If you've ever found yourself at The 5 Spot on a Tuesday night for Two Dollar Tuesdays, sipping cheap Yazoo and scribbling down the name of some band you've previously never heard, you know that the evening's host, Derek Hoke, likes making musical discoveries. He's damn fine at it, too. But the man in the cowboy hat, whose second album Waiting All Night is out now, likes to be discovered too.
"I want to play in front of people that have no idea who I am," Hoke says, seated at a table at 3 Crow, taking sips of iced tea and drags from a cigarette. He seems to know everyone in the bar, save the bikers watching the Olympics and drinking Bushwackers. He's talking about how he enjoys being an opening act, a role he's taken on for Justin Townes Earle, among others. Those audiences "are people that would like my music, but they just haven't heard it yet." This could be Hoke's general motto, as it surely extends to the five bands that grace his stage weekly.
Growing up in Brunswick, Ga., Hoke listened to The Ramones, Pink Floyd and classic country, sometimes composing punk tunes, sometimes folk — his chops all entirely self-taught. He credits his rich musical base to his grandfather and a series of "girlfriends with good taste." Hoke came to Nashville in 1999 via North Carolina, began frequenting writers' nights and went on tour working for Ricky Skaggs. But before he became king of The 5 Spot, he was "Belcourt Boy," named for the local film house that needs no introduction, where Hoke was an employee. At the end of the day, he'd hustle over the river to roam Five Points, gig and spin records. "Once I left The Belcourt, it took a year for people to start asking me about music," he says. "For people to go from, 'Hey man, what's playing?' to, "Hey man, when you playing?' "
Now, "Who's playing the next Two Dollar Tuesday?" is an equally likely question. The weekly event began two years ago, when Hoke got the idea on a quiet night at The 5 Spot. He realized he and friends like Caitlin Rose should play music for one another rather than simply drinking and Wii bowling. The event grew into a variety show of the hippest order, harkening back to a '60s Greenwich Village, except with more fluorescent tank tops, twistier moustaches and crunchier amps.
"It's about the night — the lineup doesn't matter," Hoke says. "You haven't heard of anyone playing, but you'll like them and want to know more." Since the inception of Two Dollar Tuesdays, Hoke's recruited marquee names like Hayes Carll and Jason Isbell and debuted many smaller but no less talented acts.
A mainstay of the Two Dollar experience is Hoke himself, who plays a set each week – much of Waiting All Night was born out of a drive to keep things interesting. "I was figuring out a way to play live but not always the same style," Hoke says. The record taps into '50s rockabilly, bluegrass and blues, a unique amalgam of rootsy, swinging crooning and steel guitar-twanged love tunes. Naturally, Hoke drew from a cast of 5 Spot characters to support, including Rose, Isbell, Corey Chisel, Patrick Keeler and Nikki Lane. But don't be mistaken: This is a Derek Hoke record, not a Two Dollar Tuesdays tribute. Lose the stellar roster, and you've got a set of songs worthy of the headliner spot.
Still, Hoke will celebrate the release of the album the only way that seems right: on Tuesday, at The 5 Spot. He'll play a full set with some special guests, and likely a few you've never heard of.
"I turn people on to new music," Hoke says. Sometimes, that includes himself.