Flynn’s Cabaret and Steakhouse in Felton, California not far from San Francisco is a good place to see a show, but it does take effort. If you’re from out of town, it takes a windy drive through the Santa Cruz mountains just to get there, and once you’re inside, you’ll face a cacophony of interruptions in the small venue. The restaurant’s kitchen opens into the music hall portion of the establishment, and the doors frequently swing open, bathing the audience in bright fluorescent light and filling half the room with bursts of chatter. Laughter from from the dining room also pours into the venue at moments, making it difficult to get lost in the music. As distracted as an audience member can get, I would imagine that for performers looking out onto this sea of activity and light, the effect is exaggerated.
If it bothered Steve Poltz on March 24th, he didn’t show it. When he introduced a song called “Don’t Crash that Car” a more-than-tipsy audience member approached the stage with clumsy steps and Poltz met his gaze calmy. “I was a truck driver for 40 years,” the man yelled to the folk singer. “And I’ve seen a lot of car crashes!”
“I bet!” Steve replied instantly, and turned away with a patient professionalism. It’s in moments like these that Poltz’s 30+ years on the road really come through; allowing his experience to fill the gap where small venues like Flynn’s in towns like Felton – with its old western drinking habits – can (and often do) throw curveballs.
Sunday’s show was in line with what Poltz fans have come to enjoy about his performances. I’ve heard him described in a lot of ways, but an elderly woman in front of me described him best as he spit into the microphone on his semi-rapping folk tale, “The Hand Me Down Dudes.” “He’s a nut” she yelled to her friend, and they laughed together as he used a loop pedal to construct the song’s layered, acapella finale.
Over the course of two sets, Poltz played songs from the expanse of his 30 year career, including “Beautiful Day” from his 1997 record My Left Shoe and his career-making Jewel co-write “You Were Meant for Me;” the later interspersed with the hilarious and meandering story of that song’s creation and whirlwind years following. The story starts at a Mexico drug bust, then takes us to Neil Young’s Ranch, Royal Albert Hall, and backstage at Woodstock ‘99. I don’t want to ruin the punchline, but it involves an intimate encounter with rock icon Flea.
Poltz also played several songs from his new record Shine On, including “Ballin’ on a Wednesday,” “Over the Top for You,” and “Windows of Halifax.”
It’s a new song and not yet a crowd favorite, but “Windows from Halifax,” is an example of a song only Poltz could write. It’s joyful and sad, funny and thoughtful, loving and satirical. It’s a love song to a time sung by a place, or perhaps vice versa. It’s a four chord waltz connecting Poltz to an American folk tradition older than Woody Guthrie, and back to his hometown on the shores of Nova Scotia.
In one song Steve sings, “I’m old fashioned but I’m woke,” making him a perfect fit for Felton. He stayed away from overtly political material, but throughout the night the white-haired crowd raised their beer and wine glasses to lyrics that resonated with the off-the-grid hippie mentality of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Any night with Steve Poltz is a high-energy reminder that in the end, things are going to be okay. Sunday’s show fit that mold. He brought people together to celebrate through music, humor, and his own weirdness. At the end of the show, tears welled in eyes as we locked arms and sang Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” together.
Be sure to catch Poltz next time he’s in your town. https://poltz.com/