A common proverb among South Floridians (at least the ones I know) is “in Florida, the farther south you go, the more northern people really are.” In my experience, this applies not only to lifestyles and behaviors, but also to locals’ music predilections. Music fans in South Florida don’t have nearly the same loyalty to country music as residents of areas like the Panhandle and Jacksonville. In theory, that should have made it difficult for a concert featuring Lucinda Williams and the Drive-By Truckers to sell lots of tickets, yet Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse was sold out well in advance of Saturday night’s co-headlining show.
Personally, I never really considered myself a fan of country music. The Kenny Chesneys and Blake Sheltons of the world have never done much to interest me. Then, seven years ago, the Drive-By Truckers taught me that there’s more to the genre than meets the eye, and there’s a substantial disparity between pop-country and southern rock. At the time, I was living in North Carolina, and I saw the Drive-By Truckers tear the roof off of the now-defunct Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, changing my perception of an entire genre in just one night. Since attending that show, I’ve made a point to never disregard an artist or band based on any preconceived notions I may have about them or their genre.
Artists and bands like the DBT’s that push the boundaries of the country genre rather than leaning into the “dirt roads and cowboy boots” aesthetic that dominates modern popular country music, are the ones that keep me truly engaged in the culture of southern music. This is precisely the reason I jumped at the chance to cover Lucinda Williams and Drive-By Truckers’ show on Saturday night.
Fresh off the Tampa-based Outlaw Country Cruise, Williams and the Truckers quickly made their way from Florida’s west coast to the Parker Playhouse. The show began with a brief opening set from Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom before Williams and three accompanying musicians took the stage.
Williams, whose praises have been sung by the likes of Tom Petty, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and countless more, is one of the few remaining unilaterally respected songwriters of her genre. Luckily, her prowess as a songwriter was front and center throughout the thirteen songs she and her band performed, which interestingly did not pull from her two most recent albums.
Throughout a set during which Williams’ voice sounded strained at best and eroding at worst, her lead guitarist did most of the heavy lifting. He serenaded the audience with his white Gibson SG, which was mixed noticeably higher than any other instrument on stage, and a handful of his guitar solos elicited enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
Following the conclusion of Williams’ portion of the show, a mass exodus took place, as many of the fans had clearly attended the show solely to attend her set. By the time the Drive-By Truckers took the stage, there were a marked number of empty seats throughout the venue, and that group’s die-hard fans began to trickle down closer to the stage.
The Parker Playhouse proved itself to be a strange setting for this show, as the fully seated venue elucidated a disparity between those who wanted to sit and those who wanted to stand. During both Lucinda Williams and the Truckers’ sets, fans could be seen hanging on the sides of the aisles where they could dance along to the music without being bothered.
The Drive-By Truckers didn’t seem to be bothered by the empty seats, however, as the southern rock stalwarts produced a rousing set over the course of nearly two hours that pulled from every phase of the band’s history. One of the most intriguing things about this band is its increasingly political nature late in its career, and Saturday night’s set did not exclude that subject matter by a long shot.
A new, unreleased song titled “Thoughts & Prayers” showed that the unapologetically political side of singer Patterson Hood’s songwriting is here to stay, and served as a poignant statement that the Athens-based group is still more interested in speaking their minds than staying on the sidelines in an increasingly dissonant political era.
A strange moment arose towards the end of the Truckers’ set when, following a rousing (and seemingly conclusionary) rendition of the Southern Rock Operaclassic “Let There Be Rock,” Patterson Hood removed the guitar from around his neck and began to make his way offstage. In an act of either defiance or confusion, guitarist Mike Cooley began to play the opening chords of another track, and after a brief conference of band members, Patterson put his guitar back on and the band continued its set for another four songs.
Fans continued to trickle out of the venue throughout the DBT’s set, leaving the venue at about one-third capacity by the time the night’s final number began. The set eventually came to a close with a relatively anticlimactic rendition ofEnglish Oceans’“Grand Canyon,” which saw the band members leave the stage one by one, concluding with drummer Brad “EZB” Morgan finishing his drumbeat alone on stage before dropping his sticks and departing.
Between both Lucinda Williams and the Drive-By Truckers, the entire evening took on a significant air of political activism, with songs like Williams’ “Bone of Contention” and the Truckers’ new, unreleased “Thoughts & Prayers” carrying an added layer of meaning in the age of Trump.
Generally speaking, the greatest danger of a co-headlining show is that you fill a venue with two different groups of fans who have little to no interest in the band they didn’tgo to see. Having been to a number of such shows, I can confidently report that this one in particular fell victim to that complication. Despite the fact that many of the fans in attendance on Saturday night weren’t interested in seeing all of the acts on the bill, it’s clear that both Lucinda Williams and the Drive-By Truckers are both vitally important artists not just in South Florida, but in our culture as a whole in 2019.