The Carter Brothers continued their seven-night run at the world famous Hog’s Breath Saloon last night, playing to the largest crowd so this trip as the holiday weekend approaches. One thing you learn in Key West is to expect the unexpected, and that was certainly true last night.
Earlier in the day the band and their assorted friends and groupies fanned out across the city to enjoy and support other performers. According to Ralph de Palma’s great book The Soul of Key West on this small town’s incredible music tradition, there are as many as 50 venues featuring top performers each day – so there is no shortage of things to choose from. For my part, my friend Gail Hardy and I spent a few hours listening to Joel Nelson play the day shift at the Hog’s Breath – where he sings original songs as well as James Taylor tunes better than JT himself ! – and then I caught the Shanty Hounds featuring Bob Tucker on bass and vocals at Grunts.
As someone who often is close enough to the Carter Brothers when they are on stage to hear their conversations between songs, you realize that they have no set list, just dozens upon dozens of tunes that they know how to play. When they gear up to perform their first song, everyone looks to Danny to call something out. He assesses the mood of the audience and the band and without fail chooses a great tune, and then they are off on a three-hour journey that is never exactly the same – which I can confirm as I have seen them play hundreds of times over the last decade.
Oftentimes, Danny will call out one obscure song each night that even their most devoted fans, such as myself, may have never heard them play, or not in many years. I guess he does it just to keep everyone on their toes! It makes for lots of exciting and certainly never dull evenings with them and their fusion of blues, bluegrass, southern rock and more.
Last night they started with Radio Girl, based on a request I posted on the Carter Brothers Fan Club Facebook page that Danny graciously honored. It is truly one of my favorite songs he has ever written. Then he played a version of The Waiting by Tom Petty where his vocals soared. Next was Yellow Moon, at which time Gail came by and we started dancing non-stop for the next few hours -- what fun! She wrecked me but it hurts so good....
Around this time a wedding party in outrageous costumes showed up, and Danny and the band showed their versatility by playing a bunch of upbeat songs – originals and cover tunes – that got the group on the dance floor and having a great time. These included Woman at the Well, Road to Roosky, Child of the Wild Blue Yonder, Fatback, Copperhead Road and Shelby Street. Everyone was drenched in sweat, but no one seemed to care.
One of the nice things about a relatively quiet week like this one (at least until last night) has been the opportunity to catch up with the band members over breaks and the occasional chance encounter during the day. In the tradition of great southern story-tellers, Mark Vernon can entertain anyone for hours about any subject – such as when an earlier incarnation of the band used to play Sloppy Joe’s in the early 1990s. I caught up with Dann Sherrill over pizza on Wednesday night after the performance and a learned a ton about music, as I always do when talking to him.
It’s been great to hear Tim tell us about his tours of Europe this year with the band Hayseed Dixie, playing at festivals with up to 30,000 people. Also, Tim was selected for super-prestigious showcase at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh later this month, and he has taken no chances in terms of maximizing this opportunity for a big breakthrough for his music. Among other things, he is reassembling most of his “Bang Bang” touring band from the summer of 2013, including Tim May on guitar and Barbara (Babs) Lamb on fiddle. As a proud IBMA member and a fan and friend of Tim’s, I will be there for two of his three showcase performances, with my mother and step-father along for the ride as they also love Tim’s music.
It is moments like these when I can get a bit nostalgic about the last 9 ½ years since I met the Carter Brothers and their people who play music with them and their many fans and friends. It all began here, during my 40th birthday celebration, when I wandered into the Hog’s Breath and was mesmerized by their music. Well, this January, they are returning to Key West to play seven nights at the Hog’s Breath starting January 23, 2017, and lots of my friends and family will join dozens of their fans from around the country for an exciting week. Carter Brothers Nation, come join the festivities if you can!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have three more nights of music here, and then the band comes back together to play the fourth MusicFest at Blue Bear Mountain next weekend near Boone, NC. And as I said, being with this unpredictable band in this irreverent city, everyone should expect the unexpected, and you certainly won’t be disappointed!
For those of you who couldn’t make this trip, keep tuning in via the HogCam and send us messages – we love getting them !
-- Alex Counts, President, Carter Brothers Fan Club