I thought about bringing pen and paper to the Radney Foster gig at Gruene Hall last summer. It would be nice to look back on the list and remember which songs this super songwriter chose to play in the set. Nah, forget that. Too much trouble.
Then a delay in getting out of the nearby restaurant put us in a line for the show stretching down the sidewalk. We’ll probably be near the back of the hall, I thought. Too crowded. The rustic venue is small and seeing acts like Raul Malo and Guy Clark is especially enjoyable if you’re sitting near the stage.
Gradually the line moved forward, it was getting dark outside and as we hurried toward the side entrance, our hopes were up that we’d at least get seats maybe halfway back. Surprise! No chairs were set up at all. And only a few people were hanging around at the front near the empty stage. We headed that way and were greeted by five or six women, apparently all friends with one another. Before long, they passed a bucket of longnecks our way and offered us free beers.
Radney Foster, dressed in jeans, boots and a black t-shirt, came onto the stage with the band. They all took up their instruments, the keyboardist settled in near where we stood just a few feet from the stage, and Radney leaned into the microphone. “I’m Radney Foster from Del Rio, Texas.” Whoops and hollers filled the air. All the female friends pushed up closer, as we did. He looked down at us and smiled.
The band started into the first song. Radney sang, “Just call me lonesome, heart broke and then some…” The night had begun. The female bass player grinned at the crowd’s reaction, the tall longhaired lead guitarist concentrated on his fret and fingers, and we were rocking. The women friends passed more beer our way, and everyone was happy. Radney laughed when he looked down at the women. He glanced at us (mostly Cherie) from time to time. Everyone was having a good time.
The set list was at his feet. I could see it from where I stood. As Radney sang his last song, “God Speed,” alone on stage, I wished I had brought the pen and paper to track the songs. He concluded to wild applause and said he’d be back by the bar to meet anyone who wanted to stick around. He tossed a pick into the air and reached down for the set list. I extended my hand and he looked up and smiled. He handed it to me and walked off stage.
We went back to the bar area. Folks were standing patiently in line to get pictures made with him. Cherie had her photo taken. “Now what was your name?” he asked her, obviously remembering her from the crowd. Flash…the camera took the picture. I stepped up and shook hands with him. “Would you sign the set list?” He grinned and took pen in hand. What a night!
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.