The only reason I know they’re happening is I’m on Chet Flippo’s e-mail list. But I wasn’t planning to tune in, even though another punter e-mailed me they were being broadcast on XM.
But I’m driving home from Will Rogers Park, pushing the buttons on my radio, and after sampling the 60s, 70s and 80s, I ended up on Highway 16, where James McMurtry was just finishing up a number.
Then the host started rambling, killing time before the next act set up. He was telling the audience to thank the accounting firm that had tabulated the ballots, the company that made the awards, the person that designed them. Then he finally introduced the musical host for the evening, Buddy Miller.
I’ve come to love Buddy. Check out his number with his wife Julie "You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast", or, in the alternative, "Dirty Water". But I didn’t expect much. Then the band started up and it was like flipping a switch, inflaming every bulb in your house. They went from zero to 60 instantly. I’m in the groove, carried away.
Buddy had said it was an honor to tour this summer with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. That backstage during the tour they’d written a number, all I remember is it had "Leroy" in the title, and it was going to come out on his next album.
Then again, I guess if your audience is that small, you want something for them to remember you by. If you just release a single, there’s nothing to hold on to. So, even though word will never spread, you’re satisfying the core.
And I want the song to be good, but when Buddy starts to sing, I’m thinking it’s average. And then, through my speakers comes the mellifluous voice of ROBERT PLANT!
Yes, mellifluous. This isn’t the howler from Led Zeppelin, this is a crooner closer to Elvis than Screaming Lord Sutch. But Robert’s not just adding some fills, he’s not just window dressing, he’s singing the whole verse! To say I was mesmerized would be a disservice. It was magic! I melded with the sound coming out of the speakers. I remembered all the great acts I saw in theatres before they hit the big time, before they hit arenas, if they ever did. It was only about the music. It was for the performers and the audience, that’s it.
And that’s where we are again today. If you’re playing for the press, you’re missing the point. The "New York Times" had a story wherein a seasoned strategist said that TV campaign advertising was a waste of money.
Few people watched. Better to spend your money online. What’s concocted with auto-tune is perfected for a medium that has little to do with music and a lot to do with money. The soul has been surgically removed, if it was ever there at all.
And I love Led Zeppelin. But this performance tonight was proof positive that Robert Plant would be wasting his time getting back together with that band, to run through the hits for aging hipsters. Isn’t it more fulfilling to continue to test the boundaries, to do something new? Even though Led Zeppelin veered into acoustic music, they never did something like this.
And I don’t know why Buddy’s going to make us wait. I’d say to release tonight’s rendition instantly. To capitalize on the Plant/Krauss commotion.
It’s about music. You know the genuine article when you hear it. It’s so rare that you do.
But tonight, in my car, I heard the real deal. Musicians doing it not for the money, but for the love of playing, of performing. Their passion was palpable. My only desire was to get closer. My only hope was that the music would never end.