Daisy and I boldly braved predictions of flash flooding to drive the long, desolate hours to Batesville, Arkansas for the Lucero Family Picnic. It was worth it. So worth it. First off, before I tell you about the show, let me fill you in on the news we gleaned while there:
As many of you maybe know already, Lucero’s Brian Venable is expecting his first child any day now. He was primed to leave, even mid-show, should his lovely lady, Sam, have gone into labor. We saw ultrasound pictures of Henry, the boy they are expecting to join their family soon. So everyone keep them in your thoughts for an easy delivery. I know Brian can’t wait to meet Henry (we can’t either!). Seriously, if every expectant father was as happy as Brian appears to be, the world would be a much, much better place. [It really is just about the sweetest thing ever how excited he is.—Daisy]
There is a Ben Nichols solo EP, The Last Pale Light in the West, arriving soon to the internet near you. Like the most recent Lucero release, this will be available for digital download, with a CD to follow later in the mail (with purchase of the download). What’s that? You didn’t know Nichols’ was making a solo album? Well, neither did we. Apparently it came together very fast. And if what I hear is true, it’s a somewhat thematic album, based loosely around characters from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. So exciting, I mean, you all know I live for shit like this, right? [The unexpected gift of new Ben Nichols songs? It’s like our reward for having to do, like, work and stuff.—Daisy] Hooray! There will be an extensive solo Ben tour this fall as well. No excuses people, even the West Coast gets some play this time. I have no firm date on the EP release, but I hear tell it could be as soon as this week.
I did not get any confirmation on the new Lucero album, which many folks were hoping for this fall. I do know they signed an excellent four album deal with Republic/Universal. I know the new album has songs already (anyone who saw the last tour heard a couple of them) and the boys are looking forward to making it. I don’t have details on when they are going into the studio, but I’m guessing they will probably hold off at least Brian’s baby arrives and everyone gets settled in after Ben’s solo tour.
So! Picnic! Rockin’ awesome! Oh yes. The line-up was great. We sadly missed The Good Fear and Dan Montgomery (it’s long drive from Nashville and we had to stop to eat). I heard from many folks I trust that we definitely missed some good music. I have since checked out the sites for both acts and, well, goddamn our refusal to speed through rural Arkansas, I wish we’d seen them!
Cory Branan was up next. He was/is/always awesome. [By the way, we love Cory. In case you didn’t know.—Daisy] His set was short. I heard “technical difficulties” which might have meant broken guitar strings, or might have meant ‘oh shit, hurricane Ike really is headed here, should we keep playing?’ The five or so songs he played were certainly crowd pleasers, and he was joined by the lovely Amanda Shires on fiddle and the superlative Rick Steff on accordion. [We love them, too.—Daisy] Also I spent the last two hours of the drive talking about how I wanted a cheeseburger. Got to the show and FREE CHEESEBURGERS! Which I ate while watching Cory. So I’m gonna go on record as saying it was the best Cory Branan show ever. Even if it is just the cheeseburger love talking.
Cory cleared off to make way for Justin Townes Earle. You know, we’ve been incredibly remiss in not talking about Justin here before. He is, I’m sure you’ve heard, ♥Steve’s♥ son. He is incredibly talented in his own right and has no need to trail on his father’s career (which he is definitely not doing). I have had his EP, Yuma, on heavy rotation for months. His recent release, The Good Life, is so exactly the kind of troubadouring that we are always seeking out here. Seeing him live is a treat. There’s a pervasive sense of real Americana– real roots music in his sound that translates to his show. He is touring the rest of the month, you should try an hit up a show if you can. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
The line-up for the Picnic seemed to be all excellent and sort of just getting better and better and better. After Justin, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit played a lovely long set. The weather was starting to get iffy, rain, though light, was coming in and the sky was getting more threatening. Jason played right through it. You’ll recall maybe that, last summer, I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be with Isbell’s Sirens of the Ditch release. It is a great album and it has grown on me. The thing about Jason is that some people are going love him no matter what because of the Drive-By Truckers connection. Some people are really going to get how good he is just from listening to his album. Some people, like me, need to see him live to fall in love. His is still touring, so if you don’t fall into the first two categories of Jason love, you have chance to redeem yourself like I did. Also, girls, I am not going to lie. He is cute. [True story.—Daisy] We met him briefly backstage and, yes, I confess I have known weakness for Alabama boys, but he is also charming and friendly. So, go see him, there are at least four reasons why you should.
What could possibly follow this goodness? Why Lucero of course! [Hooray! —Daisy] The usual suspects were joined by the stupendous, wonderful, ticklish, cheerful, sweet, alluring, winsome Rick Steff (who we ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥) on keyboards and accordion [Double hooray!—Daisy], and by that mythical creature, Todd Beene, on pedal steel. (If you don’t know, Todd Beenes are native to the mid-south, though found all over the world. They are characterized by mischievousness and incredible musical talent. There have only been sightings of the one, but if you encounter him, be careful! He’s as likely to tease you mercilessly as he is to play awesome music for you.)
It was a Lucero show, a good one. Ike was seriously rolling by that time, the wind whipping Roy’s hair around as he played, making it hard for anyone to smoke a cigarette and making me worry that the lights would fall and kill crew. The fanboys sang along and screamed for Ben’s attention. Brian rocked despite surely spending every second wondering if his baby was going to arrive right then. John C. spoke nearly incoherently into the mic about how grateful the band is for their fans. New songs were played, old favorites could have been sung by the audience, and I decided one of my preferred parts of Lucero shows is watching Roy play (he looks like he’s made of rubber!!). I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all, and the oncoming hurricane added strange, but wholly pleasant sense of melancholy to the entire show.
There was an after party and the club by the park, just like last year. This is a more intimate gathering, like a Ben and Cory acoustic tour, with periodic appearances by any of the cast of characters that played the rest of the picnic. I drank, talked to tons of people and had mostly a good time. The stage is badly placed and hard to see, unless you are in the insane crushing crowd in front of the stage. The audience is so drunk as to be more interested in yelling requests than actually listening to them. It’s kind of a clusterfuck. [Though slightly less clusterfuckish than last year.—Daisy] I’m glad we went. I had fun (and lots of beer which leads gives one the idea of fun, even if it isn’t being had). I’m glad they do that afterparty, but I’m not sure we’ll go again next year. Picnic, yes, afterparty, maybe not. [Yeah, we feel that way now…—Daisy]
So there it is. We wish you were there. We encourage you to go see everyone who played if they ever come near you. And now we have to go rest up, Arkansas can take a lot out of girls like us.