Rodney Crowell Promotes Tarpaper Sky in Seattle
After a busy day at work, “Operation Rodney Crowell” commenced. I left a little early for our home in the ‘burbs, with the hope of beating some of Seattle’s rush-hour traffic on this Monday afternoon. My son Jacob–my handler and navigator–texted that he was on his way home from the high school. I sent a note to his track coach excusing him early, stating that Jacob had a “family event” to attend in the afternoon. I wasn’t lying. Jacob and I are family, and we were going to an event.
On Saturday, just two days earlier, I happened to see a Facebook post on Rodney Crowell’s page that mentioned he was performing free solo shows in Seattle and Portland to promote his new album, Tarpaper Sky. He was scheduled to perform at Silver Platters at 6:00 Monday, March 31.
Jacob’s first concert was in Coos Bay, Oregon in 2006. Rodney and The Outsiders (including Will Kimbrough on guitar) played at an outdoor music festival. Jacob got to meet both Rodney and Will after the show. At ten years old, this left quite an impression on the boy. It was time to see Mr. Crowell again.
After topping off the tank, we headed down the road to I-405. Slow traffic in Bellevue was expected, but we soon found ourselves speeding over the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington, cruising by Safeco Field into the fray of Opening Night (sorry, Officer, I was in the wrong lane, and no, I don’t want to park here, I just need to pass through!), and continuing several blocks down First Avenue South, also known as the SoDo district of Seattle. Jacob’s eagle eyes spotted the Silver Platters sign.
I parked near front of the record store and I felt my nerves set in. Jacob, donning his “handler” cap, told me to calm down. I told him I wanted to be sure to tell Mr. Crowell everything I’d rehearsed. “What’s the problem?” he said, “Just tell him we’re big fans, we saw him in Coos Bay, we know Will, and you’re going to write a blog about the show tonight.” Sure, I’ve got it down. I can do this! Sometimes, though, my shyness paralyzes me.
We walked into Silver Platters and I expected to see a big crowd, especially since Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris just won a GRAMMY for their Americana album Old Yellow Moon. Both Rodney and Emmylou have churned out country hits for almost 40 years. Although there wasn’t much of an advance notice regarding the show, I believed the true fans would get their fannies down to SoDo to see him up close. Surprisingly, the store was almost empty except for rows and rows of new and vintage vinyl. About a dozen people strolled the aisles, and a few more gathered near the little stage in the back. I was almost relieved it wasn’t packed because I knew we’d have a great view of the stage and a greater chance to meet him afterward. Selfish, yes. Out of respect for Mr. Crowell, though, fans should have been lined up around the block. Where were they? I felt privileged to be one of the few to witness this intimate solo performance, but I was a little indignant that more people didn’t make the drive to the show.
With our successful scheduling and navigation, we had enough time before the show to purchase an advance copy of Tarpaper Sky and receive a free poster. I fidgeted for several minutes and pulled out my camera, checked my phone, assigned Jacob to book and poster duty and kept my journal and pen in hand.
Just after 6 pm, Rodney sauntered up to the stage and strapped on his guitar amid hearty claps and whoops from the sparse crowd. I noticed more people pushed in a little later. I’m sure the increasing Seattle traffic hindered many people from attending the show on time.
Mr. Crowell’s a little shy, too, I suspect. He acknowledged the audience, and with head bowed down toward the mic, quietly mentioned he wanted to play a few other songs first before diving in to Tarpaper Sky. He started with two songs from Townes Van Zandt, including a tender version of “Pancho and Lefty”, also famously covered by Emmylou Harris and the Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard duo. With eyes closed, he tilted his head back to hit the higher notes.
He loosened up and and smiled as he started a third song that he said will be on his next album, as he’s trying to stay ahead of the curve. I believe the upbeat song was called “Miss Claudia”.
A train horn sighed in the background. SoDo is an industrial area, and the tracks nearby run to and from the shipping docks, north and south to parts unknown. “I feel like I should play a freight train song,” Rodney chuckled, and the audience followed suit. In fact, he said he just recorded a train song with Emmylou two weeks ago. “Let’s see if I can remember it.” He plunked away at a soft melody for a few seconds, then sang “The Weight of The World” as the train blew past. I’m looking forward to another album from the legendary pair.
He then moved on to a handful of Tarpaper Sky songs.
