Never in my life would I ever have pictured myself in New Orleans. I have honestly never had the desire to go. Especially to anything called Jazz Fest, since I am far from a Dixieland fan. So in January, when glancing over the lineup, I wasn't expecting much.
That is, until I saw Doyle Bramhall was going to be playing. Right then and there I made up my mind; I had to get down to New Orleans! I had been listening to his latest record all but nonstop since about November and found it to be one of, if not the best new record of 07, but had written off ever seeing him; Colorado is not exactly a prime stopover for rarely touring Texans.
Fast forward almost 5 months, and I am finally sitting in the Blues Tent. We didn't get there as early as I would have liked to, but nonetheless, I am able to find a (basically the last available) seat front and center. Sat through 2 other acts, who were, surprisingly, quite entertaining and aurally pleasing. Then finally it was time for Doyle.
The way the chairs were set up there was about 10 foot aisle between the front row and the rails for folks to come up and take pictures. Enough of those people come up, and pretty soon you're 5 people deep, so I ended up sitting in front of the rails w/ my cell camera in hand to give the impression I was taking pictures. About halfway through, this old guy comes and begins just pacing the rails, telling folks to go back to their seats. Ok, we step back and let him on by and he continues along his merry way. Of course, as soon as his back is turned, everyone sits back down in front of the rails again. This absurd game continued until the end of the set, but it was a minor inconvenience.
The only song that I really wanted to hear of the new album was Big, and we got that, plus a ton of others (didn't write down the set). He opened w/ Change It, and later played Lookin' Out The Window, and I wondered how many other folks saw the photo of Stevie at Jazz Fest hanging on the wall house left. They played a few songs from CC Adcock's record as well, which I wasn't really familiar w/, but left thinking I should do something about that. The band, The Lafayette Marquis, were stellar. I really dug the double drummer thing, and man, that bassist, Jason Burns, that guy can play! He's one of those guys who simultaneously makes you want to both practice 24/7, and quit playing altogether cause you're never going to reach that level.
There was an interview w/ Bramhall scheduled a bit later in a different part of the fairgrounds, so I made my way over to that stage. Caught the end of a band, Twangorama, and again, had no complaints about being "forced" to listen. The interview wasn't anything particularly enlightening; the interview-er was a bit of an idiot, and if you have any interest at all in that Austin/Dallas scene, you probably already knew the answers, but the last answer involved him talking about the last time he ever talked to Stevie, after which he and CC played Life By The Drop, which, given the context, was beautiful. They also played an acoustic….either Lost In The Congo, or Cryin (honestly, I cant remember which) before leaving.
The "backstage" area was, of course, cordoned off, but there was a patio that went right up to it. After Doyle left the stage, a guy ran up onto the patio and began talking to him over the railing. I entertained the possibility of doing to same, but, as I've said many times, I'm not into bothering people if I've got nothing to say to them. I haven't played drums since 7th grade, I didn't really think I'd have anything to talk w/ him about, so I decided I'd leave him in peace. Right after I made my decision, I though "ya know, this opportunity is never going to present itself again" and figured I might as well just shake his hand and say that I'd been really digging an old 3D Blues Band tape for awhile. While waiting, I exchanged a few quick words w/ his drum tech.
I didn't get to talk to him very long, I was beginning to lose my voice and he had to get going, but we were able to talk about the loss of the Austin scene and his new record for a minute. He's an incredibly nice guy. At this point, the trip had definitely proved to be worth the cost.
Later that night, he was playing a club down in the quarter. Since he was the only reason I was going down there, I had worked something out w/ the owner ahead of time so I could get in……….and holy shit, was it ever worth it!!!!!!! Like I said, living in Colorado, we have no blues clubs (hell, you cant even smoke inside of any CO building), so while listening to old live shows, I had to be content w/ just closing my eyes and imagining what it must have been like. That night I finally got to experience it. Low, tiny stage, dim lights, smoke filled air, drunks packed in, me standing in front of the monitor, less then 6 feet from everything……..this is the way this music was meant to be heard, and man, did they ever play! Opened w/ Change It again, but I was far more excited to hear Thunderbird, a song I would have never even dreamed of ever seeing live! There's no possible way I can remember all that they played that first set, but it was all so incredible. They broke for intermission, and the man on my left, who had been sitting on an equipment chest because there was no room onstage for it, got up and left, so I took his spot. Hell, I'd been standing all day and had slept maybe an hour that night. When the drum tech (I missed his name) came out, he immediately recognized me from earlier that day. We talked a bit, and he went about his business. On his way back out, he asked me if I had a camera.
"Just this" I said, pointing to my cell.
"You want to get a picture w/ Doyle?"
