Gruene, TX, June 13, 2011 – At Gruene Hall, it can often feel like you’re in somebody’s living room listening to an old friend play some guitar. Sometimes it feels like it could be your own living room. And here tonight, Guy Clark felt like that old friend, just playing guitar and singing songs – songs that he wrote and that have become classics that defy a time period.
It was a sold out show. It was hot – 100+ degrees in early June. We got there early to stand in line with hundreds of others just to get a good seat when the doors opened. I looked over at one point while standing in line on the sidewalk, hot and sweaty and with the people in front of me drinking Dox XX beer to try to keep cool, to see a golf cart scooting down the street and there sat Guy Clark himself. He was being carted around for some reason or another and I just happened to see him – smiling at the sight of so many who came to see him.
A little later, sitting about seven rows from the stage, I watched him walk onto center stage slowly (and his knee was obviously hurting because he had entered Gruene Hall during Amy Speace’s amazing opening act wearing a knee brace and walking with a cane). Verlin Thompson and Sean Kamp came on with him and sat on either side of the songwriting legend. And over the next two hours, the three played some songs – as Guy Clark characterized them in the opening segment: “We’re here to play some songs we wrote…and some we heard…” The audience chuckled…and the three guitarists played them well, seemingly virtuoso…with some mandolin and fiddle thrown in. Effortlessly. And it sounded like pure beauty.
Guy Clark is a master of the American songwriters elite. Early on in tonight’s set, he made you feel the pain behind, “If I could just get off of that LA freeway without getting killed or caught.” It was a classic song and a classic moment. “Like Desperados Waiting for a Train” rang true as well. The audience was relaxed, receptive, almost worshipful – but not so shy that they wouldn’t shout out favorites they wanted to hear. “Rita Ballou” someone shouted out. Clark’s eyes shot stage left and then out into the edges of the audience over by the windows – knowing the song and simply saying, “We’ll get to that one later.” And smiling, knowing they would. And they did.
He laughed too – trying to tune his guitar, trying to sing over the fans that blew onstage to help cool the sweltering heat. He laughed at himself as he got “hung up” as he described it while watching and listening as Kamp banged out a guitar solo later in the show.
“Old Friends” was especially meaningful this night to this crowd. That living room feeling, perhaps you’re sitting somewhere in West Texas at a friend’s house and picking tunes together on guitars…that’s the feeling I’ll remember from this night. “Old friends…shining like diamonds,” Clark sang joyfully. The crowd was with him, shining – each like an old friend.