Guy Clark at 70: Texas songwriting icon feted at sold-out, all-star show
Backstage at the Long Center on Tuesday night, a baker’s dozen of Grammy winners, hitmakers and Texas music icons were staring intently at a small, blurry monitor above a control board and straining to hear the echoing, almost indecipherable music coming from the stage.
Guy Clark was performing, and none of these musicians—stars themselves—wanted to miss a note.
Clark’s nine-song set was the capstone of a sold-out evening of luminous music, an all-star concert in honor of the Lone Star songwriting maestro who was celebrating his 70th birthday. (Additionally, the show was a fundraiser for the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University, as well as a release party for the two-disc homage to Clark, This One’s For Him).
Featuring performances by Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Shawn Colvin, Jack Ingram, Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Terri Hendrix, Radney Foster, J.T. Van Zandt II, the Trishas and more, the night had the feel of an A-list guitar pull, as each performance showcased another facet of Clark’s songwriting prowess.
There were plenty of affectionate tributes and shaggy-dog stories mixed in with the music. Before performing the waltz-flavored “Anyhow, I Love You,” Lovett confessed that without Clark’s early advocacy in Nashville, there would be no “Lyle Lovett.”
Ray Wylie Hubbard recounted an impromptu invitation to sit in with Clark and Townes Van Zandt at their show at a club in Dallas one night: “I was in the middle of a song and I look up, and there go Guy and Townes out the door and into a cab.”
Jack Ingram recalled with wry humor that in high school, his friends used to “get stupid and listen to Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen records. But I always wanted to get stupid and listen to Guy Clark records. I spent a lot of lonely Friday nights…”
Most affectingly, John Townes Van Zandt II, looking like a better-nourished reincarnation of his late father, recalled Clark as a sort of surrogate parent: “My dad and Guy were best friends. My dad was quick burning. Guy was stable and dependable. He was a lot of things my father wasn’t.”
Clark’s finely hewn songcraft was filtered through a score of memorable performances. Shawn Colvin’s voice floated like a seductive thread of smoke through “All He Wants Is You.” Jerry Jeff Walker’s effortlessly graceful vocals transformed “My Favorite Picture of You.” The elegant harmonies of the Trishas performing “She Ain’t Going Nowhere” stood in pointed contrast to Radney Foster’s elegiac rendition of “L.A. Freeway” and Rosie Flores’ rockabilly romp on “Baby Took A Limo To Memphis,” while Shawn Camp’s take on the downbeat “Homeless” was balanced by Terry Allen’s warmly affectionate “Old Friends.”
And then there was Clark himself. He muffed a couple of his own lyrics—the songwriters’ prerogative—but with his grave, yet sly demeanor and a swept-back mane of silvery hair that recalls an antebellum Senator, he was an effortlessly compelling figure onstage.
And there are, of course, those songs: “Texas 1947,” “Desperados Waiting For the Train,” “Randall Knife,” “Boats To Build.” It was a master’s class in songwriting. No wonder Clark’s co-stars were listening so raptly in the wings. Backstage, Crowell said aptly, “This feels like a pinnacle for Guy.”
At one point, the audience launched into a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday,” which lured the other performers back onto the stage to join in as Clark looked on—amused, abashed and affectionate, all at once.
“That kind of takes the edge off the set,” he joked. “I almost had a roll going.” But then, he murmured, “Sweet, sweet, sweet.”
It was every bit of that.