It’s 9:30 on a Thursday night and I’m soaked in sweat at a packed out CBDB show watching side stage as Chris Potocik powers his way through a drum solo. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” How long the wait seemed between that last Bob Weir show in March of 2020 and this moment at the end of April 2021 – how sweet it is to once again be standing too close to a speaker that is bigger than I am.
CBDB is tuned in and turned up, chomping at the bit a little to get going and clearly in sync with each other. They offer a brief homage to Aerosmith with a bar of Back in the Saddle before launching into an impassioned Slow Foxes that quickly dispels any of the cobwebs that have accumulated in the audiences legs over the last long year.
And so here we go, first show in Alabama and I’ll be damned if the audience doesn’t look like they may as well have wandered into this place directly from the Burlington, VT waterfront. I’m always a little nervous my first time out in a dress in a southern town, but I feel no less at home than I did in Asheville, NC. It’s a lovely crowd, multi-generational although skewed younger, and the emotion of being back at live music again is tactile. Everyone is excited, everyone is turned on. Smiles and double buns and dreadlocks are everywhere you look, and you can’t so much as walk to the bathroom and back without at least three people of varying genders telling you how good you look tonight.
The venue itself is beautiful – a large courtyard sequestered by fences that are covered in jasmine vines – filled with multiple bars (including a sour bar), plenty of clean restrooms and tasteful horticulture. By placing the stage in the corner of the courtyard Avondale has allowed GA ticket holders a number of different angles and places to range to take in the show even with the hundred and fifty feet directly in front of the stage being reserved for pod seating at tables. The lighting and sound is contracted out to Big Friendly Productions whose work more than lives up to their stellar reputation with seamless projection and lighting that always seems to perfectly match but not overwhelm the band’s own energy.
Still, despite how amazing the band plays, or how perfect the venue is, this show is about so much more than hearing our favorite songs played live. The live music scene has always been about much more than music, and while references like “fam” get cheapened by the cynical over time, the truth is that in a culture that values individuality live music creates extended family structures around commonality.
It’s why no amount of dancing in your kitchen over the last year was ever enough to satiate the desire to be doing it at a show, in a crowd of others who are all similarly moved by the experience. It’s why the green room on Thursday night was as alive with chatter as any I’ve ever been in. It’s why, even at its darkest economic moment the music scene is destined to outlive Covid, LiveNation, war, famine, regime change and natural disaster.
Even the staff is practically jumping with joy to be hosting shows again. I shoot the bull with Andrew at the bar for a bit pre-show and he can’t stop talking about the lineup they have coming, the bands they don’t have coming, and mostly the open dates still on the calendar which represent the purest form of promise. Meanwhile every trip to the beer line I witness a reunion of two long lost souls, separated suddenly by Covid and social distancing, newly vaccinated and desperate for sweaty bear hugs.
As CBDB modulates their way through a varied first set I would have to describe the overall vibe in the air as “intense joy”. A powerful So It Goes pulls the set together, promising that there will be no respite for rusty legs or dusty dancing shoes here. Kris Gottlieb is transcendent on lead guitar wrapping the audience’s breath around his guitar strings and twisting it to and fro before tossing it across the stage to Glenn Dillard, a game of keepaway that ends with Dillard blowing it back into the audience’s chest, now dripping with tone and volume, directly through their ear-holes.
When the band takes a set break a few songs later I think the audience may need it more than they do. More than a few of those at tables immediately take a seat, a swig of beer and light a cig. The FDA began the process of banning menthol cigarettes today and Alabama seems to be trying to smoke every single one they can before the cut-off.
I head back into the green room to feel the temperature and Blake Gallant introduces me to Davis Little of Little Raine Band. He is going to be sitting in on a couple of tunes later in the show and we hit it off immediately. We chat about Backup Planet and CBDB and the odd universal convergence of those two bands. We reminisce about the old tours with those bands co-headlining, a tour that ended up happening in bars but should have been performed in stadiums.
We are giddy to see BP reunite in the studio in May for Blake’s solo project, a project that coincidentally I’ll be contributing some spoken word on.
I guess the feeling I have, the handle, the angle, whatever you want to call it, is that for all of our lives the world has just kept on turning. Bands have come together and broken up, friends have been made and lost, egos have grown and been crushed, but through it all the world just kept on turning. Until last year. Covid has been an experience that no one – musician, journalist, photographer, producer, engineer or music fan could have been fully prepared for – and so despite the release of new music, without the live center-point to bring it all together, it has felt like the world just stopped.
And for a bunch of people whose passion constantly has them on the go what could be more unnerving?
Who knows – it’s probably something really deep to think about if you have shit for brains and there isn’t a second set starting but I didn’t come here to relive the trauma of 2020. CBDB burns through a crowd-pleasing second set that includes Davis Little shredding along to Dude Looks Like a Lady and a tease with no satisfaction of Stuffed Avocados. The rain begins to fall and while some of the audience seek the shelter of the small trees near the bar it doesn’t seem to have any other effect on dampening anyone’s spirit.
When it’s all said and done, Set 2 in the books, raucous encore called for and fulfilled with an Electric Light Orchestra cover, I find myself in a much more crowded green room where pretty much everyone seems to be trying to process their emotions from the evening. My friend Marley is speaking to Blake and Cy Simonton.
“Did y’all see what you just did to those people out there? There were people crying in front of the stage.”
I turn my head to wipe my eyes. No point in calling attention to the fact that there are people crying in the green room too.