Just Kate – Clifford Antone

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Heading into this weekend’s solo acoustic gigs, I fondly recall a moment in my early days playing music. It was the fall of 2003. I had spent a few years in California, leaving my early career as a social worker, learning to write songs and perform on stage, connecting with wonderful friends who inspired and encouraged me to find my voice, find my way. Needing a change, longing for family support, I left California to return to my hometown of Philadelphia. Along the way, I took a journey, with no goals in mind, except to play every open mic I could find and busk on any block I could along the way…and to make it back home by Christmas. At this point, I was going by the name “Just Kate” – I hadn’t figured out who I was musically or even personally, so the name worked for me. I also hadn’t heard of the sit-com “Will and Grace” until my friends back home told me, “You can’t use that name, don’t you know about Just Jack?” Nope, I hadn’t, I wasn’t watching much TV and I really didn’t care 🙂 Back to the road… I stopped in Austin for a couple of months. It was there that I found a place busting at the seams with more music than I could consume (and it wasn’t SXSW), it was November, I was enamored. I played a bunch of open mics, I busked on the streets. One day I was busking on South Congress, I think it was First Thursday. I remember I was playing “Waves of Today” – a song I had written only a few weeks before I left California.  A man walked up, eating a hot dog, and intently listened to my playing. All of a sudden, a crowed formed around me, and as I realized later, because he was listening.  They all listened to me singing.  The man came up to me and said, “You are really great! Did you write that song? You really have what it takes to make it in music. If Stevie Ray Vaughan could make it, you can make it. What’s your name? “Just Kate”! That’s a great name, I love it!” I was humbled and blown away by his comments and had no clue who this mystery man was. He said his name was Clifford Antone, but again, not only had I not been watching much TV, I was only beginning to learn about this crazy business called music. In fact, the business of it hadn’t even occurred to me yet. It was a lifestyle and a love for me, all for the music. If only I could go back to that innocent time. Mr. Antone asked me to come to Ruta Maya where he would get me up on stage for a tweener set during Miss Carolyn Wonderland’s show.  I obliged and sure enough, he kept his word. Between my busking and making my way to Ruta Maya, I learned who this man really was. He told me if I stayed in Austin he would do anything in his power to help me. I thanked him and told him I had to keep going, to find my way, and that I’d be back if his offer was still there when I returned. He said, “Yes, God help me if I’m still here.”  A few weeks later, I hit the road, keeping my word  to return to my home and feel the roots. I fared Mr. Antone well and promised to keep in touch. We spoke a few times on the phone and I saw him two years later when I was touring through Austin.  I always thought I’d make it back and take him up on his encouragement to live in Austin and make a career there as a professional musician.  On May 23, 2006, I heard of his passing. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since then. Clifford Antone will always hold a tender place in my heart and my musicianship. He was a supportive friend and I will always remember his encouraging words that day on South Congress. When I play solo, I honor him and wonder if he’s eating a hot dog and listening to me sing my songs from his great mansion in the sky. These gigs are for you, Clifford Antone, thank you for helping me to find my way!
– Just Kate