Backstage Stories: Opening for Joe Ely & Chris Isaak

One of the things I hope to be doing a lot of over the next year is opening for bigger acts. Opening is such a great way to get your music out to music lovers. I’ve seen how true that is over the past few weeks.

I really had only been the featured act until I got to open for Texas singer/songwriter Joe Ely and his band at the Narrows Center for the Performing Arts in Fall River, Massachusetts. What a great experience. The crowd was incredibly open to new music and so encouraging. It was just me and a great guitar player, Bob Enick, that I’m doing duo gigs with. He brought his Gretch guitar and played beautifully. This was a dramatic change for me without the full band, but it sounded great.

I also had the chance to meet Joe and his band before he went on. I asked them what it was like living the life of a touring musician. The answer was that it takes it toll on relationships back home and being crammed in a bus days at a time is not ideal, but when you get up on stage, it’s all worth it.

Joe told me a story about a time he picked Muddy Waters up from the airport. Joe was a younger man then just getting started in his career. He asked Muddy the same question I asked Joe and Muddy answered something along these lines, “Everyday, it’s 22 hours of hell and two hours of complete ecstasy.” The bottom line was, despite the challenges, guys like Muddy and Joe wouldn’t have it any other way. And it’s obvious when they’re up on stage. Joe and and his band brought the house down that night. They were so good, it hurt.

Last night, I opened for Chris Isaak at the Lowell Summer Music Series (which happens to be a few blocks from where I live). I was hanging back stage with the guys in my band and Chris walked by on his way to the tour bus. I introduced myself and he stopped to chat for a while. He is a storyteller! He had a lot of good ones to share.

One that I really enjoyed was when he recounted a show he did with Johny Cash years ago. He had a old photo of Johnny when he was in his early 20s and gave it to him asking for a signature. Chris was hoping he didn’t offend Johnny by have a photo from his younger days instead a more recent one. Johnny stared at the photo for what felt like an eternity to Chris, who was sweating it out. Finally, Johnny opened his mouth to speak and said, “I was a handsome young man!” Yes, he was.

Chris is not only a storyteller on and off stage, he is true showman. His act is complete with costumes and choreography. The audience LOVES it. I got to talk to Chris briefly after the show and I told him that that he was my hero. I too believe in putting on a show. His music is excellent and his voice is amazing, but it’s his showmanship that takes an evening with him over the top!

In a few weeks I will open for Suzy Bogguss at Tupelo Music Hall in New Hampshire. On July 15, I’m back at the Lowell Summer Music Series opening for the Court Yard Hounds (the Dixie Chick sisters) and then on September 16, I’ll be in Western Mass at the Iron Horse opening for Ellis Paul. I look forward to each of these shows — the chance to share my music with new audiences and to learn valuable lessons from these performs, all excellent musicians and veterans of the stage!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *