Two Nights at the Lincoln
Of fishin’ and family drama
Who: Loudon Wainwright III
When: 7:30pm Wed., Jan 23
Who: John McEuen and the String Wizards
When: 7:30pm Thurs., Jan. 24
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a story about a Rufus Wainwright concert at the Lincoln Theatre in which I detailed the long, fraught history of the Wainwright clan. In summary, Rufus is the son of musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, and brother to Martha Wainwright, also a musician. Father and offspring haven’t exactly had picture-perfect relationships with each other, and being that they’re all songwriters—especially confessional ones at that—they’ve not been shy about playing out those issues in song.
Hold onto your emotional baggage because there’s another Wainwright on the horizon.
This time, it’s the patriarch himself, Loudon, making his way to the venerable Mount Vernon venue for a Wed., Jan. 23 concert.
While there’s no doubt Rufus and Martha get their penchant for detailing life in the Wainwright family in often pointed fashion from their father, Loudon came by his habit of doing the same honestly as well. The elder Loudon Wainwright (Jr. in this case) was a famous writer for Life magazine back when everyone read Life, and had a popular long-running column called “The View From Here” that has been described as “confessional” and “self-revealing.”
In a familiar family pattern, Loudon III had a challenging relationship with Loudon Jr., one that he grappled with publicly—it is the Wainwright way, after all—in a one-man show produced by Judd Apatow for Netflix dubbed Surviving Twin. In it, Loudon weaves together segments of his father’s columns with his own songs and the combination of Loudon Jr.’s excellent writing with Loudon III’s evocative songs is powerful stuff. It’s a multimedia airing of family laundry in the true Wainwright tradition: beautifully written and artfully rendered.
Surviving Twin also allowed Loudon to flex his acting chops—despite being an endlessly prolific, Grammy-nominated songwriter who tours frequently, he’s also amassed acting credits, with small parts in Knocked Up (for which he also provided music), The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and on Undeclared (all of which explain his connection to Apatow). However, he’s probably most famously known as Captain Calvin Spalding, aka the “singing surgeon,” on M*A*S*H.
Loudon’s skill as an actor makes his concerts performances in the full sense of the term. Even though his Lincoln Theatre appearance won’t be a reprisal of his one-man show, expect him to tell stories, employ the sardonic humor that informs much of his extensive back catalog, and, of course, it’s highly likely he’ll treat the crowd to “Dead Skunk,” his most well-known song. It’s always an interesting time when a Wainwright pays a visit.
But wait. There’s more.
It’s not all that often the Lincoln Theatre hosts back-to-back concerts, but after Loudon leaves, the following night the stage will belong to banjo virtuoso and founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John McEuen.
Growing up, my personal soundtrack pretty much consisted of Motown (courtesy of my mother’s record collection), metal (courtesy of my Everett upbringing) and grunge (courtesy of being a teenager in the 1990s). However, one of my purest adolescent memories is of riding in a car with my four girlfriends late one summer night after an unauthorized after-hours dip in the local country club swimming pool. We drove through the night, windows down, singing along to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” at the top of our lungs. Of course, if this were a perfect memory, we’d have been driving down an idyllic country road by the light of a full moon. But it was Everett, which meant the scenery was strip malls and gas stations and the light came from beer neons, but it’s a good memory nonetheless.
But McEuen has far more to his credit than just having made a guest appearance during my formative years. He wasn’t just one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but also played with them for nearly four decades of their 50-plus-year history. During that time, he helped set in motion their most lauded album, 1973’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which has earned its place as one of country music’s most important recordings. He also has a longstanding relationship with Steve Martin that began when they were both in high school and McEuen would give the future comic the occasional banjo lesson. Those lessons paid off in 2009 when Martin’s album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo—which McEuen lent his production and performance skills to—stayed at the top of the Billboard bluegrass chart for seven months and later won a Grammy. And that’s not even mentioning McEuen’s critically lauded solo career, or his talent for collaboration that has led him to work with everyone from Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan.
For his Lincoln Theatre show, he’s assembled a group he’s dubbed the String Wizards, comprised of himself, Matt Cartsonis (mandolin), and two other OG members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Les Thompson (bass) and John Cable (guitar). I can’t be certain, but with that many Nitty Gritty Dirt Band members involved and a concert that comes with a title of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, I have a sneaking suspicion fans of McEuen and the legendary country band from whence he sprang will be well and truly satisfied.
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