In an alternate universe, Susan Cowsill, reclining in her Malibu studio apartment, picks up the phone to call in one last favor to make “The Brady Bunch meet the Cowsills on Ice!” finally happen, forever drawing on the fame she accumulated from a few seasons of tapping a tambourine on major television. Thank the vagaries of fate, then, that ABC decided to go with professional actors when the Cowsills — then a successful family band with a few Top 40 hits — collectively balked at casting Shirley Jones as the Mom instead of real-life mom Susans. Thus the Cowsills entered history as the inspiration for the Partridge Family, although they came close to having a sitcom for themselves.
So Danny Bonaduce sells another Made-for-TV movie, while Susan Cowsill — a relevant, lively singer in the alt-country tradition, without the twang — makes her own way as a performer with a little bit of name recognition and a whole lot of talent.
The last time Cowsill was in Indianapolis, she was on the run from Hurricane Katrina, and landed in Indianapolis without knowing if her house had been flooded (it had been) or if all her family members had made it out alive (her youngest brother, Barry, didn’t, and was found dead under a wharf in December 2005). Like folks throughout the country, Indianapolis residents welcomed Cowsill and her family, gave them a place to stay while they assessed their resources and even threw her a benefit concert for New Orleans refugees, at which Cowsill performed.
At Saturday’s concert in the backyard of the Indy Hostel — the first outdoor concert at the Hostel and successful one, bugs excluded — Cowsill and her band performed a tune that she wrote in the week following Katrina, in which she imagines that all that rain that fell on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast was actually snow, and that all that covered the city was a blanket of white. The difference between that benefit and last week’s Hostel show, according to Cowsill: she doesn’t need any shampoo donations this time.
For her band, Cowsill drew on one local, bassist Tad Armstrong from Middletown and the Benders; one former local, Aaron Stroup, former of Middletown and now living in Austin; and her husband, drummer Russ Broussard. The sound was excellent for an outdoor stage, with a satisfactory PA and balanced mix. Lighting was perhaps a bit low-key but charmingly jerry-rigged, with two blue lights affixed to the boards of a treehouse that overhung the stage. It’s that kind of venue and that kind of atmosphere — the show, arranged by Segment of Society, drew a smattering of devoted fans, sitting on lawn chairs and benches in the backyard at 48th and Winthrop.
Cowsill dedicated a couple songs to her brother Barry, who, after a life spent struggling with drug addiction, was headed to rehab when Katrina struck, and didn’t make it out of the city alive. The first was “Drunken Angel,” a wonderful Lucinda Williams tune (Cowsill has recorded with Lucinda, and did a terrific and funny impression of her during another tune). The second was a new one called “Dragonfly,” the central image of which involves Barry showing up to her sister in the form of a dragonfly. The song was a little ramshackle — Cowsill says that she plans on practicing the tune in the coming week, in preparation for a new album — but it was a touching tribute to an friend and family member important to her, and had a nice hook, even if it was botched a few times for this performance.
Two Cowsills tunes found their way into their performance, “Indian Lake” and “Rain in the Park.” The youngest member of the family band, Susan was just singing backup when the songs originally hit the charts, so she’s had to learn them on guitar as an adult. Armstrong — or Little Tad Cowsill, as Susan called him — also plays with the reincarnated Cowsills, so he was strongest on the arrangements, but the crowd was delighted to hear a couple tunes that don’t often make their way into Susan Cowsill’s work as an adult.