On The Road Again

Despite the ongoing post-SXSW recovery problem, sorta like jet lag that will not go away, I managed to stagger forth and see two shows this week both of which were worth the trek.

First up was Ruthie Foster. Say the word "folky" and I'm pretty much outta there. I no longer feel the need to torture myself by attending shows where someone with a guitar, who can't sing or play and has no real material feels it necessary to get up and bore a crowd to death. Join a band people, that way you have somewhere to hide.

Ruthie however is a different story. I saw a bit of her set in Austin and was immediately struck by her voice. It's a powerful instrument though she needs to choke it back, because if she keeps pushing it into extended high notes and fill the room booming, her career is gonna be short. Musically, Foster who to my amazement has been making records since 1997, is a cross between Aretha and Tracy Chapman. Her songs are bouncy and jammy, not the equal of her voice, but not terrible either. That old songwriting thing is always the real deal in the end isn't it?

Her latest, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster (no fear of hyperbole here), was produced by Austin guitarist Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne and has a funkier feel. After the voice, her greatest asset is her buoyant personality. Definitely not the kind of act you see every day.

Last night I made the trip to perhaps the world’s greatest venue—seriously—Radio City Music Hall to see the Last of the Breed show with Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Asleep at the Wheel and one of my musical heroes, the one and only Hag, Merle Haggard. There's anew record out by the same name that's worth having.

Ray Price stole the show with his classy countrypolitan style. The man who put the 4/4 shuffle beat into country music is 81 and not showing any of it.

These days you just aren't going to get much Haggard. He'll do a couple of tunes from his vast catalog, throw in a medley and that's about it folks. But hey, it's still Hag, in blue shades; the guy who's recorded over 600 songs (250 of which were his), had 38 number one hits and now between compilations and one offs has somewhere north of 150 albums to his credit. "Character" is too weak a word for what that boy truly is.

Willie, who is one of the world's sweetest guys and perhaps the biggest hambone in all of popular music, appropriately sauntered onstage during the opening line of Hag's whacko hit, "Okie from Muskogee," the one that goes, "We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee…" Willie by the way, was given a dope award from High Times magazine at this year’s SXSW. "Okie"'s reputation as some kind of reactionary right wing middle finger is of course a total misread, kinda like when Reagan expropriated Springsteen's "Born In The USA." The reality, which always bears repeating, is what Hag told a newspaper reporter in 1974, that "Muskogee's the only place he doesn’t smoke it."

Willie did sing a couple of pretty great new songs and of course gave the crowd what they wanted: "One The Road Again," "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Whiskey River." New Yorkers who feel that Willie is one of them, it has something to do with pot, and running shoes and his whole worldly hippie sage thing, gave him standing O after standing O.

Which brings me to today's rant. Venues need to clamp down hard on cellphone Scavullos. All might long, jackasses with cellphone cameras were up and down the aisle, blocking the view while they s-l-o-w-l-y took pictures. It's annoying as hell. Sit down and watch the show! I don't know why performers, particularly of this caliber, allow it to go on. And let's be honest here, cellphone cameras ain't ever gonna be Hassleblads! Aim the damned thing and shoot! It’s not suitable for framing anyway! What happened to the days when they printed, "no cameras," right on the tickets? Truthfully, cellphones, on many levels, are both a curse and a blessing.

Monty's picture

I couldn't agree more with your observations about Ray Price, Willie and Hag. I grew up in Lubbock and my folks were 100% country and so I was weened on these guys.While Ray Price is often credited (or condemned) for bringing orchestras into the country sound, another living legend, Mel Tillis, deserves a larger share of the responsibility. Btw, Mel recently sold his Branson venue and seems to have gone into semi-retirement. A bit of trivia about Mel Tillis; His tune, Detroit City, sold millions for everyone who ever recorded it...and many, many people have. Few people have heard Mel's own version.