Sunday, November 05, 2006

Down The Road

Ah, Marcia Ball. Just awesome! Blues/jazz/rock/zydeco/boogie-woogie, all rolled into one fabulous performer. She hails from Texas originally and now lives in the New Orleans area. We last saw her at the NOLA Jazz Fest. “Long and Tall Marcia Ball” is how she is introduced, but until last night, I had no idea just how tall she really is. I had only seen her from a distance at past performances. No one can help but notice her tall, thin, graceful, lady-like presence, in her signature short skirt and high heels, playing the keyboards with legs elegantly crossed. Last night, I got to meet her. And she towered over me. Granted, she was in heels and I was not, but it seemed like she was a good foot taller than me, and I’m 5’9.” I kept looking down to see if she was standing on a step or a platform or something. Nope, we were on the same floor, although the ground she walked on was superior in my eyes. ;-) Meeting her in person took away some of the “lady-like” impression that I had. She has a raspy voice from all her years of singing the blues, and a very down-to-earth demeanor. I’d still say though, possibly with more enthusiasm than before, that she is one of the best blues pianists in the world, and certainly the most elegant.

I’ve never seen anyone play piano so energetically without both feet on the floor. She always plays with her legs crossed, always. How is that even possible? Having taken piano lessons as a child and playing in a few recitals (I’m not going to go so far as to say that I ever “played” the piano), operating the pedals was a key ingredient in any successful performance. Playing the electric keyboard eliminates the need for pedals, but still. It seems unnatural. Watching her is half the fun. She was built to play the piano, with her long fingers and hands that seem to span the entire keyboard and then, like a beauty queen, she uses them to gracefully acknowledge her band members.

Last night’s venue was very intimate, being in a honky-tonk and all. In fact, I’m surprised they managed to get her there, but Knuckleheads is gaining quite a reputation as THE local blues venue even though it is also a dive bar.* Last night, we also had the pleasure of sitting next to the governor’s table. I had heard that the governor (Kathleen Sebelius, KS) was a frequent patron but had yet to witness this with my own eyes. And let me just say, white girl can dance! She obviously had more than just a photo-opportunity interest in Marcia’s music and Knuckleheads saloon, lip syncing to most of the songs and fitting into the crowd without any special gubernatorial fanfare. I’ll have to poke around and see if there is any local coverage of her whereabouts last night. Also in the crowd was a former player for the KC Chiefs, sporting his Super Bowl ring and full Harley gear, complete with chaps. I actually work with him and am accustomed to seeing him in a suit and tie, so the Harley gear elicited a few giggles from this blogger, but it was fun to see how many people recognized him even in his “biker” get-up.

We got there early (7:00 pm) and sat in the very back (in the comfortable, cushioned, upholstered bar stools), but we were no more than 30 feet away from the band. Marcia didn’t start until almost 11:00 but played until 2:30 in the morning. By then, the crowd had thinned down to about 20 able-bodied dancers and 10 of us old fogies sitting in the back of the bar (blues fans are aging, along with the performers, you know, and most simply can’t stay out that late any more). Despite the dwindling crowd, her enthusiasm never waned; in fact, she seemed to enjoy the smaller group even more, playing “St. Gabriel” for us like we were her closest friends. Her passion sparkled and engaged the crowd.

There were other “divas” on the warm-up list last night, most of them local, all of them good, but none compared to Marcia. For Darko's sake, Angela Strehli was not with Marcia last night (often a back-up vocalist), but Marcia held her own with her very capable back-up band.

And that is the follow-up to Coco Montoya earlier this week, a vast improvement and well worth the wait and the $20 price of admission, a bargain by any standard.

I’m gushing, aren’t I? Okay, I’ll quit. But if you’ve never heard her before, check out her latest CD (Live! Down The Road), which is essentially a greatest hits album,, duh!

* And in a truly bizarre footnote, I have actually been to the dive bar that is the illustration for the Wikipedia entry (The Merrimaker). It is located on the Central Coast of CA where I lived for 17 years. This qualifies me as an expert in "dive bars," I think. ;-)


At 9:57 PM, November 05, 2006, Blogger Eric said...

Y'know, I don't know Marcia Ball from Tom T. Hall, but your enthusiasm is contagious so I'm off to the iTunes Store to see if I, too, should become a True Believer. ;-)

At 10:00 PM, November 05, 2006, Blogger Rach said...

I agree with Eric! Glad you had a great evening hobnobbing with the stars and listening to awesome music. (I'm surprised that the spell checker in firefox allowed hobnobbing!)

At 7:27 AM, November 06, 2006, Blogger DarkoV said...

Well, I don't see how your night could have been better, except if there was an escalator to heaven right by the bar. Did she sing "Louisiana 1927"? Her version of the Randy Newman song, from the cd you mentioned, hlds up pretty well.

At 11:57 AM, November 06, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Eric, are you sure you've never heard her? You, of all people, tsk, tsk! ;-) I'm not sure if you'll get the whole experience (actually, I'm sure you won't get the whole experience) but I do hope you'll like what you hear.

Rach, I wasn't exactly hobnobbing unless casual observations count. I'm not much of a hobnobber. ;-)

Darko, yes she did and it was marvelous. And there were a few men hanging around with her after the first set whom I'm pretty sure had at least found the stairs. They acted as if getting to meet her was heaven indeed. ;-)

At 12:19 PM, November 06, 2006, Blogger beth said...

Wow. Sounds like a blast! (And I'm 3rd in line at the iTunes store to see what there is to see. :) )

Gushing is always ok if there's something gush-worthy to gush about. ;)


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