Jerry Jeff Walker at BB King

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Last night, nine of us went to see Jerry Jeff Walker play at BB King. Keeping with my new tradition, I’ll cover the concert first, and then circle back to tell the story leading up to the show.

We weren’t all that familiar with Jerry Jeff’s repertoire before last night. I knew he was Country, but I actually thought of him as a little more Folk, and reasonably mellow. The only song I was sure was his was Mr. Bojangles (a song I have loved forever). Even that song was more familiar to me via David Bromberg’s famous version (which discusses Jerry Jeff directly and how he came to write the song).

In this post, I briefly mentioned that we saw Jerry Jeff sing two songs (including Mr. Bojangles) live at a benefit in Austin, TX. That night, he sang alone, playing an acoustic guitar. That contributed to my belief that he was a pretty mellow performer. We loved him that night, so we were quite excited to see him play last night.

We knew in advance that he was appearing with a band. When he came out, he explained that the last two times that he played in NYC (not sure whether it was BB King or not) he played alone, so he thought he’d change things up and bring a band. He came out with an electric guitar, but played rhythm all night. Here’s a fuzzy picture of Jerry Jeff:

Jerry Jeff Walker at BB King

He had a lead guitarist (Tommy Nash), a bass player (Brad Fordham) and a drummer (Steve Samuel). All of them extremely professional. During the first number, Tommy Nash played a nice solo, and I thought that this was going to be a journeyman kind of performance, solid, but unspectacular.

Wrong! By the second number, it was obvious that Nash was a superstar. He remained incredible the entire night. He looked incredibly familiar to me, but I couldn’t imagine that I’ve ever seen him before and wouldn’t have remembered his playing. It turns out that he played with the Dixie Chicks for more than six years (not that I’ve seen them live, so I don’t know why he looked so familiar to me).

Here’s a photo of Tommy Nash:

Tommy Nash at BB King

While there were a few slower, more mellow songs, even those were done in a rich Country band kind of way. For the most part, it was hard-charging old-style Country music (or, as described by many others, Outlaw Country music). I can’t begin to tell you how great it was! The words are fun, the music is up-beat and fast moving, Jerry Jeff’s voice is great, and the band is tight, with an extraordinary lead guitar.

Here’s the entire band on stage:

Jerry Jeff Walker Band at BB King

The show was sold out. Previously, I had firmly believed (and written) that BB King holds 400 people. Lois asked someone last night and was told that it can hold 600. That’s quite a spread, but in any event, there were only a handful of empty seats, as the joint was packed.

I must have been living under a rock when it comes to Jerry Jeff, because I just assumed that the majority of the crowd would have been drawn there on a venue basis (meaning, would have been out for a fun night at a nice place). No way! At least 2/3’s of the crowd were die-hard Jerry Jeff fans. They were crazed for him. That makes these kinds of shows so much more fun. They knew every word of every song, and sang along (very loudly when encouraged by Jeff, and politely when not).

Again, because I obviously didn’t know his stuff well, I assumed that Mr. Bojangles would be held for the encore, being his most famous song (in my uneducated opinion). Instead, he played it early in the show (I think it was the third number), and they did it in a more funky way than the folksy one-person version he sang in Austin. It was excellent (both ways!).

Jerry Jeff has exceptional energy on stage (independent of the fact that he’s 66 years old!). He has a love for the audience that is magnified and reflected back at him from the audience as well. I would call this type of experience pure joy on both his part, and the part of his big fans. They were definitely swept up, and he was glad to sweep them.

They did a bunch of really cool numbers, but one that I hadn’t heard before (it’s obviously a big hit, because finding it on the net was easy) was Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother. Here’s a not-so-great sounding version on YouTube. The song was written by Ray Wylie Hubbard (who used to tour around a lot with Jerry Jeff). Here’s a YouTube video of Ray talking about the inspiration of that song. A very funny story…

Anyway, one of the repeating lines in the song is “Mother who has raised a son so well”. What happened last night, but not in the video that I linked above, is that every time Jerry Jeff sang “so well”, the crowd responded by screaming out So Well, So Well, So Well. It was incredibly cool, since it was obvious that his fans knew in advance that they were supposed to do that, rather than the artist saying, “now sing along with me”…

After playing for 90 minutes, they said goodnight. A few minutes later, they came back out for a two-song encore. After playing the first song, Jerry Jeff did something that I haven’t seen in any concert before, and I’ve been going to concerts for a very long time. He repeated Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother! Obviously, he had tons more material he could have done. Instead, he decided to give the crowd what he believed they wanted to hear, and to participate in. He didn’t guess incorrectly. The crowd ate it up. If it’s possible, they did it with a little more energy the second time.

Total time on stage, roughly 100 minutes. That’s 100 minutes of pure joy and great music. There wasn’t a single dull moment in the entire show!

Now, continuing with the recent tradition, here are all of the non-music parts of the night. Please feel free to stop reading right now if you only wanted to know about the actual show (I promise not to be offended). 😉

As you know (if you read this space regularly), Lois and I were at BB King just this past Sunday to see Strawberry Fields. You would also know that we have five guests staying with us for a long weekend. A friend of theirs is about to graduate from medical school in New Jersey. They invited him (and his girlfriend, who is a first year resident in New Jersey as well) to join us for the show. Given their doctoring, they weren’t able to commit weeks in advance.

