On a snowy, wintry night, I made the 90 mile trek to Louisville, KY to see a show that had all the potential in the world for me. I was on my way to see two of the best blues guitarists to ever grace our planet, Jonny Lang and Buddy Guy. The event was held at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. It’s a venue that I had never had the opportunity to see a show at and I must say, I couldn’t have been more impressed. From their art displays hanging prominently on the walls, to their suit and tie ushers, this place reeked of class. My personal favorite art display was The Coloured Gates of Louisville by artist John Chamberlain. Essentially, the piece consists of 10 car bodies, or their sheet metal at least, rolled up and displayed on the wall in a lunging pattern. I won’t get into the art world, as I am far from someone who knows art, but since my real job consists of building cars daily, the piece spoke to me.
After meeting up with photographer Jason Horne, we gathered up our tickets and headed towards our seats. This particular show was held in Whitney Hall at The Center. With its massive open air room, the sound just had to be tremendous. The acoustics seemed to be amazing no matter where you were. I think that I would have been just as happy on one of the multi-tiered balconies as I was on the floor where I was seated.
As Jason left to take the photos of the performance, it hit me that this would be my first show as a reviewer where I am not also the photographer. I was going to be able to fully focus on this show and give an in-depth look at the event. What happened? I suddenly found myself nervous, LOL. So, I did what anyone else would do when they are nervous, I found something to take my mind off things. I checked my Facebook…nothing but weather updates, which added to the worry of getting home. Enough of that! Let’s get this show going! Thankfully, the show was indeed about to start.
The lights dimmed and the band walked onto the stage. Everyone became quiet in anticipation, expecting a nice hello or a cordial introduction. Not happening, as you see in Jonny Lang’s world, he speaks through his instrument. There is no need for an introduction.
After hitting the first notes of “Don’t Stop (For Anything)” to open the show, I realized something that has never happened to me before. Five seconds into the show and a GUITAR has me covered in chills. I’m talking goosebumps from head to toe. Listen, I’ve witnessed some of the best guitarists in the world and NONE of them have ever done that to me. Jonny Lang walks out on stage, strikes a chord and I’m mesmerized. This. Is. Going. To. Be. Fun.
As the setlist moved onto “A Quitter Never Wins“, I noticed that the band was doing their own thing. Nothing flashy, just jamming. Why is this a significant point in this article? You see, Jonny Lang is an artist in every sense of the word. Every note, whether it be on his guitar or within his incredible vocal range, is not only heard, but seen and felt. You’ve heard the old saying that someone plays their heart out, well Jonny Lang is by far the best example I have ever seen of that. He’s captivating on stage and the band doesn’t need gimmicks to hold your attention like other bands or artists. Jonny and his ability to be seemingly lifted up by his own music on that stage is the show. It’s an incredible thing to witness.
Next up was “Turn Around” and that’s where I focused in on Jonny’s playing. Watching his every note, I noticed how he seamlessly switched from using his guitar pick to using his fingers. The sounds he was capable of creating with each technique became much more apparent as the song progressed. The song quickly became an extended jam session and Jonny seemingly got lost in his own music and moment. With his face towards the sky, Jonny began swaying back and forth, grimacing with every note, feeling the moment and playing spectacularly. Jonny had let the music overtake him. It was clearly obvious as the song ended and he walked to the microphone with the biggest grin of the night. It was an absolute perfect example of the power of music. Simply amazing.
As I mentioned the multi-tiered seating before, it would come into play before the next song. Jonny took a moment to introduce his band and when he did, the house lights came up. Jonny placed his hand over his eyes to shade them enough that he could take in the crowd. When he looked up and saw all the people on multiple levels and the different balconies, he said, “Oh wow. There’s people up there. It’s like The Muppets. (laughter) Sorry, that’s the first thing that came to mind.” That was a glimpse into the personality of Jonny Lang. He seems so genuine, so humble, and so grateful.
“Red Light” was up next and the set became much more personal for Jonny. As the song itself offers insight into the choices we all have to make in life, it’s also a look at the journey that he has taken in his own life. The band took the song into an extended jam, and Jonny added in a cry for help in the chorus, singing, “If there is a God out there, answer me.” It was a very powerful message. Jonny is a born again Christian, and a husband and father. Seeing him be a witness was an astounding thing. Most may be a Christian or have some sort of religious views, but in the music industry, talking about it is a bit taboo.
After ending “Red Light“, Jonny pointed to Dwan Hill on the keys. Signaling for the lighting guy to take away his spotlight for a moment, allowing Dwan to play a beautiful piece of music leading into one of my favorite songs, “That Great Day“. The song is about the day we all meet God and was really the only fitting song to continue Jonny’s story. It was a heartfelt rendition and a joyous moment for Jonny in the set. He was absolutely beaming with love after the song. From a spiritual standpoint, you could say that Jonny’s cup had runneth over.
Closing out the set was “Angel of Mercy“, which could obviously follow right along with the spiritual theme of the last two songs. Jonny took the time to turn the song into a showcase for his band, allowing Akil Thompson (guitar), Dwan Hill (keys), James Anton (bass) and Barry Alexander (drums) to each take a moment and showcase their skills. For me though, Jonny was still the show as he was encouraging each member to push themselves to go faster, harder, and to play better than they ever have.
To sum up the show, I think I’ll share what someone else said after the set. A gentleman in front of me said it best when he asked, “How hell does a skinny white boy from North Dakota have so much soul? So much fire? So much passion?” To which I replied, “I honestly have no clue, but I sure am glad he shares it.” His reply…”Amen.” Now that’s a show!