by admin | June 11, 2021 7:48 am
So I strolled across old Main Street
Walked down a flight of stairs
Stepped into the hall
And saw all my friends were there
A neon sign was flashin’, “Welcome, come on in”
It feels so good feelin’ good again
— Feelin’ Good Again by Robert Earl Keen
WACO – We sat outside at the Backyard Grill and Stage, along with a few hundred other folks on a gorgeous spring evening, about to indulge in something that has not been possible for more than 15 months – listening to live music. We had reserved seats at a picnic table with four strangers, who quickly introduced themselves as we waited for the opening act, Waylon Payne. He played guitar and sang solo, then asked the crowd, “How many of y’all have never heard of me?” Most hands shot up, including his and ours.
It turns out Payne comes by his musical chops through genetics (and a lot of hard work). His mom was Sammi Smith, who had a smash hit with a Kris Kristofferson song: Help Me Make It Through the Night. His dad was Jody Payne, guitarist for Willie Nelson for decades. Both are now deceased. Payne had a rough childhood, living with a strict aunt and uncle in Vidor while his parents toured. While largely unknown, his songs have been recorded by Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert, Charlie Robinson, and others.
The highlight of his set came at the end, when Payne went to his guitar case and pulled out Petey, his beloved Chihuahua, who joined him in an onstage song, both howling into the mic. Throughout Payne’s set, Petey curled up on his plaid blanket and slept until summoned. He’s a good boy.
My Beautiful Mystery Companion came up with the idea of driving three hours to Waco to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary a week early. I am a lucky man; she puts up with me. We both are blessed and grateful to come through the other side of the pandemic in good health, fully vaccinated for more than three months. Seeing noted singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen as our first live concert sounded perfect, and Waylon Payne was an added treat. Especially Petey.
Robert Earl Keen walked onstage, nodded and smiled, and the concert began. As always, his band was highly polished. At 65, Keen has been performing to appreciative audiences for more than three decades, with his flat baritone voice and songs that often sound like mini films, telling stories of a newlywed couple taking a rowboat across the Rio Grande in Gringo Honeymoon, or a hapless criminal couple on the run from the law, in The Road Goes on Forever.
What struck me about this concert was the wide age range of fans gathered under the live oak trees. There were a couple groups of teen-agers, too young to legally drink and sipping sodas, singing along with virtually every song. Then there were couples clearly in their 70s if not older, also singing along to songs rarely heard on the radio save for scattered alternative music stations.
There was a genuine feeling of joy that night, as friends hugged. Our table mates said this was also the first live-music event they had intended since the pandemic began early last year. During the obligatory three-song encore, Keen smiled at the crowd cheering and whooping it up, and said something to the effect of, “I can feel your enthusiasm and that it is genuine, the real thing.” And it was genuine, that feeling of freedom, of life — at least for many — returning to normal. That doesn’t diminish the genuine suffering of far too many, whether from COVID-19, job loss or both.
But on that night, it felt good to indulge in enjoying the craftsmanship of Keen and his band, listen to songs heard dozens of times before, revel in the unseasonably pleasant weather, enjoy being in a crowd of fellow fans.
It indeed felt good feeling good again.
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