"Uh……." I'm really not a picture hunter, talking w/ him earlier was more then I ever could have asked for. I didn't know what to say. I stumbled, "Uh, I, uh, yeah, uh, ok, I mean, if he's got nothing better…..I don't wanta….."
"Ok, after the show, man…." and he leaves.
They come back .. about an hour and pick right up where they left off, just cranking out one tune after another. I am practically sitting onstage right now, eye line w/ both drummers and almost on top of Nick Curran, an exceptional guitarist in his own right. Apparently they'd been billed as Doyle, CC, band and special guest and about halfway though the second set, there were rumors running through the folks behind me that Robert Plant was going to be that special guest. I was hoping that wouldn't happen (it didn't!). A few songs after the Plant rumor rose and fell, the band just started cranking out song after song, just plowin through everything w/o even stopping between songs, and here I thought they'd been in high gear before! This went on seemingly forever, and as I sat on the box taking it all in, my only thought was that they don't stop. And they didn't! Man!
Dylan is what he is, and you cant compare him to this. That Friday Dallas show was easily the best show I've ever seen, but this, this whole experience, and the music, and everything, best experience I've ever had. I cant really compare Dylan in a small club to being packed into a smoky bar listening to the best form of blues, its oranges and carrots, this was mindblowing! Truly ineffable, what a great experience it was!
The show wrapped up anywhere from 3.30 to 4, I have no idea exactly when, but all I could so was sit there in a daze, not believing what happened, not wanting to leave.
"Stu!" I look over. Oh, right, the picture.
The drum tech waves me into the back yard. Get to talk to Doyle again (this time, I have NO recollection what we talked about). Met his wife, nice gal, both she and the drum tech took our pictures, (I got yelled at for not smiling haha), somebody handed Doyle an index card which he signed for me. I gave the drum tech my email so they could send me the pictures………..there is no conceivable way that night could have gone ANY better!
The next day, we drove out to Lafayette where he had a gig at the Grant St. Dance Hall. Nice place. Before the show, I got to talk to a guy who'd seen Stevie a lot (I was 23 months old when he was killed, I love hearing from those who got to see him). Said he'd seen him a couple times in 82 when, aside from the bartender and a waiter, there'd been less then 15 people in the audience. This too was an incredible show, this time opening w/ Sugar. Everyone on stage seemed to be completely beat as well, but still put on one hell of a show. There was a woman in the audience who put on a show herself, doing a spot on impression of a dancing Mick Jagger (though, when you stop and think, its pretty frightening that two people on this planet do that haha). They closed the main set w/ Hard To Be, another one I'd never in a million years ever thought I'd be witnessing.
During the standing ovation, Doyle caught my eye so I gave him the thumbs up. He flicked his hand up at me. There were some pads on the wall behind him, and it must have been perfectly aligned w/ one of the stripes in the pads, because it took a second before I saw the stick flying at me! I guess the woman next to me got jealous and wanted a stick for herself, so she ran up and grabbed the other drummer's sticks. The tech let her keep them, provided she stay off the stage for the rest of the night. Once she got down, they came back on for an encore, a medley of a bunch of songs that included Rainy Day Women.
Back in January, Doyle's website/myspace thing listed a free show in a record store on Monday, starting at 1 pm, so I booked a late flight out. Well, as it turns out, the show did start at 1……..but Doyle didn't go on until 5 pm. My flight was at 6.30, there was no way I'd have been able to see Doyle and make the flight, so after the through soakdown we got Sunday afternoon, I opted to just go to the airport and try to fly standby out on an earlier flight. I had maybe slept 8 hours since Wednesday night, and since I was going to miss Doyle anyway………
Well, all flights (w/ the exception of one overbooked DFW flight) had left for the night. Now, I don't exactly mind spending a few hours in the airport, but since my pants were beyond wet, I only had a pair of shorts. My only pair of shoes were still soaked, and there was absolutely NOWHERE in that airport you could have sat where you weren't getting hit by at least 7 different air conditioners coming at you from all different angles. Now, I hate AC when its hot out and I'm dry……….unequivocally the worst night I've ever spent. Abso-fucking-lutely FRIGID! Needless to say, no sleep was to be had.
It was worth it though, I was the LAST person to board the first flight out, and got back to my house at 10.30 am. On the bus back (well, it began at the NOLA airport but intensified on the bus), I experienced a short circuit in my brain quite unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life, from any substance or combination thereof.
Though I would have killed to stay and see the show in the record shop, I couldn't have asked for a better experience. It was worth every damn penny I spend (roughly 100,000 pennies haha) and so much more. I'd see Doyle again in a heartbeat, and since a stop in CO still appears unlikely, I may find myself heading back down to TX, hopefully at a time when Dylan's not on tour so I can see Denny as well haha