‘True Story’: Joe Purdy at City Winery NYC

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Despite the relentless downpour taking place outside City Winery NYC on Wednesday night, Joe Purdy fans, as usual, packed the house for this sold-out show. It was the perfect setting for the crowd to sing along to Joe’s 2004 “I Love the Rain the Most,” which we were all secretly hoping would make it onto his set list (and, of course, it did). Some sat on stools at the bar and along the windows, while others sat at the small, candle-lit tables surrounding the stage. I sat at one of those tables beside Joe’s manager, Brian, and his parents who came in from Connecticut that night to see Joe play. They were as enthusiastic about the performance as the other Purdy followers in attendance. I heard Brian’s dad singing along to Joe’s songs as we sipped our waiter’s wine recommendations, which included a homemade specialty of the night. The label on the bottle simply stated,  “Joe Purdy Wine.”

I last spoke with Joe in September (My Hillbilly Confidence: An Interview with Joe Purdy), just prior to his AmericanaFest performance in Nashville.  After spending an hour or so on the phone with him, it was clear that Joe had discovered early on that, creating music is what he always wanted  to do, and that, driven by his passion to pursue it at all costs, Joe was able to avoid doing what others might think he would otherwise have to do. With that ethic, Joe has tirelessly made his music available to us — from the self-titled Joe Purdy (2001) to Eagle Rock Fire (2014) – straight from his heartstrings to ours.

Joe follows his own simple formula– he says what he wants to say and does so with an inspiring mix of raw talent, authenticity and humor — which sometimes takes the form of witty annotation during his live performance.  At City Winery, Joe repeatedly interrupted himself mid-song to say …”true story”… (using humor to accomplish light, yet unmistakable reinforcement of the thought he just sang). When he pauses during the performance of his songs, and uses his humble, confiding voice to speak directly to and personally with his audience, it is a mellifluous gift that Joe Purdy brings. The result is that each participant in his diverse and international fan base, is engrossed and united by that overwhelmingly warm sound and honesty.

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Joe began his set with several songs off of Eagle Rock Fire (2014), followed by “Sinkin’ Low” from Take My Blanket and Go (2007). He then put down his acoustic guitar and walked over to the piano, to give us a unique performance since, as Joe pointed out, it’s unusual that he has a piano available to him on stage. There, he played one of my all time favorite Purdy tracks, “Been Up So Long” (piano) from Last Clock On the Wall (2009), among others. He subsequently played a series of what he calls “short songs,” including “River Boat Captain.” The short songs resemble sonnets — brief, organized and powerful. Each lasted no longer than a minute. As Joe pulls you in, ever-so-quickly on each short adventure, and then releases you seconds later, you can’t help but feel the astounding fleeting embrace.

The newest song in this evening’s performance is what I like to call the “Emmett Till” of songs. For those who do not know the reference, Emmett Till is a young boy, whose murder became the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Within this song, Joe collects and brings forth the unsettling injustices of our history into one palpable composition:

My brother was killed by a policeman.
My brother was only 19.
My brother was shot by a sniper.
My brother, he died on the street.
My brother was beat by policemen,
and he died on the prison floor.
My brother, he fought in Vietnam.
My brother was killed on the front of war,
My brother, he died in his hometown…
We wear stars and stripes in the broken heart of the country…

Joe and I had scheduled to meet after the show, as a follow-up to our last interview. Prior to our meeting, I watched Joe come up the basement stairs to personally greet and meet with his fans in the main room. Although more than half of the capacity crowd remained (waiting), Joe spoke at length with every single one of them. But there weren’t just the usual, “great show!” and, “thank you’s!” exchanged. The coolest part was that, as I watched, I saw Joe glad, even eager to directly connect with each one of his fans. Joe’s willingness to make himself accessible to his listeners, both through his music and personally, is just who Joe Purdy is. It can all be summed up in what Joe told me about his experience at AmericanaFest–how he had missed most of the festival’s events because he chose to spend time caring for a friend who had become ill. We see it in his recorded music and live performances, in his post-performances and in the decisions he has made along the way (which are all his own). This night was no different and only increased the appreciation I have for Joe Purdy the musician and for Joe Purdy the man. They are genuinely one and the same. True story.

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