CMAC Arts Center in Canandaigua, NY
At 6:30 on the dot (or in this case, the polka dot) Buddy’s band fire up, to an auditorium that is barely one third full, out strides the man himself. If there’s one thing Buddy knows, it’s how to work a crowd. Even if it’s still daylight, most are still at the bar, and you are set up ten feet from the front of the stage.
Buddy works the “room”, exhorting one and all to sing along (and “not to f it up”). It works, and as more take their seats the better it gets. No precious promotion of the last album – he plays the songs he knows are most likely to be recognized. Opening with “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues”, he gallops on into “Hoochie Coochie Man”, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” ,“Who’s Making Love To Your Old Woman” and “Cheaper To Keep Her” where he points out he didn’t write it, he just sings it. Anyone still on the fence is won over when Buddy strides out into the crowd to get up close and personal -well, with those of us in the more expensive seats anyway. I admit it – I was a foot away from Buddy Fucking Guy! Buddy exits to a standing ovation.
Next up, after just a 15 minute break are Gov’t Mule. Truth be told, my main reason for going. And sadly, I’m a bit underwhelmed. After Guy’s showboating Mule are just a little too detached. Interaction with the crowd is limited to a few words here and there, songs are played without introduction. Warren changes guitar after pretty much each song and no matter what his tech does, he seems to have to give each one a final tune. It’s not that they didn’t play well – some stunning slide on “Mule” and a glorious “Dreams”, a rousing “Lola Leave Your Light On”. But playing isn’t the same as performing.
It may have been Mule that tempted me to go, but the chance to see Skynyrd, even if Gary Rossington is the only remaining “original”, was the icing on the donkey. Officially it’s the “Last of the Street Survivors” tour, a farewell that started in May 2018 (dates have just been added that take the tour into November). Unofficially a fellow gig goer tells me it’s the “Boost the 401k (pension fund) Tour”. The band’s reception is more akin to a form of mass worship. Everyone knows what they are there for, and no one is going home disappointed.
Johnny Van Zandt has fronted the band longer than founder and brother Ronnie, and he’s the focal point, even if it’s Rickey Medlocke – tall, gaunt, with a shock of white hair and unbowed on stage by age or playing a Gibson Explorer – that draws the eye. The 15 song set list is pretty much 1976’s “One More From The Road” with “Searching”, “Crossroads” and “T For Texas” making way for “Skynyrd Nation” and “That Smell” and “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”. Van Zandt and Medlocke dart around the stage and seem to be having a blast, whilst the rest of the band only step out for choreographed moves or solos. Rossington is more understated, maybe he’s just not having so much fun. If it looked like a chore for anyone it was him.
After “Sweet Home Alabama” the band quit the stage but everyone knows there will be an encore, and everyone knows what it will be. Van Zant sings the initial verses before planting the mic stand stage front and center with brother Ronnies hat on top, the hammyness of the staging stopping short of turning to full cheese when a video of Ronnie takes over the vocal. It’s well done when it could easily have been over done. The Skynyrd Nation heads home, happy, homage paid.
One MAGA t shirt, one NRA. Mostly over 60 and some of the most falling over drunk by the end I’ve ever seen at a gig. But all well behaved, and a venue with fantastic sound and really friendly staff
It made me think..
A few more bands need to take a leaf out of Buddy’s book.