LIVE: David Bromberg’s Birthday Bash @ The Egg, 12/04/2021
Saturday night’s David Bromberg Birthday Bash concert at The Egg was a three-hour tour de force by Woodstock’s folk legacy artists confirming the region’s place in folk music’s colorful heritage. The first set was a front porch jam session without the railing. These people aren’t family by blood but by the blood, sweat and tears of decades in the music “business” that’s less business than a love and addiction to playing.
The highlight of the evening was Teresa Williams’ version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darlin’ Be Home Soon” with its poignant lyric:
I know that it’s time you must leave
But darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
Spoonful band leader John Sebastian sang the number at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 as a last-minute stand-in for Tim Harden. Teresa’s version gave me chills and bested the original. She did it as an introduction to Sebastian’s appearance Saturday night. He’s long since lost his singing voice and performed on harmonica and guitar only.
Jimmy Vivino was the surprise of the night for me. I’d always thought of him as being a TV staple (He was the music director of Conan’s late night TV show from 2010 to 2018), a city boy serving up an eclectic talent on guitar but with a concert-canyon soul that was manufactured for a late-night television audience. Boy, was I wrong.
Second only to Bromberg himself on this show, Jimmy Vivino provided some of the high points of the evening. Not often mentioned, he’s played gigs with seminal blues artists including Chuck Berry’s keyboard player and uncredited songwriter Johnnie Johnson, plus Hubert Sumlin, another little recognized guitarist who is critical to the development of Howlin’ Wolf’s electric Chicago sound.
Early in the first set, Vivino played a stunning resonator guitar solo on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “I Don’t Play No Rock and Roll” from McDowell’s 1969 album of the same name. On the contrary, Vivino told the audience, McDowell invented rock and roll.
At the 1970 Ann Arbor Blue Festival McDowell shared the stage with artists like Luther Allison and Johnny Winter and told me, “I’m playing the truth, and that guitar tell you the words just as I’m saying. I’m singing my own feelings.” I asked him if blues lyrics were changing, becoming more topical. “No,” he said, “The same old thing.”
Then I asked why young black kids don’t listen to the blues? “Because they ain’t got no sense. Look at it this way. You see many colored people. They don’t appreciate you – ignorant. They got this fast stuff. They haven’t thought about what’s happening.”
Other first set highlights included Vivino singing The Band song “Ophelia” and Teresa’s visceral vocal delivery on Memphis Minnie’s “Be My Chauffeur.”
The second set was an electric showcase of Bromberg’s colorful history as a singer/songwriter and beloved folk legacy whose career predates the Woodstock Festival. At any one time, there were as many as 10 musicians on stage at once including bass, drums, and a fiddle player.
As iconic as his guitar playing is, Bromberg’s patented quivery voice singing songs about women and his prowess or lack thereof with them was an added bonus with lyrics like: “The fourth time she let me go this month I packed up my bag and won’t hang around for number five” and “I must have jumped 10 foot in the air. When I came down she wasn’t there.” Or “Get your tongue out of my mouth ’cause I’m kissing you goodbye.” And finally “It’ll take a while before you find a man like me to curl your toes and roll your eyes back in your head.”
The standout song of this set featured five band members clapping and singing a cappella while gathered around a microphone that looked like it came from a 1920s radio studio.
The second encore was an acoustic number Bromberg bragged required no electricity and was delivered away from the mics by the whole ensemble.
David Bromberg’s Birthday Bash was a more and/or less three-hour folk orchestra extravaganza by Woodstock legends and near legends who obviously love one another and play like there’s no tomorrow because for some perhaps there won’t be.
String master Larry Campbell almost died from Covid. “It almost killed me,” he told me in an advance interview. “I can say it was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. I’m still recovering from it a year and a half later. Doing really well, but there are still taste and smell issues. Most of the damage done by this (virus) is neurological which means it heals but, because it’s neurological, it takes forever to heal. Most people that were healthy before the onset of this thing will get back to normal. It just takes time. And I’m feeling that.”
Campbell and wife Teresa both have been fully vaccinated including the booster. “It’s got nothing to do with politics. It’s the smart thing to do,” says Campbell. “We eradicated Polio and smallpox,” adds Teresa. “I mean give me the vaccine. I’ve gotten the vaccine, but at the very least I’ll die doing the right thing.”