story and photos by Michael Tilley
Around 200 gathered Saturday night (Nov. 17) at Second Street Live! in downtown Fort Smith to hear and watch James McMurtry rock through his classic songs and try out new material expected to be on his next album.
McMurtry is the son of famous novelist Larry McMurtry. Novelist Stephen King said McMurtry “may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation. John Mellencamp, who produced McMurtry’s first album in 1989, said McMurtry “writes like he’s lived a lifetime.” (Link here for more about McMurtry.)
The audience remained seated for the first songs of the set. McMurtry, accustomed to playing in bars, encouraged audience members to get up and dance.
“Kind of feels like we’re being studied at this point,” McMurtry told the audience watching the show from orderly rows of chairs.
Later in the show, he noted that many in the audience may be Baptists, but he needed them to “be a Methodist.” With that, he launched into the popular and up-tempo “Chocktaw Bingo,” which McMurtry prefaced by saying was a song for members of the First United Crystal Methodist church. On his Live in Aught-Three album, McMurtry said the song is about the “north Texas, southern Oklahoma crystal methamphetamine industry.”
The set began at 7:30 p.m., and wrapped up around 9:30. McMurtry signed autographs on CDs and posters, and met with fans for about 30 minutes after the show.
He then retired to the Second Street Live! green room where he poured a glass of red wine and warmed up a half eaten plate of food from nearby Rolando’s restaurant.
“It’s pretty good back-stage fare,” McMurtry said when asked about the meal.
The show, because it was played in a large open room, was different than the shows they play in bars, McMurtry said.
“We had to play so much quieter,” he explained.
Although wrapping up a show much earlier than normal, McMurtry said the band and crew would stay in Fort Smith.
“No, we don’t drive after the shows. Too many deer on the road,” McMurtry said.