The “Big Surprise” Show

Canon SD630

Cary, NC.

T’was one hundred degrees, and all through NC
Not a creature dared brave August’s swampy heat;
Yet speakers were hung off the rafters with care,
In hopes that the audience soon would be there;
The bands were nestled all cool in their bus,
While whispers of heat stroke passed between us;

My wife in her sunglasses, and I in my cap,
Had found a good spot, to watch the opening acts,
I was buying some wine, when there arose quite a clatter,
I turned my head to see what was the matter.
Back to our lawn chairs I flew like a flash,
Passed the wine I’d just bought, and let out a gasp.

The rollicking cast of this bluegrass-themed show
Played the opening song, which I did not know.
But, who to my wondering eyes should appear,
But Gillian, David, and twelve tiny reindeer,
Err, no, t’were not reindeer, t’was a different show.
No, these were musicians, some you might know!

More rapid than weasels their guitars they played,
David strummed, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Critter! now, Ketch! now, Morgan and Gillian!
On, Greg ! on Christmas ! on, Ian and Justin!
To the top of the verse! now wait for the call!
Now solo! solo! Solos for all!”

As dry leaves that before the hurricane fly,
When one missed a line, they all let it slide.
Through song after song the players they flew,
The dozens of boys (and Gillian too!)
And then, with a winking, most departed,
For the first band’s set had officially started.

Justin Townes Earle was doing his show,
Though soon was re-joined by some from Old Crow.
He was dressed all in white, at least it looked to me –
For from where we were sitting, we couldn’t see his feet.
An acoustic guitar he had flung on his back,
And he sang country songs, old-timey, in fact.

Then the Felice Brothers: their antics, how merry!
Their cheeks were like roses, their noses like cherries!
Carefree and raucous through their songs they careened,
Like Marah and Dylan, the Pouges and Springsteen.
So joyous their playing, we assumed they were drunk;
So young, so irreverent, my wife called them “punks”.

In his grey flannel suit and her simple black dress
The David Rawlings Machine came up to play next.
Songs about sugar, Cortez, and Queen Jane,
Gillian Welch strummed, while David Rawlings sang.
Though it’s not quite the same, to see them this way,
It’s still a good time, and boy can he play!

The Old Crow Medicine Show, they were the last;
They sang of cocaine and moonshine, love and white trash.
They’re a boatload of fun, with their songs about sin;
And they played fast as lightning, and sharp as a pin.
We’d seen them before, but they were better this time;
Or maybe it was the heat – and the beer, and the wine.

And then all the bands, they all went to work,
And filled up the stage; then started with a jerk,
A song from the Willburys: The End Of The Line
Though it was a little rough we all liked it fine.
And then a ‘Mats song, from Pleased To Meet Me.
Justin Earle sang it, it felt a bit sleepy.

Yet then came a song they played with real feel
Old Crow’s Dylan re-work, the great Wagon Wheel
The crowd sprang to their feet, with cheers and with whistles,
And the band played the song, and man did it sizzle.
And then they were done, and up came the lights,
“Thank you to all, and have a safe drive.”

Big Surprise Tour in the WSJ

12 thoughts on “The “Big Surprise” Show

  1. The Modesto Kid


    When they played in NYC the opening number (all of them out on stage singing a song written for this tour called something like “Big Surprise”) was pretty lame and lacking in energy — that made me be concerned about what was to come. But the whole rest of the show was great. Even the Feliz Brothers, who I was prepared to not like based on the opening number and the first song or two they played, totally won me over by midway through their set. The high point of the show for me was “Queen Jane Approximately”. Townes Earle seems like somebody to keep an eye on.

  2. cleek Post author

    Townes Earle seems like somebody to keep an eye on.

    yeah, i really liked his set. first thing i did this AM was see what he had on iTunes.

    ditto on Queen Jane. and prior to that, it was Cortez.

  3. The Modesto Kid

    Yep, Cortez was great — I actually didn’t know the song, it was not until about the third time I heard it on the Rawlings Machine podcast that I thought gee, that sounds pretty familiar, where have I heard it? and found out it was from Decade. Which I haven’t listened to in years… now I’m thinking about getting back in touch with my Neil Young records.

  4. cleek Post author

    do you have Gill&Dave’s “Black Star” EP ?

    it has a great version of Neil’s “Pocohontas” (plus Radiohead’s “Black Star” and Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues”)

  5. Kitty

    Actually, that first number is called The Big Surprise and it is an original FELICE Brothers song off their latest album, Yonder in the Clock. JTE is also great (the two Big Surprises up in NH and Boston were my 3rd and 4th time seeing him). I wish he would release a live album… his albums are enjoyable, but he won me over with the live shows. And Cory Younts (who plays with him) is just amazing.

    Very enjoyable read!! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. cleek Post author

    oh man, you gotta check out the Gillian Welch albums. they’re all great, but start with “Time (The Revelator)”. :)

  7. Paige

    That was a great show. I really liked “The End of the Line.” They looked like they were having a blast. And I liked it when the drunk guy threw the washboard.

    Didn’t they play a Wilco song? I thought I recognized it.

  8. Chehree

    What a show! I saw them in Charlottesville this Sunday and enjoyed the whole night immensely. The poem is really fantastic – thanks for sharing your creativity. Please please tell me though….. I have been a huge fan of Gil & Dave for ages – but what is the Rawlings Machine Podcast and how can I get me some of that!?!?! :D

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