Alejandro Rose-Garcia was feeling like the odd man out on the eve of his two-night stand at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July.
He arrived at the airport alone in a cowboy hat and weathered jeans with two guitars and a battered suitcase that doubles as a kick drum.
“My apprehension about playing the festival is that you wonder if people are going to say, ‘Why is this person here?’” said Rose-Garcia, 26, an Austin native whose stage name is Shakey Graves.
Yet he grabbed the audience at the free outdoor concert, his smooth, bluesy voice laced with honey and bourbon. He sold out the next night and had new fans lined up to get a snapshot with him.
Rose-Garcia had been carving out an acting career in Hollywood, but frustration persuaded him to trade it in for the life of a singer-songwriter. Since then, he has built a following with a low-fi, one-man band for alternative music lovers and hipsters.
Back home in Austin, the mayor last year declared Feb. 9 Shakey Graves Day.
When he takes the stage tonight at Manhattan’s Webster Hall, Rose-Garcia says he’s sure to play “Roll the Bones,” the catchy title song from his CD, which showcases his vocal chops. Besides his two custom-made Loar guitars, he’ll use drum pedals to thump a suitcase with a bass drum head built into it and tap a tambourine.
“I’ll perform the hits, but I’m trying to get out of the box and try some new material,” he said.
Rose-Garcia had a shot of breaking out as an actor. He was known to television audiences in his recurring role as The Swede on the NBC drama “Friday Night Lights.” But the weak parts offered to him and the constant hustle to get noticed by casting agents soured him on acting.
“When I started out, I was bemoaning how am I going to get a band together? And what if I can’t get the right drummer?” Rose-Garcia said. “But I saw guys perform alone and do it with a lot of sound. It’s just the concept of trying to get the most sound out of a performance.”
Rose-Garcia’s home these days is often a 1999 Ford Econoline van equipped with television and a queen-sized bed that takes him from gig to gig. He has performed free and done gigs for as little as $200 before tiny audiences to build name recognition.
The Webster Hall show will be a form of redemption for the artist, who came to New York first in 2007 to start his career. He recalls with a laugh going to an open-microphone performance at the Sidewalk Cafe back then and being humbled by the talent in the room.
“I realized that I didn’t have my stuff together, and there were all these other musicians who were really at the top of their game,” he said.
He takes the stage next month at the prestigious Austin City Limits Festival, an event he watched as a child growing up in the city.
‘It’s a little terrifying,” he said. “It’s the flagship festival. It’s like my house. I’ll have to bring it!”
(Rose-Garcia/Shakey Graves performs tonight at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom in Manhattan at 7 p.m. Tickets and information: http://event.websterhall.com.)
(Patrick Cole is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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