Austin folk singer Shakey Graves plays first ACL Festival show

Hillary Hurst

It was forged for practical purposes. A slightly worn, pastel-yellow vintage suitcase with a kick drum embedded into the side is an efficient way for Alejandro Rose-Garcia to bring his music with him everywhere. Yet as Rose-Garcia, known by his stage name Shakey Graves, has risen to critical acclaim as Austin’s best one-man band, the kick drum suitcase has come to represent Rose-Garcia’s music as an edgy, soulful twist on folk music. 

“[The kick drum suitcase] ended up being built for the Railroad Revival Tour, the Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons show that came to town,” Rose-Garcia said. “Every stop that they would make, they would have an official [musician] for the show that played outside of the gates, and I got picked to be the one for Austin. So I kind of felt like I should have as much of my sound as possible, and I sat out and played for people who walked right by me.”

Born and raised in Austin, Rose-Garcia grew up in a theater-centered home. Taking up acting as a small child and continuing into his adulthood, he achieved an impressive resume of roles in a variety of movies, including a couple of Robert Rodriguez films, and TV series such as “Friday Night Lights” and “Dallas.” After graduating from Stephen F. Austin High School, Rose-Garcia moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a legitimate acting career. 

“It was a slow gain,” Rose-Garcia said. “You know, eventually L.A. just kept rolling me over. I went out to auditions and had a pretty stressful time and just kind of fought the dragon. Luckily, I loved it because the entire time I was there, I just wrote music.”

As the number of shows he played surpassed the number of roles he booked, Rose-Garcia realized music was his future. He returned to Austin. 

Rose-Garcia received a warm reception from his hometown. In January 2011 he released his first album, Roll the Bones, and by December of 2012, he had unveiled his Donor Blues EP, which, according to his website, consisted of previously unreleased home records from 2009 that were “recorded on a Tascam 4 track using one shitty mic and outdated software.” 

Rose-Garcia’s music has dominated the folk scene in Austin. His foot stomping beats and raspy voice even garnered him his own holiday from Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who dubbed Feb. 9 as “Shakey Graves Day.”

“[It was] a little overwhelming,” Rose-Garcia said. “To a certain degree, I don’t feel capable of accepting that compliment. Then on the other hand, I was born and raised in Austin, so it’s about the coolest thing possible.”

This year, Rose-Garcia earned his first slot at the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Oct. 12, on the BMI stage. 

“Shakey Graves is easily one of the most buzzed about acts in Texas and this year’s ACL Festival,” said Mark Mason, BMI’s senior director, writer and publisher. “We’re thrilled to have him on the BMI stage.”

Rose-Garcia, who snuck into the inaugural ACL in 2001 when he was in high school, is still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he will be returning as
a performer.

“This is kind of going to be a seminal experience entirely,” Rose-Garcia said. “It’s a big milestone. I’m trying really not to think about it too much. I’m lucky enough to be [touring] on the road right now, so I feel like I’ve been training, you know? It feels like a big fight, like a prizefight somehow. But I’m just excited to be a part of it. It will be fun to rub elbows and just experience it as a participant. That’s always the most fun part.”