This past Saturday night, Patty Griffin returned to Oklahoma City. This time though she’s in the midst of a full tour rather than a warm-up show, and also, this time she situated herself into the Auditorium at the Douglass, rather than The Blue Door in order to accommodate a larger audience. Despite the venue change, there were plenty of similarities, both in the familiar faces in attendance as well as the historic location.
While it wasn’t the “best listening room in Oklahoma,” the Auditorium at the Douglass proved itself to be a wonderful venue for hosting exceptionally talented songwriters. The Auditorium is situated within the historic and restored Douglass High School. The 1930’s era auditorium in its peak years hosted a variety of graduations, big bands, orchestras, stage shows as well as appearances from touring nationally known artists, civil rights leaders, politicians etc. The room has been painstakingly restored, updated with the best in high-end sound and lighting. It’s a beautiful venue, seating an intimate 725 attendees. Most recently, the Auditorium hosted a solo performance from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and later this fall will host the great Delbert McClinton. Like many in attendance, this was my first visit, and I found myself very impressed with my surroundings. That’s not to say there weren’t a few opportunities, as there definitely were. But thankfully they were all minor in nature, and the friendliness and professionalism of the staff overcame any obstacles. Besides, with the quality of the evening’s performances, the show could have been presented within an old run down barn and still excelled, and yes, excelled it most certainly did.
Taking the stage first was John Fullbright. Now, I’ve seen Fullbright a few times, most recently earlier this year on the main stage at the Woody Guthrie Festival in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, but this was easily the best performance I’ve seen him do. Despite having come down with a cold leading into the show, Fullbright sounded exceptional, even commenting that he was liking the low Barry White feel to his voice. Other than an occasional off-mike cough, it wasn’t at all apparent that he might be under the weather. Beginning his set with an acoustic guitar, Fullbright captivated and quieted the crowd with songs such as “Fat Man” before taking the bench at the piano. Equally as potent on the ivories as the fretboard, the highlight of the night was his rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ take on “Lucky Old Sun.” John’s set was as strong as any I’ve seen this year.
Following a short intermission, the evening’s main attraction, Patty Griffin took the stage with her band, Conrad Choucroun on bass and drums (often at the same time!) and the simply incomparable David Pulkingham on guitar. What followed was a performance that at times was highlighted by humor, warm stories and always, powerful songs. Griffin is touring in support of her 2019 eponymous album, “Patty Griffin” , and the setlist was understandably peppered with those songs, including, “What I Remember,” “The Wheel,” “Boys From Tralee,” “Hourglass,” “Luminous,” “Where I Come From” and “River.” Highlights were nearly impossible to separate, though I was particularly moved by her spirited, gospel feel of “Heavenly” and “When It Don’t Come Easy.” As always, it’s a few of Griffin’s earlier songs that garner the biggest response. That was no exception tonight, with “Truth #2” inspiring the audience reaction. For some reason, Griffin rarely delves into material from her debut, “Living With Ghosts” or its follow-up, “Flaming Red.” Having seen Patty three times over the past decade, I’ve only seen a couple of those songs performed during that time. Whatever her reasoning behind it, it’s always a rare treat to hear those songs played live, and indeed, it makes it all the more special when it does occur.
The special treat this evening was a unique encore of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” with John Fullbright sharing vocals and playing piano. Apologizing prior to the song, Griffin indicated it was the first time she’d attempted the song, and that they hadn’t even tried to rehearse it. There was no need. The song took on a emotion and power all it’s own, guiding the performers to a glorious conclusion. Patty Griffin’s tour continues into November here in the states, before venturing internationally (Mexico and multiple Australian dates) in January and March. Be sure to keep an eye on her web page for updates : https://www.pattygriffin.com/
John Fullbright also finds himself touring throughout the fall and most certainly into next year as well. Be sure to keep up with this gifted songwriter here: https://www.johnfullbrightmusic.com/