Every couple of years, Joe Bielinski, a DJ at KTFW in Ft Worth, TX puts on a huge show to commemorate his anniversary on the radio. He has guest artists from all over Texas and sometimes even Nashville come perform at the Will Rogers Coliseum. It’s a fun show – fans sit at reserved tables surrounding a large dance floor. It’s a look back at those who have had hits in country music and it is a look forward at those that continue to perform music with a traditional bent.
But there’s always an after-party at Pearl's Dancehall. Performers head to the dancehall where Kelly Spinks leads his band. Singers get up and sing a few. Instrumentalists jump up on someone else’s rig and back the singers on whatever the song choice is. It is The Ultimate Open Mic Night.
The show this year was Sunday, September 26. And for the first time in a long time I remembered what it’s like to just enjoy a song. Not to kick back – but to really play it. And play it. And play it.
It was an experience that you can only have in Ft Worth. There were 2 steel players – Ricky Davis and Johnny Cox. Two masters of the instrument sometimes trading breaks and sometimes playing twin steel parts (if you can imagine that). I played fiddle in addition to Kelly, but there were 3 other fiddle players that joined in at various times.
We live in a time where the instrumentalist has almost vanished. Sweeping melodies are sparse. The days of the solo have almost entirely gone, and therefore, the musicians that play them have been limited to riffs and background noises. Songs focus on vocalists and rhythmical grooves.
I’m not judging it. I’m just saying I miss the solos. I miss the intros. I miss the carefully arranged fills that sometimes identified a song. I miss watching a band and seeing an instrumentalist shine, sometimes just as much as the lead singer.
And that’s what happened this night. We played an 8-minute “Borrowed Angel”. I think we played a 10 minute “Heart Over Mind”. Johnny and Ricky traded solos. They twinned – sometimes Kelly and I would play along with them. It was a honky tonk orchestra.
And the crowd loved it. No one looked at each other wondering when “Borrowed Angel” would end. They wanted to know who was going to play next and what would happen.
We just stayed in a song. We enjoyed its notes and its chord progressions. We tried things we hadn’t tried before. We didn’t make ourselves stay with the solo “as recorded on the original”. We felt what that song would have felt like if we could have been there in that studio session.
And we didn’t miss the freaking guitar. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good guitar, but the guitar is the single most over-utilized instrument in today’s music. Enough already. You don’t need 3-4 guitars onstage. Someone pick up a different instrument and give the song a different color.
We had 2 steel guitars, 2-3 fiddles, a bass, drums and a singer that would wail like it was the last song they would ever sing. It was real honky tonk. And it reminded me once again why I love country music.
And I love country music.