The Life and Times of Erin F’n Condo
by Serge Bielanko
The first time I ever really saw Erin Condo was on a hot June morning last year when I was out on my tiny back deck smoking a cigarette. I’d just moved to this tiny town of Millheim, Pennsylvania and I didn’t know who Erin was. Oh, I’d heard of her, and knew she was a singer/songwriter in town and that she and her husband were really active in the community, but that was all I knew.
What happened was: I took a deep drag of smoke and was just staring aimlessly up at the alley four backyards to my left when I saw a lady come out of a backdoor with a kid up tucked up under her arm.
The kid was little and what seriously caught my eye was the way he was just kind of hanging there in suspended animation. It was like he was in a most enjoyable holding pattern, totally cool with the way his day was going, completely fine with this semi-comfortable ride he’d hitched in the crook of the arm of a woman I could only guess was his mom. As a dad myself, I immediately connected with the scene unfolding up the block.
They busted out the door/rambled down the back steps of the building/and three steps in, I watched how the mom, who was holding a plastic bag of something in her free hand, scootched the kid back up into her grasp a bit without missing a step.
Hmph, I thought. Interesting folks.
Twenty steps away, she stopped at a dumpster and lifted the lid up with her hand with the bag and tossed the bag in with one smooth move, everything at once, like she’d done this a thousand times before. Then she spun around and headed back to her door, the kid, who turned out to be Roscoe, her youngest boy, just flapping along, his tiny body moving with the motion of her steps.
The whole episode lasted maybe fifteen seconds and then they were gone, disappeared back behind the door where they’d emerged from.
I knew right away that whoever this lady was, she was a parent to a young child just like me, and so right there I figured she and her clan were probably people I wanted to know. Sometimes that’s all it takes, man.
I smashed my cigarette into my ashtray and went back in the house, back to my own kids.
That’s how this small town living goes, I guess.
That was Erin, but how the hell was I supposed to know?
Looking back on it now, I think that’s maybe the best way to first come across any kind of artist/musician/painter/writer/whatever. To happen across them carrying a kid like a football, just living life, not up on a stage or anything, but just taking something out to the trash, I dig that. It’s like there’s something to be said for getting a fleeting glimpse of an artist in their natural environment before you ever get to know their art. It doesn’t happen much, but when it does, I sort of think you’re lucky if you’re in on it.
Most music bio writers, whoever the hell they are, they want to lay out the facts for you and then get out of Dodge. But I’m not that guy. Sorry. Everyone has a story and that’s all fine and good, but sometimes I think we play up our own past too much just to have something to say about ourselves.
I mean, let’s be honest, okay?
I don’t really know if Erin Condo has ever lived in a phonebooth apartment that smells like ramen noodles and songwriter and cat in Nashville or Paris or Madagascar. And it really just isn’t all that important to the music now either, is it? I mean, I sure hope she got to do that if she ever wanted to. But other that, whatever.
Did Erin Condo ever open for Meatloaf or Waylon Jennings’ son, Tiny Waylon?
Music business people often try and swirl stats and background all up in the art. They mean well, however the business has lost its way and we all know it. Lots of stuff seems to matter more than the music itself anymore. It’s almost like they want to sell you a car that doesn’t even exist half the time.
It sucks. But that’s the way things go.
We need artists like Erin, I suspect, because the world needs people in it who are simply making music because they love to do it/because they want people to hear it/ and because they can’t wait to play it live to whoever the hell shows up to listen.
Not long after I first saw Erin in her back alley, I finally got to meet her. It was pretty funny to me because right away I was obviously able to connect her with my first sighting of that mom and her kid in the alley by my house.
“That was you!,” I remember thinking to myself.
As it turns out, she and her husband, Josh, seemed liked very cool people and they were my neighbors and so what the hell, I figured. I told myself I’d head over to the local bar the next time she had a gig there.
It didn’t take long.
The whole town seemed like it was crammed into the room that night.
I love when that happens. I love it when somebody from down the road is playing music where they live and everyone comes out to see them do it. That happens a lot around here. I think that’s why I moved here to be honest. Little towns with arty hearts like this one are pretty rare. So hey, no offense –but don’t come here, okay?
Anyways, I drank some pale ales and got to feeling kind of good in the pale ale way. I made my way through the crowd and found myself a spot along the wall to watch Erin and her band, The Hoofties. I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard her latest record by now and I thought it was badass, but you never really know music all that well until you get to know it tumbling down off a tiny stage in a bar on some Saturday night. That might sound pretty cliché but I don’t care. It’s true and I know it.
Before long, Erin and her band came on and played and I’ll just say this. They were fabulous. Live music leaves nothing to the imagination, you know. It is what it is and sometimes it’s magic, but sadly, a lot of times it’s not.
That night though, it only took seconds before I understood that I was watching something special.
They appeared, walked up on the stage, strapped their stuff on, kicked it all in and Erin started singing just as the beer rushed through my veins. The band was so goddamn tight.
Boom. Sold. Count me in. That was that/ I was done for.
Across a couple hours there, they were the best show I’d seen in what seemed like forever. Erin was charming and relaxed, like she’d been born to do what she was up there doing, opening her mouth and channeling some kind of country angel ghost from long ago. When she talked, she was funny and people laughed for real, not that fake awkward laughter that makes your skin crawl and you start thinking about heading home before you melt.
Halfway through the gig, she brought up a four-piece horn section and within moments people were really spazzing out, dancing and waving their hands in the air.
As I looked around I could see that there were familiar faces everywhere, moving to the music. Her husband, Josh, was swaying with their young son over by the front door. I saw their older son, Booker (who is one of those 3-going-on-30 kind of old soul kids) walking around with his grandma and looking up at people’s faces. I think he was checking to make sure everyone was smiling and happy.
Between me and you, I think Booker is the Happy Police, that’s what I think.
I got pretty drunk.
It was pure magic.
Erin Condo and the Hoofties are a lot of things to a lot of people around these parts where I live.
And I hate to put it this way, but you’re one lucky son-of-a-bitch that I’m letting you in on all this, okay? The way I see it, most music bios have nothing to offer, man. But this one here, well, it’s heaping hot country magic straight down in your lap.
So, do yourself a favor and remember Erin Condo’s name, alright? Maybe buy one of her records, too.
And listen. Come out to see her play some night, wherever she’s playing. And just so you know, if it’s over here in Millheim, Pennsylvaia, I’ll be over by the wall.
In case you want to buy me a beer.
- serge bielanko/millheim, pa/january 14th, 2015