July 19. 2012. At 6:30 p.m., everything was running smoothly. Billy Joe Shaver and his band had sound checked with “Georgia On A Fast Train” and “Live Forever.” The equipment was working perfectly. The sound was tremendous, a tight blend of rock and country. Bowling Green’s own Songfarmers had opened the show with a fine set of original tunes. But unbeknownst to the crowd, ominous storm clouds were gathering over the Bowling Green area.
At 7:30 p.m., Billy Joe Shaver steps onstage, says hello, confers with the band for a moment, introduces the first song (“Georgia On A Fast Train”)…and the entire place goes pitch black. Lightning of Biblical proportions had taken the electricity out. We sat in perfect darkness. Mother Nature had spoken. She had seen fit to set us back a century or so. The staff at The Warehouse began passing out small candles for each table (and the stage). Our only reminder of the 21st century were the cellphones rising one by one throughout the crowd.
So what does Shaver do? Well, what any true professional would do. The show must go on. He and his band came off stage to be closer to the audience, then proceeded to play the gig—just two acoustic guitars, a harmonica, a drum, and that iconic voice. It was like being in Shaver’s living room with a group of good friends. No one complained about the lack of electricity. No one left. No one felt cheated. If anything, we all felt rewarded. We were treated to a one-of-a-kind performance—the kind that gets mention in music folklore: “I was there when Billy Joe Shaver raised the rafters and shook the floor with no P.A. or electricity at ALL.”
He played the hits, a few new songs, regaled the crowd with personal stories, and even played requests. Not once did he complain over the lack of electrical power. There was no frustration, not even a frown. He even seemed to enjoy the situation, breaking into laughs and ribald stories. During his achingly beautiful performances of “When The Fallen Angels Fly” and “Live Forever,” you could have heard a pin drop. The crowd was transfixed. I was on the verge of tears.
For an hour and a half, he gave the people what they wanted to hear–legendary songs stripped down to their bare essence. No bells, no whistles, no frills. Just the music—a pitch-perfect definition of Billy Joe Shaver. It was the most appropriate performance I’ve ever witnessed.
Who needs electricity? God 1, Edison 0.
~ Michael Franklin
Photos by Stephanie Franklin
Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.
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