I went to a concert last night. Not my usual low-budget bar-crawl, but a real show in a real concert hall – Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College.
I saw Roger McGuinn, best known as a founder of The Byrds, although that seems so inadequate a way of describing his talent and influence on modern music. (Even though my wife didn’t know who he was…) I have been wanting to see him for a while now. He played the same venue a year or so ago, but I couldn’t get clear to go.
I took a chance and hoped the show didn’t sell out. It said there were still seats available on Thursday on the website and it’s a big hall. So I just went and planned to pick up a single seat at the box office.
When I got there, I almost immediately ran into most of the group The Dustmen. Brian, Harry and Russ are my friends from many a celtic show and former Kilbrannan fans. When I said I had to go get a ticket, they told me they had an extra one and I offered to buy it. I paid the full price, gladly. I would have at the box office anyway and I loked at it as helping a friend out, not getting a deal. Well, in a way, I got a deal anyhow. The seats were fifth row, center. Great seats and I got to sit with people I knew as well…
The opening act was Maria Sebastian, who I had met but never heard play live. I knew from reputation and her online samples that she was good. But her show lived up to her reputation. She played a too-short acoustic set, but was just captivating. Her presence on stage was comfortable. She clearly was at ease performing in front of the large crowd. Rather than try to play folky music to try to fit with McGuinn, she simply played some of her music. Not that it wasn’t folk or acoustic music, but it was her own style.
She told a short anecdote about playing a gig in a shopping center and some woman saying she should open for her husband. She took the card and didn’t think much of it until she got home and Googled the name on the card: Roger McGuinn! So, my wife is in good company. And Maria got an opening gig for a big name when he came to Buffalo again.
I, on the other hand didn’t need to be told who he was! I’ve been a Byrds fan since the late sixties, almost from the time I started buying records. But I’ve kept up since, as well. Back To Rio was a favorite of mine after finding it in a used CD bin at a local record shop. I’ve been listening to Jim’s (Roger McGuinn’s given name is James) online postings, which have evolved into the Folkden recordings, since the days when it was a hand-crafted HTML page. (Of course, now it’s a WordPress Blog, complete with RSS feed for the audio files and I get them with my feed reader, FeedDemon.) Jim has been an early adopter to using the internet to promote, share and educate via the internet. He’s a Mac user, but I won’t hold that against him 🙂
I knew the show was billed as part of the Great Performers Series at Buff State and would probably be mostly acoustic. So I didn’t really expect to hear a lot of Bryds songs. I thought we’d mostly hear his newer work and the traditional folk music he’s been devoting his Folkden to. (Besides being a performer, he’s been – at least to me- a preservationist for folk music. He’s not afraid to reinterpret a song, but he always seems to know the history of it and pass that on. People like him and Pete Seeger are preserving folk music the old way, by playing it and passing it on to new audiences.)
But my low expectations were pleasantly shattered, when he strolled out onto the stage playing his trademark Rickenbacker 12-string hollow-body electric. He played a little bit of everything, plenty of Bryds material, plenty of folk and plenty of his own solo work. I recognized probably 90% of it by the opening notes of each song, yet there were a few stumpers in there as well. I was surprised to find out he had written the Turtles song “You Showed Me.”
Each song had a story to tell. We heard about his working for Bobby Darin in the Brill Building, about taking Beatles riffs and putting folk songs to them, about touring with Bob Dylan, etc. He played his seven-string acoustic guitar – the Martin HD-7 custom made for him to include the double G-string like a 12-string guitar, while letting him play the rest of the strings like a standard guitar. He also played several songs on his 5-string banjo.
He had the audience clapping along to “Old Blue,” singing along to several other songs and finished the night with a four-song encore. He finished up with the ever appropriate “May The Road Rise To Meet You.”
Seen in audience: Andy Babiuk, author of Beatles Gear, a book on the guitars of the Beatles. He’s worked at House of Guitars for over 20 years, and is staff consultant for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wonder if there’s a Bryds Gear book in the works?