I first heard of Lyle Lovett when he was mentioned as Mary Chapin Carpenter’s fantasy man in I Feel Lucky. Between that and a career of both music and acting spanning almost 40 years, there was no doubt of Lyle Lovett’s legend status when he was announced as part of the C2C Festival lineup. There was however doubt as to whether I (part of the heathen contemporary county crowd) would appreciate his set.
When Lyle appeared on the main stage after a rousing Drake White show (with a younger, beardier incarnation of The Big Fire band) and after a breathtaking Ashley McBryde set, he was already set apart. Some, unwilling to try something they hadn’t heard on Chris Country Radio’s 5 at 5, decided this would be a good time to pop out for a hotdog. They were better than the girls in front of us who decided to stay inside the arena but conduct a tedious – and very loud – conversation about their Jack Russell.
But most sat respectfully with an open mind and were rewarded with unparalleled musicianship and an understanding of why his career has endured. Lyle Lovett and his big band delivered a seamless fusion of country, blues and gospel – a compendium of the sounds of The South. We veered into surrealism with the part poetry, part rant of Here I Am and into comedy with My Baby Don’t Tolerate, all delivered with the laid-back charm that once wooed Julia Roberts.
Whether or not Lyle’s music was to your taste (Keith Urban controversially wasn’t to mine) there were a lot of life lessons to be gleaned from this Texan gent. I am referring to lessons from his conduct and stagecraft, rather than those in his playful lyrics like “Pants is Overrated”. Please wear pants.
1. Don’t be afraid to share the limelight
In an interview before the show, Lyle explained that when trying to condense his lengthy career into 70 minutes, he chooses a set list that gives every member of his band a chance to shine. On stage that night, his band were celebrated as much as him; the flying fingers on the keys as Lyle looked on proudly or formidable vocalist Francine Reed who led Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues while Lyle nipped off stage to let her completely own it.
2. Don’t be all hat and no cowboy
Before a note was played, Lyle and his band had already made an impression. They’d appeared looking like a Reservoir Dogs poster in suits and skinny ties, all the more striking because this was a country concert and I’d never seen a fiddle played so passionately by someone looking like a mafia accountant. In a world where so many people look ‘country’ but fail to deliver anything that a pop singer couldn’t have done better, Lyle showed that his Texas credentials don’t need a Stetson to prove them. There’s probably also a lesson in there about ironing my own clothes more thoroughly.
3. Respect your elders
When the lights came up on Lyle Lovett, the south London geezer next to me insightfully announced “now here’s a bloke who’s been about for a few years”. I’d also whispered that Francine looked a lot like my nan. These were the grownups, and while we could’ve passed any one of the members in Lyle’s band in the street outside the O2 without giving them a second thought, I expect that these were the crew any musicians in the crowd would’ve been taking notes from. It turns out you don’t need a statement beard and dramatic facial expressions to play the drums well.
4. Foster True Friendships
Lyle first met singer Francine in 1984; his drummer has been playing with him since 1991. The mutual respect was evident on the stage and – matching suits aside – this wasn’t about image. It’s a reminder to cherish old friends, especially since they know where you’ve buried the bodies.
5. Never get too big for your boots
Gracious is the adjective I’d use to best describe Lyle. The cynic in me prays it wasn’t all an act. On stage he enthused about “the great Chris Stapleton”. But even offstage, there was a humility as he explained never going over your allotted time in a multi-act line up out of respect for everyone else, from the other artists to the organisers. It’s probably that professionalism that keeps people working with you for four decades.
So, even if I might not have bought tickets to a Lyle Lovett concert, I hope the C2C organisers will keep on booking, and honouring, those who’ve stood the test of time; the Marty Stuarts, Rebas and Vince Gills we’ve seen in former years. I’ve still got a lot to learn.
(Photos: Featured Lyle Lovett image courtesy of Aron Klein, the rest courtesy of my knackered phone’s camera!)