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Justin Townes Earle [8/29/11]

Rarely is it possible to feel far from the stage at Rumba Cafe, but when Justin Townes Earle sold it out, the normally intimate venue became a colossal space full of sweaty, beer-guzzling hicks (myself included).

Arriving during opener Shovels & Rope, we shimmied along the walls to a spot in the back next to the merch table. On another night, this spot may have sufficed, but the oddly tall Earle had attracted an equally tall audience. So, we made our way through the timbers to a spot next to the bar, just off the human highway that had formed to and from the bathroom.

Earle’s self destruction and resurrection have been well documented.  He seems to have moved beyond that stage of his life, though. He is a wonderfully entertaining and charismatic charmer. Beginning almost every address to the crowd with a drawl-laden “ladies and gentlemen,” and introducing each song with some sort of backwoods wisdom, he’s reminiscent of entertainers from another era.

Tonight, though, he’s dressed as a Marathon gas station attendant, a departure from the dapper Buddy Holly wardrobe he had been sporting as recently as Nelsonville.  And, as is likely the fate of most second generation musicians, he’s getting questions about his dad from the crowd.

Between songs, some dude yells out “What was it like on Treme with your dad?”  He’s referencing Justin Townes Earle’s cameo with his father Steve as street musicians on the HBO series Treme, a portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans.  He lightheartedly responds like someone who’s been answering these questions his entire career:  “Don’t ask me questions about my dad, you all know more about him than I fucking do.”  There are no more questions about his dad.

Highlights included a slowed down version of “Mama’s Eyes,” the thick blues of “Burning That Bad Gasoline,” a Counting Crows-like “One More Night in Brooklyn,” and “Christchurch Woman,” which Justin introduced as being about his favorite place in the world, Christchurch, New Zealand.

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