Justin Townes Earle / Tift Merritt – Taft Theatre Ballroom

Justin Townes Earle is, in my opinion, one of the most talented songwriters of this generation.  His songs range from raucous to loving to dejected and deal with topics like drugs, love and his relationship with his famous father.  The show was in the ballroom at the Taft Theatre.  This is only the second show I’ve been to in the ballroom but I’m liking it so far.  With the void that was created when the Southgate House closed (now reopened as Southgate House Revival in a new location) the Taft’s ballroom definitely capitalized on the market for bands not big enough to play in the theater but bigger than the average rock club in Cincinnati.  I love the bands they’ve been bringing through and look forward to what the venue will be in the future.

For this tour Justin Townes Earle is on the road with a full band and with opener Tift Merritt.  Merritt began the evening with a solo set to a crowd that was very enthusiastic.  Unexpectedly, in the middle of a song the power went out, likely because of a blown fuse.  Tift told a story about living in New York City over the past week and how she’s had to deal with the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  She said that she walked 50+ blocks to her mother’s to tell her that she was ok.  At that point the power popped back on and she attempted the song again.  Remarkably, at roughly the same spot the fuse tripped again.  This time Tift stepped to the front of the stage and did a completely unplugged version of her song “Feeling of Beauty.”  The crowd was incredibly quiet in order to hear her guitar as she started the song.  Once she began to sing everyone in the room was acutely aware of how powerful her voice is as it carried the whole room.  The lights finally all came back on for good and a few songs later Merritt’s set came to a close.

Justin Townes Earle took the stage alone to begin his set with a few solo tunes and was then joined by the band and played a well paced set including song like “They Killed John Henry,” “One Night In Brooklyn,” “Mama’s Eyes,” “Black Eyed Suzy,” “Harlem Rive Blues” and others from his older albums and a few new ones from his most recent album “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now” including an amazing version of “Unfortunately Anna.”  During the set, as at most shows, there were a few people shouting out requests.  This is one of my pet peeves as a musician and as a concert-goer.  This set was obviously meticulously put together to flow the way he wanted it to.  After ignoring and subtly jabbing back with  comments like “I know what I’m doin’ up here” he finally called the crowd out for it, but not in an angry way. “I started out playing the honky tonks in Nashville where people shout out songs and you have to play them to get tips.  Well, I don’t play for tips and I don’t take requests.  But it’s OK, I got this thing down” he said with a wry smile.  Having seen JTE once before doing a show with only an upright bassist, it was a treat to see him with a full band as they did some somewhat new interpretations of older songs.  Justin is a true performer and artist that knows not only how to write great songs, but also has a knack for connecting with audiences that makes you forget that he grew up the son of a rock star and is a well respected musician.  At that point in time he’s simply a guy telling a story and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

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Brian Bruemmer