Friday, June 28, 2013


Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta, Georgia is the Wrigley Field of music in the South. Outdated, painted-over, dilapidated, and unfortunately located, it's home field charm shines through its rust. Ask a Southern music lover where "the Lawn" is. You'll get a knowing smile and an immediate "Lakewood. [Insert some variant of 'I've had some killer times at that place!']." It's hard to explain how or why it has survived. It's difficult to get to; getting home is even worse. The neighborhood can be scary. The lots are unsavory barely-maintained urban asphalt and gravel-dirt with no facilities and indicia of squatting everywhere. Tailgating friends can be a 30 minute urban adventure away with poor coordination. And what's with that old stadium? But on just the right midsummer night, when the obligatory afternoon micro storm had passed and the heat started to seep out of the concrete as the sun set, a stirring Vibe took over.

For me, there's significant personal history there. It was the site of my very first concert (a Pantera/Sepultura/Prong triple bill in '94; the '80's era Poison and Bon Jovi shows at Albany Civic Center were a non-starter in the Johnson household) and some of the best I've ever seen (where to start: Phil Lesh Quintet 8/5/01, Phish 6/23/00, Radiohead 5/8/08). When Phish hit town back in the early '00's, typically around July 4, you could smell the electricity around the place. Tickets sold out the day they went on sale (waiting in line at the Publix in Buckhead on a Saturday morning was the only chance you had) and were impossible to come by. With every type of handmade good being offered by every type of person imaginable, for half a day, it was an island unto itself; the closest analog that children of the '70's and '80's will have to a prime era 'Dead experience. The memory of weaving through the glow stick wasteland peppering the standing, laying, spinning, spun-out, and jumping bodies on the Lawn is eternal. As bad as you wanted to find Your Spot and unload a couple of the beers you carried through the melee for your journey friends, the journey was strangely pleasurable. It was like stumbling through a cloud of bliss, a momentary oasis of unadulterated joy that would only dissipate when the sun rose again.

I'm heading back to Lakewood tomorrow for the first time in years. The Bob Dylan Americana Music Festival awaits. We will see whether the nostalgia masks the grand old venue's deficiencies to more discerning (i.e., aged) eyes. The place will be different to me now, but that's quite OK. The Ghosts of those magical nights in the '00's live on in my head.

[For your listening pleasure, Early Evening presents the aforementioned 8/5/01 show from the "The Q." What. A. Night. You can see the setlist here. The opening Jam > Help on the Way > Viola Lee and the near 20 minute "Sugaree" (track 6) are sure to get your weekend off to the right start.]

Thursday, June 20, 2013

SOTW - June 21, 2013 - "In a booth in the corner ..."

It's a love story as old as time. A smoke-filled dive bar, late at night. Packed and steamy hot. The din pulsates, warping the dimly-lit air. You can hear the juke box playing, the song indiscernible. Glasses and foreheads sweat. Things reach a crescendo. Romance abounds, floating, waiting to attach itself to two souls in (fleeting) communion. A man walks in. There's a lady in a booth in the corner. Eyes meet, then meet again. Seconds pass. Then again. No coincidence. People begin filtering out to find the Night's conclusion. Not these two. A pitcher of drinks. Then another...  

Daylight comes and birds chirp. No eye contact now. Only pleasureful shame. What the hell? They know the score. A love story as old as time, but a short one.

Loretta Lynn was 43 years years old when Jack White was born. Musically, several genres separate the Coal Miner's Daughter and The Pale Master. How and why they came to make music together, much less tell us a dazzling story of temporary lovers, I cannot explain. Such asymmetry in age, style, and experience can spell forced disaster; not here. Jack and Loretta are both too great for that. Plus, they really like each other. (Not how you are thinking.) This unlikeliest of musical unions - between a then 72 and a 28 year old- produced one of the great modern American albums, 2004's Van Lear Rose. If you grew up in the country, this crossover classic will carry you home, straight to Grandma's arms. It's sound evokes the wind rustling the old pecan trees out back on a hot July evening. Woven with themes of tradition ("This Old House", "High on a Mountaintop"), family ("Family Tree"), trial, and triumph (the title track), this was Americana before Americana was cool. It's essential material for any library and enrichment on a hot summer day.

The album's unforgettable track, and your Song of the Week for June 21, 2013, bucks the narrative arc of the album a bit and takes us back to our smoke-filled bar. The daydream haze of the intro segues into a gentle hook before blasting into the soaring highs of the main theme. Instead of the story of conquest and adventure that the music portrays, the listener is dropped into a little bar and a sloe gin fizz soaked story of one man, one woman, and an unforgettable night. "Portland, Oregon" is one big smile. "And a pitcher to go!"