Following The Champion

I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe I did it, I can’t believe it’s over.  I just hope I’ll get a chance to do it again next year.  Can I wait that long?  I guess so.  It’s too far to drive back east and I’m not going to Europe.   His schedule is so intense.  I saw seven shows in eight days covering four big states (California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado).   Once again, I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t have any of his CD’s.  I just had a feeling, a feeling about him.  A couple years ago I heard a song by Johnny Cash, I See A Darkness.  I found out it’s a Will Oldham song that Cash covered.   After that, I tried to find information about Oldham.  I couldn’t find anything.  Later, I found out he goes by Palace, Palace Music, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, etc.  A few months ago, I was luckily reminded about him and noticed he was touring.  The tickets were cheap.  He played small venues.  Everything was sold out except one out of the way place, Los Osos, California.  

The first performance I saw was north of San Francisco in Santa Rosa at the Orchard Spotlight.  It was sold out months in advance.  I was so lucky to get a ticket a few days before the show.  The place only holds 150 people.  It’s an old church that someone converted into their home and a venue.  As we were waiting in line before it opened up, my friend Bonnie that went with me to the show is diabetic and she needed some sugar.   They sent me into the house, and out back through the screen door to find the concession stand.  That’s when I first saw Will, sitting at the kitchen table.  Cheyenne was sitting with him.  When I first saw him sitting there, I thought, my gosh is that Will?   I walked by barely glancing at him and smiling.  I didn’t want to be intrusive.  The rest of the band was sitting out back on the porch. 

He was very accessible during the tour.  Too bad I didn’t access him!  After the shows, a lot of times he would be breaking down the equipment and stopping to talk with everyone.  He had to have noticed me; I stood directly in front of him for every performance, except the first one.  At one point I was back by the CD’s trying to figure out which one to buy, he was standing nearby so I asked his opinion.  He suggested, Lie Down In The Light, I already bought that one the night before, and so next he chose, Ease Down The Road.  I went on to tell him how great it was that he was selling albums, his newest CD was available on vinyl.  I think I scared him because I have a tendency to get a little over enthusiastic.  He stepped back a bit and got a worried look on his face! 

I can’t believe how incredible he is.  The little dance he does on stage.  He often stands on one leg with bent knee, in a kind of yoga pose.  He expresses his feelings with his arms and hands as he sings, his palm raised in a matador fashion.  He stomps back and forth sometimes kicking the wall.  He wears a baseball cap pulled down screening his eyes.  He doesn’t seem to look at anyone when he sings, he just sings out into the void.  He’ll interact with you though.  I think he likes hecklers.  He almost always had some joke to tell.  Funny guy.  At one point during the Denver show, he strikes this seductive pose, looking over his right shoulder, he bends one knee a little and cocks his pelvis forward as he begins to undo his pants…I practically covered my eyes at that point…he goes on to say it was so cold this morning when he woke up (it had snowed in Denver) that he was wearing long johns.  He took his pants off on stage.  I got to see Will Oldham perform in Denver in his royal blue long johns!  Can anybody beat that?!

I did speak to him after a show once.  It was only because I wanted a set list.  I saw Cheyenne had left hers on the stage.  He was looking at me.  I was looking at him.  He came over to talk to me finally, but I just asked him if I could have Cheyenne’s set list.  He went to grab it for me but someone had already taken it.  Then we got into a conversation.  He held onto my hands, as I held onto his.  He looked me in the eyes.  It was a penetrating look.  That’s when I noticed the bluest and deepest eyes, I’ve ever seen.  I told him I would try to get a set list at the next couple shows that I was going to Santa Fe and Denver.  He was enthusiastic to hear I was continuing on.  He asked where I was from.  We talked about Utah.  I told him he was welcome anytime.  It was a nice conversation.  That show was a late show.  There was some festival happening downtown Phoenix, and we didn’t get out until almost three.  I was so hyped after talking with him that I drove until five that morning.  I slept outside of Flagstaff.  I found the perfect wilderness road that even had a sign posted that said; welcome, enjoy your stay! 

I didn’t stay in one hotel, thank God.  Hotels are so lonely.  I have a futon bed in the back of my vehicle.  It’s kind of like a home away from home, very comfortable.  Mostly I stayed with friends and family along the way.  They were short visits, but it was nice to visit all the same.  Sometimes short visits are best.  I did a lot of hiking.  I hiked in the redwoods north of San Francisco.  I camped at the beach, driving through Big Sur, hiking on the sand dunes and through the Eucalyptus trees.  I hiked above the Hollywood hills.  I stopped at a petrified forest in Arizona and soaked in the most beautiful hot springs in Happy Valley, Colorado.   

