Lucinda Williams Brings Her “Real Life Stories” to Annapolis Songwriter’s Festival
September 16, 2022
“Telling real life stories, that’s my role” Americana trailblazer Lucinda Williams told the enthusiastic audience at Maryland Hall in Annapolis, capping the second day of the first Annapolis Songwriters Festival. The relationship between Williams and her audience was at the center of the night, which included material from across William’s path-breaking career.
The show was her first concert back after a two-week break from touring when one of her team tested positive for COVID-19. And it has only been two years since Williams suffered a stroke. The 69-year-old Williams seemed frail when she first came on stage, but she immediately settled any debate about her continued vitality. She planted herself center-stage, got settled, and started singing. Her voice is, if anything, more compelling than ever. It’s twangy, sweet, powerful, and full of kick; just like a fine Kentucky bourbon.
The opening ovation Williams received must have given her strength. And the powerful audience reaction to her songs seemed to truly move her. There were more than a few cries of “We love you Lucinda,” and she paused to acknowledge each of them.
The set list spanned nearly her entire career. And it made a compelling case for her place at the top of anyone’s list of most important songwriters of the past 30 years. From personal to political, from ballads to battle cries, Williams has compiled a singularly impressive body of work. (Frankly, she would merit such lionization if she had “only” given us Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an album that, as much as any single record, defined Americana for a generation.)
Although I had seen Williams in concert before (including just two years ago on the tour celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road) I was still somehow unprepared for the power and urgency of her band: drummer Butch Norton, bassist David Sutton and the band’s two amazing guitarists, Doug Pettibone and Stuart Mathis. Pettibone played guitar, keyboards, pedal steel and probably a few other things I did not see; Mathis stuck mostly to his ’64 Gibson SG Special. They traded off playing lead, each offering up solos that advanced the songs rather than distracting from them.
It is a mark of how tightly William constructs her songs that the lyrics often do not read especially well outside the song. The music and lyrics are of a piece. But once you know Williams’ songs, they stick with you. If you see “Flirt with me don’t keep hurtin’ me/Don’t cause me pain/Be my lover don’t play no game/Just play me John Coltraine” (from “Righteously”) on the page, your mind instinctively sets them to the right music.
Highlights of the show included “Big Black Train” (with Sutton on stand-up bass), “Lake Charles” (with an eloquent pedal steel solo by Pettibone), and the main-set-ending hard-hitting trio of “Righteously,” “Honey Bee,” and “Joy.”
Williams saved one of her newest and most explicitly political songs for the encore: “You Don’t Rule Me” (“Yeah man, I got a right/To talk about what I see/Way too much is going wrong/It’s right in front of me”) from her most recent album, Good Souls, Better Angels. She followed that, and closed the show with, an ecstatic cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” that had the whole audience on their feet singing along.
Williams has earned her role as the Queen of Americana music, and judging from the response she received, her subjects could not be happier about it.
Nashville Songwriter Keith Gattis opened the show with a well-received set. His songs, including two that were co-written with the late, legendary Guy Clark, were simple (in the best way) and filled with interesting characters. Standout songs included “Big City Blues” (“Daddy was a no count bull-ridin’ son of a bitch/That’s what my momma said/She cursed the day they ever met/She’s the cutest home-town thing that he’d seen in the world/‘Cept daddy loved big city girls”) and a slow, powerful cover of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents.”
Check out Lucinda’s tour dates here: https://www.lucindawilliams.com