Abe is playing a familiar tune on his acoustic guitar. He and his buddy Micah are sitting around the campfire playing a distinct sound. The instantly recognizable textures of something somewhat exclusive. I’m nearly forty but they are giving me shit about being a kid. Abe is my neighbor at the incomparable Anastasia State Park, one of Florida’s true gems. Recognizable textures shake loose into what is clearly Jason Isbell’s ‘Elephant.’
We have just seen Son Volt play the St. Augustine Amphitheatre’s Backporch Stage. Blue and green lights illuminated scrub oaks. The night is brisk. Abe’s fire is welcoming, as is his drunken guitar playing. We sing a chorus and a half then forget what comes next. On to another song where the display of futility is repeated.
This moment is seventeen years in the making. Son Volt first formed from the aftermath of seminal 90s Americana band Uncle Tupelo. They entered this author’s life circa 2000. Anticipation of that length often leads to a letdown. A band can’t help but end up mythologized in your mind after that amount of time.
Son Volt shattered expectations. The band took the stage with a handful of their charging rock songs. On record, Farrar’s poetry distracts from how hard the band rocks.
“Saint Genevieve can hold back the water/But saints don’t bother with a tear stained eye,” he sings on “Tear-stained eye.”
The lyric sticks with you. It’s one you need a few moments to process. Son Volt is happy to oblige. The setlist is balanced to ebb and flow, giving the listener appropriate time to catch up then hitting us with another body shot of guitars and drums. Son Volt’s live show is a hearty, chunky stew- bits of comfort alongside moments of surprise.
Isbell himself once tweeted, “Watching (Son Volt frontman) Jay Farrar in Columbia, MO. So many beautiful songs. Us Americana folk owe that guy a huge debt.” The last notes of our third attempt at Outfit waft into the salty air back at the campsite. In that moment the connection becomes clear. Farrar and his Son Volt vehicle set the standard for Americana music. Their influence can be found in the tight live shows of legends in the making like Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, and at a campsite, while the night winds down.
Friday night at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre’s back porch stage was sorcerous. A show at Florida’s most beautiful venue is always a special experience but this one managed to emerge as something more powerful than the norm.
Son Volt Live Review by Jason Earle.
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