The highlight of our trip to St. Augustine was spending Saturday night at Murph’s Bar (which, if you’re heading that way, is next to a laundromat in a strip mall on A1A in Crescent Beach–there’s usually a couple Harleys out front; you can’t miss it) getting drunk and listening to the most amazing band.

They were tuning up as we walked in. In my experience, that’s rarely an auspicious sign, especially when all you really wanna do is hang out, drink whiskey, and chat with local felons. But I recalled that Murph had pretty decent taste in music and then I noticed a guy tuning up a mandolin and I thought, Well hell yeah.

I wish I could remember the band’s name. I know I asked them more than once. See, the problem is that I had a lot to drink that night. Four glasses sangria at dinner as an icebreaker, followed by six Jack and sodas at Murph’s: not the best idea. At one point in the evening, N warned me, “You’re going to get really trashed if you keep that up,” and I shot back “No way, man, I am IMPERVIOUS to the shit,” which is a good sign that I was already trashed.*

The band consisted of Bill, the 60-something lead singer/guitarist who smelled like my grandpa, a mandolin player, a 20-y-o bass player, and a fiddler.

Come to find out that Bill knows every Hank Williams tune in the book. The mandolin player has only been playing for two years–he told us at the bar. Apparently his wife left him and his four kids and, at the same time, someone gave him a mandolin, which he learned to play. “This mandolin’s been the real moneymaker for me and my family,” he told us solemnly. “If it wasn’t for this, and Jesus, we’d be homeless.”

The fiddler, it turned out, is a classically trained violinist and recent Polish emigre. He spoke little English, but apparently had an ear for the old timey.

N and I chatted briefly with the bassist, who admitted he hadn’t heard much country or bluegrass prior to playing in this band, which he’d joined (at Murph’s behest) six months earliier after the keyboard player in his other band moved to Gainesville.

After the band finished their first break, the man sitting at the bar next to us and asked if we were friends of the bassist. He was the bassist’s father, who’d driven eight hours to see his son play that night. “I didn’t even know I had a son until last year,” he admitted. “I’ve been living in Europe for the past 20 years. Now I live in Tennessee, and I’ve always loved bluegrass and old timey, and it blows my mind that here’s my son and he’s playing the music I grew up with.”

He added, “I want to get to know my son because I didn’t really know my dad too well. He left my mother when I was young. I got back in touch with him right before he died.”

N and I were privy to a lot of intimate stories (most of them overheard) that evening, but the genial atmosphere of a bar where you hear snippets of conversation like “Well, he’s not our usual spoons player” and “My dog’s in the truck because this time of night he gets fixin’ to run off” made us feel pretty comfy-cozy.

The Jack helped too.

Like I said, Bill the lead singer knew every Hank Williams song there is. And Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash, and Ralph Stanley, and Carter Family. They took three of my requests (I of course was tipping generously) and played Calling You, Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, and Keep on the Sunny Side. I swear to God they played almost three hours…Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire, Man of Constant Sorrow, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Blue Moon of Kentucky, Put Another Log on the Fire…and then after the rest of the band retired, Bill stayed up there and played a couple other songs.

Full disclosure: There was some energetic dancing involved, and I may have participated.

Afterward, I thanked Bill effusively for playing and he smiled kindly at me like I was touched in the head and said “Well, it’s nice to play for nice people.”

At some point in the evening, the thought crossed my mind that I wouldn’t mind living in St. Augustine if I could go to Murph’s and see this band play every week, but N pointed out that I’d probably turn into one of the leathery ladies at the bar, smoking really long white cigarettes and wearing age-inappropriate shorts. He’s probably right, although I swear I would never frost my hair.

I woke up the next morning feeling pretty rough. I was happy though, because the evening at Murph’s provided an excellent musical bookend to seeing We Jam Econo earlier in the week. The only way I could’ve been happier was if Joe Strummer rose from the dead, reunited the Clash, and played a show on the roof of our apartment building.

*You know, when–say–Ultragrrrl writes stuff like that, it’s cute, but when I write stuff like that, I sound like a less-charming Bukowski. It’s the age difference, I guess. Perhaps if I were five years younger, maybe I too would have a book deal, and my empirical opus on the subject of organizing your records alphabetically by sound engineer would be out on a Scribner imprint this fall.

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