Easier trip this time, earlier, time for dinner (Mexican food, not bad), time to walk on Jacksonville Beach on a sparkling perfect late afternoon and watch the ocean hush and hush before the Sunday evening show. This time my traveling companion was Andrea, lead singer of Night Driving in Small Towns, a graduate student who writes wonderful poetry and songs.
Freebird's is an odd, two-storey venue where some of the crowd looks down on the stage from upstairs, but it's charming in its own way. It's owned (if the name of the venue didn't clue you in) by an ex-Lynard Skynard musician, and the resident sound guy was Molly Hatchet offspring (no evidence of those Satellites), so Southern heritage was thick as a tick on a sleeping redbone hound. But Sam Beam is from around these parts, so the Jacksonville show doubled as a homecoming of sorts. His parents and other family members attended, so Iron and Wine played a generous, enthusiastic, passionate, and outstanding set.
Califone opened, and this time, we were there before the start. They eased into the show with a sweet "Tayzee Nubb." This time the crowd was more aware, interested, and clearly many in the audience knew the oeuvre and grooved along. They moved through their short set seamlessly between [Roots and Crowns] material and older works. "Orchids" surprises no matter how many times I hear it, and "Fisherman's Wife" after "The Eye You Lost in the Crusades" reminds us that music is pure time and stops it. Feel its rhythms directly; lose count. "Horoscope Amputation Honey" has become Califone's raga live, as its slow opening, its folky troubled poem ("braid your sins into its mane/and kick it to the county line/shake your chains cold and loose/there's nothing safe in your stars") builds into a bardo of rhythm and improvisation that hurts when it stops. Live, it's a folk-shaman symphony. They turn it up.
Sam Beam and his bassist (superb Chicago guy with a great sense of humor) came out to help finish the set, and, while the quieter "Spider's House" played more to Iron and Wine's traditional fan base, they erupted into "Pink and Sour," surprising for its heavy harem flavors and its strong rhythms. The bass crunched magnificently and Sam added to the strong rhythm superbly. And that was it.
After the show, everyone was happy. After goodbyes, Andrea and I drove two hours back to Valdosta, all the music in our heads keeping us awake and talking.
cellphone photos courtesy Andrea Rogers