Sunday, June 16, 2019

Quite Beneficial: Lucinda Williams Delights at Gala for Old Town School of Folk Music -- Chicago Concert Review

Chicago Concert Review

Lucinda Williams
with backing band Buick 6
Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago
Blue Jean Gala 2019
June 14, 2019

The readership of this blog isn't all that vast, but it's not inconceivable that someone could come across this review and be like:

"I love Lucinda Williams. I didn't realize she was playing in Chicago."

To which I would somewhat sheepishly share that I ordinarily wouldn't have known either, not having been much of a fan--due to ignorance rather than distaste--of the 66-year-old singer/songwriter.

I have never owned any of Williams' albums, and until Spotifamiliarizing myself prior to this show, practically none of her songs.

Per, I now see that Lucinda Williams has played at least 10 shows at Chicago area venues just since 2016, but none registered.

Speaking of registering, I haven't ever taken any classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, though I greatly admire its mission and history, and have attended concerts in its auditorium (which one of my sisters helped design).

A close pal's family are generous supporters of OTSFM, and I was graciously invited to accompany them to the school's Blue Jean Gala, at which Williams was the featured artist. (I donated what I could.)

The gala was hosted onstage by longtime WXRT morning DJ, Lin Brehmer, who kindly chatted with me in the lobby for a bit.

Backed by three musicians she identified as being known as Buick 6, Williams' 90-minute set consisted primarily of a full play-through of her 1998 classic album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, with which I had become decently familiar by showtime.

She encored solely with "The Ghosts of Highway 20," title track of a 2016 album, which made this benefit performance a bit briefer than recent shows for the general public, but it fit perfectly into the Gala festivities.

Beyond a strong musical performance--it's easy to appreciate why Lucinda Williams is such a venerated songwriter--it was a delight to have her give VH1 Storytellers-type insights to the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road songs.

Before the title track, which is the album's second song, she spoke of her parents.

Her father was a poet, whose career as a college professor caused the family to move a lot, hence the song's memories such as:

"Cotton fields stretching miles and miles / Hank's voice on the radio"

Williams was also open about her mother's mental health issues and--leading into "Metal Firecracker"--wryly honest about her own romantic entanglements, such as a romance with a bassist on tour despite having a boyfriend, who also happened to be a bass player.

She also shared that "Drunken Angel" was written for a late Texas musician named Blaze Foley, and that "Lake Charles" was penned for another friend of hers from Texas, but who preferred to call her native Louisiana home.

With her voice strong though weathered in an evocative way, I enjoyed everything Lucinda Williams played with Buick 6, but especially noted late album tracks such as "Greenville," "Still I Long for Your Kiss" and "Joy."

Appealing video graphics accompanied everything performed, and as Lucinda noted, closer "The Ghosts of Highway 20" nicely touched upon the themes prevalent in the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road songs, from a more recent vantage point.

Being that this was a benefit show for Old Town School, and that I was kindly invited, I was only going to write a review if I really enjoyed Lucinda Williams' performance.

Hence, this stands as testament that I did.

As with Bruce Cockburn a few weeks ago, it was again a thrill to newly discover--in person--a master songwriter I should've known years ago.

And this time, it was genuinely beneficial in a multitude of ways. 

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