According to The Drive-By Truckers, the secret to a happy ending is knowing when to run the credits. This week in the Shoals the secret to a happy ending was a day of "Rocking the Blues" at the University of North Alabama, culminating with a blockbuster concert featuring The Decoys,Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, and, of course, The Drive-By Truckers. Nearly two thousand people rocked the walls of Norton Auditorium in Florence, Alabama, on Saturday night, and Randy and I were front and center for the climactic ending of the 2011 W. C. Handy Festival.
The set art by Wes Freed was a trip in itself, and when the lights flashed on the tapestries hanging against the back of the stage, the whole set went psychedelic. The show opened with The Decoys featuring David Hood, Scott Boyer, Kelvin Holly, N.C. Thurman and Mike Dillon with special guests Spooner Oldham and Donnie Fritts. All received a standing ovation, especially Spooner who had been in the hospital and who is scheduled for surgery again soon. Spooner was helped onto the stage, but once he sat down in front of the keyboard, he played and sang like the young man he is inside. When he concluded with a solo rendition of "When I Let Jesus Take My Hand," the audience went wild. As Donnie Fritts walked on the stage, he quipped, "It's hard enough to follow Spooner Oldham, but when you have to follow Spooner AND Jesus.....well....," and he proceeded to bring down the house with "Something Funky," "Short End of the Stick," and "Memphis Women and Fried Chicken." (photo of DBT taken from our seats with my Droid)
After that, it was old home week as friends and families of the Decoys joined the band on stage, including David Hood's son Patterson (Drive-By Truckers) and his two children; Shonna Tucker (Truckers); Microwave Dave; Dick Cooper and others. Then everyone, including the audience, joined in "The Weight," coming out loud and clear on the chorus: "Take a Load Off, Fanny." It was a show like no other.
After intermission, the Drive-By Truckers (Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Shonna Tucker, John Neff, Brad Morgan, and Jay Gonzales ) took the stage by storm and held the audience in thrall for the remainder of the evening. The Truckers, formed in 1996, have produced 15 original CDs. Patterson and Cooley are not only amazing musicians, they are also awesome lyricists and do all their own music. The Truckers have worked diligently for their current fame, putting in thousands of miles on the road. Dick Cooper said that when they did the Southern Rock Opera tour in 2002, they put 72,000 miles on the van. (photo of DBT courtesy of the Florence Times)
Not only are the members of DBT incredibly talented, they are also consummate professionals who give 150% at every show. They performed only two covers, both by an artist for whom they have tremendous admiration-- the late great Eddie Hinton. Shonna Tucker sang her haunting rendition of "Where's Eddie," written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts, and when they played Eddie Hinton's "Everybody Needs Love," the audience once again joined in singing along. Both songs, as well as the title song "Go-Go Boots," can be heard on the Truckers latest CD, Go-Go Boots (released in February 2011).
The amped up audience was reluctant to let the band leave the stage and began chanting with one resounding voice, "DBT, DBT, DBT!" After several encores, the Truckers disappeared into the wings, and folks still looking for a party went on to Ricatoni's where the "Handy Jam" was talking place, featuring many of the fabulous musicians who had played during the ten days of music in the Shoals.
Those of us with VIP tickets meandered over to Billy Reid's place on Court Street (across from Ricatoni's) for an after party. Billy Reid had converted his back room warehouse into an awesome party space with mason jar candles hanging from the rafters and lots of food, wine, beer, and music by Jay Leavitt of Virginia, brother-in-law of Billy Reid and acting DJ for the evening. At Billy Reid's, Randy and I met Patterson's mother Jan (he dedicated one of the songs to her during the concert), and we reconnected with old friends like Ken and Pam Watters and Microwave Dave who had come over from Ricatoni's between sets. Dick Cooper and Donnie Fritts were there and just as we were leaving, we ran into Patterson Hood, Shonna Tucker, and the rest of the Truckers. As much as we would have like to have stayed all night, we had a long drive ahead of us and it was already after midnight.
As Yogi Berra was fond of saying "It ain't over til it's over," and Handy Fest was not over for us until after the fish fry and jam at Dick Cooper's home on Shoal Creek on Sunday afternoon. We arrived at 3 p.m., but I know the jam went on until midnight because I received an email from Dick sent at 12:38 a.m.. Despite a heat index of 105 degrees, the "Big Kahuna" (Kevin Plemons) was frying catfish for the gang, and the musicians were setting up to play on the patio behind Dick's house. We grabbed a plate of catfish, green beans (our contribution), potato casserole, and crab cakes and headed out to set up our chairs under the trees.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven on Saturday night (albeit a really rockin' heaven). I have to say that being at Dick's eating fried catfish, drinking wine under the shade trees, and listening to world class musicians jam up close and personal was about as good as it gets. I know better than to name names because I did not know everyone and I am certain I will leave several people out but here goes. Among the musicians jamming during the afternoon and early evening were Scott Boyer and his son Scott Boyer III, Sonny Edwards, Donnie Fritts, Jerry Masters, "Slugger" Allred, David Elliott, Josh Thigpen, Jon Davis, and David Hood to name a few.
Just as Donnie Fritts launched into "Memphis Women and Fried Chicken," Pete Carr, who was there from North Carolina with his wife Charlotte, joined the jam. Carr has contributed to hit recordings by numerous rock and folks stars including Joan Baez, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Joe Cocker and many more over the past four decades. He has also recorded and produced four solo albums and was half of the duet LeBlanc and Carr. Carr has recorded extensively at FAME Recording Studio and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and he was lead guitarist for the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. He really showed his stuff on a Patsy Cline hit "Sweet Dreams of You."
The party was just going into second gear as we took our leave around 7 p.m. About the same time, Patterson Hood arrived and we knew more musicians would follow. Like Billy C Farlow, we "ain't never had too much fun," but we had to say good-bye and head for Elk River. Sometimes the secret to a happy ending is knowing when to go home.
----by Penne J. Laubenthal
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Drive-By Truckers to Headline 2011 Handy Festival