in which I become BFFs with my favorite band (part one)

Hook of a post title, huh? Doesn't get really good until the second installment, though, so either read this and soak up some suspense or wait for part two.

Big surprise, the Old 97's show Friday night rocked. I'd never been to the El Rey, and it's out of reach of the train, which would normally make it a bus destination - but your blogmistress was running late and had to cab it for fear of not getting close enough to the stage. I'm not normally fanatic about getting close at shows, and in fact prefer to hang back and have room to dance. But at Old 97's, I want to be right up there belting out lyrics with the other die-hards.

Haha, well guess who's a big dork and was the first person there? Not only was I so early no one else was in line yet, but I was so early that they hadn't even put up the velvet ropes yet. In my defense, I saw them last year at the Music Box, and there was a pretty decent line a good hour before doors opened.

I texted these pics to a friend while I was waiting alone, and he helpfully suggested I cross the "s" off of "holders". HILARIOUS (jerk).

The El Rey is a nice-sized venue for a band of 97's popularity. Big enough to fill comfortably, but didn't get stuffed. I chatted up another fangirl who was there alone for a few minutes before I realized I knew who she was - she works downtown, and we have a mutual friend. So we partnered up on saving one another's spots for bathroom trips and drink breaks. Really sweet, free-spirited girl about to embark on a seven month trip around the world. When she told me she's seen the Old 97's fifteen times, I felt unworthy. I thought I was a fan.

Rhett came out first to do a short solo set. I've been crushing on this man for the better part of fifteen years, and despite having been to a few of his shows, I'm still a little breathless when he comes onstage. It's not just that, at 41, he's still incredibly boyish, with his big grin and shaggy hair. I just love the energy he puts out, in the things he writes, his interviews, his YouTube vlogs - passionate, warm-hearted, and totally down to earth. And he's a true poet. His lyrics are genius: playful and soulful and layered with meaning.

Anyway, his set was followed by Those Darlin's, who were sexy and fun, with amazing harmonies. The guitar on Mystic Mind sounded soooo good live, much louder and richer and grittier than the album.

Finally, Old 97's came out, and they played long and hard. And this is where I fail miserably at music review, because all I can think to say is that it was two hours of fucking awesomeness. dSLRs weren't allowed, so I only had my Leica, but I got a few decent shots, which, unless you're a fan, are going to seem awfully repetitive, sorry:

As you can see, I was right against the stage. Ken (above) absolutely rocked it. That guy is ridiculous on guitar. So much fun to watch, and really plays to the crowd. When he did his first sort of solo, I caught his eye and said that I loved him which, for some reason, was weirdly audible at that moment - a small break in the sound, I guess. But he laughed and said he loved me, too. Rhett caught the exchange and laughed, so I quickly assured him that I loved him as well, along with Murray and Philip. Yes, I am absurd. No, I will not tell you my age.

My concert buddy and I were happy as clams, jumping and dancing and singing every word we knew (their catalog is huge, and I still have some tracks to get down by heart). At one point, some guy near us said thank you for "being the only ones rocking out appropriately", haha. Rhett and Ken were definitely feeling our energy, and they smiled at us a few times, which, hello feedback loop. Good times.

As promised, they played Too Far To Care in its entirety, plus a bunch of fan favorites. They didn't do Let The Whisky Take The Reins, which I was really hoping for, but I have no complaints about the set.

If you're a fan, you know that this is actually a very Murry-esque face:

I love, love, love his tracks (and the amped up version of Valentine they did didn't disappoint), but I know by now that standing front-left, between Rhett and Ken, is the place to be. Murryside is mellow; Kenside is krazy.

I only filmed one song (Murry's Merle Haggard cover) and I promise I practiced good concert etiquette. I kept my phone close in front of my chest, didn't hold it up or block anyone's view. If you're interested, you can check it out here.

A couple more:

At the end of second finale (Timebomb, which they also started with), Ken seemed to be looking my way, so I gestured pleadingly towards the set list taped in front of his microphone. The curtain was closing, but he reached through and handed me both the list and his pick. SCORE!!

We were standing there reeling/recovering for a minute when one of the sound guys poked out of the curtain and said the technicians had fun watching us dance, and really appreciated our energy, and would we like to maybe come backstage?


Well, we went backstage where we mostly just talked to the sound/light techs, but got to briefly meet Murray. (Ken had a crowd around him and Rhett was nowhere to be seen.) Buuuut, when we got outside, we were standing around chatting, the same sound tech who'd hooked us up with the backstage visit asked if we'd like to come back for the second show the next night, for free.


But while my sort-of-companion and I were totally grateful for the offer, we agreed that we'd both feel a little silly coming back for the second night. However, neither one of us wanted to outright turn down an offer to see Old 97's. I mean, come on. So we were sort of hemming and hawing about it when all of a sudden, Ken is right beside us. The next thing I know, Ken Bethea of the Old 97's, a band I have loved for nearly two decades and in whom I have invested a very rich emotional history, is approaching me. I look at him and smile dumbly, and he proceeds to say the nicest, coolest thing, something along the lines of he'd had a shit day and really wasn't in the mood to play tonight, but when he came out and I'd made him smile with my jokey "I love you", he found his stage mojo or something. Basically, he thanked me for being so enthusiastic and fun to play for. He told me that's why he'd given me his pick and set list, too.

Here's those, incidentally:

Of the many things I could/should have said to him had I anticipated this moment, the best I could do was, Oh, my pleasure, I'm a big fan! Thank YOU! or some such boring drivel. Here's the guitarist from Old Fucking 97's thanking me - ME! - and I choke.

We chatted a little bit more and I relaxed enough to not sound like a complete moron. I hope. He was incredibly gracious and solicitous and I couldn't have asked for a nicer experience, meeting a much-adored band member. My concert friend joined the conversation, and they bonded over their Texas backgrounds while I stood there chastising myself for not having something cooler to contribute.

Eventually, the crowd dispersed and we went home.

On Saturday afternoon, I debated going back for the second night (the sound tech had put two tickets aside for me at will call). I didn't think I could nearly recreate the energy I'd had for Friday's show, and I knew I'd feel like a very silly groupie going again. But it was the Old 97's, one, and two, I didn't have plans. And sitting home on a Friday night, being still pretty freshly single, absolutely sucks. At the very least, I thought, I could go and hang back in the crowd, maybe socialize a bit more and not be HELLO HERE I AM AGAIN, right under Rhett's and Ken's noses.

So I decided to go, and I am so, so glad I did...