Meeting Leon Redbone in his living room. And, by living room, I mean a crowded excuse of a joint for sharing music, somewhere small and warm in Denver, where he sold it out. We were able to grab a couple of chairs in the back row and, with Leon, his guitar, a piano player and dim lamp on one side of a stage, he proceeded to invite us into his world for a spell. I never truly met him, not face to face, but I felt like I did. The sunglassed and suited man of mystery took us on a scratchy, warbly, yodely trip back in time and, even though it wasn’t really his living room we were in, it, too, felt like it. It was like listening to and marveling at the radio, long before TVs bothered with being invented.
Touching Matt Berninger on the hand. It was in Chicago at Lollapalooza, after a world of wrong had gone my direction, when I forgot it all and gave into the magic of seeing The National for my very first time. I’d lost a camera, had my hooves taped up from three days of flipflop chafing and had to scramble for a place to lay my head at the last minute. Standing dutifully near The National’s stage for two hours before they went on, hearing familiar song after song and then suddenly rushing it when their lead singer wandered in our direction? Well, I wouldn’t have expected that last part, either, but it is what it is. It was what it was. The show, in a word: absolutely thrilling. (Okay, two words.)
The Lower Lights on a snowy November night. Nobody knew this would pan out (myself included), not until it actually did, but surprising some friends (both musician-related and not) and some family members by landing in Salt Lake City for 36 hours or so, then seeing this fantastic show on a particularly wint’ry night, I still smile when I think about it now. It’s certainly not easy for me to describe this kind of improvised, organic, harmonious, gospel-driven collective, but let’s just say T-Bone Burnett more than likely dreams about this kind of music. It’s the soundtrack of his dreams, I venture.
Iron & Wine at The Florida Theater in Jacksonville. Sure, I’ve seen Sam Beam do his thing plenty times before, but not like this. He made everything sound new again. The old stuff was there for the diehards and his new songs took us elsewhere. It helps that everyone in the place was holding their breath for the duration. This kind of leap forward demands a certain kind of reverence and, that night, he got what was coming to him. And he should have.
Being a slave to the riot rhythm in favor of the Sleigh Bells. This two-person band did all I expected them to. Things were half undressed and sweaty and filled with dancing (and so much of that driving bass!) at this teeny tiny club in Jacksonville. For a whole $10, I ended up voluntarily throwing myself into the happiest, danciest mosh pit I’ve been privy to, I grinned like a buffoon for an hour straight and left a bigger fan than when I’d arrived. Can you judge a good show based on how bad you want to have the singer’s babies when it’s over? Throw in the beach sunrise the next day and a visit to the Fountain of Youth and it’s not just one of 2010’s brightest music memories, but one of my year’s best, period.
Hearing “Play Me” performed in a New York subway. I wish I’d heard the whole song before our train scooped us up. If I had recorded it, maybe I could relive it 100 times. If I’d taken some photos, maybe the guy singing would have been mad at me for doing so. I have neither. Some songs get reborn in such places, by people who might not have albums out. You are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words, I am the tune ... play me.
Fruit Bats return to Orlando, seven years later. When I was new to the city and knew hardly a soul, I was able to feel at home at The Social when the Fruit Bats showed up. Not because I knew them personally, but because their songs are such close friends of mine. It was a warm, perfect, gentle show, one that had me shaking my head and excitedly complimenting one Eric Johnson at its end. I wonder if he’ll ever completely understand that Mouthfuls really is in my Top 5 all-time albums? Those statements don’t fall out my mouth all that easily.
Mark and Lorna, still in business. Others already know about these two diehards over yonder at the Red Fox Lounge. It was a surprise when a bunch of co-workers and myself landed there, but it was a beautiful one at that. Still doing lounge medleys and inviting the audience to play the tambourine with them more than two decades later. If I had a lot of wishes, one would be that they’d live forever.
Starting with the Frightened Rabbit at one place, then seeing These United States at another, then going out for backyard campfire s’mores after both. Triple threat. Triple win.
Justin Townes Earle at The Social. He was coming, then he wasn’t. Rehab has a way of throwing a wrench in the spokes. But he cleaned himself up and came after all. Justin on guitar, a bowtied wonder on the fiddle and a lady on the standup bass, slapping it like crazy. Everything felt and sounded older than it really was that night. It’s a show that will live on in some kind of infamy, in some unknown realm.
Honorable remembrances: Damien Jurado, that perfect Sarah Sample album, Phantogram, Rappin’ Pappy.