An opportunity to witness Ramblin’ Jack Elliott ply his trade in the intimate confines of The Blue Door is not one to be squandered. Well into his 80’s, Elliott is a living, breathing musical connection to Woody Guthrie, having admired, studied under and lived with the quintessential American folk singer. Indeed, it’s been documented that Woody’s son, Arlo learned much of his father’s playing style and songs from Elliott. Elliott has also been a noted influence among some of the giants of songwriting in our era. A few people you undoubtedly have heard of. Such as, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and countless others.
The evening, was destined to be as much about folk history per se, as it was a chance of seeing Elliott play.
After a warm introduction from owner Greg Johnson, Elliott made his way down the narrow center aisle to the Blue Door’s stage. The stage itself is raised, perhaps two feet from the floor. Rather than taking the steps, or waiting for assistance, the 87 year old Elliott gave us a moment of pause by leaping up onto the stage. That’s Ramblin’ Jack Elliott for you. He’s going to do things his way, and damn the consequences. Settling in upon a stool, with a trusty cup of coffee at his side, Elliott immediately began regaling us with his wit humor and charm, “I talk a little bit.” Describing sound check as simply an opportunity to make sure the electric bill had been paid, Elliott fairly quickly launched into Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” to open his set, followed by the traditional “The Cuckoo”.
Though he used a setlist that he indicated worked “pretty well” while recently opening for John Prine, Elliott often deviated from it. In between songs, the banter varied from discussion of the differences between Holiday Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses to tales of all the fascinating people that have crossed his path. From Ray Brock (Arlo’s shop teacher in “Alice’s Restaurant), to maritime icon George C. Kiskaddon, to Dylan and Woody. Fittingly, it always seemed to lead back to Woody. Seeing Elliott perform his friend and mentor’s songs, just a hundred miles or so from Guthrie’s birthplace was about as special as it gets. This was without doubt the case as he played “Buffalo Skinner Blues”, after telling how he tried to get Woody to teach him how to play it, “It’s on the record Jack.”
As the evening began to wind down, and following a rendition of Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, Elliott revealed that he had suffered a couple of mini strokes fairly recently. Ever one to make the best of a situation, Elliott indicated it resulted in his having to retrain his fretboard hand, and that it had been exciting relearning how to play. Elliott closed out the evening with a rousing rendition of “Freight Train Blues” before hitting the road once again to make his was to Little Rock. Jack’s pretty much always on the road, and more information can be found on his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Ramblin-Jack-Elliot-315782069621/?ref=br_rs
Austin based Michael Fraccaso opened the night’s music. Fraccasso is a frequent visitor, and longtime friend of The Blue Door. Despite having been born in Ohio, there is a distinct “Texas” feel to his songwriting, that left me smiling throughout his brief set. Indeed, I found his songs and high lonesome tenor to make me a more than a bit homesick for my home state. His is a name I’ve heard often, though somewhat surprisingly this was my first opportunity to see him actually performing a set of his own. Talk about immediate guilt. Fraccasso is as gifted a songwriter, and an engaging performer as there ever has been. Fracasso began his set with a pair of songs inspired by his ties to Ohio factories and the current state of affairs related to such. The highlight of his all too brief set for me was, “Brazos River Blues” and “1962” as well as the tease of a upcoming album again collaborating with Charlie Sexton. It should be noted that Fracasso had been originally booked to play a full set on this night. Yet when Ramblin’ Jack Elliott scheduled his tour, his stop for Oklahoma City fell on the same night. With a grace and respect, that speaks to his character, Fracasso immediately surrendered the headlining spot without question.
I highly recommend checking out Michael’s music, and seeing him live for yourself if the opportunity presents itself. More information can be found here: http://www.michaelfracasso.com/
I often get asked what it is about the Blue Door that makes it so special. An evening such as this is the perfect answer. There’s a love of the songs, a mutual respect and energy that seems to fill that room and fill ones heart. There’s camaraderie, a sense of purpose, and a feeling that everything is going to be okay. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening really.
If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, make a point to visit and see whoever is gracing the stage that night. I guarantee it’ll be worth your time and effort. Interview: Greg Johnson of OKC’s Blue Door — on the Evolution of the Best Listening Room in Oklahomahttp://www.bluedoorokc.com/