Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald
The inimitable Dwight Yoakam snuck into Ignacio on Saturday night, kept 1,350 disciples waiting and eventually jeering, foot-stomping and catcalling for 50 minutes at the sold-out Sky Ute Casino Resort Events Center. Then he put on an hour-and-a-half show of rockabilly music that cannot be performed by anyone else on Earth.
With the legendary Buck Owens as his idol and the voice tricks of Hank Williams, Yoakam ran with that “Bakersfield Sound” for 21 albums, 30 charted singles and sold 25 million records since his recording debut with the self-financed single “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” in 1986.
Yoakam has been batted between pundits of rock ’n’ roll and country music since his garage-band days in Columbus, Ohio – neither discipline willing to claim his music, each dismissive of the taint of the other. Arriving in Nashville in the late 1970s, he was turned away as being too country and unmarketable. Relocating to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, Yoakam found a more eclectic music scene, played with many rock and punk bands, and put together a composite sound that would earn him two Grammys and 21 nominations. While the music industry was kicking sand in his face, Yoakam curled down the front of his cowboy hat and branded a style of country music that is credited for being the first to cross the rock-music barrier. His music video of “Honky Tonk Man” was the first country music video ever played on MTV.
On Saturday night, his band consisted of journeyman bass player Jonathan Clark, a master rock drummer in Mitch Marine, swingman Brian Whelen, who dabbled alternately on the accordion, synthesizer and pedal steel guitar, and one of rock ’n’ roll’s great lead guitar players, Eddie Pérez. It was loud – too loud – with frequent feedback.
With a six-man professional sound crew, you’d think they would have better technology than simply hanging two truck-sized loudspeakers from the ceiling. The bass track worried the room’s air pressure so much that beer was lapping over the sides of flexible cups and water in plastic bottles had ripples on its surface. Everyone went home with at least temporary hearing damage, and most of Yoakam’s lyrics were suffocated by over-amplification and a soundboard mixer who never took off his headphones to hear the room acoustics. Notwithstanding, Ben Fernandez and his event staff managed the enormous volume of concertgoers with cordial efficiency.
Now at age 55, Yoakam still shows his Elvis Presley insouciance on stage, continues to wear his signature “painted on” blue jeans and turned-down cowboy hat, and is commanding the big bucks on an incessant touring schedule. His touring is occasionally interrupted when he’s cast as a dramatic actor in another feature film, of which he has 25 to his credit. His speaking voice is raspy and weak. He has put on more than a few pounds, but when he sings and jukes and feigns those Presley side dips, he’s entertaining.
Time magazine declared Yoakam a renaissance man. Vanity Fair says that “Yoakam strides the divide between rock’s lust and country’s lament”. Johnny Cash insisted that Yoakam was his favorite country singer.
Whatever he and his music are, Yoakam offered it in spades Saturday night at to a spellbound audience that braved icy roads to hear and be in the same room with an icon of country music.
Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author. Reach him through JeffMannix.com.