In this space, I have at times pontificated about the perils and terror of being "the opening band." The audience is invariably still arriving, carrying with them the devil may care attitude that comes with the thoughts of a headliner, and this is just the bonus material, music to accompany finding one's seat. These are our seats? I think I'll nip out to the loo and see if I can get a snack before the show starts.
But of course the show has already begun, and the opening band is putting their collective heart and soul into winning over the crowd as they trickle in. This was not the case last Wednesday night when my wife and I traveled over the hill to Berkeley to see Steven Page, late of the Barenaked Ladies. His opening band was John Wesley Harding, also known as Wesley Stace. If the name sounds familiar, it could be that you remember the Bob Dylan album about the nefarious outlaw with the same name, or the nefarious outlaw himself. Or maybe it's because you were listening to college radio in the late eighties and early nineties and you caught his early stuff. I discovered the early stuff about the same time I discovered Steven Page and Barenaked Ladies.
Full circle, right?
And it so happened that the venue at which we found ourselves was the Freight And Salvage Coffeehouse, the same hall where my wife and I watched our son perform his piano recitals back in the day. Back in the day that my wife and I were attending more piano recitals than concerts by big names like Steven Page and Wesley Stace. We found ourselves seats right near the corner of the stage. Second row for us was a new experience. Even when we came to those piano recitals, the other parents crowded in ahead of us and nabbed all the best seats.
Not this night. We were close enough that we could see and hear Mister Harding/Stace as if he were doing the show in our living room. He sang songs from those olden days. Songs from 1992, and he commented about how things hadn't changed all that much since then. And he told stories about how the songs were made and where they were recorded and reminisced about a time when there was such a thing as radio and records. When he finished up his set, he told us that if we enjoyed the music, we should really catch him at the merch table. "This is just a warm-up. I'm really great at the merch table."
And it turns out that he was. He was happy to sign a CD for me and chat me up, if ever so briefly because there were dozens of others who had come to see the opening act. Steven Page came on after that. He did a great show, but he didn't stick around and sign things. Thank you, John Wesley Harding.