Country Rocker Steve Earle Celebrates Birthday In S. F.

Guitar Town is the album that
put Steve Earle on the map

ATN correspondent Steve McConnell attended

country-rocker

Steve Earle's performance at the Great American Music Hall on Wednesday (Jan.

17). Here is his report: "Hey, Steve. Good to see ya'," came a shout

from the

floor at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. "Good to be here,

man," replied Steve Earle. "It was close." And he wasn't kidding.

Renegade

country rocker Steve Earle, perennial hard-luck kid, turned 41, celebrating his

January 17th birthday by playing to a SRO packed house at the old S.F. theater.

Backing him during the two hour plus performance was the marvelous group of

musicians which accompanied him on his Train a Comin' album (released

last year on Winter Harvest Records), including Peter Rowan (mandolin, guitar),

Norman Blake (guitar, dobro), and Roy Huskey (standup acoustic bass). The band

has gathered for a sporadic series of dates on the West Coast, and if they

manage to coordinate their schedules for a national tour, you should mark the

local date on your calendar in indelible ink.

This was Earle's first trip

to the Bay Area in a number of years, mostly due to an unfortunate break in his

career when he spent time in prison following a drug bust. Since getting out of

jail and cleaning up his life, Earle has resurrected his musical life largely

on the strength of Train a Comin'. Taking an acoustic approach (don't

call it Unplugged), Earle has created a sound, both on record and in

performance, which draws on the inspiration of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark,

with a little Springsteen dropped in.

Hitting the stage dressed in a black

t-shirt and camouflage suspenders, Earle and his band played nearly all the

songs off of Train a Comin', along with old favorites, including "Guitar

Town," "Fearless Heart," and "Copperhead Row" (all performed acoustically).

Highlights of the show included "Sometimes She Forgets" ("Travis Tritt covered

this one, and it was a financial pleasure," said Earle), as well as a 20 minute

solo portion which included "Goodbye" (which Emmy Lou Harris has covered on her

Wrecking Ball album), and "Ellis Unit One," a song about a prison guard

which he contributed to the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Unlike the

other contributors to that album (Johnny Cash excluded), Earle wrote and sang

from experience.

Steve Earle clearly enjoyed both the spirited audience

response, and his new lease on life. Towards the end of the show, the staff of

the Music Hall brought a cake and candles onto the stage, and then handed out

slices of cake to everyone in the audience. Earle, who will have a new rockin'

album, the autobiographical I Feel Alright released on March 6, seemed

genuinely touched by this gesture (as well as the presence of his father in the

audience). "I never celebrated my birthday in San Francisco before," he said.

"I did get served divorce papers here once."