My youngest son Ian has a favorite barber in Chicago, Ahmed at Hobobo Fades. Ahmed is like family; he’s been cutting Ian’s hair since Ian was small, and we have to stop in to see him every time we’re in Chicago. Because of this, Ian is never satisfied with haircuts here in Huntsville – not the barber’s fault, they just aren’t Ahmed. But at this point, he was way past due for one.
I have known of Emy Butler for about 10 years now. One night, a couple of years ago, X.Y. Spaces was playing at CopperTop. They brought in a barber’s chair and she gave a guy a haircut while they performed. After watching her Instagram for quite a while, I decided it was time to make an appointment for my picky son, and I made an appointment for myself as well. I usually cut my own hair, but since we were going to Decatur I thought, ‘fuck it, let’s do this!’
Emy’s shop, Good Vibrations, is on a corner in downtown Decatur. There are old trolley car tracks in the street. It is quaint and, by the looks of it, has been a barber shop for a while. Emy and her apprentice are both masked and greet us warmly. She is wiping her chair with disinfectant wipes as Ian and I get comfy, and she tells me there is free beer in the cooler and to help myself. Next to the cooler, there is a wall of local art for sale. Emy also lets me know there is a local ‘zine, Chum, I can read while I wait. I’ve loved ‘zines ever since I was young in Chicago, so I dive in while she starts on Ian’s hair. We chat about the zine, its creator, and its content.
Emy is so warm and gorgeous. She’s wearing a New Orleans t-shirt with her curly hair styled in a side-shave and her head tattooed on one side. The tattoo is a pink straight razor, done by another Huntsville legend Carsten Templeton who ordered that particular shade of pink just for Emy. Carsten at Black Hearts Tattoo has tatted me, my sons, my nieces, my ex-husband, and even my mother. Just one more person Emy and I share.
Way No Bueno
We also share Johnny Wolfsberger, a dear friend to both of us and a local legend, most famously of Way No Bueno, who we both love and recently lost. As I write this I still want to cry. He helped so many people; he helped Emy get started with cutting hair, he helped me purchase Copper Top’s PA. We reminisce about the last times we saw him. There aren’t words for when someone so amazing leaves us but it feels good to have these moments of morning with Emy about our shared person.
Way No Bueno Live on Know Huntsville
I was showing Ian pictures from Emy’s Instagram before we came in so he could see her work, and there are so many great photos on there. Lots of great local musicians and artists; pictures of both Johnny and Carsten. As Ian sits in the chair talking about what cut he wants, I know… this is the cut he is going to finally be satisfied with.As Emy works we talk of shows, of course. She says the first time she went to a show at about twelve years old, it was the first time she didn’t feel alone. She tells me how bands would come to town and ask for haircuts and how it’s the one thing she found that made sense for her to do.
When the pandemic started she was working at Bandito Burrito until one day she decided, ‘I’m gonna open a barber shop.’ And she did. At the most daring, crazy time to decide to follow your heart, your dreams, and your intuition, Emy did it! And Ian and I are here, experiencing it.
We talk about the last shows we saw before the pandemic: Emy saw Terror and I saw the Goddamn Gallows, both in Nashville. She tells me how one time the Goddamn Gallows had stayed at her house after playing Copper Top. I remember that night. I had booked one of the members at Copper Top and they went Decatur after – to Emy’s house, I now know. I loved so much how things were then; the network of people helping was so large and bands always found a place.
Emy works on Ian’s hair for a while. I drink a couple of beers and finish reading the ‘zine. It has a fantastic poem as well as some cool photos and even a mad libs. When I take a break, I find the bathroom has even more cool art and posters along with writings from other patrons. Good Vibrations is a fitting name for a cool space that began during a pandemic where people could come and hang out, get cleaned up, and enjoy good company while being safe – and this positive energy is all over the walls.
Ian loves his cut and now, it’s my turn to get into the chair. As she works, Emy talks about her first memory of me. She was coming into Copper Top before she was of age for shows. She doesn’t remember what band was playing but remembers I was dancing and says she thought so highly of it, and I just love that I made an impression on her. Those were good times in the old Top.
Emy finishes and, no surprise, my haircut is fire! Ian is satisfied, I’m satisfied, and I purchase the first 3 CHUM ‘zines. The first CHUM has a playlist made by Judson Law, another Huntsville Legend, that you can find on Spotify called CHUM. Dude, Fela Kuti is on it and I am so impressed!
Overall, Ian and I had a fantastic experience at Good Vibrations. What a cool place Emy has created that supports art and culture. This is exactly what people can be for one another. We can be these beautiful lights in each other’s lives. Barbers, bartenders, musicians, artists, gas station attendants, the lady you see every time you visit the ABC store, your waitresses and baristas. People like Johnny, Carsten, and Emy.
Even though right now we are masked, we are still so much to each other. We are the experiences that transform, influence, and make Huntsville great. In a world of so much fear due to COVID-19, political turmoil, racism, and other adversity, we still stand strong. Even the ones we’ve lost are with us when we share them with one another.
So go get a haircut; go buy a coffee; go grab a drink and talk with people. If you see someone you love, stop what you’re doing and tell them so. I know it’s a time to mitigate and be diligent but it’s not a time to stop loving people. It’s never that time.
Thank you Emy, your courage is inspiring what you do is important. I commend you for it! I look forward to a long patronage at Good Vibrations and recommend it to everyone.