Just off Seventh Street, among the trendy new shops and restaurants, sits a true institution: Fred's Texas Cafe.
These days, Fred's looks like some kind of frontier outpost holding the line against the creeping yuppie assault. A painted outdoor wall promises "Coldass Beer." Inside, there's still the original stainless counter and gold bass-boat metal-flake vinyl booths (amazing considering how many times the place has caught fire).
Lucky for us, Fred's is in no danger of being overrun. The landmark eatery was recently featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives; on a weekend, the wait to get a seat is viciously long -- but worth it. Many think it's the best place in town to get a burger.
And then there's the music. Around the back of Fred's is a stockade of sorts, with a stage and outdoor tables. The cedar-post fence, branding iron-scarred walls and big shipping container used for storage make it look like a cross between Rawhide and Lost. On March 23, the wooden picnic tables were packed with people who came to see Luke Wade.
Although Wade has a full band, No Civilians, this was truly a one-man show: Wade sang, played guitar and even ran his own sound. He opened with a couple of vaguely Beatlesque originals, then tore into an acoustic cover of Led Zeppelin's Ramble On. It may have lacked the sonic diversity of a full band, but it was enjoyable.
Wade followed with a nice cover of Bob Marley's I Shot the Sheriff, but where he really shines is on his original music. Indeed, he says he uses covers to get the crowd's attention before coming at them with more challenging stuff.
"You have to make them listen," Wade says. "Maybe you grab them with a powerful cover, then you give them what you got. I assume they don't wanna listen -- then I give it to them anyway."
Wade may be worrying for nothing: The crowd on March 23 seemed all too ready to listen to both the covers and the originals. He performed some Wood Brothers, some Ryan Adams, Amos Lee and even Walking on the Moon by the Police. Luke then made a valiant attempt at Zeppelin's Over the Hills and Far Away, but struggled with the chords and high notes before announcing "Led Zeppelin Fail" to the laughing crowd. No matter, his Ray Charles cover that followed had children coming up on stage to dance. His cover of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On got the grown-ups on their feet.
As the evening wore on, Luke performed a song he wrote with Tyler Wood of the Campaign, called The Political Song. It's a change of pace for an artist who says he usually prefers to avoid controversy.
"Right now, everything is so polarized," Luke said. "Anytime I try to write about it, it divides. I feel like the best thing I could do right now is try to bring as many people together as I possibly can."
That song, like most of Wade's originals, was a joy to listen to. Best news of all: You have plenty of opportunities to see him. This gifted performer plays at Fred's every other Tuesday from 7 to 10 p.m., and at the Grotto on Mondays. (He also gives out his CDs for free at the shows, so get there before he runs out.)