I love music. My sister is not only a lover of music, but a savant of music. When she falls for a musician, she is willing to travel far and wide to see them perform. I am sometimes along for the ride and temporary escape from motherhood. My sister asks me to tag along as her VOR: voice of reason. She says she can be her crazy self with me and that is true; we are sisters after all.
Bruce Hornsby is one musician that she adores. We had gone and seen him last year when he performed with Ricky Skaggs in Cincinnati. This concert was different; it was HIS concert with The Noisemakers. He was the star and the commander in chief of the show which gave a whole different feel than the last concert.
Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers performed in the great Paramount Theater in Ashland, Kentucky. The Paramount Theater was first designed to be a theater for “talking films” and show picture shows from Paramount Pictures. The great depression hit and the plans were scrapped cutting the plans back leaving the Paramount Theater a third of the size it was designed to be. It finally opened in 1931 and held on for forty years. The theater is done in an art deco style reminiscent of the thirties with the giant winged urn above the stage, angular chandeliers, and mirrored vanities in the salon of the bathrooms. The Paramount Theater reopened the same year it was closed as a non profit arts center. In 1992, it was used as the backdrop to film Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart.
My sister told me that Bruce Hornsby usually bases his shows on requests. She concocted an elaborate note to let him know her two requests. On the front of it she had a photo she found on Twitter and then decorated the edges with colorful flags that she said was on her desk for two years and never used until now. Inside she listed her two requests and then put “Love from Louisville.” Well, that last part may have been her undoing. Her requests were not played. It very well may have been because the last time Bruce Hornsby had gone to Louisville, the snobs were complaining about people dancing and Bruce had given the shout out for everyone to get up and dance. That was over ten years ago, so maybe he is not a fan of Louisvillians.
The opening act was ChessBoxer with Matt Menefee and Ross Holmes; a banjo player and fiddler. They played some great Bluegrass instrumental melodies that made me feel like I was home. Then they invited their friend to join them. It was Bryan Simpson from Cadillac Sky. He had the most beautiful hair that was so fantastic that I distinctly remember seeing its own moon revolving around it. I thought it was funny that he and I had the same hairdo; mine mohawked and his rambling off to the side. He was such a great performer. The pitch and tone of his voice went up and down and around the bend. I had to comment to my sister; he had “Jesus” moments like she does when listening to great music. He had his foot stoppin’ when he strummed the mandolin the way you do when you come down on a log with an axe. This is the kind of music that gives you goosebumps as all your memories flood up and your heart dances.
Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, which included the ChessBoxers, came on stage. We had such a great advantage as we could see all of the stage plus the side entrance where the stage master stood with all that made the show more intense. From this view, and this being HIS, concert, I could see that not only was Bruce a talented musician but quite the maestro. They started the show off with a Bluegrass song for Kentucky by THE Bill Monroe called On The Kentucky Shore. It was perfect! Bruce was on top of it; giving each musician a chance to shine alone or letting two of them duel it out. It reminded me of when I was a teen and had a boyfriend in a band…. swoon! I would go watch them practice in the basement of his home. They just jammed and tried new things out and each marked their territory with their talent on whatever instrument. Bruce Hornsby let that artistic energy flow.
I really enjoy the way that Bruce interacts with his audience. He feeds off the people who love his music. However, he made it quite clear that he was an artist when he said, “We’re not here to take you on a stroll down memory lane. We are here to play music.” He later joked about some of the non-moving individuals. We fortunately were in the fun lovin’ section who appreciated his and his group’s obvious talent. Sadly though, most of the audience were stiffs and not getting into it. Bruce quipped, “I know some of you are thinking, Now I came here cuz I thought he would play some songs that I know. I don’t recognize any of these songs.” Sure enough on our way out, I heard people saying, “I did not recognize any of those songs.” It is about the melodies, the improvisation, and the gift these men have been given.
This was the first time I understood groupies undying love for musicians. I was watching the electric guitarist get down into his solo piece and I watched his face contort in the oddest manner. I thought, I KNOW that look! It has been awhile since I have seen it, but I KNOW that look. It looked almost painful that he would get so close to a climax and then it would fade, only to be driven back into it…tension in his face, shoulders pulled up, arms straightened, hands on the strings, the center of the guitar perfectly positioned; so close to pure ecstasy. Yea, I figured that after a show, some women would want to help unleash that fury.
I was really impressed with Bruce Hornsby’s repertoire. He went from piano, to accordian, to a dulcimer…my favorite. He played contemporary, folksy, and jazz. I was awed and a wee bit jealous; I wish to play at least one instrument. His fellow musicians kept up the whole time and were spot on in every song. He did not play my sister’s favorites, but he played mine, Darlin’ Corey, and I did not even ask. Granted he did well, but my favorite version will always be Crooked Still’s Darlin’ Corey. I will give Bruce Hornsby credit though… he did a shortened version for the sake of time and I did love his version of it with Ricky Skaggs.
Then something fascinating and sickening happened. His drummer, Sonny Emory, came down to a seat in the front with Bruce Hornsby and Ross Holmes. They played some old-timey and some contemporary turned old-timey hits. Bruce was on the dulcimer. The Sonny Emory on a modified washboard and spoons, and Ross Holmes on the fiddle. They were kickin’ it. Bruce and Sonny were neck and neck like “dueling banjos.” Bruce would lean back and cross a leg over the other knee and Sonny would follow suite. They were perfect together. It was beautiful. Then some….some…MALE from the middle section yelled out “you get ’em boy.” Now, normally no one would think anything of it. But, we were in Ashland and the drummer was a very talented young black man; more than that was the way the man said it and not only said it, but kept on. His racism spewed every time he said “boyyee”. I was not the only one to have felt it. Ignoring the racist and cheering on Sonny more seemed the most appropriate response to the ignorance.
The cheers silenced him and the trio brought us lively people to pensiveness. One of the songs from this trio was the folksy rendition of The Valley Road. You just cannot imagine this song on dulcimer, modified washboard, and fiddle. It was hauntingly beautiful. It fit Kentucky. It belonged here. They also played another favorite of mine… Dreaded Spoon. It is as if he has tapped into my childhood with my dad… how did he know?
I walked out of that concert feeling good. There is something curative about masterfully played music. Some music that I hear blaring from cars makes me feel drained. The music of Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers is revitalizing, refreshing, and relaxing. I felt all the stress holding on in my shoulders fall away. I really needed to be at this concert and am thankful to my sisters for making it possible and to the incredible artists for playing so well.