Charlie Louvin
at the Chameleon Club,
Lancaster, PA
(4 October 2008)

The dark and cavernous Chameleon Club was packed with people who'd come out to see the Old 97s. But first they got schooled a bit at the feet of a legend, country music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin.

At age 81, Louvin is still rocking pretty hard.

Louvin, late of the Louvin Brothers (with older brother Ira), was an influential performer and songwriter in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, and on up to today.

The two got their start working as field hands on the family farm in Alabama; at night, they'd relax to the music of the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, which inspired them to put their own gospel-trained voices to work. They cut their teeth at the Grand Old Opry and rubbed elbows with some of the landmark names in music over the years, from Johnny Cash to Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Elvis Costello, Jimmie Rodgers and Tom T. Hall.

But decades of success couldn't hold them together; Charlie and Ira broke up the duo in 1964, and Ira died in a car crash the next year.

Charlie kept singing and touring and writing. He, with his brother, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

I'm guessing none of that history mattered to the majority of Old 97s fans crammed onto the Chameleon floor on Saturday. They just wanted to dance and drink and shout and dance some more, and old Charlie got them started with a lively, heartfelt set of songs.

He took the stage in a big cowboy hat, dapper in denim jeans and a vest over a subdued plaid shirt, wearing spectacles and a smile on his timeworn but cheerful face. Joining him onstage was a four-piece backing band consisting of Joe Cook on guitar, Mitchell Brown on bass, Kevin Kathey on drums and his oldest son, Sonny Louvin, on rhythm guitar.

He got the show going with a perennial favorite, "Worried Man Blues," with a warm and friendly voice that might be a little rough after eight decades but remains strong nonetheless. Too bad it was buried by the band; a bad mix ensured that Louvin was overwhelmed by the instruments for much of the show, including "I Still Miss Someone," "Will You Visit Me on Sundays" and "Cash on the Barrel Head."

So, we couldn't hear him all that well, but it was a treat to see old Charlie out there on stage, doing what he's done for so many years and still enjoying it to the hilt.

by Tom Knapp
18 October 2008

[ visit the artist's website ]