As the title of this blog (Country, California) implies, geography is of some importance to me. That’s not to say that this blog is about California; it isn’t. But it is written from northern California, an area whose peripheral status – to Nashville, to Texas, and even to the hipper Los Angeles scene 6 hours south of here – has something to do with the way I approach country music. I’m writing from an isolation of sorts. At least, that’s the way I’ve always thought of it.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find that one of the better contributors at CMT.com, Craig Shelburne, has been haunting this area recently. Here’s a quick rundown of what he saw during his stay, and what he missed.
– Keith Urban and Sarah Buxton at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa in Kelseyville on Saturday, August 23. Konocti Harbor is a neat lakeside venue about 2.5 hours from here. I like their intimate showroom concerts, but am not sure I’d make the trip to see a big show at their outdoor amphitheatre. You can see a show like that anywhere.
– Jessica Simpson at the California State Fair in Sacramento on Monday, August 25. If I had known this was Simpson’s first headlining set as a country act, I might have made the fifteen-minute trip to Cal Expo and watched her free show from the lawn. Just to say I had been there.
– The main gate of Folsom Prison. Pretty cool. Despite having lived in this area for 6 years now, I still haven’t gotten around to checking out Folsom or San Quentin, which is also less than two hours away.
[Edit: It turns out he’s still around, so the list continues.]
– Patty Griffin at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga on August 26.
Gary Allan at the California State Fair on Saturday, August 23. Shelburne was at the Keith Urban show during Allan’s refreshingly loose 90-minute set to a sold-out seating area and packed lawn. The show featured most of Allan’s big hits and the bulk of his latest album, Living Hard (7/11 songs). Midway through his set, he explained that he had been losing his voice over the past couple days, so he spent all day drinking to get it back in shape for us. I don’t think he was joking; he chatted and smiled more than usual, occasionally even rambling in between songs. While his vocal problems were apparent – he couldn’t quite hit some of the more ambitious notes required by his songs – his band stepped up and provided more than ample cover. Perhaps as a means of saving his voice, Allan opted to fill out the middle of his show with an extended series of slow-to-mid-tempo songs, many performed acoustically. These included a particularly handsome acoustic reworking of “Right Where I Need to Be” and a swinging version of the highly singalongable “Alright Guy” (a Todd Snider song). This quieter stretch allowed Allan to build up a reserve of vocal strength, which he used on a number of rocking tunes near the show’s end. An excellent performance of “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey” ended the encore, cementing my impression that Gary Allan operating at 70% is better than most country singers at their best.
Next time, I say skip Urban and see a California boy in action.
(The picture isn’t from the August 23 show; it’s from a show last year.)