Over the years, I have been lucky enough to see so many great artists. They range from stadium acts like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and The Rolling Stones, to local legends like The MC5, Savage Grace, and SRC, in their heyday, and tons of acts in between those two categories. I keep thinking about doing a post about the best concerts I have ever seen, and maybe some day I will. However, until I find that time, and since singer/songwriter Scott Ainslie is coming to Trinity House Theater this Friday, this column will have to do.
Mind you, I’m not settling on him. In fact, a Scott Ainslie concert may be the best performance I’ve ever seen.
I’ve been playing his music on my shows now for several years. I was fascinated with his most recent release, “The Last Shot Got Him.” It’s a collection of several songs that his most recent addition to his personal guitar “family,” a 1934 Gibson L-50 Acoustic Archtop, personally selected as the songs it wanted to play. Of course, almost all of them are from 1934. Even during his performance, Scott would say something like, “Now I wouldn’t have chosen this song to play, but the guitar thought differently about it!”
There is one exception on the album that isn’t from 1934. It is a song that he wrote called, Late Last Night,” and it’s written in a style that complements the other songs from the 30’s. It is one of the “Greatest Songs Ever Recorded” (GSER) The populist lyrics fit the politics of any time frame you’d like to pick, from way before 1934 to the robber baron era of the Industrial Age to our present day situation where elites steal from working people.
Anyway, I found out Scott Ainslie was coming to town to perform! There wasn’t anyway that I wasn’t going to see him. His appearance was on April 15, 2016 at The Green Wood Coffee House in Ann Arbor. It’s a wonderful place that puts artists in very close quarters with the audience. Even on the day of the performance, he posted some pictures to show his latest guitar its birth surroundings by stopping at the Gibson factory (now Heritage Guitar), in Kalamazoo, MI, where it was “born.” Now I’m really ready!
After working all day, I zipped over to Green Wood and waited for the show to start. Scott started on time and proceeded to not only play his music, but he talked and demonstrated with his rudimentary instruments about the history of the blues. Along the journey, he threw in personal stories of meeting and playing with blues legends and family members of those legends.
For his first appearance to the Ann Arbor area, he wasn’t greeted by a large crowd. But that didn’t matter to Ainslie. He is hard to categorize because his musical choices straddle a line of blues, folk, gospel, and even jazz. His powerful, soulful voice probably didn’t need any amplification, either, and his warm personality came shining through, since he tends to smile often. His attention to detail in his finger picking was incredible!
Normally, the customary pattern for these shows is two sets with a break in between. When Scott started, he asked the audience if it was ok with them if he played all the way through without an intermission. No one objected, so he did a two hour set. Those two hours passed by like five minutes!
Moving from story to story and song to song, he performed a “musical seance” where he became a conduit for all of his blues legend idols. As the show continued on its sojourn, it seemed like the spirits of Robert Johnson, Son House, and so many others filled the room with their presence! And, of course, they were there because when a living artist sings a dead artist’s song, they do live again!
I have always liked the blues, but Ainslie’s insights brought me to a new level of appreciation! I couldn’t put my finger on it until I started thinking of writing this blog, but I know I have been playing more blues on both of my radio shows, “Prime Time Theme Attic” on Monday nights from 8PM-10 PM ET, and “Theme Attic” on Wednesday Mornings from 10A-12 Noon ET.
Here’s a link:
Listen live: www.whfr.fm/images/stream_audio.html
It can easily be traced to his performance.
So, Scott Ainslie will be back in the Detroit area this Friday night, April 21, when he performs at Trinity House Theater in Livonia. If you go see him, will you have this same other worldly experience? Well, I can’t promise that. Everyone’s life is a whole different set of variables, and music is also very personal. But I will be there. And I don’t even know if it will happen that way again for me. But isn’t it worth that chance? At the least, I know it will be another superb, personal, performance, because I’ve already seen him give his all!
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