Red Bull: Gary Clark Jr. and the Feathered Fedora

For Red Bull, I take the reader on the inside of an eleventh-hour scavenger hunt to secure a hat for Gary Clark Jr. before his Red Bull SoundClash show in Houston. It was a wild ride and all very cosmic. In Arabic, we say “maktub.”

Enjoy an excerpt below and read the full story here. Polaroid photo by yours truly, Sama’an Ashrawi.

Gary Clark Jr. and the feathered fedora

To prepare for his Red Bull SoundClash, Gary Clark Jr. and his team went on a Houston scavenger hunt for the perfect hat.

Gary Clark Jr. needs a hat and we need to feel useful. Red Bull SoundClash Houston, which Gary’s co-headlining with fellow Texas titan Paul Wall starts at 8 p.m., a little over two hours to go, and various members of his team are on a hat hunt. A few nights ago, Gary flew from Nashville directly to Houston, unable to make it home to his native Austin to grab one of his prized, well-brimmed hats. Posted up against the wall of his hotel in downtown Houston donning a bleached out shirt, black pants and boots, Gary is peering at his phone from beneath an orange beanie and calmly tapping the screen. Just next to Gary are Josh, an archetype of Wisconsin cool and founder/designer for Ax. Collective (in which Jon Deas, keyboardist in Gary’s band, is a partner), and Pam, one of Gary’s longtime managers, a woman who by all accounts is the person you want negotiating in the most heated of disputes and struts like George Jefferson when things are going right; both of them are scrolling much more frantically. Josh, his Ax.C custom Vans dangling below him, is flanneled up and hunched over a ledge searching eBay local listings, and Pam is calling every outfitter in the city.

“I need a fedora,” says Gary. “With a feather or a fish hook or somethin’ in it.”
This can’t be just any fedora, though. We’re not making a 1940s detective film, nor are we starting a ska band, there’s no murder to solve nor are there trombones in this lineup. We need a formidable brim and a western look. It’s an understatement to say that Gary is a hat guy, there’s not a single album cover of his where he’s not donning some sort of head covering. Hats are part of his identity, and the right hat can genuinely make a difference in the energy he brings to the stage. Tonight, for a friendly but competitive Red Bull SoundClash battle against one of his teenage rap heroes, Gary needs a statement hat.
“Talk to me about hats,” says Pam into her phone. “Do you have medium to large brims?”
They have what we’re looking for but they close in fifteen minutes; we’re at least 30 minutes away with traffic and we need to be back at the venue, 713 Music Hall, in 75 minutes.
At the end of the day, one of the most universal human desires is to feel useful. We all want to have a part in the symphony of life. We want to be part of something, we want to contribute to making it better, and, when our solo is due, we want to knock it out of the park. Most days, we’re just happy to have made it into the symphony. Today, we guess our solo is due.
So, we do what anyone would do in a situation like this: call our barber. The barber passes us the number of an old college buddy, Rob, who is a partner at a hip western mercantile called Manready twenty minutes away in the Heights. Close enough for us to make a run and grab a hat while Gary gets ready at the venue. Rob says he’s checking to see what their inventory looks like and promises to call us back. The clock is ticking.
In the midst of all this triangulation, the group scatters. Pam and Josh disappear and Gary quietly pushes off of the wall of the hotel and crosses the street, we scurry after him. He says he’s just following his nose. Quite cosmically, only a block away, we notice a neon sign that reads, simply, “TAILOR.” Surely this is the Universe, the Almighty, Joe Pesci, or whichever omnipotent deity you pray to, telling us that we’ve found what we need. A shimmering oasis in the middle of a hat desert.
Read the full story here.