Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

Steve Earle
Saturday, Oct. 2, 4:05 p.m.
Banjo Stage
Reviewed by Sarah Bardeen

Bereft of the Bluegrass Dukes this year, Steve Earle took to the stage solo with just a guitar and harmonica, and it was possibly the fiercest, most politically-charged set of the festival. Earle didn't even talk initially - he just launched into "F the CC" and got the entire crowd happily cursing the FCC (and the FBI and CIA, though perhaps a little less enthusiastically). He goaded the crowd a bit: "C'mon - if you don't [sing] everyone will think you're Republicans." He then gave a furious performance of "Ashes to Ashes" featuring those infamous lines "every tower ever built tumbles / someday great walls crumble."

The audience was rapt with attention throughout classics like "Taneytown" and the brand new "The Revolution Starts Now." When he finally did talk, Earle brought up the hotel workers' strike that was paralyzing downtown San Francisco. "When you're bitchin' about those people getting in your way, just watch out cuz pretty soon you might be out of a job....If you've got a boss, you need a union." With that, he sang "The Mountain," one of the most devastating songs ever penned about corporate malfeasance.

But corporations weren't the only object of Earle's attention; the Bush administration took a pretty good whipping. "The people that think up wars, they gotta convince us it's worth going. Cuz it's not their kids going, it's yours." With that, Earle sang "Rich Man's War" and "John Walker's Blues" back-to-back, and his raw, almost broken delivery conveyed an ocean of feeling. The lascivious "Condi, Condi" lightened the mood briefly, and was followed by the soul-stopping lost-love song "Goodbye," which could have ended the set. The crowd was in the palm of his hand, and Earle went on with the equally incredible "Jerusalem."

He closed with "Christmas in Washington," saying the song was about his heroes: "it's about my heroes because it's my fucking song." As the crowd lamely attempted to sing along, Earle chastised them - "I hope you vote at a slightly higher rate than you sing." Despite their less than impressive singing skills, the crowd gave Earle a well-deserved standing ovation. It was a raw, powerful performance from one of the country's greatest living songwriters.

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