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There’s a bar in downtown San Marcos, Texas called The Triple Crown. It’s a tiny beer joint for professional drinkers that hosts live music 7 nights a week. Sunday night is blocked for the open mic and when I lived in San Marcos, I played there many, many times. One of the earliest indications that I had something going for me musically was being asked back up to do a few more songs to close a Sunday night. When I started fronting a band, we played a lot of early evening weekday slots there as well. So when I’d pass back through Texas, for old times’ sake, I’d book The Triple Crown.

In November of 2013, I was on a solo tour from Chicago down to Nashville, on to New Orleans, over to Texas, up to Kansas City, through Iowa and back to Chicago. My girlfriend (now wife!) met me in New Orleans and we were gonna spend some time with my family in San Marcos for Thanksgiving. I’d booked a gig at The Triple Crown for a solo show on our way in to town. Must have been the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

We left New Orleans after breakfast and drove hard all day. Passing through Houston was difficult and we were running late for a 6 p.m. start in San Marcos. I made it on stage in time to plug in and tune and start the show. I looked out into the room and realized what a fool I was. There was no need to speed across Texas for this. No one was there. Whoever was there was more interested in getting into their cups than listening to me. Not even my mom had come down. The sound guy didn’t care. The bartender didn’t care. Nobody cared.

Except for down front, at her very own table, was my beautiful girlfriend. Eager for my big homecoming show. I was embarrassed for her. She must be cringing at the sight of her pitiful man, wound up about a show that nobody even knew was happening. In his own hometown. How many of these shows had she seen across the country? Me dragging all my gear out, singing, playing, trying for a couple of hours and then leaving with little fanfare. And now here it was on full display yet again. At The Triple Crown. In San Marcos. Where this mess I’d made of a music career had started.

I played like I’d never played before. Literally. I was the worst showing I’ve put up on a gig. Ever. I couldn’t strum or pick or sing or banter or stand up straight. Sarah had a few nice things to say at break, but I let her know there was no reason to bullshit me. This was the end. The last set of music I’d ever play was coming up. Every moment I’d spent on this country music scheme was a waste of time. I’d fulfill my obligation to play until 8 p.m. and we’d leave. I’d take down my website, delete my Facebook page, and hope that nobody ever remembered me putting my hat in the ring.

I pushed through the last set and at 7:55, I threw my guitar into its case, kicked all my cables off the stage, grabbed my suitcase of merch and walked out. Sarah followed. I came down the front steps of the bar into the parking lot. There were a few cars. Looked to me like the same cars that were always there on open mic night 10 years before. I twisted backwards with the suitcase and hurled it up in the air. It arced and spun and crashed in the middle of the lot. CDs and stickers and Sharpies burst up off the ground and a bunch of t-shirts flopped across the gravel. There were shards of cool, vintage suitcase all over. Sarah started picking stuff up. It was getting dark and hard to see. I grabbed a few things and smashed them into the trunk of the car. We drove away in silence. I was embarrassed and ashamed and angry. I’d made a terrible mistake and I’m sure Sarah felt the same.

It all felt like a dream the next day. We had a great Thanksgiving. I ignored the Triple Crown disaster enough to play a few redeeming shows on the way back to Chicago. Now two years have passed and I hear The Triple Crown is closed. A local developer bought the place and it will soon be torn down in favor of apartments for college kids. Until I read it was closing, I’d not thought much about my last gig there. I’ve had many nightmare gigs since then and they’ve all toughened up my skin. But that was a bad one. One I’d like to redeem. I’d not be rattled like that again. I’d like to think. But I’ll never know. The Crown is closed.