I’ve liked Joe Ely since the first time I heard him perform. I like his voice, I like his understated guitar playing, I like his songs. I have my ups and downs with singer-songwriters, but Joe Ely always makes me happy. As of tonight, I’ve seen him five times.
When I saw the Flatlanders for the first time, he was the pleasant surprise. I was familiar with Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s almost falsetto twang, but didn’t know about Joe’s rich full voice, or his songs. That performance was one of Mona Golub’s wonderful free concerts on a summer Monday night in Washington Park. Those shows were so terrific, and I’ve missed these music events since she “retired.” Those Mondays in the Park must have lasted for ten years. Beausoleil, Norman Blake, Flatlanders, Marcia Ball, Los Lobos, subdudes, Suzanne Vega, that I can think of right away, but there were so many more really fine performers, some of them people I would never have heard if Mona hadn’t brought them to the Park’s stage.
I saw Joe Ely solo in Schenectady’s Central Park in another of Mona’s events.
At our sole (so far) venture to San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, I skipped several other performers to catch him with the Flatlanders. I think I fell in love for a time after Hardly Strictly. Huge crowd in Golden Gate Park at this free festival. The billionaire promoter has since died, but in his graciousness, he endowed the festival so that it will always be free. The year we went, it was also fleet week and we encountered the Blue Angels practicing, once while we were walking in the Park and they were doing low fly-overs extremely loudly, and more high looping practice while the Del McCoury Band were playing.
When Guy Clark, John Hyatt and Lyle Lovett were touring with Joe Ely, they played the Troy Music Hall and I decided to attend. At the time it was the most money I had every paid for a concert ticket and it was worth every penny. (It so remained until the summer of 2012, when I paid twice as much for ticket to see Bruce Springsteen at Fenway Park! Also worth it, but different.) Each guy (in alpha order) performed their songs. When Joe played, Hyatt backed him up. Joe’s a competent rhythm guitar player, but how he shines when he’s playing with someone who plays a strong lead, like Hyatt, and the guy playing the “plank” who backed him tonight. (“plank” – best guess – an electric guitar dobro-lap steel hybrid, that sounds really cool and was invented by Joe’s guitar slinging partner.)
Tonight’s show reminds me that I am still in love with Joe Ely. He played and sang two hours worth of his quirky, slightly surreal and off-key tunes, along with some sweet covers from his Flatlander days and other friends. Just two guys on stage – almost like a living room, playing off of one another while Joe sang and smiled, and encouraged the audience to suggest what song he should sing next. We suggested and he played great minor key songs about seeking and searching, and often losing, as well as the “rock ballad” Me and Billy the Kid. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fg-5S7rrxw
He also sang a new song about coming home from war called Not That Much Has Changed, which felt so good to hear. Couldn’t find a video of that one but here’s another surreal song from tonight. You Can Bet I’m Gone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-vU8_4weK8 Make sure you listen to the intro about how he came to write this song.
They played in a new Troy venue: The Hanger. Great place across the street from the Ale House, and this was the first concert there. Like a warehouse, sort of, with lots of industrial decoration and just plain weird stuff. There were probably 150 people at the show, a nice size group for this place. Has chairs and standing room and a nice bar. A great atmosphere, even if it was a bit chilly. I hope it does well.
So – a great day at the farm. A good dinner with spousal unit. A fun concert at a nice new venue.