It’s bigger here, faster. SUV bumpers ride up to my hips, steaks come in slabs as bloated as fists and talk runs at rates that I can’t penetrate. Wide open spaces with every bit packed up and built on and everyone got to get first. Southern Rock dominates each bar I find, bloated like those steaks but with half less to chew on.
Exit to Mexico Beach. Highway 98 so long, straight and one-laned a road that it’s easy to drift down its high-pine lined stretch. Got told it’s a shifted down, stripped down beach front, without the rude lights and the half builts and built up. Air smelt a little cleaner there.
From white sand that drops steep into warm green sea water I caught earshot of whoops and applause. I dried off to move to the source.
Toucan Bar’s upstairs is an open view room, it’s back end set up for mics and guitars. I caught the last song from a lass with a voice cracked from use and a drawl from an accent that dry-painted words that would break in the heat. Her acoustic guitar underneath. Something of Joplin if she had more time.
It’s smaller here, slower. A pause and comes Maggie and Mike. Brittle to delicate, unassumingly forceful, spaces more open than anyplace so far. He sings out words like a dry river bed where dust moves in wind and not water, song subjects snagging like stones in the ground. She joins him in duet and harmony, floating over the grit he lays out. They both pick guitars, Mike taking lead while Maggie accompanies on either guitar or percussion. It’s American folk and old country. It’s as soothing as it is chilling and as chilling as it could be joyful.
Covers and originals, I don’t know which were which, but they lap up the chance to play around with playing. First song a lean tale; unhappy woman in unhappy marriage, redemption in learning to play guitar and sing. The more successful she got, the further she got from the man that she wanted to leave… but the further she got the more she might have missed him, or at least the easy familiar. “She slept alone when she wanted to / slept with men on purpose too”, there’s no heroes here and no happy ending, just a three minute slice of a life.
Guitars get put down and in tones passed down by country, by state, through family or through genre, both sing unaccompanied towards one microphone. Flows sweet and moves clear and the riverbed fills with a cool and clear water.
Halfway through last song I realise it met me a whole world away. I was somewhere sometime else. “I walk 47 miles of barbed wire / Use a cobra snake for a neck tie….” 1987, Jesus and Mary Chain. “I got a brand new house on the roadside / made from rattlesnake hide…” 1965, The Preachers (Pebbles Compilation Volume 1). “Who do you love? / Who do you love?” Now I know it’s Bo Diddley’s from 1957 and here it is worked into a handlebar country medley.
Maggie and Mike have toured US and Europe, they say they survived 10 years in Nashville. And I found them here in this small off-beach bar.
Top picture taken from Maggie and Mike’s website;