Sunday, July 16, 2006

Steve Earle reconstruction

It's Sunday morning and Dry Branch is on stage, opening the short Sunday program. Crooked Still and King Wilkie are coming up, but it's all over by 3 or so. I've got my camp packed up, all my devices are recharged, and I have a moment to post about Steve Earle's get closing set last night.

I have seen the Bluegrass Dukes four or five times now, but each time I am more impressed. Most of the material was familiar, not surprisingly weighted heavily toward political songs. Rich Man's War, Jerusalem, the Civil War suite of Ben McCulloch and Dixieland. He opened with the Burritos' Vancouver Might Be Just My Kind of Town (I know that's not the right name, but I have always loved the song) and closed with Christmas in Washington ("Come Back Woody Guthrie").

Not surprisingly, Earle was complete unapologetic about expressing his views. "Some people say that artists shouldn't speak out. I thought that was our job. I'm sorry if there are some people here that might not like it, but I'm going to do everything I can every day to bring the troops home--now," he said.

He also weighed in on the peace sign controversy. "Is the sign back up?" he asked, referring to the large illuminated sign hanging in the trees off to stage right. Sure enough, it was burning brightly.

He also said that his political bent is nothing new. "If people didn't think my earlier material was political, they weren't listening very closely," he said, launching into Copperhead Road, his hit song from early in his career about a Vietnam vet who returns home to drug dealing.

But besides the politics, the reason his message is so potent is the quality of the songwriting and bluegrass musicianship. Earle explained that he grew up around bluegrass and even though it took him many years to come back to it, it is his favorite musical style. That came through in the inspired playing of the Bluegrass Dukes--Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Casey Driessen and Dennis Crouch.

He introduced O'Brien as "the man who saved my ass when I pissed off Del McCoury in the middle of a tour," a more candid description of that fiasco than I have heard Earle cop to before. It was obvious that the Bluegrass Dukes love playing with Earle, all clustered around a single microphone. Several times, O'Brien made comments about how much fun he was having. As much as I love Tim as a lead performer, his harmony vocals, side instrumentals and band leadership are brilliant in a backup role.

To showcase the band, Earle stepped off stage for two great O'Brien-Scott numbers I hadn't heard before. Other Earle material in the set included the two-song coal mining set, Harlan Man and Mountain, Carrie Brown, Hometown Blues, and serveral covers, including the Parsons-Hillman classic Sin City and Willin' from Little Feat. The crowd cheered him back for a series of encores, ending with Earle and his solo guitar leading the audience with Come Back, Woody Guthrie. If there were any red-state bluegrassers still on site, they were probably back in camp long before Earle wrapped up at about 2 am.

1 comment:

Grascals said...

Red State....Blue State.....

Who cares??? It's about music, I don't see the need to point out our differences at a bluegrass festival, nor do I see the need for you to label any of these bands one way or another in the form of a review. You are making some ridiculous assumptions and sterotypes about certains bands like Grascals, Mountain Heart, etc...

I happen to know members of each of those bands, and you would be suprised to find out what they actually think about politics instead of just assuming they are red or blue. Very short-sighted.

Many more people feel varying shades of red and blue, it's not so defined in the real word Daniel.