What is it about Texas troubadours? You know the type – Joe Ely, Dale Watkins, Townes Van Zandt – they just write great songs that ramble around your head and make you want to go down to Austin or Houston and eat some Tex-Mex and go see some live tunes and be happy. Well, this story is about one of that group, but it’s not all happy.
Steve Earle and the Dukes were in Ft. Lauderdale at the Broward Performing Arts Center, and we were front and center. I had seen Steve previously, and knew that it would be a great show, but I also knew that Steve’s son, the great Justin Townes Earle, had died during the lockdowns from a drug overdose. I wasn’t sure what impact this would have on Steve as a performer, but I’m certain that as a father, the impact was massive and unending.
Justin was fantastic in his own right, and I did not get the opportunity to see him perform live. It’s a loss to the world that he passed on. If you get the chance and feel so inclined, tune the Spotify to JTE and give it a listen. I think you’ll like what you hear – good song craftsmanship and lyrics that make you remember why artists have an uncanny ability to make you remember your humanity, good and bad. He was a keeper, and his loss is large. Give a listen:
But Steve is not Justin. Nope, not at all. Steve has had a life of struggles all on his own, but he has emerged as an authentic musical juggernaut. He brought along a version of the Dukes that was well-rehearsed and ready for action. Included in that were the opening act, the Mastersons. Now, I don’t know what to think of this husband-and-wife duo. Their opening act was a 30 minute painful folk music experience that even I was struggling with. And then they come out with Steve, and they play his songs along with the band, and they simply make those songs infinitely better. While I wasn’t very happy to see their opening set, I was thrilled to see them with the Dukes.
Steve came out and frankly looked a little old and beaten down. He must have some knee trouble as a lot of us older folks do because he wasn’t moving fluidly around the stage. But he still brought it, and his voice was in good stead. And he went through the songs that you would want to hear, and played them with aplomb. And then, about halfway through the show, he acknowledge Justin’s untimely death, and then played about 4 or 5 JTE songs as a tribute. He didn’t cry or act distraught, but rather played them as a tribute to a fallen fellow troubadour who was talented and worthy of the honor. It was heartfelt, endearing, and heck, entertaining. I really enjoyed it.
Steve then finished up with another strong set of his own songs before bidding adieu to the crowd. It was a fine show, one that made me miss Texas, and forced me to grapple with how I myself handle grief and loss. The show was not a downer at all, but rather a celebration of what you would want to remember of a life well-lived, and a tribute to a fallen comrade. Damn good stuff from Mr. Steve Earle.
I had seen Steve play at the Ardmore Music Hall, but the Ft. Lauderdale venue was a real theater with a large stage. His band had room to spread out and play, and they did just that. He gave great renditions of some signature tracks, like Guitar Town and Galway Girl.
How fun is that second video? Just fabulous stuff.
Anyway, back to Steve Earle. The guy has clearly put on years and pounds, and he doesn't move like the old days. But isn't that true of all of us? No violations from my point of view. But Steve still has his great tunes, and he plays them with enthusiasm and with a solid backup band. We had a really good time, and enjoyed being in a crowd of wannabe Texans on this warm Florida night.
Oh, and hey, I forgot to mention what a beautiful theater they have in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Yes, it’s newer without the tradition and frescoes, but it has lots of natural wood, great seats and sightlines, and heavenly acoustics. It was a pleasure to see a great show in a worthy space.
I've got more shows to review and I promise to get back to you soon.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.