February in Tucson, Arizona, is “rodeo month” and this weekend marks the beginning of rodeo festivities. To celebrate, the Fox theatre and the Rialto theatre have sponsored country music concerts. This weekend, we have the honor to have three of the most esteemed female singer/songwriters on the music scene today. The first show presented this weekend was Rosanne Cash.
Rosanne Cash brought an amazing, intimate glimpse into the soul of the singer/songwriter to the Fox Theatre February 19, 2015. Her present tour is promoting her recent three-time Grammy winning cd, The River and the Thread. After tonight’s show, it was very clear that those Grammy’s were well earned.
The first hour of the show was dedicated to performing the Southern Gothic album in its entirety. Ms. Cash introduced each song with some history as to the genesis of each song. It was a realistic, yet a poetic travelogue throughout the South. Not always pretty, but a deeply etched picture of Delta reality. This writer is originally from Alabama and Ms. Cash managed to touch on the core of what drives people in the Deep South. It was as intimate as a gathering of over 1,000 people could ever be.
She introduced “50,000 Watts” with a lesson in Memphis music history. “We were walking in Memphis down Union Avenue, just like the song says. Just past Sun records there is this big billboard that says WDIA, 50,000 watts of good will. Now, that is a hell of a radio station. WDIA was hugely important in the South in Memphis. It still is. In the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s it was a life changing radio station. They had a disk jockey by the name of B.B. King and a disk jockey by the name of Rufus Thomas. All of the guys in Rockabilly in the 50’s: Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, my dad, and Roy Orbison, they all listened to WDIA which played at the time what they called “race music.” It was really soul music. And those young men were forever changed by what they heard on WDIA and you could say that radio station changed the course of modern country music through those young men. I was thinking that for those of us who have been changed by something we heard on the radio we have community and that is a common prayer. This is called “50,000 Watts of Common Prayer.”
Perhaps, the most stirring segment of the show was Ms. Cash’s introduction to “Money Road.” “We took a lot of trips to the Delta. We started in Memphis. We drove straight down highway 61 and we ended up in New Orleans and we played Tipitina’s that night. And that was a good day. We took some side trips into Mississippi. We went to William Faulkner’s house in Oxford, Mississippi. We went to Greenwood, Mississippi. We drove on this lonesome highway down to this little churchyard just in the middle of a field. We went to this little Zion churchyard, graveyard to visit one of the graves of Robert Johnson. We drove further up this highway to Wanee, Mississippi to this little grocery store, Bryant’s Grocery store. In 1955, 14-year old Emmett Till went in and flirted with a white woman. Was murdered. The event that started the civil-rights movement because Rosa Parks didn’t get off that seat on the bus. She was thinking about 14-year old Emmett Till. Right around the corner from that grocery store is the Tallahatchie Bridge made famous in “The Ode To Billy Joe.” You could walk from Robert Johnson’s grave to Bryant’s Grocery to the Tallahatchie Bridge, which is just down the road from where William Faulkner lived. Where Howlin’ Wolf sat on a juke joint porch and played the blues. Charlie Patton, Bob Staples. You start wondering, what happened in the Delta? So much of who we are as Americans comes from the Delta: violence, redemption, poetry, and the Blues. All those things happened off Money Road.” This ended the first half of the set.
The band was in top form. Duke Levine aptly replaced an ailing John Leventhal on guitar. Kevin Barry also played guitar. Dan Rieser played drums while Glen Patra was on keyboards. Zeb Katz played bass. Armed with a ‘killer’ band, the second half of the show covered her past hits and covers of country classics. Rosanne Cash’s voice has become more rich and brilliant over time. Her cover of “Ode To Billy Joe” was enough to bring Bobby Gentry out of retirement. Her rendition was just as haunting as the original and Barry’s acoustic guitar only aided in the mystic.
It is hard not to compare Rosanne Cash to her legendary father, Johnny Cash. There is a physical resemblance that is undeniable. They both have and have had a propensity for story telling. That being said, they are as different as they are alike. Ms. Cash has managed to remove herself from her father’s shadow. With that said, Rosanne Cash’s show gave us a taste of both performers.
For a complete set list, click.