SO GLAD to have FINALLY caught the amazing Joe Purdy last Saturday at The Independent after wanting to see him live for SUCH A LONG TIME. I was an instant fan from the moment my friend Jensyn -a Arkansas native like Joe- introduced me to his stuff nearly 5 years ago, but living abroad in the UK/Australia prevented me from having the opportunity (although I later found out from Joe that he’s making it over to the UK this spring… happy to hear that!) I also later learned that he had played with the incredible Billy Bragg at Jensyn’s favorite Arkansas music venue -the White Water Tavern- in Little Rock a few years back. Very cool to have found out that lil’ insider scoop!
Knowing that my friend Cristina enjoys folk music, I decided to invite her along to see Joe, not anticipating HOW MUCH OF A TREAT she’s be in for. As a Consumer/Equity Rights Advocate and founder of REEMvoice, Cristina was MOVED TO TEARS during the beginning of Joe’s set when he took the liberty of playing a few powerful prophecies about the current political campaign. She later wrote me:
“Joe Purdy’s activism struck me by surprise as I was not expecting to listen to songs that bring light to the inhumanities, the injustice going on in our country today. Purdy demonstrated courage with the use of his music platform to advocate for Civil Rights. His songs brought me to tears because of the significance of his courage to deviate from his normal set to bring about awareness to the significance of the suffering going on in places like Ferguson. This election year is one of the most important in our lifetime. It is our last chance to turn things around -or- face inevitable worldwide doom. Therefore, under my social brand (Reigniting Empowered Expressiveness and Motivation = R.E.E.M) I believe Joe Purdy is pretty damn R.E.E.M because again he’s using his platform to bring awareness to social issues. His empowered expressiveness and motivation shines light onto these important issues, and awakens many souls.”
I was elated that SHE was elated, and I too commend Joe for using the stage as a platform to educate and empower others on issues he feels so strongly about. He later told me that he “had a lot to get off his chest” and was a bit nervous that “some of his fans might no longer be fans” after the evening. I don’t think that was true at all, for everyone seemed to appreciate his political opinions and continued to rally behind his rants.
The only small frustration I had was that these political songs took time away from his set, and unfortunately Joe never got to play any of my all-time favorites: I Hope This Isn’t Love, Mary May & Bobby, Skinny-Dipping Girl, I love the rain the most, The City, Look at you now, Andrea, Suitcase, Paris in the Morning, and Waiting on Something Good. Nevertheless, he still came through with old gems like Worn Out Shoes, Canyon Joe, Sad Clown, Meteor City, Green Eyes, and Outlaws. We’d literally need to put him up for the night if wanted to hear all of them. I don’t know many other singer/songwriters that have AS EXTENSIVE of a discography as he does: THIRTEEN ALBUMS = HUNDREDS of SONGS = THOUSANDS of LYRICS. That’s a lot for one man, one whiskey-filled man, to remember. Haha. He did a pretty REMARKABLE job. Knowing that Joe is now based in Los Angeles (and has been for the past 5 years), I hope he’ll be making his way up North more often. He didn’t mention having any summer festivals booked yet, but I’m thinking he’d have a solid chance trying to squeeze into some folk favorites like BottleRock Napa (CA) and Pickathon (OR) last-minute. Looking forward to seeing him again soon, and also looking forward to watching the documentary that Douglas Busby of Damascus Films will be making on him. Douglas has over 20 years of experience in film production and has filmed with a whole slew of impressive bands: Chris Robinson, Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, John Legend, Hans Zimmer, Young Dubliners, Brian Wright, Truth & Salvage CO, POD, Velvet Revolver, Lucinda Williams, etc. Super stoked for this feature!
Joe first kicked off the set with some newer songs, including one (his most recent) that had me and Cristina smiling at one another because of the hilarious lyrics and shout-out to her name: “Maybe I’ll just get stoned and call Christine.”
Next up was a pretty powerful piece with a continual chorus of: “It ain’t easy to be a pioneer when the land you moved to has died.” (I wonder what place, in particular, he was referring to)
He then treated us to Worn Out Shoes, a song he said he wrote with Brian Wright, a talented singer/songwriter hailing from Nashville, TN: “There’s a hole in my pocket, For the stars to fall out… I didn’t notice when they hit the ground… The devil was three steps behind.”
Ba Girl followed, and it’s hard not to feel a bit “blue” when listening to this verse:
“But good times they don’t sound as good as the things that make me blue
Good times they don’t rhyme as well
and happy songs don’t always tell
the truth about the living hell
that a woman sometimes brings.”
