Monday, November 17, 2008

Johnny Winter at The Birchmere

Johnny Winter played at the Birchmere Saturday night. I was there. I had been warned that he didn't look good. A friend of mine told me that if I thought Keith Richards looked bad, it was only because I hadn't seen Johnny Winter lately.

Still, I was not prepared for what I saw. Mr. Winter came out from back stage with a bent-kneed, shuffling gate. He was wearing his trademark black hat and T-shirt. When he entered the lights of the stage, I saw a jowly, wrinkled, doddering old man who needed to be helped to his chair. He looked two decades beyond his 64 years. When he spoke to welcome us, he sounded as old has he looked. I gritted my teeth and steeled myself for the disappointment of seeing an old man who was selling tickets only because he was a legend.

And then he picked up a guitar.

Oh my God. For the next hour and a half his fingers danced on the strings of that guitar so fast that I often couldn't follow them. His voice seemed to get stronger with every song he sang. He opened with the classic "Hideaway". We heard "Johnny Guitar", "Black Jack", Jimi Hendrix' "Red House", Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited", The Stones' "I Used To Love Her", and so many others. At the end of each song, the house was on their feet. Even though the fake "end of show leading to a demanded encore" was less convincing than usual (apparently they didn't want to make Mr. Winter walk down and then back up the ramp, so he just stood to the side and chatted with the stage manager), the crowd was clapping and chanting his name until he sat back down and did a couple of closing numbers.

At the end of the evening when the lights finally came up, I was aware of three different sensations: 1) My jaw hurt because I'd been smiling and sometimes laughing with joy for the past 90 minutes, 2) my ears were ringing - first time a concert has caused that sensation in a lot of years, and 3) I really, really, really had to go to the bathroom. I'm guessing that I had needed to go for some time, but I wasn't about to miss a note of this show.

Afterward, there was a line at the tour bus. There wasn't going to be a "meet and greet" as there so often is at The Birchmere, because apparently Mr. Winter simply wasn't up to it. Still, he agreed to sign autographs. We stood in line for half an hour or so, handed our concert card and CD insert to the stage manager who disappeared into the bus with them, and they came back autographed.

Best concert I've been to in years. If you ever, ever get a chance to see Johnny Winter in concert, I strongly recommend that you do it before it's too late.

I leave you with these:

Highway 61 Revisited


Jumpin' Jack Flash


(Why yes, I do believe that is Rick Derringer playing that other guitar. How clever of you to have noticed.)

23 comments:

GreenCanary said...

I love when a concert is so good it makes you forget your bladder.

Gilahi said...

canary - It's so true. And there aren't many things that make me forget my bladder.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

The best part about reading this entry today wasn't hearing about Johnny Winter at the Birchmere (although, that was good. I'm ashamed to confess, though, that I don't know who he is. This is probably a huge dealbreaker for you, isn't it? Anyway...), but hearing your voice in my head as I read this. It's so great to meet bloggers you like to read and having not only a face to go with the writing, but a voice, too.

And now I'm off to look up Johnny Winter, so I can redeem myself and be in your good graces again.

Gilahi said...

j.m. - Johnny's brother Edgar was much more popular because he had some huge hits in the '70s ("Frankenstein", "Alta Mira", "Free Ride"). Both Johnny and Edgar are albino, and I understand the odds of that happening twice in one family are in the trillions. Johnny does much more in the way of blues and rock, while Edgar does a lot more pop and electronic. Edgar plays about 9 instruments well, while Johnny plays the guitar unbelievably well.

Not a dealbreaker. I suspect that most of the 6 or 7 people who read my blog don't know who Johnny Winter is.

Gilahi said...

Oh and by the way, I should have mentioned this in the original post: Attending this concert was a birthday gift to me from my wife. My birthday was months ago, but that's when she bought the tickets. I just want her to get the credit and know how much I appreciate it.

Katherine said...

Well, now I know who is responsible for some of the anthems of my childhood... And FYI, never seen Dylan. It'll make you cry.

Gilahi said...

katherine - I've never seen Dylan either, and with the ticket prices he commands these days, I suspect I never will.

