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Across the state of Iowa….legends in the making to legends

Posted in Band Review with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

‘Twas a weekend of foot stomping, knee slapping, good time music. As I traveled the length of Iowa, crossing both the Missouri and the Mississippi to see William Elliott Whitmore then Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson I found a lot of time to reflect. Whitmore’s songs are stories that draw you in like an old friend, patting you on the back in understanding, while boiling your blood urging you to fight the injustices. His voice stands out as one that is of a time of Haggard and Kristofferson. In fact, for years while listening to Whitmore I imagined a white haired man with a face weathered from the lessons that he sung. Perhaps it’s because his voice and songs are timeless…as valid today as they would have been forty years ago and will be forty years from now. This was reflected in the various faces that crowded the stage to catch a glimpse of Whitmore in action. Old men and women who grew up listening to the legends stood elbow to elbow with young-ens barely old enough to legally be in attendance, but all differences were left at the doorway as they clapped, stomped, and sang their hearts out to a man that sung his stories. In many ways, Whitmore ranks right up there with the legends of Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. The music is much the same, it’s the actual performances that varied.

William Elliott Whitmore

Whitmore played in a small venue, The Washington, in Burlington, Iowa along with David Zollo. As Zollo played, I found myself watching the crowd that had assembled. It was clear from the start they weren’t there for the opening act. There was anticipation in the crowd and as every song drew to a close they shuffled forward one by one. It was as if they knew a secret that I didn’t know. Granted, I’d heard that Whitmore put on a hell of a show, which is why I willing jumped into my car for a three hour car ride in-between snow storms. To add to the anticipation, Whitmore stood shoulder to shoulder with the crowd watching Zollo’s performance and you could tell just from the way he reacted to the set that Whitmore is one of those true performers. It’s in the way he moves to the music. By the end of the first set when Whitmore took the stage there was shuffling and even some pushing as fans fought to get closer to the stage.

Two seconds after Whitmore picked up his guitar the crowd awoke as if they’d been hibernating for the winter. They shouted and stomped in tune to the music so that you could literally feel Whitmore’s songs vibrating through your body. The floor shook in perfect rhythm from song to song , not missing a beat as he picked up the pace and then slowed them down. He transitioned smoothly from the old, to the newer, to the newest, never once leaving the audience behind. A friend, also seeing him for the first time, told me she felt as if she was sitting around a campfire listening to a good friend sing, and even with the standing room only, shoulder to shoulder, crowd Whitmore is able to pull that feeling off. He pointed to people he knew, drew in those that seemed especially connected to the music, and fed right into the energy of the crowd. Encouraging them to let loose and step into the music. ┬áIt was easy to forget that you were amongst so many others, because everyone seemed connected and the connection was Whitmore. He definitely is able to pull together his fans and create an intimate atmosphere.

There seemed to be a homegrown pride that poured from the crowd as if Whitmore was one of there’s. I don’t know enough about Whitmore to know where this comes from, if it’s a local to that venue, that city or hell even the state of Iowa, but my guess is that it’s deeper than that. I’m dying to see him again in a different venue, but what we experienced is much of what others have written, so my guess is it’s simply Whitmore himself and goes back to the storytelling nature of his songs…..

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson

First off, I’m jealous of myself to be able to see these two legends on the same stage together. What a treat. Coming off the high of Whitmore I settled into my seat early enough to watch the crowd arrive. Immediately I was struck by the pure excitement on the face of old and young alike. Seniors climbed the steps in the amphitheater with a pep in their step, tough looking men in their forties smiled like their dreams were coming true, and kids in their teens chatted with excitement as they went by. Once again the sign of timeless music…

As the show took place I was surprised to feel an earning for Whitmore’s show from the night before. It wasn’t that the show wasn’t amazing, I mean we’re talking Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. Even their worst day would beat 90% of the shows I’ve ever attended in my life. Still, there was something that was missing and I realized quickly it was the seating that left me wanting more. These are not artists that are meant to be listened to in the same seats that one watches ballet from. These are knee slapping, fiddle playing, beer drinking, tunes. Quick glances around the audience when I could convince myself to look away from the stage revealed the audience moving to the music. Heads boobed, legs tapped, and voices joined in to familiar songs, but unlike the Whitmore show it wasn’t raw. People were holding back. No one burst into spontaneous dance. I think we’ve all gotten lost in Haggard and Kristofferson’s music before. You know what it feels like that moment that you feel the music, but it wasn’t there. The audience wasn’t giving back, what was coming from the stage. And no doubt even into their golden years, which Kristofferson joked wasn’t for sissies, these two put on a hell of a show, but lost in the translation of the show was music. People enjoyed it and there’s always that aspect of seeing a legend, but I felt a little robbed. I wish I could go back years before and catch these two when they were playing to smaller crowds with room to dance. Then I realized, I might not be able to go back, but I’d just been there last night. Listening to Whitmore and feeling his music vibrate through the crowd. America’s storytellers. Young and Old these men have it.

In Conclusion….Never pass up an opportunity to see a legend, you’ll never regret it, but don’t forget new legends like William Elliott Whitmore are often playing in the neighborhood bar and venues. See them today while you have the chance.

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