Joe Ely at the Comedy Caravan

By Paul Carney

"Goin' where the lights aren't so bright ..."

I've always loved the small moments in live music - subtle, distilled, powerful. And Joe Ely's June 5th show, the launch for Blue Sky Kentucky's Americana Caravan series, was a small show. The intimate Comedy Caravan, holding only about 260 people, was the perfect showcase for the small. How could there be anything but a great show?

Ely, the Texas singer / songwriter / guitarist / rocker, is legend at this point. From having opened for the Clash to his ongoing role in the Flatlanders (with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock), and, most importantly, his legacy of thirty years of song crafting and passionate performing ... all of this and he's still a vital creative force.

The Caravan show was a rare chance to see Ely up close and alone (in the interest of full disclosure, I'm on the board of Blue Sky KY, so assume bias if you must ... I'll wear it proudly). After a solid, lovely opening from Louisville's Leigh Anne Yost and her accompanying guitarist Bryan Hurst, WFPK's Michael Young welcomed Joe Ely to the tiny stage, and the evening ignited.

Opening with a taut, driving "Run Little Pony," a cut from 2003's Streets of Sin, Ely proceeded to delve deep into his song-bag, with a mix of his tunes and choice songs from friends and compatriots (Hancock, Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt...). The list: "If You Were A Bluebird"; "Like A Row of Dominoes"; "Me and Billy the Kid"; "She Never Spoke Spanish To Me"; "She Finally Spoke Spanish to Me"; "I Had My Hopes Up High"; "I'm a Thousand Miles From Home"; "Carnival Bum"; "Letter to Laredo"; "Gallo Del Cielo"; "Black Spanish Loveseat"; "Live Forever"; "White Freightliner Blues" and "All Just To Get To You."

The evening ended with two notable song choices, Buddy Holly's "Well All Right" (with the line that could be the epigraph for the night, "We'll live and love with all our might") and the Terry Allen song, "Gimme A Ride to Heaven," with its mix of bitter irony and a play on America's sacred traditions. And with that, Joe Ely departed. I know a set list is not a review, but what can I say? Outside of a few wry jokes and brief stories about his life (including how roofing in South Texas in July helped motivate him toward music), it was an evening in service of the songs. Breaking hearts, open spaces, dim rooms full of desire, defiance and life spent wrenching some kind of dignity out of all of the moments of ordinary life. Making the most of the small moments. An evening with Joe Ely.