While we were waiting for last week’s show to begin, we called our godson to ask whether his friends were going to join us. He checked with them and texted us back that they would be able to make it. I went to the box office and bought two more tickets (we had ordered the first seven on Ticketmaster weeks earlier to make sure we locked them in).

That turned out to be lucky (lucky in that we didn’t know about the Strawberry Fields concert until two days before we attended!). Jerry Jeff sold out a few days later and it would have been awful if the NJ docs couldn’t have joined us…

Lois went over to the manager that night and told him that we’d have nine people back on Saturday for Jerry Jeff. Most of the bigger tables only have eight seats, so she was trying to get a sense of the logistics of handling nine people while keeping us near the stage. He assured her that he would take care of us. He told her to show up at 5:30pm, and he would give us a blue ticket and ensure we got the right seating to accommodate our party. Cool.

We showed up exactly at 5:30pm. There was already a pretty long line outside. Thankfully, the weather was incredibly mild (they had predicted rain all day, and it was sunny all day). We got on line while Lois went in to find the manager. Another manager told her that the one that she spoke to last week wasn’t there, but that it wouldn’t matter, as everything had changed. Apparently, there was a private party going on (friends of Jerry Jeff), and it changed their logistics for the night.

The best laid plans…

This is all of us, excluding Lois who was taking the picture, waiting on line:

On Line at BB King

We waited on line and the line continued to get longer and longer… Normally, the doors open at exactly 6pm, but it was closer to 6:15 when they started letting people in. It didn’t take us too long to get in. It appeared that all of the eight-person tables near the stage were already taken. They offered us tables on the upper level, but at least dead center.

Unfortunately, those are six-person tables. They offered us six and three at two tables next to each other. That was horrible. It would mean that the one person sitting with Lois and me would miss getting to know their friend’s girlfriend (none of them had ever met her before).

Then the host offered us a table for 10, but way on the side toward the back. Lois went to scout it out while we held the center tables. She didn’t like that spot either. All of a sudden I see her waving us to follow her. It turns out there was one more eight-person table, near the stage, but a little to the left of the stage, that was available. We sat there, and Lois sat at a table for four right next to it, right up against the stage.

We all had very good meals (and drinks), including dessert. We had plenty of time to get to know the girlfriend, so the social side of the evening went extremely well too!

When the show started it was instantly obvious that the people to the table immediately to our right (both the eight-person table near us, and the four-person table to the right of Lois’ table, who were with them!) were giant Jerry Jeff fans. They were swaying in a nearly religious manner from the first note.

While it was a tad distracting (most of us at our table had to look between and over them to see Jerry Jeff himself), it was kinda cool to see them so into it. Unfortunately, the cool part wore off pretty quickly. By the time the second song started, some random collection of the 10 of them started standing and swaying during the songs. The guy in front of me was at least 6’4″, and built like a brick house (in other words, very wide as well!), and it was nearly impossible to see Jerry Jeff, except at the extremes of the sways.

His wife/girlfriend stood on her chair for a number of songs! She was only an inch taller than him when standing on the chair (to give you a sense of his height!). No one said anything, because it was obvious that they were delirious with love for Jerry Jeff, rather than just being generically rowdy concert goers.

The only thing that saved the day was that BB King always has two large screens on either side of the stage (roughly 60″ diagonal I’d guess). They show the live action. So, people at our table were still able to see live video of the stage when we couldn’t see it directly.

All of the tolerance changed after the fourth song. Jerry Jeff himself looked at them and said “Please sit down, people behind you paid $85 for a seat, and they’d like to see the show too!” (OK, tickets weren’t quite $85, but they weren’t cheap either, not that it would have made it any better.) They sheepishly sat down. People cheered Jerry Jeff’s move! The people behind joined in and yelled Down in Front once they realized that they had Jerry’s support!

After sitting for one song, they stood again. This time, Jerry Jeff said to the woman who was standing on her chair that she must be blocking more than three rows of tables. They sat down again, but again, only for perhaps two more songs. After that, they did whatever they wanted, and simply didn’t care, and Jerry Jeff just gave up. You’d think that the staff at BB King would have done something, but they didn’t.

What made it more pathetic was that they weren’t lost in the rapture of the moment. They realized that they were annoying people, so they kept turning to the crowd and raising their arms, inviting everyone behind them to get up and dance along. How many times do you have to do that, without getting anyone else to stand up, and not realize that you’re simply being an a**. Oh well, it takes all kinds of people to make up the world…

To be honest, this kind of behavior isn’t all that rare. It’s but one symptom of the Spitzer Generation. Translation: It’s all about ME! Not the slightest thought or care about your fellow concert goers, you paid for your ticket, and by golly, you’re going to enjoy the concert the way you want to, no matter what, including two direct requests from the artist himself, whom you supposedly worship!

One of the people in our party took some photos of them. Of course, without meaning to be rude, they are all mostly butt shots. They are currently on a plane home, but I’ll get those photos in an email in the morning. If any one of them seems particularly apt to make the point, I’ll probably update this post with a photo, and put in a comment to that effect. Perhaps I’ll show some class and just leave it alone. 😉

Thankfully, for me, it didn’t ruin the concert (it easily could have). The music was just too good for them to accomplish that. Whew.