Best. Live. Performances. Ever. Attended.
I’ll go first.
Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Sandstone (W.Va.) High School Gymnasium. 1959. Bill was pissed because the total gate was less than $200 but he was there with musicians and once he started to play the money thing disappeared. All the great ones: “Uncle Pen,” “Footprints in the Snow,” “Little Maggie,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Molly and Tenbrooks,” “In the Pines.”
Update 1: Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I saw Charlie Mingus play one night at the Five Spot Cafe in 1963. First day of the first time I was ever in New York. Ron Carter and some of the Miles Davis crowd were on first but I couldn’t take my eyes off Mingus as he sat alone eating during the set. Elegant man in a sharp grey suit but something coiled and dark–like a loaded pistol sitting on a chair. You know it’s deadly just because it’s there.
Then he took the stage. One, two, three…Toshiko Akiyoshi starts “A Foggy Day” on piano. A few bars and Mingus stopped playing. 30 second pause. One, two, three, a few bars, same thing. Mingus put his bass down and disappeared into the kitchen, emerging a minute or two later carrying a large, butcher knife. He made a show of doing something with a string and laid the knife down on a table in front of him.
One, two, three…stop. Mingus picked up the knife and walked to a table where a guy was so busy talking to his girlfriend that he didn’t see him coming. Suddenly, he realizes there is a 10-inch knife stuck in the middle of the wooden table in front of him. Mingus glared as the couple grabbed their coats and ran for their lives. The concert continued as if nothing had happened.
So, this is the big city, I thought. Cool.
Update 2: Circa 1973. An outdoor park near Wilmington, Delaware. The last days of Porter and Dolly although Porter and the several hundred of us misplaced Appalachians gathered around the bandstand didn’t know it yet. It wouldn’t be the first, or last, time that the pretty young protege dumped an older mentor and lover to become a much bigger star. Toward the end, Dolly came out with a guitar and sang a “new” song called “I Will Always Love You.” The hair was fake, even then, but the tears were very real.
(More to come)