drummer Isaac Sturgill remaining. But I attended lots of shows, even if they went unmentioned. I watched this group of musicians find a genuine “sound” together, and I observed how a small community of rowdy friends (united by the pursuit of good music, food and beer) could revel in supporting real folks making real music.

It reached a point where the majority of the audience knew all the words to all the songs, sometimes culminating in outright singalongs, complete with that wobbly, shoulder-to-shoulder rocking thing groups of people tend to do when alcohol and time is involved. A show with the Miners also included demonstrations of nearly every interpretation of “dancing” one could ask for — there was even a “dance off” at one gig.

But as silly as things often got, when Webb would break down a tune like “The Gulf” with a stream of signature mile-a-minute wordplay, “silly” was the last thing on your mind. The band’s ability to teeter on the edge eventually gave way to a sort of controlled chaos, and the fact that they actually made their country/folk/dub/spoken word/jangly and occasionally punkish rock concoction work is remarkable in and of itself. Lots of bands WANT you to have to run 14 words together in an effort to describe their sound; with the Shiner Miners, you pretty much had to.

All this past tense stuff could be a little misleading, so let me explain; Luke’s moving away to continue his education — nobody died or anything. The band’s not even really “breaking up” per se, we simply won’t be able to count on seeing them as regularly as we’ve gotten used to. So this little ramble isn’t intended to mourn the passing of yet another promising Sylva band, merely to give some respect where it’s due. I’ve never gotten to watch a band evolve over time the way I have with the Shiner Miners, and for that I’m grateful. Well, that and the fact that I’ve had a ridiculously good time at every single one of their shows.

So, at some point in the coming weeks, if you see someone raise a bottle of Bavaria skyward and shout “Get Cryptic!” you’ll understand why. Maybe.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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