Top 10 Shows of 2007

It seems hardly responsible to not join the ranks of bloggers listing their favorite albums of 2007. I’m going to tack a bit, though, and instead list my favorite 10 performances of the year. It’s not that I see so many events I can pick the best 10, but rather that I had a good festival year and with sometimes dozens of groups at a big festival I have plenty of sets to choose from. So don’t take the word “show” too literally.

10) Peter Rowan at Old Settler’s Music Festival. (review here) I’ve seen Peter a few times at other shows and had a generally lukewarm opinion of his live performances. Maybe it was the setting in the trees on a sunny, warm day, but he put on a really good show at the Salt Lick Pavilion. It was topped with a 20 minute version of The Free Mexican Air Force including a spoken interlude about a pot-induced dream/hallucination/trip in a WWII bomber. The <inhale><cough> punchline needs sound effects to be appreciated fully.

9) The Sadies at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (review here). One of the best things about festivals is the groups frequently take the opportunity to play songs and sets outside the usual playlist they stick to for the rest of the tour. The Sadies had parents (also musicians) on stage for several songs. The set list went from folk to bluegrass to rock to all of the above. This group has played backup occasionally for Neko Case, and she returned the favor by singing a couple of tunes with them.

8) Carrie Rodriguez at the KPIG Songwriters Festival (review here). It’s hard to believe that a couple of years ago Carrie didn’t do any vocals. Her frequent collaborator, Chip Taylor, encouraged her to take up singing. Thank you, Chip. Carrie has a great voice that accents her choice of music well. And she’s a fiddle virtuoso to boot. Those two things combined for a really awesome, albeit short, set in August at Villa Montalvo.

7) Eliza Gilkyson at the Little Fox Theatre (review here). Eliza embodies the charismatic aspect of good live musicians. Five minutes into the show she had the audience eating out of her hand. Add to that the intimate aspects of the Little Fox, and this show was everything you’ve always wanted when you go see an artist perform at a bar or small venue. She did a mix of everything from songs on her current album to compositions her dad wrote 50 years ago.

6) Joan Osborne at the Old Settler’s Music Fest. One of the things I like about Joan is that she doesn’t stick too closely to one genre. And she has the talent to pull off anything in a wide range of styles–imagine another one of her peers who could tour with the Dead. This show was no exception as she previewed several 70’s covers that came out on her new album. She made the songs her own, even though some of them were classic Motown.

5) Sarah Borges at the Old Settler’s Music Fest. Speaking of genre-bending, I was blown away by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. Think Joan Jett singing Patsy Cline. Or maybe the Ramones doing a Hank Williams set. Great honky-tonk with attitude. I couldn’t wait to get home and buy her CD. You can’t capture that raw, live sound of a super-tight band, though.

4) Gillian Welch at Folks Festival (other thoughts about this show). Although I didn’t do a blog about this last year, she would have made the top 5 for her performance at the ‘06 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Gillian and David are much more of a performance pair than Gillian’s records would indicate. She has such a haunting voice that even in a huge venue she can silence the crowd. Then she bursts into an uptempo, almost rock-n-roll song. I defy you to leave one of her sets without a grin and chill down your spine at the same time.

3) The Flatlanders at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. More a legend than a band is apt. I sure hope they don’t go another 30 years before they perform together. They did a set at the Star Stage that made it seem they’ve been performing together for those 30 years. Add to it Bill Kirchen as guest guitarist for several songs and it was the kind of performance that just leaves you slack-jawed.

2) Bruce Hornsby/Ricky Skaggs at the Mountain Winery. There’s nothing quite like 2 world class performers getting together and proving that synergy isn’t just some management guru theory. I can barely think of “The Way It Is” as a pop song anymore. Bruce played a song about Donald Trump for a musical he’s composing while Ricky attended to some technical issues. Bonnie Raitt played slide guitar for part of the second set. They finished with a bluegrass version of Rick James’ funk masterpiece, “Super Freak”. Most years, this would have easily made #1 on my list.

1) Los Straitjackets with Big Sandy at Old Settlers Music Fest. There are some people who really know their music down in Austin, so it’s hard to say that seeing good music there is unexpected. But this set wasn’t just the best I saw of the year, it was the most surprising. It had everything. Good, old-fashioned rock-and-roll, fabulous Tex-Mex roots music, loud guitars with choreographed moves, a big ol’ singer sliding across the stage on his knees, screaming teenage girls, and of course the masks. Wow. It was sensory overload. I can’t decide whether to find some way to see them perform together again, or simply wallow in the perfection of this one magical show knowing you only win the lottery once.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.