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Dwight Yoakam Rocks Texas Rodeo

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Throwing Notes Like a Bull Throwing Cowboys 

By Greg Moses

AUSTIN, Texas -- At the Star of Texas Rodeo finals on Sunday evening the real trophy belonged to the bulls who were throwing off champion riders like raindrops off speeding trains. And so it seemed like Dwight Yoakam took the stage like a bull off the gate, throwing his rockin brand of country music so hot and loud that you could tell he didn't care very much whether you could, or could not, hang on for the ride.

Within seconds of hitting the stage, and without so much as a howdy, Dwight and his four-piece band threw down the challenge of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music," letting everyone know right away what mood to get in. With electric volumes maxxed out, and Dwight's twangin voice soundin like the seventh string of an electric banjo, the boys played refrain after refrain after refrain. Then song after song after song. 

If you found yourself wondering when is this show going to slow down? you'd just waste time thinking about things you cannot control. Because the boys just played hit after favorite after hit until you finally realized that the whole purpose of the thang was to pack the show so full of sound that it would burst the arena at the seams. And the bursting time came, too, right at the word "Sookie!" 

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Photograph of Dwight Yoakam taken at The Sage Gateshead in July 2006 by Neil Evans

Well, the last time Dwight played the rodeo, he was good, but not this good. Last time it was like he was letting us know he was coming back. This time he was back all the way. Of course he has a terrific concert voice in the style of folk roots singing like the kind Lomax recorded when he was skipping out on philosophy lessons during the dust bowl. And whenever D-wight picks up an old Buck Owens tune like "Streets of Bakersfield," well you can feel his throat clutching into fifth gear. 

Not sure what hit or favorite he left out. Maybe "Long White Cadillac," maybe because it was just a touch too melancholy. But he did open throttle with hits like "Guitars, Cadillacs, and Hillbilly Music" or "Thousand Miles from Nowhere" switching them between favorite covers like "Streets of Bakersfield" and "Little Sister." In one instance he put the Buck Owens song right in the middle of (hey mister) "Turn it On, Turn it Up, Turn Me Loose." That's when I thought: "this show is going to Vegas!" So we'll see. 

And it was finally in the middle of "Streets of Bakersfield" that Dwight called out to the audience, stopping at the mention of "San Francisco" to declare that it would be "sacreligious" to not change the lyrics a bit. So "I went down to the Star of Texas Rodeo" is a line he played with a couple of times, amusing himself and the audience with the staccato sound of it, before settling on "down to Austin" where he could finally spend that legendary "night there in the can." 

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All the while, Dwight was changing guitars faster than NASCAR tires between peeled-out laps. And the climax of it all came of course in the middle of "Fast as You" -- a song that got so revved up musically that I had to close my eyes and let whirl. At "Sookie!" there was one more guitar change in mid song and one more jam that left you feeling like you hardly ever feel in these shortened rodeo shows, which is to say, satisfied. 

Then there was a sweet goodbye in the form of "Suspicious Minds" with Dwight crossing the stage to gesture goodbye or thank you or namaste to a spellbound fan standing in the dirt on the rodeo ground, just a few feet from the slow-spinning stage. God, there were some beauties loosed 'neath the stars of Texas that day.

 

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Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. And he is co-editor with Gail Presbey of a new collection of peace (more...)
 

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