“Famous Last Words of a Fool in Love” was prefaced with talk of the unseemly custom of older men trading in their spouses for younger women. Rodney also quipped that his second wife left him for a younger man and a better producer, although he said he is a better producer in other ways. Love is love, and he’s not here to judge, he disclaimed; he’s just here to observe and write songs:
Younger woman/Older man/Can we make this work?/Ah, you know we can/Famous last words of a fool in love
“God I’m Missing You”- Rodney shares writing credits on this song with his collaborator Mary Karr. I found myself shaking my head in awe as the ache in his voice and mournful lyrics grabbed my heart:
You’re every curled rosebud/Enchanting my eye/Each turned up coat collar/And your gaze slides by/There’s a sanded down moon/In a tarpaper sky/God I’m missing you
“Frankie Please”- Rodney switched gears to roots rock. Lord, have mercy! I loved his playful rasp. I want to see him perform this with a full band sometime and include that rollicking Jerry Lee Lewis piano so prominent on the album:
You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park/And your white trash mishmash short of cash culture clash hit the mark
“Fever on the Bayou” -Collaborating with Will Jennings (of Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On” fame), this song was twenty years in the making. Jennings gave him the chord progression and melody, but Rodney struggled with the last verse. He didn’t want the song to become some “Cajun cliche shit”. Instead, he added some Cajun French lyrics in his own way, and finally produced this lively mixed-breed love song which I cannot remove from my head.
“The Flyboy and The Kid”-A tender dedication to Guy (Clark, perhaps?) on the album:
May the wind be at your back/And the world sit at your feet/May you waltz across Wyoming/With a rose clutched in your teeth/May the answers to your questions/Fall like raindrops right on queue/May you set up shop in heaven/’Fore the devil knows you’re due
The store manager gave Rodney the signal, or “the hook”, as Rodney said teasingly, and it was time to put the guitar down. I was disappointed the show didn’t last longer. I wanted to hear some more songs from the album and maybe a couple of my favorites from the past, such as “This Too Will Pass”, his ode to George Harrison.
We then formed an organized line while the manager told the fans he would set up a table next to the stage so Rodney could sign autographs on our advance copy of Tarpaper Sky. Well, Mr. Crowell was ready to go right now, no table necessary. Clickety-clickety, he shook up his silver liquid Sharpie pen. One couple stood in front of us. He signed their CD while I fumbled around, trying to get my CD out of my purse and out of the plastic wrapper. I looked up. My musical hero stood in front of me and smiled. My mind went blank.
I did manage to tell Mr. Crowell my name is Lisa (after he asked, so he could sign the CD), and I then told him the last time we saw him was at Coos Bay in 2006. He remembered the lovely outdoor setting. I failed to mention Will Kimbrough, how we befriended him over the years and hosted him during his tour here in January. Will’s backing vocals, guitar and accordion make a guest appearance on Tarpaper Sky. Good Lord. I couldn’t find my words.
I also brought Marshall Chapman‘s book, They Came to Nashville. In one of the chapters, Marshall interviews Rodney about his journey to Nashville, his struggles, and eventual rise to fame. I marked the chapter for him to sign with my blogger business card. I clumsily switched out the CD for the book, turned to the marked page (and stuffed my card in my purse instead of handing it to him) and watched as he fiddled with his pen, trying to get it to work on the coarse paper. I whispered, “Good ol’ Marshall…” That’s it, Lisa? That’s all you’re going to say?
He then looked over my head at Jacob who towered behind me while Rodney reached for our poster. “And you are…?”
Jacob also smiled sheepishly and searched for words (See, Jacob? I told you it was not going to be easy!). I interjected with, “Oh, this is Jacob.” I turned around and looked up at him when I said his name. Rodney, half-hearing the name, wrote, “To Jay” on the poster. Too late to turn back now!
“Thank you for coming, Jay!” smiled Rodney. Jacob nodded and smiled back. He will forever be known as Jay to Mr. Crowell. Who are we to correct him? We giggled about that later.
I glanced back and noticed the line was probably 40 people deep. Our time was up. Other people were waiting impatiently for their turn to meet this legendary artist. We said a quick goodbye, and I hoped I remembered to thank him for signing our things.
Oh, for ten more minutes and the freedom to speak. I would have told him how honored we were to meet him again, how amazing the new album sounds, how dumbfounded that more people didn’t show up to this Seattle show, how I hoped he would come back to Seattle with a full band, how Jacob raved about him and how he was so glad he came with me, how I wanted to write a blog and ask him questions about the songs he sang for us and take a picture with him…maybe next time.
“Anything else to add, Jacob?” I asked, after letting him read my draft.
“He was pitch-perfect.”
That just about sums it up.
Official Release Date of Tarpaper Sky is April 15, 2014.