As Plankenhorn sets up his sound equipment, his bass player Ivan Brown and drummer Herb Belofsky arrive with their gear. Musicians carrying guitar cases drift in to sign up for their turn to pick and sing on stage. "A lot of fresh talent and some established performers show up," says Plankenhorn. Saengerhalle bartender Jennifer Martinez is an aspiring performer who sings on Monday nights. "We absolutely love it," she says. "There is an average of 15 singers each week, and sometimes a lot more. Jeff cuts down on his own playing time to get everyone in," adding that there have been recent appearances by Ray Wylie Hubbard, Susan Gibson, and Clay Blaker.

"Jeff is so well-respected in the industry that he can bring out the big names," says Jones. But the focus of the songwriter night is on the lesser-known artists deserving of better recognition. Some will perform solo, but most opt to play with the talented house band. "This started out to be a singer/songwriter night, but it's kind of become a performer's showcase," explains Plankenhorn. Musicians frequently intermix cover songs with originals for a familiar flair.

Plankenhorn, who begins a set with an old Martin flattop guitar, launches into several of his original songs. As the first singer is invited up to the stage, Plankenhorn switches to a Gretsch electric, playing rockabilly lead behind one song, then finger-picking Chet Atkins-style on another. He sings a little harmony, then swaps the electric for a Dobro to back up another songwriter with some hot bluegrass licks - all the time talking to the performers and the audience, keeping the show moving smoothly.

8pm Mondays, no cover
255 Saengerhalle, New Braunfels

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Plankenhorn was heard by legendary singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard, who told the young musician that he should come to Texas. In 1999, he did, and began to perform and record with musicians such as Slaid Cleaves, Willis Alan Ramsey, and Hubbard. Today, he is in demand for recording sessions throughout Texas.

Plankenhorn is currently on the road with the Woody Guthrie Tribute Tour, working with Jimmy LaFave, Ellis Paul, Eliza Gilkyson, and Guthrie's granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie. This is great for everybody but the Monday night crowd at Saengerhalle, which has dropped off in his absence. But not to worry: He'll be back soon. •

More by Hank Harrison



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