Loves It! was ridiculously excited about being invited to play Fitzgerald’s American Music Festival after their show there in February. In fact, it was all they talked about after arriving at my house to play a show the next day. It’s a great festival, Fitzgerald’s is a great venue, and I used to go every year since Jon Dee Graham & the Fighting Cocks are always featured performers. But it seemed to get more crowded every year, and seemingly hotter, and I hadn’t been in several years. Of course the biggest factor is that Jon Dee started coming to me. It no longer seemed as important to make the trip. In fact I wasn’t even planning on going this year till I had the brilliant realization that I could ride down with Loves It! and back home with Jon Dee, who was be playing at my house the next night. In addition to those frequent house guests, another KHoRM favorite, the Bottle Rockets were also playing, as well as James McMurtry, Melissa Ferrick and John Fullbright, who I didn’t know, but Vaughn could not stop talking about and Jon Dee called “the little genius from Oklahoma.” Unfortunately most everyone seemed to be playing at the same time as someone else.
I drifted around waiting for Loves It!’s set, catching a bit of another perennial guest Terrance Simian, whose infectious, feel-good zydeco is the perfect thing for a beautiful early evening, and then a few songs by Sally & the Tall Boys inside. Loves It! played the Side Bar, the smallest of the three stages and folks crammed the bar before they started. It was another high energy set not to be derailed by the bleed through of the Bottle Rockets who were playing the outside stage nearby. I was torn between the two, but watched most of their set before ducking out to catch the second half of the Bottle Rockets. They had just gotten to the point in the show where they play the new song that lead singer Brian Henneman wrote for his wife after she let him buy the gorgeous Rickenbacker guitar he was playing. He once again told the story of the not-so-secret code contained in the lyrics, admitting himself that it wasn’t that top secret anymore. From there they went into the “virtual hits,” the fan favorites that surely would have been hits, you know, if only they were more popular. “Radar Gun,” “Indianapolis,” “I’ll Be Hanging Around,” and newer song, the amiable “Long Way,” all figured in to their set-ending run.
I watched a few of James McMurtry’s slow-burning stories outside before deciding to check out Melissa Ferrick inside. I ran into a friend who asked if I was staking out my spot for Jon Dee. Good point, it must have seemed unlikely that I would choose Ferrick over McMurtry, but the truth was that I really enjoyed her. I’d seen her play a few songs solo before, but that didn’t not prepare me for the energy she had with a full band. Yes, she looks angry, and some of her songs are certainly angry, but many of them are smart and sweet. I enjoyed her and her terrific band a surprising amount. And then I staked out my spot for Jon Dee.
In all the years that Jon Dee has been playing the basement he’s never had the same set of Fighting Cocks with him, and I’ve joked that I never know which Cocks I’m going to get. I was pleased to see charming and adorable George Duron behind the drum kit for the second year in a row. Bassist Andrew Duplantis had already told me that, sadly, he wouldn’t be on this run since he would still be out with Son Volt, so I wasn’t surprised to see someone new in his spot. I was however surprised by how distracting the new guy was. Tall and handsome, he seemed to be having the absolute time of his life (I found out later he was). It was a stunning set, nearly two hours long, and full of all the hits. “Airplane” and its lead-in song “I’ll Wait” came in the first half, and it was as powerful and emotional as ever. “Rosewood,” “Lucky Day” and “Beautifully Broken” were all terrific. The raw “Rock & Roll in the Streets,” written by his son William, was a perfect closer to a night of great music.
I was delighted to run into so many friends there. Some from Madison, and some who would be in my basement the next night, and some that I only ever see at Fitzgeralds. It was especially great to see Camille who needs to come to my house sometime soon. I definitely need to make the American Music Festival a habit again.
The Bottle Rockets
Melissa Ferrick Trio
Jon Dee Graham & the Fighting Cocks