Almost 6 years back, this lovably grizzled American troubadour held court at this very same venue, with his seasoned band of roadhogs some of whom have been by his side close to 40 years.
From where I sat, it was an entertaining if lackluster show from a man most would easily forgive for coasting a bit every once in a while. However, others that night found the performance outstanding, and I know more than a few who recall it as one of the lamest gigs theyve ever payed good money for.
Thats the thing about Willie. As an artist (and seemingly as a man), hes so transparent, its not uncommon for crowds to see right through him.
What remains, then? Perhaps little, save for ones own particular vision of whatever he is, was, or should be.
The 71-year-olds life has become such an established part of popular lore its easy for even those of us who admire his accomplishments to fall into the trap of reducing him to headlines and bullet points on a long, long résumé: Joined his first band (a polka group) at age 10; moved to Nashville in 1960 split in 1970; became a major star with his genre-busting concept LP Red Headed Stranger, and its smash hit Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain; racked up noteworthy acting roles in such diverse fare as Honeysuckle Rose, Songwriter, Wag The Dog, and most recently TVs King Of The Hill and Monk; and co-founded the annual Farm Aid concerts, which to date have raised more than $24 million for struggling family farmers in the USA.
Along the way, he found time to co-headline an outdoor tour with Bob Dylan, (infamously) smoke pot on the back lawn of the White House, and get messed up in a failed tax shelter (he wound up owing the IRS almost $32 million).
The guy is so beloved, that when the Feds auctioned off his home and belongings to pay the bill, fans and friends bought most of the stuff and then turned around and gave it all back to him.
Why beloved? Well, hes written far more than his share of timeless country standards (like Crazy, On The Road Again, Always On My Mind, Whiskey River, and Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground), and he blazed a trail that led underappreciated, iconoclastic tunesmiths straight from Nashville to the more open-minded environs of Austin, Tx. (the 70s Outlaw Country movement which turned Music City on its collective ear).
In the past few years, hes weathered a few more storms, such as surgery on both hands for carpal tunnel syndrome (the inevitable outcome of hundreds of live dates each year for almost half a century), and a turkey of a CD produced by Matchbox Twenty associate Matt Serletic (The Great Divide).
But hes also rebounded with a great new record (It Always Will Be) that finds him duetting with Lucinda Williams and Norah Jones on a batch of songs that revisit the delivery and arrangements that have served him the best.
If you expect a polished act thats long on hits and short on surprises or gaffes, youll likely be disappointed with this show. Willie doesnt play that game.
But if you go expecting the unexpected like an off the cuff rendition of some old cover song that floats his boat, or a meandering medley of many of his signature hits youll have a wonderful time.
After all, Willies nothing more or less than what you make of him. Sat., 8 pm, The Johnny Mercer Theatre. Tickets available at the box office, or by phone at 651-6556.
The Lonesome Whistle Band
This River Street venue regularly books a variety of roots-music acts, from rock to funk to blues. However, theres a common denominator running through almost all their offerings: noodling.
Whether its the psychedelic overtones of innumerable Grateful Dead offspring, or the more avant-garde explorations of hard-to-pigeonhole groups from the Vassar Clements school of hillbilly jazz, Cagneys is the place in town to see people stretch their solos out and wail.
Thats why the fact theyre presenting this traditional bluegrass group from Guyton is so refreshing and unexpected. Not that these folks cant improv solos with the best of them (truth is, they flat out tear it up), but their reverent take on the Bill Monroe trip is like all traditional exponents of the genre compact, precise, and essentially noodle-free.
Assumedly, the fact that local banjo ace Jimmy Wolling (known for his work with the Double Diamond Band and more recently his own jamgrass group) is back in their ranks after an extended absence has a lot to do with their appearance and thats a good thing.
It never hurts to give folks used to Cherry Coke a hard gulp of the straight stuff. Thats what bassist Rebecca and guitarist Russell Rose, fiddler Scott Holton, and Wolling lay down serious, respectful old-school bluegrass. Their 2000 CD Gods Not Dead features 14 tracks of country gospel tunes (like Hallelujah, Im Ready and the title track).
Will their high, lonesome vocal harmonies and distinctly un-rock look and sound jibe with the rooms neon beer lights and patchouli haze? Who knows? But since at least half the bands that regularly play Cagneys would have no raison detre without the existence of folks like The Lonesome Whistle Band, itd be a real shame if the group didnt go over like gangbusters. Fri., JJ Cagneys.
Tsunami Relief Comedy Show
In the tradition of Comic Reliefs nationwide benefits for the homeless, a local promoter has teamed with 7 standup comedians from across the country to raise money for the American Red Cross dedicated international relief efforts related to this awful natural disaster.
The Trade & Convention Center has donated their Grand Ballroom as the venue, and the artists are paying their own travel costs and waiving their fees.
In other words, I have been assured that 100% of all proceeds will be donated in a timely manner directly to victim relief efforts and will not be used for corporate overhead. Based on that information and the fact that weve not had a dedicated standup venue in years this is a wonderful way to spend an evening.
The show offers broadcast network-friendly content (meaning no blue humor) from Mark Colella, Big Baby, Michael Gaskin, Daniel Nainan, Kathy Westerfield, Al Ernst and Second Citys Cynthia Levin.
If those names dont ring any bells, dont forget there was a time when Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Blueberryhead were relative unknowns as well.
Advance tickets are $20 at Oglethorpe Malls Customer Service and the Old Town Trolley HQ (214 West Boundary St.), or $25 at the door. Thurs., 7:30 pm, Savannah Trade & Convention Center.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Well, speaking of traditional bluegrass it doesnt get much better than this.
Known the world over for their impeccable musicianship and awe-inspiring vocal blends, the latest version of this bedrock outfit tours incessantly. That shows in the sextets jaw-dropping harmonies, and rock-solid meter.
Their latest release, Thank God, is a fabulous collection of Doyles favorite country gospel ballads and hymns from the 40s through the 60s, and it makes a wonderful primer for those whove never had the pleasure of being washed in this sort of glorious, sanctified music.
In his youth, Lawson backed the great Jimmy Martin, and a whos who of modern-day bluegrass greats (including Ricky Skaggs) studied at his feet as well.
Lately, shows at this cozy, 100-seat homegrown listening room have been selling out well in advance. So, if youd like to catch one of the true legends up close and personal, charge a ticket today. Thurs., Feb. 10th, 7:30 pm, Randy Woods Concert Hall (Bloomingdale). For advance tickets ($30 plus tax), call 748-1930.