Jonathan Byrd. Canada.
I told Jonathan Byrd that I was going to write a live music review for him. Then I went and watched him. Then I couldn’t write a damn thing.
I hate flowery reviews. I hate know-it-all reporting. Jonathan Byrd in concert defies words.
My husband and I were on tour in Canada earlier this summer. We gigged all over Southern British Columbia through some wild terrain. Highways turn to gravel and back again before you hit the next town. Rivers run fast, cold, and high. There are mosquitoes and mountain lions. There are 11pm logging trucks and 7am lightning.
From tiny cafe to tiny cafe we hauled our gear. Over mountain passes, through country fields, across expansive bridges spanning ravines and rubble. At every show we played Byrd’s tune The Law and the Lonesome.
In the valley of the Selkirk and Valhalla Mountains is where I grew up, where the older generations of my family spent the last years of their lives. We visited this place on our tour and she took me in like a mother does her wandering child.
30 kilometers from the homestead of my parents, ravens bitched and squabbled over garbage at a turnout vista of Slocan Lake. Minutes later, 1000 feet above the water, the black birds soared silently. Jagged, snow covered mountains held the water, a grandmother’s hands cupping a drink for a lost and lapping kitten.
We listened to Jonathan’s record that afternoon, The Law and the Lonesome.
We saw him back in May at a house show outside of Eugene, Oregon. He was touring with Chris Kokesh formerly of Misty River. We’d seen Jonathan and Chris a year earlier in a full house on an empty street. Yes, they told many of the same stories and played many of the same songs as last year, but they did it with them same fervor, the same passion, the same love. As if it was their first time.
Most of the time when I played a show in the past, there was bitching and squabbling over garbage at the turnout, drinks at the bar. Of late, people have begun to sit silently and stare. Unnerving at first, I have come to realize that when people sit and stare, they aren’t looking at me, they are looking at themselves. They are watching their memories and their mind’s eye. People sit and stare at Jonathan, shamelessly. Wide-eyed and still, there is no squabbling, there is no bitching. This performer is capable of sending his audience soaring, 1000 feet in the air. And there, you are still and you are silent.
I couldn’t write a damn thing about Byrd because there isn’t a damn thing to be said. It’s like looking at the mountains or the lake. At some point you’re just looking at yourself. Flying.
Jonathan Byrd’s The Law and the Lonesome as performed for Roots Music Canada: