Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing


Normally after a show, I binge on the music I just heard. Depending on how good the show, the binge can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks (or, in one particular instance that my husband would just as soon forget, months) until something else catches my interest. However, in the aftermath of last weekend’s live music overload, I’m having the damnedest time settling to just one artist or style of music. I have no idea what I want to listen to now, because I couldn’t have attended three more different concerts – peppy indie pop to drunken English pub rock to the deepest sort of American roots music. Way to run the gamut, eh?

I had a bit of a reprieve after the Skinny Lister show (and thank god…I needed it), in that I got to go home and regain some semblance of a normal schedule for a day and a half. Which, upon reflection, was a dreadful idea. Who wants to get up at 6am after staying up until 2?? But those vacation days don’t hoard themselves, so I sleepwalked through twelve hours of work before driving the two hours back to Philly for one last hurrah.

I was excited for this bill – two bands with sounds steeped in America’s past. The openers were a (REAL) country group called the Cactus Blossoms, who have been likened to the Everly Brothers in pretty much every article written about them and have recorded some of the most haunting, melancholy music I’ve ever heard. The main act, an incredibly dapper gentleman named Pokey LaFarge, wouldn’t be out of place on “Boardwalk Empire” (and in fact has been featured on that soundtrack). After the chaos of Skinny Lister, I was glad for a show that promised to be a little calmer. And, if you can believe it, I actually managed to talk my parents into coming! As much as they love music, they can be a bit, um, obstinate when it comes to opening up to new bands. And while they appreciate vintage sounds, country in any form is most assuredly not their thing, so to get them to tag along was a coup.

We figured we’d grab a drink and appetizers at the bar of the venue (World Cafe Live, home of WXPN, a VERY cool place if you ever get the chance to go) prior to the doors opening, to give us a chance to relax and chat. Unbeknownst to us, an academic lecture was taking place. In the bar. Now, I applaud whatever institution came up with the idea of not only feeding the people who attended their seminar but letting them drink too. I can only imagine how many more of my college lectures I would’ve attended if I could’ve had a Jack and Coke while I sat there taking notes. And any other day I would have been interested in what the speaker had to say. But I was not in an academic frame of mind, and having to communicate in whispers as we quietly munched mozzarella sticks and sipped our beer while having someone drone on about the electability of political candidates in the background wasn’t exactly how we foresaw the start of the evening.

The Cactus Blossoms, brother Page and Jack (and, out of the frame, Tyler)

But we laughed it off (and were relieved when the seminar wrapped up after fifteen minutes or so) and made our way downstairs to the stage area. The bands’ merchandise tables were set up near to the doors and as we walked past, I saw that Jack, the lead singer of the Cactus Blossoms, was at their table. On a whim, I stopped by to introduce myself, shake his hand and tell him that the reason I was a fan was because of the producer of their new album. There will be at least one looooooong blog entry on that producer, what he does and why he’s had such a big impact on my life, but that’s for another day. For now, it’ll do to say that Jack seemed pleased by this and was as nice as his Midwestern upbringing would lead you to believe.

I abandoned my parents at the stage-area bar (yes! Another bar! And they actually let me take my drink on the floor, unlike some other venues. Ahem, Union Transfer) to stake out a spot at the front, although the crowd was so laid back throughout the night, I doubt I would have had any trouble making my way there later on. But as it was I had a completely uninhibited view, one I didn’t have to fight to keep, for the entire night. It was wonderful. The Cactus Blossoms came out right on schedule and didn’t waste any time in blowing me away. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had goosebumps for the duration of their set. Just try listening to “Mississippi” or “Powder Blue” without something stirring in your chest. I was flabbergasted when, after what felt like a song or two, they wrapped it up. What are they talking about? They can’t be done already, they just started! And then I saw that they’d been playing for forty-five minutes. I was so transfixed by them and their sound, my sense of time had vanished. I was crushed that it was over so quickly. They’re the first opening act I’ve ever seen that I wanted to continue playing.

Pokey. And those shoes.

It was hard to stay disappointed though in the face of someone as engaging and smooth as Pokey LaFarge. I’ll admit, I was just a casual fan with a passing familiarity with his catalog (at best) prior to this show. But his tongue-in-cheek wit and completely charming personality, to say nothing of the energy with which he performed, won me over. And the music…man! It’s like something pulled from a Great Depression-era time capsule, only shined to a burnish instead of dusty and tarnished. It was joyful, exuberant, fun. And I loved how his attitide matched the music. One of my favorite moments of the night came during a break in songs while the band tuned and adjusted their instruments. A woman called out “Hey, Pokey!” into the quiet and he, without missing a beat or even looking up from what he was doing, said in his laconic drawl, “Hey, baby.” It was the perfect response – funny, sexy, so appropriate.


So despite the fact that I couldn’t sing along (again! I assure you, this is not typical of me at a concert), I loved every second. This show was a last-minute add-on, one I hemmed and hawed about until finally saying to myself, Oh, screw it, you only live once. I’d missed seeing the Cactus Blossoms earlier in the winter and regretted it…I wasn’t about to miss them on what promised to be one incredible double bill. So I ended up having a great night out on the town with my folks, seeing some amazing musicians and being thoroughly entertained. AND I made new friends! I was so excited to finally meet an Instagram buddy, Julia, in person. We listen to the same music and go to the same shows, but we’d been like ships passing in the night (and even came thisclose to running into each other in Oklahoma, of all places) until this instance when we made it a point to find each other. So we spent the night talking (well, as much as we could without being rude to the performers), dancing and laughing together and trying to catch up as much as possible. I ended up with a treasure trove of memories and experiences, all this for $18 and a few hours of my time? That’s a bill I’d pay anytime.


2 thoughts on “Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

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