Mike said...

I guess I never paid enough attention to Edgar's brother to know his name. And since the both look alike I was confused by the name Johnny. I kept thinking, somethings not right about this.

LiLu said...

The only concert I can remember seeing that sounds anywhere as good is Billy Joel in Madison Square Garden. I would have peed in my plastic beer cup if necessary to not miss a note of that.

So glad you had such a wonderful night!

Washington Cube said...

I'm glad he gave a pa-zow concert, but what has aged him so? Sadly you never hear about Johnny or Edgar anymore. So many of them out there that can still really cut the mustard.

fiona said...

I honestly had never heard of him but loved the videos and happy that you enjoyed such a thoughtful b'day gift!

Herb of DC said...

Age can be a cruel thief but true passion and talent are burglar proof.

and Happy Belated Birthday!

Gilahi said...

mike - Believe it or not, there once was a time when Johnny was more popular than Edgar. A Rock & Roll encyclopedia entry that I read back in the early '70s described him as "A 120-pound cross-eyed albino who plays guitar. His brother Edgar is also a recording artist." Of course, this is before Edgar had a few top 40 hits, which Johnny the bluesman never had.

lilu - Never saw Billy Joel, but a couple of his songs rank among my all-time favorites. Did you know that he sings all the harmonies on "For The Longest Time"? Very talented.

cube - I don't know for sure, but I've heard it theorized that a long life of sex, drugs and rock & roll can do that to you. Wikipedia says, "Despite experiencing several health crises in recent years, rendering him incapable of performing without being seated, Winter still tours regularly." One of his band members told us that he was getting better, so maybe he'll be around a while.

fiona - Glad you liked them! What about Rory Gallagher, have you heard of him? A Scottish guitar god who was sadly taken from us many years ago.

herb - This is very comforting to me as I have reached the point in my life that I constantly look over my shoulder for such a cruel thief. These days, looking over my shoulder sometimes causes a cramp. And thanks for the birthday wishes.

Washington Cube said...

Fiona: After reading this piece, I immediately thought of Rory Gallagher. He played once at a now defunct club in D.C. called The Bayou.

fiona said...

Rory Gallagher for sure but Bert Jansch is my hero! :-)

Gilahi said...

cube - I saw Rory Gallagher open for Nazareth followed by Deep Purple many years ago. An amazing show.

fiona - Never heard of him. Let's hear it for YouTube!

GreenCanary said...

In that photo, Mr. Winter looks like one of those bad guys from the Matrix. http://www.moviewallpapers.net/images/wallpapers/2003/the-matrix-reloaded/the-matrix-reloaded-12-800.jpg

charlotteharris said...

Thank goodness Canasy mentioned the Matrix. I was stumped, I knew I recognized this guy bit I have never heard of Johnny Winter. Now I know it's because I think he looks like a villain from the Matrix.
P.S. Is the next blogger HH going to involve wine and cheese? We sure did cover that subject Friday!

Gilahi said...

canary - Huh. I hadn't made that connection, but you're right. I suppose there's some similarity among long-haired albinos, huh? Although I think he more closely resembles those Matrix guys than does his brother.

charlotte - Dunno. Why don't you set one up? Both Jaleo and La Tasca have some pretty great cheese tapas plates. We could do a Spanish wine theme.

Kate said...

It makes me so sad that so many musicians end up decrepit. Hard lives they lead. But the fire is still in their fingers. Yes. It. Is.

Gilahi said...

kate - Yes, it's a sad thing. So many of my music heroes are showing their age or, worse, have already shuffled off this mortal coil. If nothing else, it's a grim reminder of my own mortality.

Caroline Halloran said...

Gilahi: I know you have visited my blog--I have moved to a new blog--carolinereinvented.blogspot.com...

Just FYI.

Cheers!

Caroline Halloran

Gilahi said...

Hi Caroline - I found your blog after realizing that someone had found my blog while searching for Johnny Winter. I checked out their search and there you were. I'm leaving here to go check out your new site!

 
Add to Technorati Favorites