Hooo-eeee, readers, I don’t mind telling you, it’s been a hell of a time finding true north on my Rumpus Compass this week—there’s just too much stuff going on! So instead of settling for two rinky-dink little Spotlights to tell you where to scratch up the action, I’ve decided to do about four Mini-Mag lights’ worth of illuminations to help you get your thing together real proper-like, entertainmentally speaking. I mean, Jiminy Christmas, you can’t swing a dead cat this week without smacking a country music legend, a punk rock legend, a banjo legend or a bunch of dudes who wrote “The Reaper.” Hearken unto those dudes, too, for neither should you fear a little winnowing of ye olde entertainment chaff by me, the Calendar Kid!
These are the terms: I can think of ten good reasons to go see Willie Nelson for every slim Yankee frogskin they’re asking you to lay down to see him at Fort Missoula. First and foremost among them is that the man is an American legend with a heart as big as all outdoors. He is the everyman’s everyman, a tireless advocate for the American farmer. A farmer himself. He once got high on the roof of the White House. Another time he wrote a polite letter to a snarky TV talk show type who thought it was great sport to tell jokes about his bathing habits. I’m asking you nicely, please stop, was the gist of the letter, because it’s bothering my children. Plus he’s written some of the most mind-sticking songs in the Big American Songbook, and he’s a proper spokesman for the beautiful simplicity of country music under the increasingly popular blanket of rock production and horrible, overproduced drums. Plus, come to find out, his songs sound good in almost any language! I recently saw a strapping big fieldhand of a Finn get up and sing “Always on My Mind” at a Helsinki karaoke bar, translating extemporaneously as he tumbled from verse to chorus, and it was every bit as stirring as the original. Perhaps even more so. The room went wild, and, curiously, I’d never felt so close to Texas! Even in Finland, you see, Willie Nelson hangs the sun up in the morning and tucks it in at night. Willie Nelson will be performing at the Fort Missoula Amphitheatre this Saturday at 8 PM. Tickets are $26.
If you’re up for a slightly longer drive, I’ve got two words why you should go see Blue Öyster Cult at Big Mountain in Whitefish: Do dah dee dah, doo dah dah, doo dah dah…Seasons don’t fear the Reaper, nor do the wind and the sun and the rain…we can be like they are… If you spent most of the late ’60s and early ’70s holed up in a basement staring at your blacklight Sabbath posters, that was some really heavy stuff! Beyond merely handing any shaggy teen swinger worth a bell-bottomed tinker’s damn one of the prettier melodies with which to pick up the sunburst acoustic and woo women at suburban makeout parties, the lyrics and disembodied furry vocals of the BÖC added some crazy new angles to the cerebral stoner cosmology that began to take shape in the 1970s. Tell you what, you’d never catch America writing songs like “The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein’s Castle at Weisseria” or penning lyrics like: “I plot your rubric scarab.” Befuddled genius! No wonder your mom never liked them! And, like Willie Nelson, the tales actually gain something in the telling; as BÖC tunes are handed down to a new generation of bands, the diabolical brilliance of our forebears becomes that much more obvious. Witness of the Fu Manchu’s marauding rundown of BÖC’s “Godzilla” (“Oh no! There goes To-kee-oo! Godzilla!”) or the evergreen fIREHOSE show-closer, an incendiary cover of BÖC’s “The Red and the Black” (about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, oddly enough, not the Stendhal novel of the same name). I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’ for you… If it was anyone but Willie, man, I’d be thumbing a lift, stealing a moped to get to Big Mountain, whatever it took. Tickets for Blue Öyster Cult are $18 in advance, $21 day of show. Gates open at 6 PM, music starts at 7:30.
Following this unseasonably jam-packed Saturday, a slight cool front will be moving in on Sunday, followed by a warming trend on Tuesday evening, when Béla Fleck and his Flecktones turn on the Ozark heat in the UM University Center Ballroom. New York native Fleck picked up the banjo when he was 15, his life changed forever by the mountain daredevilry of Flat & Scruggs, and he broke his first stylistic boundary before he got out of high school—playing be-bop on the banjo, if you can imagine such a thing! It’s interesting that he would be named Béla in honor of one of the 20th century Hungarians of international reputation (Bartok, not Lugosi) because just as that composer spent much of his career weaving the folk melodies of his rural countrymen into his oeuvre, Fleck himself has distinguished himself as a banjo player not merely through his technical proficiency, but also by effortlessly plaiting damn near everyone’s music into his prodigious output. To date (and probably in the foreseeable perpetuity), Fleck is the only artist to have been nominated for Grammy awards in the jazz, bluegrass, pop, country, spoken word, Christian, composition and world music categories. The Flecktones, they aren’t exactly slouches, either; watch especially for thousand-fingered multi-instrumentalist RoyEl, who actually invented many of the instruments he plays on, including the Drumitar. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones perform in the UM UC Ballroom on Tuesday at 8 PM. Ticket prices are set at $20 general, $18 for students.
Last but not least: founding member of L.A. punk legends X, sometime actor and songwriter par excellence—the indefatigable John Doe pays Missoula a very special visit (his first?) to Missoula next Wednesday. Doe’s punk rock credentials are impeccable—the first two Ray Manzarek-produced X albums are among the finest punk records ever—but in recent years he’s taken the pace down a notch or two and focused on the sophisticated killer hooks that distinguished even the least distinguished albums in the X catalogue. His new band, the slackadaisically named John Doe Thing, delivers on the promise of the slower X stuff of the olden days. Bring your listening ears, Jay’s fans. Personally, I’m holding out for a live version of “4th of July,” the Dave Alvin-penned ballad that, in Doe’s capable hands, became the best X song they never wrote. Sing along if you know the words. John Doe and his Thing are playing at Jay’s Upstairs next Wednesday at 10 PM. Cover TBA.