Will is kind of funny.  He only gently strums a little at the strings of his guitar, picks a few notes occasionally with his French manicured nails.  Emmett is the one who plays lead.  Will has such a great feeling with his band.  You can see the love between them on stage.  Emmett’s smile is the sweetest smile I’ve seen, like a child.  They play like they are on the play ground, really having fun.  Someone yelled out during a show that Cheyenne is an angel.  She really is.  She is so beautiful.  Her features are so soft.  She sings without effort, the sweetest mountain voice, a lovely contrast, accompaniment to Will, not to mention her fiddle.  I talked with the drummer, Jim White, he actually plays in The Dirty Three with Warren Ellis, he’s in a few bands.  They couldn’t help but have a great time on stage.  It hasn’t been since The Grateful Dead in the ‘80’s that I’ve seen such a varied set list.  Every show was different.  I got the master list from John in Santa Fe, he played mandolin with them for a week only and then went back to Kentucky.  There were about 70 songs on that master set list.  It was exceptional.  And then there was Josh on stand up bass.  Another woman, Cathy McCarthy sat in on the show at Santa Rosa.  I think that is why they played there.  She must have sung with Will before, super powerful.  I can’t forget to mention the guy they picked up off the street corner in LA, a sax player who sat in on a few songs.  And what could I actually say about the words.   He has a depth and a simplicity that I appreciate.  I love it when Will sings and his voice cracks.  It’s like you can recognize the perfection in the faults.  The beauty!


Here’s the set list from Santa Fe, April 4th.  I think I’m missing three of the encore songs.

Lessons From What’s Poor

Agnes, Queen of Sorrow


A King at Night

I Don’t Belong to Anyone

Arms Will Hold You

A Minor Place

So Everyone


Silver Threads

Face Him

Ain’t You Wealthy


Glory Goes > You Can’t Hurt Me

Death to Everyone

Beware Your Only Friend

After I Made Love to You

You Don’t Love Me

Keep Eye On

Club Mekon

Death Final

Ain’t Afraid of Me


Here’s the Master List, if anyone happens to be interested:

Anit afraid of me, aint you wealthy, a king at night, all around, at break of day, after I made love to you, a minor place, a wolf amongst wolves, beware your only friend, big Friday, boats, brute choir, champion, club mekon, cycles, death to everyone, death final, disorder, easy does it, even if I love> carless love, gods small song, glory goes, grand dark feeling of emptiness, gulf shores, hard life, heart’s arms, holly home, how bout thanks, horses, I am drinking again, I am goodbye, I called you back I don’t belong to anyone, I’ll be glad, I’m still in love, I see a darkness, I send my love to you, I was drunk at the pulpit, I won’t ask again, jolly 2, keep eye on other’s gain, king at night, the lions lair, lie down in the light, love comes to me, more bro ride, missing one, may it always be, my life’s work, no bad news, only someone running, silver threads, still in love with every girl,  strange form of life, so everyone, the girl and me, the letting go, for every field there is a mole, there is something I have to say, the world’s greatest, the seedling, what are you singing, where is the puzzle, willow trees bend, without work you have nothing, you are lost, you can’t hurt me, you don’t love me, you want that picture.

Note:  Some songs I remembered them playing, weren’t on the master list, I added them in, so this list is more than likely not actually complete.


P.S. I can’t forget to mention Jessie.  He was the nicest of all.  He introduced himself to me from the first show.  He thought I was strange to follow the tour without having any of the CD’s.  He gave me discounts on the merchandise to help out with my gas expense.  Isn’t that kind hearted.  He loved the music too.

P.P.S.  I just have one more thing to say.  I loved the San Francisco crowd!  I appreciated their respect.  It’s weird to experience the different venues.  El Rey in LA should not be a music venue at all, terrible sound.  The acoustics at Modified in Phoenix was incredible.  It just blows my mind how anyone can talk while the music is playing.  Sometimes it’s the bar that is not situated right and you can hear bottles crashing and loud voices.  Blue Bird in Denver you guys need to watch the way you throw your cans during a show, especially during those quiet, soft songs.  Thank you San Francisco, The Filmore, you could hear a pin drop the place was so fantastic, everyone so respectful.  They even gave us posters commemorating the show and an apple for our effort! Sweet! 


Sat 4/11/2009 9:12 AM