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Following the Lead of Garth Brooks

I've only seen Kelly Willis - one of my all-time favorites - play live once, and hardly even that. It was about a 20-minute Rykodisc showcase at SXSW (Yes! Only twenty minutes - not even the "full" 40-minute set that comprises a normal SXSW showcase!) some years ago, so you can only imagine the panic I felt when I read on her website that she was taking an indefinite hiatus from touring to focus on being a mom and raising her children (by the way, it's not like Kelly tours all that much to begin with - so when she says she's not touring any more - I kinda take that seriously!). I called my friend Pam and begged her (okay, she's a Kelly Willis fan, too, so it wasn't like I was pulling her arm or anything) to go with me to Santa Barbara last weekend to see her show at the Lobero Theatre. She agreed, and off we went, Thelma and Louise style, to Santa Barbara.

I should back-up a bit, before I get too carried away, and mention the prelude to our evening in Santa Barbara. The previous evening, a Friday night, I went (yet again) to The Mint to see Hayes Carll and Chuck Prophet (Chuck produced Kelly's latest record, Translated from Love, and was also playing in Santa Barbara the next evening). I've seen Hayes in better form - I imagine that because this was his first trip to Los Angeles, he wasn't as surrounded by as many people who were familiar with his music as he's used to. The band scheduled between Hayes and Chuck was the Carnival Dogs, but it seems that most of the band was unable to make it, so as filler, they got some terribly boring coffee-house singer to perform for a half-hour, and then two members of the Carnival Dogs joined the founder of the Mint (I found this a little confusing, 'cause I thought the Mint was founded in the '30s, but it seems that this was really the guy who refurbished it a few years ago) for three or four really boring songs that made me seriously consider leaving. I stuck around, though, and got to see Chuck play for about 30 minutes before I had to go back to work. Chuck was so-oo good, and it was really hard to leave early.

I wish I could say that Pam and I headed up the coast to Santa Barbara early enough on Saturday to do some wine tasting and sit down to a nice dinner, but c'mon, we don't have our shit together THAT much. We made it in time to walk up and down State Street a bit, and have Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Brownie Cheesecake is DELICIOUS!) before heading back over to the Lobero. Outside, we marveled at how cool it was that so many people knew who Kelly Willis was, and then we realized that her show was part of a subscription series called "Sings Like Hell." It was a very different setting and crowd than we're used to at the smoky bar joints - a sit-down theatre with no alcohol allowed inside. We worried that people would complain if we tapped our feet too loudly, and backstage, even Kelly admitted that shows like that are terrifying - because those people are actually listening! Kelly played a fantastic set accompanied by only a couple of guitars (and Chuck and a drummer at one point for "The More That I'm Around You"). I also learned at the show that the Dixie Chicks had requested to record Kelly's "Not Forgotten You" for their debut album, which Kelly denied them, saying, "That's MY song!", not realizing that they'd go on to sell a gazillion copies of that album. Now, of course, she's a sister-in-law to one of them, and the song they recorded by Kelly's husband, Bruce Robison, "Travelin' Soldier," became "the fastest descending #1" in the history of the Billboard charts. I would have loved to hear Natalie Maines singing that, and it seems like it would have been such a great inclusion on their Wide Open Spaces record, but I'd take Kelly Willis singing her own song over that any day.

This show has definitely left me yearning for the day when Kelly returns to touring again.

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