Van Zandt Tribute a Real Sleeper

By Bill Ede

There was a lot of love at the Air Devils Inn on the evening of January 1, as Louisville performers celebrated the life and songs of Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt to a packed house, on the seventh anniversary of his untimely passing. The concert was the brainchild of Sean Hopkins, who, with his Hopkins and Hughes partner, Justin "the colonel" Hughes, opened the show with "White Freightliner Blues." Of the acts I was able to catch, performances of note included Pat Haney's take on "Waitin' Around to Die," Tyrone Cotton's "I'll Be Here in the Morning" and Fire the Saddle's Mick Sullivan and Joe Burchett's "St. John the Gambler."

Dan Gediman did a two-song set that included "Heavenly Houseboat Blues" and the Don Williams-Emmylou Harris staple "If I Needed You" and Heidi Howe contributed "Don't Take It Too Bad" and "Flyin' Shoes," with backup by her husband Neil. Dennie Wheatley did "Loretta" and "Buckskin Stallion Blues," with Phil Ragland on second guitar. Bernie Lubbers brought his comedic touch to "Talkin' Fraternity Blues."

Paul K, an outspoken Van Zandt supporter who got to perform some European dates with Townes in the mid-1990's, took on two of Townes' more involved songs, "High Low and In-Between" (a song that's been likened to Dylan's "Restless Farewell") and the rarely-tackled "Silver Ships of Andilar," with Misha Feigin providing keyboard support. Leanne Trevalyan performed "Where I Lead Me" and "You Are Not Needed Now," a song written after Janis Joplin's 1970 death and backed up fellow-Junkyard Jane member Billy Stoops on "Snowin' on Raton," with Tom Cunningham on fiddle and Kevin O'Brien on background vocals. Bill Ede did "Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold" and "Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria," the latter lending itself to some fine improvisation by the "house band," Reid Yahn on saxophone and Danny Kiely on bass, who provided structural support throughout the night.

The highlight of the evening came when Mickey Clark took the stage, backed by his brother, Billy Tom. Clark and Van Zandt had been friends in Texas during the 1970's and had even shared a guitar player, Mickey White, during some of those years, (The two Mickeys had been singled out in Rolling Stone magazine's 1974 paperback, Knockin' on Dylan's Door: On the Road in '74 as one of two acts Dylan had enjoyed hearing that year during his travels; the other act was Leon Redbone.) Clark's personal connection with Van Zandt gave his performances of "Pancho and Lefty" and "No Deal" an added dimension.

The other performances included Shinola (Danny Cannon and Laura Ellis) on "Two Girls," Matt Mattingly ("She Came and She Touched Me"), Brigid Kaelin ("To Live is to Fly" and "Tower Song"), John Mann ("For the Sake of the Song"), Tess Arkels ("Rex's Blues" and "All Your Young Servants") backed by Phil Ragland on guitar, local original-music stalwart danny flanigan ("Ain't Leaving Your Love") with John Mann on second guitar and Nate Thumas ("Lungs" and "Dollar Bill Blues"), who did much of the work involved in bringing the entire event to fruition. Tim Krekel contributed additional guitar behind both Pat Haney and Tyrone Cotton. Phil Ragland led a post-show performance of the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers," which had been featured, as performed by Townes, during the credits to the movie, "The Big Lebowski." It wasn't technically a Townes song, but no one seemed to mind.

The free concert was by most standards a success, with many of Louisville's more celebrated performers bringing segments of their collective following along. The event would have likely required more space had it not been the night after New Years Eve and had word of the event gotten better overall circulation. Townes would have, no doubt, been both pleased and proud to receive such an outpouring of love and appreciation.