The lights dimmed, the curtain came up, and there he was, smiling from ear to ear. "Hello, folks. I'm Joe Ely. We're really excited to be playing for you tonight." It was a bit odd, I thought, since we were the ones who should be happy to see the man.
But then they started playing, and for the next two-plus hours, I understood why he was so excited.
Accompanying Ely on stage were guitar virtuoso David Grissom, rhythm section Davis McLarty and Jimmy Pettit, and legendary saxophonist Bobby Keys. Don't know Bobby Keys? Yes you do. If you've ever listened to the Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar, then you know his stock and trade well. Keys is a man who's sat in with virtually everyone in rock and roll, and on this night, we were fortunate to be along for the ride.
Keys and Grissom traded chops on classics like Cool Rockin' Loretta, Lord of the Highway, The Road Goes on Forever, All Just To Get To You, Oh Boy, Not Fade Away, and Dallas (of course). But the show stealer was the band's gorgeous rendition of Letter to L.A., which was at once soothing and poignant.
Thankfully, the crowd of 50- and 60-somethings eventually got into the swing of it, politely swaying to the music, and even moving up to the front. It seemed a bit of an older crowd to us, but then again, Joe Ely is no spring chicken, either (nor am I, alas). But on this evening, this panhandle prince and his band played like testosterone-fueled 20-year-olds with nothing to prove. They made it look easy -- effortless even.