Americanafest Pre-Grammy Salute to Lucinda Williams at the Troubadour

Now that’s what I call music!

The show was the anti, a negation of the Spotify Top 50, everything you read and hear, in this world women overwhelmed, songs were king (queen!) and there were no hard drives, all authentic instruments, and no dancing, although there was shimmying!

Funny to see music at the Troubadour. It used to have tables and seats downstairs, long before most people were born. You see back in the sixties and seventies we took our music seriously, you sat and contemplated the sound, which I did in the upstairs bleachers last night.

You see usually a concert is torture. Unless you know the music by heart. Anything unfamiliar and people tune out, start to talk. But it used to be different, you got there for the opening act, you knew there was a reason they were on the bill. You wanted to be exposed, turned on to something new.

And Lucinda Williams is old. But unlike all the new hitmakers, she’s sustained. She has a career. A catalog. A body of work. She put her head down and did the work as opposed to promoting herself everywhere and becoming a mini-corporation. Remember when music used to be enough?

Not that Lucinda was even there. But her songs were. And the cliché is true, it’s all about the songs. Try singing a lot of what’s in the hit parade, you can’t!

And it was a cornucopia of women. We keep hearing women are getting the shaft, not enough country airplay, or they’re selling their bodies, their looks, to get ahead. That was not what was happening last night. Furthermore, most of these women played an instrument. From guitar to clarinet. It was an alternative universe, where the women could not only hang with the boys, but supersede them.

It started with Grace Potter, almost unrecognizable in her Tina Turneresque ‘do. Grace holds nothing back, she knows how to deliver.

And from there…

We got Sara Watkins. Artists we’ve all heard of, like Brandy Clark, Bethan Cosentino, Lori McKenna and Lucius, as well as a bunch that have not broken through to national consciousness, from Madison Cunningham to Sierra Ferrell… But just because you (or I!) didn’t know them previously didn’t mean they were not up to snuff, did not belong on the stage.

I sat paying attention. Riveted. It wasn’t a church service, heavy, rather it rocked, it swung, it was hypnotic, this was the experience, we were back to where it all began, albeit with a lot more women. Reminded me of seeing Little Feat in the venue back in ’74. The band had four albums in the marketplace, even a song on the radio, yet the venue was not sold out, but it wasn’t about the gross, rather the music. The band played! Talk to any band that made its bones on the road, they all have a night playing to five or six people, or none at all, that’s where the pros are separated from the amateurs. This music thing is actually very hard, and if you’re not going to be a lifer it’s best not to even begin.

It was like a barn dance, sans the dancing of course. In that everybody was in the groove, having fun, the music lifted us above the rest of the world.

And two-thirds of the way through the show some men took the stage. Mumford & Sons… Marcus Mumford sang sans microphone, his voice could fill the hall, it sounded more authentic that way. And the Milk Carton Kids. But the surprise was one man band Abraham Alexander, making his Gibson talk and sing while he pounded the big bass drum. This was the twist, the difference, we used to live for. We didn’t want the same old thing, we wanted to be surprised!

And speaking of surprises…

Molly Tuttle showed why all the buzz is deserved.

And Dwight Yoakam…

With his long coat, skinny jeans and cowboy hat pulled down low… Dwight showed us what a star can do. He lifted the whole joint, telling a story about arguing with Don Imus over a charity record song, putting himself down, and strumming that Epiphone at full tilt, rocking the place down. Meanwhile, acting like he was just one of us, when it was clear he hovered above.

Yes, it was a tribute concert. Not to be confused with a tribute record. It was about a vibe, a feel. You were along for the ride. You were not searching for imperfections, differences from the originals, nobody was phoning it in, everybody was glad to be there.

Where almost no one else was.

Across town the nonagenarian Clive Davis had his annual Grammy party, a tribute to the past, whereas what was happening in the Troubadour was positively new. A renaissance of sorts. These acts were not in search of hits, where would they be played? They were on their singular hejira, leaving an ever-growing fan base in their wake. Work hard enough, stay true to yourself and people get it, even if it takes decades.

Like Lucinda Williams.

How is it that decades later, someone without a hit, although a few covers, has a reputation, is more revered than those who ran up the hit parade?

It’s a long hard road. And those willing to drive all night and endure and sustain the hardships are the ones who last. We don’t need experts in marketing, we need people who know how to write and play.

You had to be there!

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