Jonny Lang and Megan McCormick Blister Sundown

Megan McCormick and band at Sundown in the City, Knoxville

This week’s edition of Sundown in the City was quite different from either of the last two. While Better Than Ezra seemed to attract a young, drunken melee and Umphrey’s Magee attracted a young, colorful crowd, Jonny Lang’s crowd was much less picturesque, maybe a bit older and much better behaved in my area. In fact, while the crowd was large, people didn’t really pack into each other the same way they have at many of the Sundown concerts over the years. As I’ve said, I figure all the poor behavior and jostling about is just part of it, but I’ll admit it was nice to be able to focus on the music more than on avoiding cigarette burns.

Megan McCormick, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, June 2011

I thought I’d never heard of Megan McCormick, but midway through her set she played the song Shiver and I realized I’d heard that and maybe another song on 105.3 (which is a pretty good radio station, in my opinion). Megan’s music moves around a bit as far as genre, but I’d call it blues overall. If you are familiar with 1970’s Bonnie Raitt music, you can pretty much imagine the style, which is not to say that she’s simply doing what Bonnie did forty years ago, but you can easily hear the connection. Further driving home the point, the only cover she did all night was a Bonnie Raitt song. Her guitar style is also very reminiscent of Bonnie’s fuzzy slide, though I don’t think Megan used a bottleneck. She was backed by a drummer who was fun to watch and a girl playing up-right bass who held the same pouty look as the back-up dancers in Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video. The set was strong enough that I’m probably buying “Shiver” and I may buy the disk, but I’ll certainly investigate and keep my eye on this young talent (she’s twenty-three). Here’s a great video of “Shiver.”

Jonny Lang and band, Sundown in the City, Knoxville

I’ve seen Jonny Lang before, but it was when he was around five years old. OK, maybe he was eighteen, but he was very young. He came to the Tennessee Theater and my thoughts that night were that he was very talented but still needed to gain control of his talent because his playing was a bit all over the place, sometimes seeming self-absorbed and that I could not watch his face. His facial contortions go beyond rock-star-standard. I have to say it’s much like a local artist Knoxville Erick Baker. The first couple of times I saw Erick I thought he was about to cry. I’m not being funny, I really thought that as his face grew increasingly pained and distorted.

Jonny Lang, Market Square, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny Lang, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny was a little easier to watch, though the facial contortions are still pretty extreme. His playing is phenomenal, of course and his band was great. He’s really stuck to his genre, which I’d call the modern urban blues. He’s an artist who doesn’t fit modern radio very easily and, in that sense, he and we are fortunate he was able to break through to the larger consciousness.

Jonny Lang, Knoxville, June 2011

Of course, the song Lie To Me is what made it all possible and on this night he played an extended acoustic version of the song before moving into a rocking finale.

Jonny Lang acoustic, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny Lang acoustic, Sundown in the City, Knoxville

The band was as excellent as you might expect, with each given a turn to display their vocal or instrumental prowess. I could have done without the drum, guitar (his rhythm guitarist) and bass solos, but the organist was kicking and so was his male back-up vocalist.

Jonny’s “little sister” joins the band

The female back-up singer is another interesting story. I kept looking at her and thinking, “She’s pretty except when she contorts her face.” It turns out she’s his little sister who was making her debut with the band.

Jonny Lang basking in the after-glow, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny Lang and band take a final bow, Knoxville, Tennessee

They all seemed to genuinely enjoy what they were doing and each other. When you mix musical talent with exuberance, a great experience generally ensues and it certainly did on this night. Here’s a video of “Red Light,” a more recent song which was a highlight of the show.

If you didn’t catch Sundown, you have one more chance: Warren Haynes will play on June 16. He is a Grammy winning guitarist who Rolling Stone ranked number twenty-seven in their top 100 guitarists. I’ve seen him a couple of times, once with The Other Ones (Grateful Dead minus Jerry) and with Phil Lesh and Friends, but he’s better known for his work replacing Dickey Betts with the Alman Brothers and for his band Gov’t Mule. Opening will be Knoxville’s Black Cadillacs, a gritty, tight rocking band who ranks among Knoxville’s finest. If you don’t want to fight the larger crowds, please come see this amazing opening act. If you are satisfied, I’ll give you a complete refund. Here’s  a sample of their work, which is very good, but unfortunately is several years old. They’ve gotten much better: