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Another Concert

We went up to Nashville Monday night to see a concert at the Grand Ole Opry House.  The concert was a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the founding of Rounder Records.  We were drawn to the concert by the headliners -- Bela Fleck, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.  Turns out, though, that we got both more and less than we bargained for.

It turns out that the concert was being filmed for a special that will air on National Public Television in March.   Well, we thought that might be kind of cool.  We've seen lots of concerts that were taped or made into DVDs and it seemed like the folks at those shows had fun.  And in fact, our introduction to the whole taping-for-TV thing included requests that we, the audience, give them a few rounds of applause that they could use to edit and fill in space as they put the show together.  Polite applause, applause with whoops and whistles, frenzied applause.  They taped them all before the show even began.  It was a little goofy, but it was fun.  The kids thought it was very cool.

Our host for the evening was Minnie Driver, the British actress, who, it seems, is also Minnie Diver, the Rounder recording artist.  I know.  I was surprised, too.  But she was the opening act.  She played four songs, all of them her own compositions.  They were fine; not outstanding, but not terrible, either.  They had a kind of standard pop/country sound.  Her band was good, although she didn't introduce them and something about the way she spoke to them and told us about them gave us the impression that she didn't know their names.  Weird.

After Minnie finished her set, she went backstage, changed clothes, and came back out to play emcee.  At the same time, the stage crew moved equipment around.  The first band (after her own) that she introduced was a cajun/creole group called Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, and they rocked.  I don't own much Zydeco music, and probably wouldn't listen to it much if I did, but live it was terrific.  Nathan Williams and his band had the entire audience on their feet and dancing for his entire set, which also consisted of four songs.

Then we had another break, while the stage was rearranged, and Bela Fleck came out.  I was so excited -- Fleck is one of my favorite musicians.  He is the most influential and accomplished banjo player this side of Earl Scruggs, and I adore his music.  At one point Jerry Douglas came out to accompany him on dobro -- another thrill.  The two of them a great friends; they've recorded together for years.  But they only did one piece together, and after Bela had played his fourth number, he got up and left the stage.  Minnie came back out to say that they were going to take a small break and then continue with the next act, soul singer Irma Thomas.  At this point it was already approaching 10:00.  The concert had been scheduled to begin at 7:30, but hadn't started until 8:15.  We'd heard exactly 12 songs, and Bela Fleck, who had been one of the main reasons we'd bought tickets in the first place, had been onstage and off so quickly that I almost thought he was joking when he first got up to leave.

Irma Thomas was fine.  I'm not a big fan of soul, but she was feisty and fun, and she was also given just four songs.  Another break to redo the stage, and then Mary Chapin Carpenter came out.  Her set was terrific.  Five songs this time, including her mid-90s hit "He thinks he'll Keep Her."  Then yet another rearranging of the stage.  And finally, at about 11:30, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, and the rest of Union Station came out for their set.  They got a huge reception, of course, and they played several of my favorite songs.  But they played five and went off stage, came back on for a single encore, and were done.  Another change of the stage, a few minutes of Minnie Driver doing introductions for video segments that we wouldn't see, but for which we were expected to applaud, and then all the major performers came out and did one last number.

We got up from our seats to leave the auditorium at 12:20, almost five hours to the minute after we had sat down.  We'd heard maybe, maybe, two and a half hours of actual music.  The rest had been delays, forced applause, stage changes, and the brief intermission.  Don't get me wrong:  most of the music was terrific.  Bela Fleck's four songs were wonderful; the zydeco band ad Mary Chapin Carpenter were great; AKUS was fabulous as always. But we had the kids with us, and we drove an hour and a half in each direction to see this show.  We didn't get home until 2:00 am.  I won't even tell you what we paid for the tickets.  And to be quite honest it wasn't worth it.


Australia, Ghost Gum
David B. Coe

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