Well, hello there! To the both of you who are still checking this humble corner of the web with any regularity, thanks for your patience. I’m pleased to bring you a somewhat delayed review of a thoroughly enjoyable concert I attended last month with Buddy Greene and special guest Ron Block (banjoist of Alison Krauss and Union Station). The venue was the Blue Gate Dinner Theater in Shipshewana, Indiana. This was a different building from the one where I’ve attended every other Shipshewana concert, but I vastly preferred it and the casual, stripped-down nature of this show as a whole. This venue was smaller, there were no endless opening acts, and the emcee was actually funny. Buddy himself, of course, put on a wonderful performance, and the addition of Ron Block was a complete and awesome surprise. If you haven’t picked up his latest instrumental album Hogan’s House of Music, do yourself a favor and put it on the Christmas list. It’s one of the best records of the year, featuring lots of other bluegrass all-stars like Alison Krauss, Stuart Duncan and Sierra Hull.
Buddy and Ron were very down-to-earth and self-deprecating throughout the night, frequently pausing to tune up their instruments. (This caused Buddy to joke that Ron shouldn’t tune up his banjo too well, or Buddy would sound bad. I especially liked it when Buddy declared after one session “That’s close enough for bluegrass.”) Buddy often paused to issue disclaimers that they were playing off the cuff, or only roughly rehearsed tunes. (Really, like anyone could tell?) The setlist was an eclectic mix of bluegrass classics, gospel songs, hymns, and Buddy’s folksy originals. Buddy tried valiantly to inject some soul into the proceedings on the bluesier numbers, informing the all-white audience that they did not have to hold back on singalongs, and asking could somebody please sing some flat 5ths or flat somethings to spice it up. (I obliged him.) Woven throughout were a number of stories I hadn’t heard before about various colorful characters Buddy had met in his career, as well as some of his personal testimony. Here’s the setlist with some comments. I also took a few decent hand-held videos and uploaded “Darlin’ Corey” and “Orange Blossom Special” to my channel (the latter played by our request!) If I had more time, I would have replaced the audio with cleaner audio from a different device I had, but this will do. They’re both embedded in the setlist below.
Headed For the Promised Land
Minstrel of the Lord
(banter about fiddle players and harmonica players)
“Well, I nearly passed out, but it was fun!”
More tuning. “Are we anywhere close to each other? Isn’t this fun?”
How Can I Keep From Singing?
Rock in a Weary Land
“Well now just wait a minute… when you do a song like this, you’re just kinda hoping a little church will break out. And I know there’s some folks out there kinda identifying with the sentiments of this song. And I just wanna tell you tonight that you do not have to hold back. You do not have to wait for an overhead to come down and show you the words. All you have to do is sing.”
A gentleman behind me was eventually moved to exclaim “HalleLUUUUUjah. Praise the Lord. PRAISE the Lord.”
Testimony and Keep Your Head in the Word
I never knew that Buddy was a back-slider in his younger days!
The Jolly Beggar Man (“We’ll do an Irish pub song, because that’s obviously what the people of Shipshewana need.”) Here Buddy told a story about playing an instrumental of this tune at an Irish festival in Savannah, Georgia, except back then they called the melody by the name “The Red-Haired Boy.” A very inebriated Irishman later came up and set them straight. This song marked the debut of Buddy’s shaker, which he sometimes shook with one hand while playing harmonica with the other. Ron threw in some especially sweet banjo licks.
Talk About Suffering Here Below A beautiful minor-key folk ballad I was unfamiliar with.
Revive Us Again
This is My Father’s World Instrumental by Ron
Rise From the Ruins (Mark Heard cover)
Jesus I Am Resting, Resting The poetry of the lyrics prompted Buddy to remark that people don’t use language like this to express their love for Jesus anymore. Poking fun: “Like I’m, uh, going whoa.” Ron chimed in: “Jesus is, like, wow,” then added he could do this since he grew up in California.
Guest appearance, Damon (?) Harvey “When the Saints” An old gentleman whose first name I didn’t quite catch joined Buddy on stage for a little harmonica duet. He whipped out a mini harmonica (which I didn’t know existed, until then), and solemnly informed the audience that this is what happens when you send your harmonica through the wash. Apparently, he’s a regular at Buddy’s concerts and had some charming stories of his own. I especially liked the impression he did of his dog Skeeter, who always tried to match whatever tune he was playing.
Darlin’ Corey Buddy sums this dark standard up perfectly: “It’s the perfect country song. It’s got bootlegging in it. It’s got illicit love.” (Ron chimes in to add “killin.'”) “It’s got killin’. It’s got just about all the seedy elements that you can expect in a country song.” This was definitely a musical highlight and featured more awesome shaker shakin’. Buddy and Ron were very in tune with each other throughout the night, but they meshed with special tightness here. Video:
Bubba the Wandering Gypsy I learned that “Bubba” was actually a character Buddy used to know who worked flea markets. He scavenged a harmonica in a minor key for Buddy, so Buddy dedicated this fake gypsy tune to Bubba’s memory.
Orange Blossom Special: “If you really want to show off, you play this tune,” and that Buddy did, with some fantastic backing support from Ron.
I Don’t Belong: A little tune co-written with Gloria Gaither. Alas, not one of her better lyrics, but a very pretty little tune by Buddy.
Twelve Gates to the City: This is the one where Buddy solicited some flat notes from the audience.
Denomination Blues: Buddy credits this tune to an “obscure blues singer” named Washington Phillips, but I must say, after looking up the original, I prefer Buddy’s version. He improvised yet more lyrics that I didn’t recall hearing in other versions of his. He left off with “If you’re fishing with a Baptist, one thing is clear: If it’s just you and him he’s gonna drink all your beer.”
Mary, Did You Know?: I’m not sure I’d heard that Mark Lowry introduced the lyrics to Buddy late one night as he was heading back to the Gaither bus by handing him a note that said, “Dear Buddy. Below are some incredible words I penned some years ago. Please write some God-inspired music to match and make for us a very profitable hit.” Buddy said he didn’t even look at the lyrics until he got home, because he just assumed Mark was kidding and it was a goofy novelty idea. Of course, it wasn’t. It was also neat to get a window into Buddy’s musical inspiration as he played a few of the tunes that were bouncing in his head the day he wrote the melody for “Mary Did You Know,” including “What Wondrous Love is This.” Buddy mused that it’s rare for a song that shouts the gospel as loudly as this one to become a mainstream standard. He told the audience to lower expectations in case some of us had a favorite version, but I’ve always liked Buddy’s “folky little version,” and I overheard Ron also say, “I love this version!” so I’m not alone.
Uneducated Fool: Buddy concluded with this story about a preacher friend of his who was put off when he visited a Pentecostal service but was softened after repeatedly coming across biblical passages about uninhibited worship. So, one day, he closed his study door and did a little shuffle before the Lord. A very fun guitar/banjo collaboration.
To sum up, if you get a chance to see Buddy Greene in concert, do so. And you never know, Ron Block might tag along too.