Monday, November 7, 2016

Johnny Hickman - Hickmania III - The Third Time Is A Charm, Once Again

Photo by Steve Rizzari
This marks Johnny Hickman's third annual mini tour of house parties in Northern California, and once again I find myself saying that it was one of my favorite nights of the year - one of the best shows I've seen this year, a year that has seen what I would best describe as an embarrassment of riches when it comes to live shows.

There is nothing tougher for a performer than doing a full night of music with just voice, and guitar. In fact, it's always been something I've tended to avoid due to the difficulty involved, and how seldom I've seen it work - it's asks a tremendous amount of the artist, of the audience, and very few artists can pull it off. This being said, Johnny Hickman has the chops as a writer, a player, and a singer to pull it off, but to be honest, where the rubber hits the road is in his ability to draw the audience into every tale he tells as a performer and a personality. He's one with his audience, there is very little separation between the stage and the crowd, they are all in it together, it's almost like a team sport. You can see just how much he is enjoying doing what he does, and the loving response from the crowd is right inline with this.

Photo by Suzanne Rogers
These house parties are gathering legendary status as the years go by, and everyone continues to get better at their job. The party hosts provide their homes, great food, drinks, and the setting for a recital experience that may be the twenty-first century versions of parlor concerts of the renaissance age, but with none of the haughtiness or pretentiousness. This is more of a pretty straight forward, unabashed love fest. There is no illusion but that everyone is here for the same reason, nobody's here to check out the act, or the show, they are here to spend an evening being entertained by some they love, and who also loves them. Given that these are invitation only events, and there is at most maybe 60 audience members, there are literally no strangers in the room. I'm an interloping outsider for all intents and purposes, when it comes down to it. The relative new kid on the block, though I've known Johnny for probably five years - still, half the crowd knows me by name, and treats me like family.

The music is the center piece, and it's able to support all of this quite easily. Johnny, and I'm going to just call him Johnny, as we've become pretty good pals over the years, and I'm not going to try to put on airs, or act like I'm seeing this as a journalist - I'm not. I'm here as another member of the tribe, and I am in for all at this sonic sermon. Johnny has been in a band with one of the world's greatest songwriters for almost twenty-five years, and his partnership with his bandmate in Cracker, David Lowery, is just that. Lowery sings some songs Johnny's written, Johnny sings some that David has penned, and a lot of their best work is pure collaboration. An American Mick and Keith if you will, and Mr. Hickman is as good a writer as you'll find. He's a storyteller in the great tradition, and you can hear a thousand songs, novels, poems, and legends in the tales he tells. Whether it's a sideways grin at some of his oddball, down on their luck characters, or great tales of love and loss, it's always exactly as it should be - not too saccharine, not too sad, not too silly, but rather they are all recipes that are done just right. Amazing stuff actually. He can quote Tom Waits as easily as he can ring your bell with a rocking guitar lick, and that's just not easy, but he sure makes it look that way.

He is also possessed with the stamina of a prizefighter - last year I saw him play the first show of a tour with a severely lacerated ring finger, and this year he played for three hours without missing a beat, he was going as strong at the end of the show as the beginning, and then he proceeded to sign posters, drink toasts, hug everyone in the room, and still find time to talk with me about my son Ian, who has taken on the nickname of "the dude." Johnny Hickman's love of the Coen Brothers's classic film, The Big Lebowski is legendary, and I was trying to reminisce about the root of my dude's nickname, and I'm sure that this all ties together somehow, but there was also on my end of things a good deal of Maker's Mark bourbon on this night. At any rate, Johnny is the type of guy who loves people, and I don't know who had the better time, the artist, the crowd, or the drunk writer, but I'm also equally certain that it just doesn't matter. What matters is that in an America that is literally tearing itself apart, we all got to spend the night in a protective shroud of love, music, food, and friends, and that is what matters.

My only regret is that there is no documentary evidence with which to show you all. In these days of cell phones, and fan shot videos, these shows are camera and recorder free, the way music was meant to be heard for sure, but I'd still pay a great deal for a DVD of one of these nights, just so those not lucky enough to experience it could still see what's possible when a lot of factors get together for all the right reasons.

Great thanks to everyone involved, and I am grateful to get to be a part of this every year. If I started naming names, I'd have to name everyone in the room - what a perfect cast.

Well, I do have to give a special thanks to Jim and Suzanne Rogers, our hosts for the evening, and my running partner for the evening, guitar amp guru, Ben Fargen.

Summer Town
Bible Study Sue
Trials & Tribulations
Southern Cal
Little Tom
$1000 Car [cover]
(Come Back To) Stockton
Buenos Niches From A Lonely Room
Mr. Wrong
Whole Lotta Trouble
Some Day
San Bernardino Boy -- HATS! 714, baby!
California Country Boy
Poor Life Choices -- work in progress *NEW*
The Great Decline
Our Little Movie
Father Winter
Papa Johnny's Arms
Another Song About The Rain
Construction Man
There's No Easy Way To Say Goodbye
Hold of Myself
Wedding Day
Whittled Down
Long Tall Pine Tree
Little Queen Bee
Harvest Queen

Poster by the amazing Steve Rizzari

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely written, Tony! Thanks for being such a huge part of the celebration last night!