Last year this pricey benefit had booked the endlessly entertaining Waco Brothers as the headliner for their fundraiser. It was a small crowd who didn't seem very into the band, and as a volunteer at the Wacos' merch table I couldn't have been more bored. I didn't expect this year to be much different, but apparently a lot more people were willing to donate to see ascending star Jason Isbell. After leaving the Drive By Truckers, Isbell seemed to have lost momentum, but he has certainly regained it now, and is arguably even more popular than DBT. And I'm basing that on the fact that the place was packed full of his fans. He's worked hard and deserves the praise, but I can't help but wish he'd write something above mid-tempo. My favorite moment of his set was when Kelly Hogan joined him for a pair of songs. Back in town for only a couple days during a break from touring with Neko Case, she'd whiped up a vat of homemade banana pudding and come out to the show.
My favorite part of James McMurtry's set was drummer Darren Hess. I met Darren last summer when he backed Jon Dee Graham for a short Midwest run in August. He's charming and handsome (not to mention a great singer and songwriter himself). I was a big fan of McMurtry's 2005 release Levelland, so I was awfully excited to hear the title track. It seemed better than all the other songs he'd played, but that was probably just because I knew it so well.