January 9, 2007

Show Offs – Live review: No-frills requiems for a gutsy songwriter

Air Devil’s Inn knows how to kick off the new year. Billy Stoops: Photo by Brigid Kaelin Billy Stoops performed “Be Here to Love Me.”For the fourth consecutive year on New Year’s Day, the quaint little bar near Bowman Field played host to a tribute to the late, great Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. The get-together featured more than 30 area performers taking turns taking the stage to perform their favorite tunes by one of America’s most important and influential songwriters. This year’s show was particularly significant since it’s the 10th anniversary of Van Zandt’s death. But the tone of the show was far from somber. There was a celebratory reverence to the proceedings. The atmosphere was laid-back, with musicians moving on and off the stage with no grandstanding whatsoever. No 30-minute equipment set-ups or sound checks. No attempts by this singer or that singer to steal the show. The performers simply took the stage, had a good time playing and left as inauspiciously as they came. Between acts, Van Zandt trivia was discussed, statements by or about him were quoted and important information was revealed. For example, a new book about Van Zandt’s life and work was mentioned. The audience discovered that they were, once again, in the presence of Jeanene and Will Van Zandt, Townes’ widow and son. They attended the tribute show for the first time back in 2002. Good Sunday: Good Sunday covered “If I Needed You” and “Snowin’ on Raton.”This year, the two sat in the back, talking briefly with fans in between acts and allowing themselves to be relentlessly photographed. Some of the many performance highlights included the straightforward delivery of Billy Stoops, the heart-wrenching blues of Tyrone Cotton and the honest storytelling of Bill Ede and John Gage. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay late, and when I left, the party was still in full swing, with danny flanigan, Brigid Kaelin and Johnny Berry yet to take the stage. Each musician I did hear approached Townes’ songs with equal doses of hero worship and friendly tribute. As I drove home, listening to The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, it occurred to me that in this day and age, where musical tributes are seemingly a dime-a-dozen, Air Devil’s Inn has succeeded in creating something extraordinary: a tribute concert that the artist being celebrated would have actually enjoyed attending. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com