I'm not going to lie -- the concert schedule is pretty light for a couple of months unless I go out of my way to hit a gig that holds more than a passing interest (it could happen). But hey, who wants to spend the summer reading other people's concert stories? For now, here's what happened when Justin Townes Earle came to town.
Justin Townes Earle, Great American Music Hall, June 29, 2012: Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink. How do you get turned on to music these days? Honestly, I haven't listened to radio regularly for at least 10 years, and the din from streaming sites, music blogs, free downloads, torrents, and so on has rendered me deaf to promotional opportunities. Typically, friends are better resources, but not if they're simply spouting trends willy-nilly or parroting the latest names to drop. I need considered suggestions from pals who've taken into account what they know of my personal preferences -- is that too much to ask?
Ultimately, live music has to be the hook, and in that regard, I still depend on two forms of media: podcasts and TV performances. Occasionally, they intersect with certain artists, which is how Justin Townes Earle's music finally landed on my ears. It's about time too.
Obviously, Justin Townes Earle has been around for a while, touring with some of my favorite artists and playing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass more than once. I suspect I've never tuned into him partly because I never really sparked to his father (apart from his excellent work with Kidney Now), but in retrospect, it was almost inevitable, considering the Chicago connection, as well as that relatively underproduced singer-songwriter vibe I tend to prefer these days.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this show, but I was pleased to see Justin open with a solo set, namechecking both his grandfather (in the intro) and John Henry (in the song). Over the course of the evening, Justin would take two more solo turns: once in the middle of the evening and again right before the encore, though his band provided strong backing too. The rhythm section was as steady as can be, while the maestro on guitar elevated several already sterling compositions.
Throughout the evening, Justin readily mentioned and paid tribute to his influences, from Woody Guthrie to Lightning Hopkins to his mom and his dad. He made no secret of his strained history with his father, but in an evening filled with origin tales and wry explications, he had only the kindest words for his mother. In fact, he saved his biggest compliment of the night for her when he prefaced a cover song by explaining he first heard it at his mother's table. The tune: The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait."
I was easily in over my head at this gig, knowing mostly the new songs, but the voices around me told me there was a reason the show had sold out. They sang along to his older tunes and yelled out loving encouragement during the quieter moments -- just kidding, that was drunken heckling! It wasn't the most respectful audience I've seen at the Great American, but judging by Justin's tales, he was used to much rowdier in his career. I'd like to think we must've sounded pretty sweet to his ears.