Waylon Jennings Tribute – Rodeo Bar (New York City, NY)
Three weeks after the death of Waylon Jennings, a “who’s who” of New York’s alt-country scene gathered to honor one of the godfathers of country music without boundaries. The evening did more than pay tribute to Jennings’ memory; it illuminated the depth of his musical accomplishments.
Kevin Karg and Jason Lewis of Star City organized the show at the suggestion of the Rodeo Bar’s Phil Kershak, but the night belonged to Karg (a member not only of Star City, but of the Hangdogs and Philadelphia’s the Rolling Hayseeds as well). A mountain of a man sporting shoulder-length hair, beard and (for the occasion) a leather hat with silver band, Karg captured both the Jennings sound and the look, circa 1976. He channeled the outlaw spirit for over four hours, backed by a rotating lineup of locals including all of Star City, most of the Hangdogs, fiddler Roland Satterwhite of the Chelsea Mountain Boys, Brendan Skwire of Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops, and Buddy Woodward.
Whatever reservations there might have been about the prospect of a tribute concert were laid to rest when the band launched into a performance of the complete Honky Tonk Heroes album. Working tentatively through the intro of the album’s title track, the band came upon its moment of truth: a pause, then the song heading into overdrive as Karg sang his eulogy to Waylon and the passing of an era: “Where does it go, the good Lord only knows, seems like it was just the other day…”
Karg’s deep, rich baritone perfectly captured Waylon’s vocal style as he wound his way through “Lonesome, On’ry & Mean,” “Bob Wills Is Still The King” and “Luckenbach, Texas” (trading vocals with Lewis on the last of those). Though Karg struggled with the eccentricity of Waylon’s phrasing on numbers such as “This Time”, and the band faltered at times with some of the more complex arrangements, the music hit as powerfully as if it was being played for the first time. The loose quality of this group of friends working their way through nearly three dozen Waylon tunes made clear just how singular his repertoire was, then and now.