I had decided not to go. I’m busy. I haven’t followed them since Jay Farrar left and then returned. Yes, it was the Bijou for only twenty dollars, but I can only see so much music, right? Then I noticed that Larry Crowell (Beer Hat Guy to you) had posted an available ticket for the second row. Of course, busy or not, I took it.
The crowd filed in slowly, probably peaking at about five hundred by the time Son Volt walked onto stage. Still, as Knoxville audiences tend to be, they were enthusiastic. And the warm up band, which turned out to be the members of the re-constituted Son Volt minus Jay Farrar, deserved the enthusiasm. With twin guitars blazing they took a ramble through some of the best classic country and honky-tonk songs ever to grace a juke box or an ipod. “Whisky River,” “Love Sick Blues,” Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and many others were an excellent preparation for what was to come.
During the intermission I was gently informed by an usher that I could not take photographs with my camera since it is a “professional level” camera. I explained that I would need to do so in order to report on the concert and when he offered to get his boss, I accepted. She turned out to be the promoter, who then talked to the band and returned to tell me I could photograph during the first three songs. And so I did. It made me wish Jay wrote longer songs, but what are you gonna do? It is a mystery to me that they would prefer iphone photographs show up on Facebook over better quality representations.
The show was excellent. The hits like “Drown” and my personal favorite, “Tear Stained Eye,” were dutifully played as was material from their most recent album, “Honky Tonk,” which was released just last month. The new material meshed well with the old. Jay continues to write excellent, sometimes profound songs. His vocal delivery tends to render even mundane lyrics in such a manner as to inflate their apparent importance.
Enough can’t be said of the musicianship of the guitarists, one of which played electric guitar (a “Creston” – a brand I’d never head of), pedal steel and keyboards. The other split time between the guitar, fiddle and mandolin. Jay played a couple of guitars, but the electric was a Gretch, which sounded great.
Somewhere around the last third of the set a speaker must have busted on my side as the distortion really ramped up. I moved to the back and it wasn’t as noticeable. The concert ended with a full circle loop back to the classic country that started it, with the final song being, “Stop the World and Let Me Off,” the classic recorded by Patsy Cline and Waylon Jennings among others.
My final thought on the show and Jay Farrar is that he represents the legacy of country music far more than what is played on contemporary country music radio today. Along with Wilco and the Jay Hawks, they are the heirs to the thread that started with Gram Parsons. I believe Gram and Hank would both completely get what’s going on in alternative country music today.