It Takes a Village to Raise Hell 

The Drive-By Truckers make this adopted town real proud.

click to enlarge art29_music_drivebytruckers_100.jpg

1 (one) case of beer; and

2 (two) bottles Jack Daniels

We, in exchange, get two-and-a-half hours of whiskey-soaked tales July13 from the Southern- rock darlings of Rolling Stone, Spin, GQ, The New Yorker, No Depression, and on and on.

Lead singer Patterson Hood, grinning like a kid getting away with something, tells the crowd, "It's important to be able to play for 40 minutes, but it's fun to rock all night"

There's abandon and release, something deeply satisfying about the show, in large part because DBT is playing for almost nothing to both raise money for the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment and celebrate Plan 9's 25th anniversary year. (Plan 9's Kelly Wilkes guesses that through ticket and beer sales, along with other donations — the couple watching outside giving a twenty — the show made about $8,000.)

And so the Truckers gallop through stories of desperate lives, shotgun blasts, and strange trips through drugs and liquor — the lyrical, often-true material of their Southern fables from albums like "Southern Rock Opera," "The Dirty South" and, most recently, "A Blessing and a Curse."

Passing a bottle around the stage, they are indeed having a fine time. The sellout audience at the music store, some 200-plus, jump and sway and cheer in the dance of three guitars, a pedal steel, a bass and drum. As Jay Leavitt, manager of Plan 9 and childhood pal of Hood's, says by way of introducing the show, "This is the center of the musical universe tonight."

It all happened because of a visit Leavitt paid to Hood and his wife in Athens, Ga., soon after Richmond's bleak New Year's Day. Hood offered his services then to do anything he could, a tribute to his loyalty to a town that, along with Atlanta, was the first to embrace the band.

The Truckers started playing Richmond when Wes and Jyl Freed invited them to headline the Capital City Barn Dance back in the late 1990s. (Now Wes does all the art for the band — albums, T-shirts and posters of cartoony skeletons and bats, mossy trees and "XXX" jugs.)

Guitarist and vocalist Jason Isbell, smoking a Marlboro Red before the show, talks about the loyalty the band has to the city, and vice versa. It's a loyalty born of playing bars and clubs early on and meeting the people, so that names like "Harvey" mean something. "You have to make a connection that seems honest to people," he says.

Somewhere in the middle of the set, the band wanders from the slow ballads to something sounding like twangy short stories to its later work, muscular rock tunes punctuated by Hood's rasp, Isbell's smooth wail or Mike Cooley's low-voltage voices. Hood announces that this is the best show they'll play all year. So it's lucky that it's being recorded for a potential future live album by Bill McElroy, Grammy-award-winning engineer for J.D. Crowe and the New South.

Leavitt, mostly responsible for the show, comes up and gives what can only be described as a eulogy, right there onstage, a true and honest account of where he was standing (stage left) the last time he saw Kathryn Harvey, and where he was standing (stage left) when he was told what happened on New Year's Day.

He talks about being in the studio with the Truckers last year, hearing them record "A World of Hurt." But what he thought they were singing was "World of Mirth" — Kathryn Harvey's store. And Leavitt reminds a quieted audience to think of the Harveys, to remember them and the refrain to the song: "It's good to be alive." And so when Hood howls these words, it's hard not to think of the little toy store across the street where color fills the windows.

And oh the encore! (After the guitar tech gets onstage and tunes up, he leaves a second bottle of Jack for the returning band.) Here were the sing-alongs, the bottle-hoisting anthems burning the throat and a celebration of reunion.

On the way out the door, there's the parting gift from Wes Freed, who's been quietly hanging back in a corner with his hangdog cowboy hat. It's a poster he designed for this show, date and all painted right onto the split rail of his mythic Southern wasteland.

What a deal. S

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