There are certain experiences one can only have in New York City, and can only truly appreciate when they happen to you. I was sitting at my favorite bar in midtown on a Wednesday evening a few weeks back – it’s hard to find a good bar there, but I have a dive in the heart of it all that I often escape to. My favorite seat is at the bar located right next to the door for an easy escape or occasional cool breeze for when the bar gets too hot. On this particular night, I switched it up from my usual scotch to tequila on the rocks…I guess, it felt like a tequila-sort-of-evening.
An Unexpected Show: Rodriguez at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall
I didn’t see them when they came in, but a couple, in their late-forties/early-fifties, had walked in and ordered two tequilas, neat. They looked like the kind of people who had stories to tell of the “trouble” they had gotten into back in their day, and how it lead them to where they were at now, happy and married. They seemed particularly aggravated by something that had just happened, yet still had a calm and pleasant demeanor as they sipped their Patron. “See if he wants them,” the women leaned in to the man and said, indicating me. I smiled and pretended I didn’t hear anything.
The man looked at me, leaned over and said, “Do you like Rodriguez?” “Uhh…Yeah! Searching for Sugarman was beautiful and his lyrics are amazing,” I responded. “Well, how would you like to see him live in about 15 minutes for free?” he said as he slid two tickets across the bar to me. “They’re pretty good seats too,” he added as if he had to sell me on the offer.
“We waited in line outside Radio City Music Hall and I have to tell you, I’ve seen a lot of live music in my day but I’ve never had to wait in a line like that. After awhile we just said ‘screw it’ and headed back to our hotel which is right across the street. I bet if you leave in 10 minutes you will just walk right in.” Amazed at their generosity and kindness, I bought them a round, briefly chatted with them and then ran as fast as I could to Radio City Music Hall while frantically texting my girlfriend to come meet me.
We arrived simultaneously just as Rodriguez was taking the stage… and yeah, the seats were awesome. The crowd roared as the frail, elderly man (dressed a bit like Slash with a top hat and a black cut off tee) was escorted to the stage by a young woman. Rodriguez was front and center, as the guitar tech got the electric-acoustic situated on the songwriter. The moment the guitar was in place, the man’s whole body and his whole attitude changed.
I’ve seen this once before, by “rock god,” Neil Young. The instrument changed the man; with it in his hands, it makes him become the legend. As if he had never missed a beat in his 30-year hiatus, Rodriguez launched into “Inner City Blues.” From song-to-song, the international and multicultural crowd was eating out of the palm of the singer’s hand. Every step of the way, Rodriguez’s humbleness was present in his demeanor and in the way he played. He rarely looked up from his silk top hat and orange tinted glasses, but when he did it was to crack a well-timed joke.
“This next one is a descriptive song, not a prescriptive song. Stay smart, don’t start,” he said with a smile as he started the intro for “Sugarman.” His sense of humor beautifully offset the timeless heaviness of his lyrics that seem even more profound in today’s socio-economic climate than ever. “I just want to be an ordinary legend, you know?” he smiled as the crowd cackled. As he played “Establishment Blues,” I looked around at fellow crowd members’ faces. They were subconsciously responding in agreement lyric-by-lyric, as if they were listening to a world leader speak about what is wrong with their country.
“The system’s gonna fall soon to an angry young tune,” the 71-year old man sang. The prophet stopped momentarily only to ask, “How do you get along with your mate? Two words. Yes, Dear.” His voice and clean acoustic sounds echoed out for approximately an hour and a half before the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he ended with “Forget It.” After he slowly made his way off stage, he breifly returned to provide a joyous dance party to his middle-aged audience. Encoring with Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” and the Maybelle’s “A Whole Lotta Shaking Goin’ On,” Rodriguez left his crowd with smiles on their faces and beautiful thoughts of change in their minds.
Just as my concert-ticket benefactors moved me with their kindness, Rodriguez moved me with his wisdom. The whole experience was the kind that renews your soul and refreshes your outlook on life. Concerts are almost always very personal, ethereal experiences for me, but none have been quite as profound as Rodriguez.
Article by Mark Ayesh