Loretta Lynn – Konocti Harbor – Classic Concert Showroom (Kelseyville, CA)
It took me a lot longer to get to rural Kelseyville than I thought it would. When I finally entered the Konocti Harbor Classic Concert Showroom, a fight had already broken out and been subdued. The comedian had finished his impressions and taken his bow. The last new-country strains of Loretta Lynn’s 10-piece backing band were just dying away, and as I took my seat, the Queen of Country swept onstage, glittery in a white and diamond evening gown.
She began by putting the band, including son Ernest, through the paces of saying ‘hello darlin'” in imitation of the late Conway Twitty, her longtime duet partner. None could say it deep enough, and the band launched into the first of several extremely uptempo numbers, “Thank God I’m A Country Girl”.
“The show is yours; holler out whatever you want to hear,” Lynn announced from the elaborately lit stage. She and the band then played a preordained set of about ten songs, including most of the hits everybody wanted to hear anyway, among them “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, “Your Squaw Is On The Warpath”, and “Don’t Come Home From Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”.
Lynn wrote truly great country songs, bringing an unabashed woman’s perspective to country when record labels were reluctant even to release singles by two female artists at the same time. But it was her rise from barefoot and pregnant poverty and her disarmingly country manner that made her a superstar. Her legend is built on a series of genuinely free and sassy gestures that went over big early in her career, and thus have been repeated over and over. The amazing thing is that she still comes up with new ones.
Her performance at Konocti Harbor gave her fans what they want: songs that bring back memories, a loving yet truth-telling image, funny stories in a country-comedienne tradition. More than half the show was banter between her and her band members. She corrected the bands’ playing with mock exasperation and aired family stories, like the one about her late husband Mooney firing Ernest from her band. “I thought I worked for Mom. Come to find out Mom worked for Dad,” Ernest said ruefully.
Her songs were uptempoed and shortened to the max, so that at the end of each song it seemed it had just begun. Perhaps this was done to save her voice, though it sounded supple and lively, a quality few 63-year-old voices can boast of. The show ended with a rendition of “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, the song that spawned her autobiography, and the house lights came up, leaving no possibility of an encore.
“That was really short,” I said to my friend. The elderly man next to me overheard. “She’s 63 years old, you know,” he said. “Her husband just died a couple years ago. Her friends thought she’d never go on the road again. And her band is new.” That’s the kind of fan a country legend needs.