In fiction, I suppose it’s inevitable that a certain degree of the author’s personal reality will weave its way into the stories. A passage requires an old car or a small boat, and it’s only natural that the writer will resurrect some long gone clunker or a favorite little fishing boat. As a writer, we’re building this particular world, and we build from our imagination, combined with own experiences. I’ve often wondered about the story behind Travis McGee’s Miss Agnes, the electric blue Rolls Royce pickup. Last Exit In New Jersey is loaded with fragments of my personal history. Joe’s blue Buick. Kindling. Gary’s Dodge. RoadKill’s numerous quirks — all drawn together from countless beaters I’d owned over the years. Even my own boat sneaks in for a brief cameo. And the music mentioned throughout the story comes directly from my own personal collection –including the Shooter Jennings CD permanently looping on the radio in RoadKill’s cab. But last night, Shooter Jennings was playing somewhere else – right across the river in New York City – at Hill Country over on West 26th Street.
The food alone is enough to lure me in, but combine the most mouth-watering barbeque with exceptional live music, and you have one first rate destination. We’d been at Hill Country only days earlier with a group of friends to see a portion of the Randy Rogers Band, who put on a great show and played till around one in the morning. But last night was the record release show for Shooter’s new album, Family Man, out on March 13th. Needless to say, I was there. Quite early, in fact. I’d allowed for transit delays, but every train and subway transfer flowed seamlessly, and I met up with my husband in Queens and from there we arrived in no time. But this gave us plenty of time to eat and then settle downstairs… right in front of the stage. It was really early and the room was still fairly vacant, but among the few other bodies was Mr. Jennings himself.
And that’s when the nerves hit. You see, I’d brought along a copy of Last Exit in New Jersey, with full intention of presenting it to him. I’d even bookmarked the pages with his name and music, (though I’d forgotten to grab post-its, and instead used coupons for a complimentary Lone Star Beer.) But now… what would I say? It was the perfect time: quiet, not many people around, everyone relaxing. But still, I felt strangely self-conscious. I kept stalling – until my husband pointed out that Shooter was standing alone, right behind me. It was time to nut-up or shut-up. So I introduced myself, explained how I was a long-time fan, (and felt silly – of course I am, or why would I be there, well before the show, no less,) and how my husband had taken me to one of his father’s concerts back when we were first dating, (translation: many years ago.) Then I picked up the book, explaining how I’d mentioned his music in the story. And that’s when I learned I had something unexpected in common with Stephen King: mine was the second book to include mention of Shooter Jennings. It made my day when he asked if I’d sign on the first page where his name appears! My only regret, I wish I’d gotten the nerve to get a picture with him. Maybe next time!
And finally the room began to fill. This was everyone sitting behind me. In front of me… the stage. Sorry for the dark pics — my camera was being a bit cranky. But the night was only getting started, opening with a very talented trio known as Poundcake.
You could see they were having fun, which was infectious. They did some amazing covers and got the now-packed room going, and were even joined by Shooter’s pedal steel player. And yes, I added one of their CDs to my collection.
Then Shooter and his band came up and they put on one first-rate show. They moved between some of their more known material and played some tunes from his upcoming album(s) as well. Watching the performance, I was fascinated by the mechanics of creating such a range of sound from instruments, including the keyboard and steel guitar, which gave the music such variety and depth. (Boats, I know. Engines, I know. Music and instruments amaze and baffle me.) I had to smile when Shooter paused between songs to inform “the owner of the blue Buick, your car has been towed, and they found the body in the trunk.” (Had he peeked into the pages of Last Exit?) Satisfying from start to finish, Shooter demonstrated impressive versatility, shifting from raw and gritting to soulful and introspective in a way that has me looking forward to his upcoming releases. Oh, and then in the encore he treated us all to Fourth of July — the very song playing in RoadKill’s cab in the start of Last Exit, and again at the end.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better night to celebrate my own little personal launch, and it looks as though I’ll be adding a few new albums to RoadKill’s playlist.