Billy Joe Shaver – Poodie’s Hilltop Bar & Grill (Highway 71, TX)
Poodie’s Bar & Grill is the kind of place they’d call a “redneck bar” out in California. Located on the eastern edge of the Hill Country, its jukebox is stocked with old-fashioned country and Southern-flavored rock; its wall decor betrays three motifs: beer, Texas, and Willie Nelson. It’s a cozy joint, and on this night it was cozier than usual, when a standing-room-only crowd of enthusiastic locals (plus a handful of hipsters who’d made the 30-mile drive from Austin) packed the place to see Billy Joe Shaver play.
Almost everyone in the bar seemed to know everyone else, and the singer seemed to know a lot of them too. The result was more a party than a traditional concert, with Shaver’s band playing loose, danceable versions of the singer’s best-known songs. With Shaver’s son Eddy on guitar, old favorites such as “Black Rose” and “Ride Me Down Easy” became blistering blues-rock numbers; Billy Joe, meanwhile, made sure to step from the limelight while his son took his solos, instead waving at children, winking at lady dancers, and occasionally even leaving the stage to sell CDs. (At one point, during a drum solo that roused more memories of Iron Butterfly than of Hank Williams, the whole band left the stage to mingle with the crowd. Except, of course, the drummer, who continued to thrash with a garage-rocker’s joy.)
The result was, undeniably, a great time. At its best, it was also great music. As the band launched into its second set, Eddy strapped on an acoustic guitar, lending a more familiarly country sound to such songs as “Live Forever” (the show’s highlight, for me). When the electric ax returned, the band did a better job of balancing Eddy’s extended jams with the sharpness of his father’s songs. By the third set, they gave some numbers a second shot, reprising “Good News Blues” and “Georgia On A Fast Train”. I didn’t mind: The latter song, in particular, was much better the second time around, and I’d liked it plenty the first time they’d played it.
By the third set’s end, the night and the beer were having their usual fatiguing effects, and I made my exit, despite Shaver’s promise to bring Rusty Weir onstage during set four. I was midway through a cross-continental drive, and I felt like I’d stumbled into a private celebration, a great little concert in a rural corner of the country, for a working-class audience, far below the mass media’s radar. Given who I’d gone to Poodie’s to see — a tremendously talented singer-songwriter from a small town in Texas, who’d never achieved the fame attained by some of his songs — that seemed more than appropriate.