The Revelry doesn’t work against the acts they bring in. They understand how to set the tone of a performance and play music between acts that compliment the styles of the evening. When a venue panders to the few in a room and plays today’s pop country hits in between Real Country Artists sets, it doesn’t “keep everybody happy.” It’s an act of disrespect to the artist and their fight for authenticity and quality. It creates a missing piece in an environment that could otherwise be complete. It’s like keeping the TV’s on during a performance. It’s the difference between a live music venue and a venue that wants to have live music but doesn’t have the guts to properly pull it off.

The Revelry is playing Haggard.

The gaps in the standing crowd are filled. To my left are Alex and Laura, another couple I’ve just finished having the pleasure of sharing my story with. Like a taxi-driver that learned to speak english by listening to the White Album, Alex knows about Alberta and Saskatchewan through listening to Corb Lund. Corb’s consistent pursuit of America has educated a southern listenership and opened major doors for players such as myself. He returns the favour by bringing acts such as Hayes, American Aquarium, and The Turnpike Troubadours to perform his sold out shows across Canada. The perfect formula. Alex asks if I know Corb, rethinking my 2012 CCMA experience, I say yes. Kelly and Lily are at my six o’clock and Stumbling Mary with her mean-mug hubby are to my right. A double-date has pushed themselves in-front of me, the boys rather reserved in the move but their lady-friends unapologetic. A brunette with a bob-cut and a blonde in a pony-tail. The brunette’s man has a nice white collared shirt tucked in and the blonde’s is in a camo hat. Seeing his back pocket Skoal-ring, I want to tap him and request a hit for the show. The girls are taking pictures of themselves with my cowboy hat popping over their shoulders.

Carll’s stage is quaint. A tele player will split duties on pedal steel. No bassist. A percussionist, stage left. A looming Hayes Carll steps out with his band to the approval of a crowd. He’s wearing our national outfit of a denim snapshirt and jeans. Straight from the cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown album.

Fan favourite, “Beaumont” begins his performance. A pocket groove with percussionist using a string of seashells on the snare creating a washy accent. Carll admits the over-romanticization in his writing on the town. They bust into the duet “Bible on the Dash”. Corb fan, Alex, looks back and gives me the thumbs up. Stumbling Mary departs her husbands grip and charges through to the stage to slap the ass of the photographer shooting the night. He jumps and doesn’t know quite what the make of her. I don’t either. A broom head is being used on the snare and Carll sings “…let the world worry, ’cause you and me won’t.” “Love is So Easy”, the first song performed off his new record Lovers and Leavers.

Carll became synonymous with wit. A few albums where the material was less a serious nature but an intelligent display of wordsmith storytelling. Lovers and Leavers is a statement. Hayes made himself a songwriter’s songwriter with it. For any that didn’t “get it”, it became a songwriter’s favourite Hayes Carll record. There won’t be a stronger 2016 release.

Hayes won’t deny a type of crowd he shares with the worshipped, Ray Wylie Hubbard, playing the sing-a-long of the evening written with Mr. Hubbard, “Drunken Poets Dream”. He then gives me what I came to hear. “Sake of the Song”.

A title-homage to Townes Van Zandt’s opening track on his self-titled release, Carll’s ability is alongside his Texas Songwriting Compeers. His best, puts him in fighting distance within Nelson and Kristofferson, Van Zandt and Earle. A swing away from Guy Clark. It was Carll’s songwriter lineage that was my first initiation into the craft to later find Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rodney Crowell, Jack Ingram, Waylon Jennings, Robert Earle Keen, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Billy Joe Shaver, Jerry Jeff Walker and the gem that remained hidden for so long, James McMurtry. All from the great state of Texas.

“Sake of the Song” could have been written by any one of them but the Spirit chose Hayes Carll and Darrell Scott, another songwriting great. It’s flawless, giving support to any path in the industry a songwriter chooses as long as it’s in the name of Truth. It’s the song on Lovers and Leavers, that whenever comes on I stop whatever I’m engaged in and simply listen. Carll plays it to me.

“Wild as a Turkey”, crowd stomps. “The Magic Kid”, crowd imagines. “Live Free or Die”, crowd chuckles. “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” and the pounding “KMAG YOYO”. I smell baby powder and realize that the harder the woman in-front of me thrusts herself in dance, the more the dry floral scent dries out my nostrils.

We’re enlightened with the yet to be recorded, “Jesus and Elvis”.

“I Gotta Gig” and Stumbling Mary breaks her husband’s grip. She creates a bubble at the front of the stage, turns her back to the band and drapes herself backwards over the monitors. Hayes’ expression defines the moment. He finishes the song by saying that’s one of his favourite moves, that, and people turning their back to him with a camera taking a picture of the crowd. Humour and Truth. No sooner does Stumbling Mary return to her mean-mug hubby, she’s rubbing my back during “Chances Are”. I’m a sucker for a back scratch. She doesn’t quite fulfill my needs but offers what I find depraving yet motherly. Kind of like a heifer licking the wrong calf. Harmless. Some guy takes the silence following the applause and dedicates the song to Guy Clark. That rite is reserved for Carll and again, his expression defines the moment.

“Girl Downtown”, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, “Willing To Love Again”. All Trouble in Mind cuts. Jonas would dig. “Hard Out Here”. Yes it is.

Ironically, “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long”. No, Carll enjoyed himself tonight. We all know the drill but Carll skips the motions and remains on stage following the set’s last song to move into the “encore”. He now dedicates a song to Clark. A co-write with the great, himself. “Rivertown”. Covers “Dublin Blues” and finishes with “Stomp and Holler”.

My trip has become spiritual and Hayes honours it by refraining from playing his hit “She Left Me For Jesus”.

Half the room clears and the other half hang around. I make my way to the back with my vinyl copy of Lovers and Leavers. I saved it’s purchase for a time when Carll would be present. I offer my appreciation for the writing and the stripped production. We chat about the night Stompin’ Tom Connors died, jarring his memory about me. I indulge him with his importance in my Quest for the Spirit of Real Country Music and we part. Barham lets me know of his showcase at Americanafest in Nashville and I let him know I’ll make it out.

Sitting in the van, I consider spending the night. It’s a safe little parking lot in a good area of town. I’m valid until 6 am, my usual time of departure. This notion is enforced by a childhood story told by both my mother and father about their Chattanooga experience on New Year’s Eve 1979. It included a wheel bearing going on my mom’s 1976 Chrysler Le Baron north of Chattanooga while en route to Tampa, Florida. Driving would have been my Dad’s influence. It ends with them sleeping on a strangers floor in the hills with instructions of who and who not to kill if there’s a knock at the front door in the night. My dad would have slept soundly and mom, without a wink. She wanted to leave but their hosts advised them it wasn’t in their best interest.

I have yet to listen to BJ Barham’s new album and it’s best done in transit. Notions aside, I hit the road into the night. I have two tickets to Sturgill Simpson in Ashland, KY tomorrow night and need to find someone to go with me.

Hayes