Steve Earle in Wyoming
Though some Billings fans may have missed the chance to see Steve Earle, who chose to perform in Sheridan Aug. 8 instead of the Magic City Blues Festival, plenty of Montana residents traveled to Wyoming Saturday to catch the folk troubadour.
During a sold-out performance at Sheridan’s Wyo Theater, Earle performed original music as well as covers of the music of his mentor, teacher and ’70s counterculture icon, Townes Van Zandt. Sharing his stories and recollections of Van Zandt, Earle channeled his mentor, whom he described as his chisel.
Earle’s latest album, “Townes,” comprises renditions of music written by Van Zandt, and Earle spent the evening discussing Van Zandt’s influence on his life.
Earle met Van Zandt in 1972, but admitted to “stalking him for a couple years.”
“Believe it or not, I was shy in those days,” Earle said, recalling a performance at the Old Quarter in Houston, Texas, where Van Zandt was in the front row heckling the young musician and calling for Earle to play “Wabash Cannonball.”
“He was literally right there,” Earle said, pointing to an audience member in front of him. Earle didn’t know the song Van Zandt requested, so he played “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold,” a fast-paced bluesy song Earle has since recorded on “Townes” as a duet with his son, musician Justin Townes Earle (named after Van Zandt).
Van Zandt died in 1997 at the age of 52 from health issues related to substance abuse. His music had far-reaching influence, from the indie rockers My Morning Jacket and Conor Oberst to country music’s staple artists, including Lyle Lovett, Emmy Lou Harris and the Cowboy Junkies. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard have covered Van Zandt’s song “Pancho and Lefty,” which was most recently recorded by Earle on “Townes.”
Earle’s musical path took a course quite different from Van Zandt. Though Earle spent many years living hard with Van Zandt, even pawning his guitars for heroin, Earle cleaned up in jail and launched a noticeably more successful musical career following his release.
Earle’s domestic life, at times tumultuous, has quieted down as well, and includes a relatively stable marriage to alt country musician Allison Moorer, his sixth wife. Moorer tours with Earle and opened Saturday’s concert.
Taking a short break after the Sheridan performance, Earle was waist-deep in the Ruby River in southwestern Montana, fishing before his Bozeman show, which took place Wednesday. He mentioned to Saturday’s audience that he’d never fished Wyoming, only “because I refuse to fish downstream from Dick Cheney. It’s not personal; it’s an environmental thing.”
No Dough Series
Box Elders, a punk surf pop band that opened for Cursive in mid-June, is returning to Billings Aug. 18 to perform at the newly revived No Dough series at Railyard. The free concert series first appeared at the Carlin a few years ago, and event promoter and local musician Sean Lynch, who began the series, lent the name to the Railyard when its owners decided to host weekly no-cover music events on Tuesdays.
In addition to a stopping place for traveling bands, Lynch said the No Dough series is a launching ground for new local bands. He estimates the series will be a good place for up-and-coming artists to test their ability to draw crowds.
“If you can’t get your friends in for free to see you, it’s hard pressed for me to believe you’re going to get people out for a cover,” Lynch said.
11:11 Presents is the new talent buyer for the Railyard and has already lined up several concerts for the venue, including punk rock veterans MDC on Aug. 17, the popular Duluth, Minn., bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles Aug. 29, and the Wailing O’Sheas, a tribute band to Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys.
“We’re trying to get one tribute band a month,” Lynch said. The new partnership brings some positive changes to the venue, including improvements on sound. Lynch said he is focusing more on booking national acts and less on cover bands.
“We’re doing everything down there: rap, metal, bluegrass, country. We don’t care, we’ll do everything; it’s a live music venue,” Lynch said.
Lynch describes the venue as the “best room in town for live music, especially for anything that does less than 300 people. It’s an up-close and personal experience.”
Upcoming concerts at the Railyard are listed at www.myspace.com/railyardalehouse.
The ninth annual Billings Outpost Tuney Awards will take place Saturday, Sept. 19, at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. Planning for this year’s event is under way, and official ballots to vote on your favorite musicians, bands and other community musical groups will be available soon. To submit nominations for the ballot, turn to Page 16 in this issue.
The annual musical awards show will feature performances by local musicians. Throughout the evening emcees will announce winners, decided by ballots cycling through the community and in The Billings Outpost, which include categories for best local musicians, bands and businesses in the local music scene.
The event has a $2 cover, with all proceeds from the door going toward the medical expenses of Gy Moody, a local musician who recently suffered a heart attack. Moody, who is without health insurance, plays in Funk in the Trunk and the old-timey music band Spur of the Moment. He has been playing in local bands, including Battlestar Kramden and Ruckus, since 1996 in Billings. Additional donations will be accepted at the door for this cause.
Anna Paige is a freelance writer and founder of Pen and Paige. Visit her weblog, www.penandpaige.com/blog for show announcements and reviews of concerts in and around the Billings area.