Joe then introduced his next one as a song about his 3rd-grade girlfriend, Laura Wilson. I definitely felt the heaviness of his heart with this verse: “I’m getting too old for fairy-tale stories.. hit songs that never get sung. Well if the hands on a clockwork backward, and I could write all the things I did wrong, well I’d stay with Laura Wilson, in the hill of Arkansas.”
After teaching us the chorus for the next one, Joe made it pretty clear that he wanted us to sing along: “I’ll do the verses and you do the chorus.” He then fired off like a pistol, and you could tell there was tension he needed to release: “There’s a man who wants the White House.. says he can make us great again, says that he knows how, is gonna build a wall big and tall, kicking everybody’s…” We all know knew exactly who he was talking about, and it was pretty special to feel the crowd chemistry as we united to join him for the chorus: “Just another reason people can’t get along, picking sides of the USA; Treat me like a human, treat you like the same, maybe we’ll all get along someday.” TRUTH BE TOLD. What a powerful prophecy to leave us with.
After several persistent requests for Sad Clown, Joe finally succumbed, and you could tell by the crowd’s reaction that everyone was excited to dig up this old gem. Joe then quickly confessed with a laugh, “Don’t get excited yet- It’s been a while…” We all knew he’d revive this one with ease, as Sad Clown has been a consistent crowd-pleaser throughout Joe’s long music career and extremely extensive discography (THIRTEEN ALBUMS). Many of us were so giddy to hear it that we started singing with Joe from the very beginning:
“I’m gonna fill this whiskey cup
and I’m gonna pick this banjo up
I’m gonna play with the tragedies
singing good time harmonies
B Wright don’t you let me down
play that one called sad clown
You know that ones about me (so good)
I’ve been thinking about leaving town.”
…and THEN… to shout “Sad clown, Sad Clown… Sad Clown, Sad Clown” with the rest of the crowd as Joe howled “I’m giving up… I’m giving up” in a call-and-response kinda manner was SUCH A RUSH. I bet he never thought a song so sad would ever make people so happy. We love ya, Joe!
It was obvious from all the comments around me (“I love this song..he sound SO GOOD”) that Joe had a full house of die-hard fans there that night, and he was a bit incredulous when he saw that everyone knew the lyrics to this one (Outlaws):
“Take me to the 61 highway, sailor
And you can call me Queen Jane.. (YAAAAAS)
Cause the only thing I stole from the town
Was a crown that I took from a beauty queen.”
We all appreciated when he agreed to play Green Eyes even though he admitted he couldn’t remember all the lyrics (understandable with a few hundred songs in his collection), and we reassured him that we’d help him through it:
“Green eyes are better than blue
I ain’t trying to be mean I’m just telling the truth
It’s enough to make me run away with you
Darling green eyes are better than blue.”
As someone with ‘Big Browns,’ I called out, “What about Brown?” just to kinda catch him off guard and see how he’d respond. Uncertain of whether he even heard me, Joe quickly responds with a charming remark: “Well if ya got brown eyes, you gotta go Van Morrison.” We all laughed out loud, only to laugh harder when he openly asks, “What’s the next verse?”
For the grand finale that we were all dreading (we didn’t want him to stop playing!), he brought his opener, Jenny O. (an American singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles), up on to the stage and said he was gonna leave us with 500 miles (a Peter, Paul and Mary cover) because it was his daddy’s favorite. After taking a stab at the first verse, he then mentions that the song is “way too high for me, so you should sing it too.” Soon after joining him in song, he gives us reassurance: “That’s a really good start.” Jenny O.quickly comes to the rescue with those high notes, and Joe can’t help himself in commenting, “Doesn’t she not have the most beautiful voice you ever heard?” (so happy-hearted from this)
For the next verse, Joe throws in some disciplinary action and insists, “But on this next one you all need to sing with us, OK? Cause that’s why we’re here. It doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like, it doesn’t matter what you think about yourself or anybody else… the point is that you sing, and if you do sing, I swear to God that the world will get better and your life will get better, and my life will certainly get better, and we’ll all be happier and we’ll all have a longer life.” <3 <3 <3
Already starting to feel that my heart would BURST OPEN with love for this MOMENT and this MESSAGE, I nearly exploded when Joe cheekily remarked, “I’m gonna warn ya, it’s getting KIND OF BEAUTIFUL in here…” In fact, he doesn’t stop there, and I was grinning EAR-TO-EAR with this final demand: “ONE MORE TIME, just to PROVE THAT WE ARE HERE…” But of course he can’t sign off completely without hammering on our heartstrings once more: “I love you all SO MUCH. Thanks again for coming.” <3
Another version on my personal music blog: