Seven Years Later, Fans Hope an Elusive Songwriter Will Finally Play His Holiday Show
The holidays are a time of coming together, but they’re also a time when we think of those who are absent. Thoughts turn to loved ones distant or departed, to the spirits of jolly old elves and to melting frosty snowmen. On Sunday at the Cheatham Street Warehouse, they will turn to a narcissistic country singer who never shows up.
Last year I took my parents to the Gary Floater show. It’s hard to convince people in Austin to drive to San Marcos on a Sunday night, and a lot of people don’t make it– including the headliner.
This was the sixth annual show and Floater had missed every one of them until then. For diehard fans like me, it’s was all part of the charm. What is this strange ritual? Will Gary finally make it? And who exactly is Gary Floater?
According to his website, Floater is is a singer songwriter from Miami, Missouri. He’s had a string of albums, says Brandon Wayne Akins who, along with his partner “Puffy” Dan Walters, fill in for Gary when he is a no-show.
“Me, Myself and I,” “More Me,” “Me in the Mirror,” “Rhyming Egoist” are just a few of them.
His music went from "introspection to self-focus and narcissism and, then, blaming," Akins recalled. "You know, kind of the full spectrum of art."
Akins and Walters claim to have toured with Floater, and despite his many personal shortcomings, they’ve become his musical advocates, releasing three tribute albums of his tunes.
“You know, I think there’s several different genres that he’s tried to force himself into, sort of like a home invasion,” laughed Walters. “That’s the way we like to think about it.”
One tune, “The Dirty South,” gives a nod to what they call “knucklehead country.” But Floater's also tried tear-jerker country and trucker music. With “Sunburn Lake,” he stuck his toes in the tropical country genre, which Walters describes as “kind of like Kenny Chesney country – coastal, tropical.”
He did Americana, patriotic country and cocktail country.
"‘Creepy-old-man country’ is another way of defining that genre,” Walters said.
He even tried to get into what the Akins and Walters call the “grandpa craze” with tunes like “Dust off the Dulcimer.”
But his attempts to cash in never panned out.
“Not only getting rejection letters but getting restraining orders,” Akins said. “As a songwriter, you know, that feels good, because you know that you made something that matters.”
Like all great songwriters Gary turned disappointment into something beautiful. He looked failure right in the eyes and said, “Let’s do this.”
Maybe that’s why his story resonates this time of year, when promise and disappointment walk hand-in-hand.
Anatomy of a Song
One of his tear-jerker country tunes, “A Hero Never Learns,” is a good example of his music’s appeal.
If it were playing in the background, you might think it was heartfelt and sappy in a country music kind of way. But the more you listen, the more you realize something is seriously off.
When you start to think about it, you realize the title doesn’t make sense, or it may be it does – but it’s not a good message.
From there his music usually gets even stranger. Sometimes it seems like Gary is speaking hard truths about Country music and life. Often it just seems like the product of a deeply disturbed mind.
“You have heroes in the Texas music world like Guy Clark and Towns Van Zandt," explains Walters. "You know if Don Johnson were a singer-songwriter? Gary would be a little bit below that... but we still believe in him."
A True Country Legend
Akins describes him as “the best singer songwriter you’ve never heard.”
Maybe that's because Gary Floater isn't real.
Neither, strictly speaking, are Brandon Wayne Akins and Puffy Dan Walters. They are actually singer-songwriters who go by Owen Temple and Adam Carroll, respectively, in their day-to-day lives.
So, here’s their story.
Years ago when Owen, Adam and musician Jason Eady were on tour, and they started coming up with song titles.
“We couldn’t figure out how to make them real. And I think we started with maybe 100 song titles on a legal pad,” Temple said. “And it turned out that the solution to that puzzle was that a full grown man had to be born.”
He says Gary Floater was born at a Ruby Tuesday, while Temple and Carroll were eating chicken fried steak.
“We figured out that tribute albums [are] a, you know...you never appreciate something till they’re gone,” Temple said. “All we knew that Gary Floater was gone. We couldn't see him and we wanted to see him We had to record tribute albums to his songs.”
It's a pretty story. But, what if last year, when my parents and I got to the concert, Gary Floater finally did appear?
He didn’t. Brandon Wayne and Puffy Dan were on fill-in duty again. But that’s classic Gary, he never shows up.
“The Holiday High is kind of like Christmas Eve," said Walters. "If you’re an adult but, you know, remember the anticipation…of something about to come."
“A man that’s gonna make it all right,” added Akins.
And, for a few hours, he does every years.
The Holiday High is coming again to the Cheatham Street Warehouse this Sunday at 8 p.m. It doubles as a food drive for the local foodbank so canned goods are accepted.
Gary Floater is scheduled to play.