Justin Townes Earle
Celebrate Brooklyn! at Prospect Park Bandshell
Thursday, June 30
Better than: Falling asleep on the subway and waking up at Coney Island.
As Justin Townes Earle took the stage on Thursday night, the sun was setting over Prospect Park, the air was cool and thick, and the crowd was liquored up. Earle announced, “This song is about fried chicken and women. I love both,” and launched into “Ain’t Waitin'” off of his 2010 album Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot).
From then on, Earle—son of activist-musician Steve Earle— carried himself with the confidence of someone who has been playing music all his life as he transformed Brooklyn into a quiet town in Tennessee for a few hours. His between-song banter was light and funny with a distinctive southern twang; at one point, he remarked, “People are always tellin’ me I’m a hard dog to keep under the porch. Even my mama has told me,” and people looked around, silently asking each other, “huh?” Before he performed his rendition of “Racing In The Streets,” he paused with a warning: “Hipsters, I’m about to play a Bruce Springsteen song. Your parents probably listen to this.” He even poked fun at the parents of Park Slope when he noted, “I used to live in Crown Heights, and it put me off Brooklyn completely. Maybe I’ll move back over here someday… when I have kids.”
When he sent his band off stage halfway through the set, he made another thing clear: He is one hell of a guitar player, even pulling off a rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “My Starter Won’t Start This Morning” that put the original to shame.
To close out his set, Earle invited a pair of female singers out to help him on a fantastic version of “Harlem River Blues”; the entire crowd joined in to sing the final chorus, and everyone left the stage. Almost immediately after leaving the stage, Earle came dashing back out: “We’ve got two minutes left, so I’m gonna play a quick one,” he announced. Add something else to his list of loves.
Critical bias: I was hoping for a Townes Van Zandt cover, but I think I’ll survive.
Overheard: “Dude, we have to be quiet. What do you think this is, a rock concert?”
Random notebook dump: During one of the opening acts, the Punch Brothers, I commented to a friend, “These guys sound a lot like Josh Ritter.” The song ended, and the lead singer announced that they’d just played a Ritter cover.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 1, 2011