Image: Mars Varela

A Fistful of Soul
March 21 9:30pm–2am
Free
Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge
3714 Main St
bigtoplounge.com 

My father raised me on soul. Motown, Bossa nova, James Brown, Elvis—I cannot get enough of rhythm and blues. And I am not alone. A decent-sized hoard of Clutch City’s denizens make it out to an event called “A Fistful of Soul” on the third Friday of every month.

It’s an event without a cover charge, and it happens at Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge (commonly referred to as Big Top). As you walk in you’ll notice that the walls are packed with kitschy ’50’s throwback décor, and that the columns and fixtures are wrapped in Christmas lights. With the lights, plush booths, and vintage memorabilia, it’s the perfect place to experience the music of a bygone era. Once a month, Houston’s lovers of retro records swamp the venue. People spill out of the packed bar onto the outside deck. Dancing shoes are brought out, moves busted.

From left to right: Stewart Anderson, Joe Ross, and Alex La Rotta

Image: Mars Varela

The three disc jockeys—Stewart Anderson, Joe Ross, and Alex La Rotta–spend their free time rummaging through antique malls, flea markets, jukebox distributors, junk shops, and record stores—“actively pursuing these dusty soul nuggets anywhere we can find 'em,” as La Rotta told me.

The boys of AFOS are always digging up forgotten records—yes, records; as in, no laptops allowed—to mix unfamiliar tracks in with the classic favorites. Some of the tunes they play are ones you remember in your bones but can’t always place. But a lot of records they spin are true rarities. Through AFOS, followers and fans can discover some of the hidden gems of Houston’s soul scene, such as the artists of 1950s-era Houston blues label Duke/Peacock Records. At past AFOS parties, they’ve given away mix CDs of 45s from Texas rhythm and blues labels. On their Facebook page, the DJs share links, articles, and YouTube videos of vintage acts.

“Not a lot of Houston artists or labels ever got very popular,” Ross explains, “[so] it’s like we’ve got this little treasure trove that almost no one knows about.” 

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