Following a week of highs in the 100 to 107 degree range, this late July Friday night in Oklahoma City saw welcomed slightly cooler temperatures. It also provided an opportunity to witness one of America’s finest singer-songwriters in a very unique setting. Riversport OKC is located in the Boathouse District of the city, and serves as a nonprofit foundation focusing on fun, fitness, and encouraging people to take on new challenges. The adventure park has a wealth of fun activities including, whitewater rafting, tubing, zip lines, and wall climbing. The park also serves as an Olympic training facility for rowing. Friday evening’s focus was on live music from John Calvin Abney and John Moreland on a stage surrounded by water, and back dropped by a spectacular view of the OKC skyline, a beautiful sunset, and later, a stunning lunar eclipse. It was just about all you could ask for on a Friday night.
While the audience enjoyed craft beers, cocktails and a food truck, John Calvin Abney took the stage. Working double duty for the evening as he often does, he first played a stripped down, solo set. Abney played acoustic guitar and harmonica and won over the crowd quite easily. Abney is a masterful guitar player, one that makes me wish the skill came to me as easily as he makes it look. His guitar simply becomes an extension of his self and it’s a joy to watch. Playing from Coyote, his most recent album, “Gather Round You Cowboys and Canyon Queens”, “Get Your House In Order” and “Always Enough” were fantastic. But for me, the absolute highlight was an earlier song of his, “James and Julie” from the album, “Better Luck”. A charming tale, it endears itself upon the listener. It’s reminiscent of one of Richard Thompson’s better “story” songs. It was a flawless song to end his entertaining set.
As mentioned previously, Abney worked both sets this evening, joining John Moreland to accompany on guitars, keys and harmonica. Seeing these two as a duo is a truly special experience, and one that should never be missed if there is an opportunity. I grew up in Houston, TX and had the special opportunity to see the legendary Townes Van Zandt on many occasions. For me personally, Townes is the greatest songwriter I’ve ever witnessed perform on stage. So, it’s with no light consideration that I say that for me, John Moreland is right up there with Townes as a songwriter. He’s that damn good. Moreland can use his lyrics to convey an inescapable sadness, capture heartbreak and terrible sorrow. Yet, though his earlier albums nearly pigeon-holed him as a “sad song” guy, his newest album of songs, Big Bad Luv took his music in a much more cheerful and distinctly “rock” direction. And perhaps to prove a point, his lyrics this time centered on the happier aspects of well, “Luv”. A songwriter’s ability to evolve and change is fundamental to the art, and Moreland has all the right stuff.
Taking the stage with Abney, as the sun began to set, the duo eased into “Salisaw Blues” from Moreland’s current album. It was a perfect opener that featured the lyric, “Slummin’ I-40 with American songs”, all while in the shadows and distant rumble of the actual Interstate 40. Over the next hour and a half, as families floated and paddled past the stage in large rafts, we were treated to highlights from each of Moreland’s albums. The beautiful “Julia”, “Heart’s Too Heavy”, “God’s Medicine”, “Sad Baptist Rain” and more. The set’s final trio of songs, culminated with the moon’s rising in the east, over their shoulders, and blood red. A result of the lunar eclipse, it seemed intent on adding its own stamp of approval to what was already a magical evening. “3:59AM”, “American Flags In Black And White” and “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore” closed out the special evening with purpose. It was a fun night, in an equally fun atmosphere. Moreland and Abney are currently tramping about Europe again, but return to the States on August 23rd with a show at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. From there, they’ll be on the road well into September. Don’t miss an opportunity to see this very special songwriter. I bet you’ll be glad you did. Check tour dates here. http://www.johnmoreland.net/tour For our interview with John Calvin Abney, click one of these bolded words right here.