Jason Ringenberg – Star Bar (Atlanta, GA)
It was truly a hot night in Georgia when Jason Ringenberg took the stage at the Star Bar for his first solo performance in over 15 years. With his band, Jason & the Scorchers, Ringenberg contributed to the 1980s emergence of alternative country (whatever that was). After several years of inactivity, the band reformed in 1994 and recently recorded their second album for Mammoth Records in Atlanta at Jeff Bakos’ intimate studio.
During these sessions, Ringenberg was making regular visits to the Star Bar to catch local and regional bands. The Star Bar is the focal point of the alternative country scene in Atlanta, a consortium of bands known collectively as the “Redneck Underground”. It’s also the site of the annual “Bubbapalooza” festival, a three-day party celebrating American roots music of all types, with a heavy emphasis on twangy bands. Ringenberg had expressed an interest in opening for BR5-49 at their premiere Atlanta performance, but schedule conflicts prevented that one from happening. As it turned out, he didn’t need another act on the bill: He delivered a stellar performance that went way beyond anyone’s expectations.
The show was advertised simply as “General Sherman’s Guilt”, and word of mouth was the primary method of spreading the news. The room was comfortably full as the show began, composed mostly of Star Bar regulars and a few hard-core Scorcher fans who were lucky enough to find out. Ringenberg was obviously nervous at the prospect of facing an audience alone for the first time since he was in college.
Dressed in a vintage suit and a cowboy hat, he looked like a Baptist preacher preparing to save our souls, but quickly shattered that illusion with a rollicking version of the George Jones classic “Ol’ King Kong”. The audience obviously loved it, and as the show progressed, he gradually shifted from the shy “aw shucks” sheepishness to the confident and exciting frontman we know him to be. He maintained a conversational relationship with the audience throughout, and the informality of the occasion contributed to the magic.
The early portion of the show was dominated by stripped-down versions of Scorcher tunes both well-known and obscure. The initial response was so positive that Ringenberg was obviously moved. While the passion and intensity (and volume) of a typical Scorchers performance often overwhelms the lyrics, Ringenberg used this forum as an opportunity to let the passion and intensity of the words shine through, and it became clear what a great songwriter he is. There was a fresh sense of profundity in songs such as “White Lies”, “Last Time Around”, and especially ballads such as “Pray For Me Mama (I’m A Gypsy Now)”.
He asked for requests almost immediately and played most of them. At one point he simply laughed and said he was “channeling Warner Hodges” (the Scorchers’ guitarist) to help him get through some of the more diffficult guitar parts. He also previewed a couple of great songs from the upcoming release.
One of the best elements of the performance was the diverse selection of cover tunes he scattered throughout the show. Some were obvious choices, including Gram Parsons’ “In My Hour Of Darkness” and Jimmie Rodgers’ “Hobo Bill’s Last Ride”. In a nod to his Georgia buddies, he did R.E.M.’s “Rockville” and a Guadalcanal Diary tune from the mid-’80s. He saved some of his most intriguing songs for the end, when he pulled out a Phil Ochs tune, a snippet from Jesus Christ Superstar, and a killer rendition of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”.
Ringenberg concluded the two-hour-plus show with multiple encores, bringing new life to “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Broken Whiskey Glass”. The show finally ended with a great medley featuring “Rock Island Line”, “Subterrenean Homesick Blues” and a couple of other similar tunes.
At the conclusion, Ringenberg thanked the audience for making the evening “one of the greatest musical experiences of his life”. The feeling was mutual, as the crowd stood in awe and soaked up some of the most heartfelt and genuine music ever played in the Star Bar. For those who were there, it was a night that will never be forgotten.