Slaid Cleaves folks around at the Iron Horse

By Acacia DiCiaccio

This past Thursday, the Iron Horse hosted two impressive country and folk acts. The venue hosted a mostly older crowd that appeared to consist of longtime Slaid Cleaves fans, though the younger audience members certainly seemed to enjoy the music and talent just as much.

Opening act Jason Myles Goss wooed the crowd over with his brief but soulful one-man set. This was not his first time performing at the Iron Horse, and he seemed to be grateful to be back in the state in which he grew up. His crooning voice coupled with alluring lyrics made a strong first impression. His song “Coffee and Wine” had the audience swaying, and the haunting “A Plea for Dreamland” pulled the crowd into an even deeper trance. He also debuted a song titled “Black Lights” from his upcoming album, set to be released in early 2012. This lesser known artist presented a high standard for the following act.

When Slaid Cleaves came out on stage, his presence was unassuming. At the Iron Horse, there are no special effects, no curtains, no set-pieces rising up from under the floorboards. Cleaves did not even leave the stage when it came time for the encore, joking that he was getting too old to do the whole tease of walking off stage. After he performed “Hard to Believe” and “Horseshoe Lounge,” he humbly plugged his live double album, “Sorrow and Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge.” He then played a lively south-Austin drinking song before opening the floor to requests.

Cleaves exhibited a deep knowledge of the legendary country artists that came before him, as exemplified by his telling of the story of his song, “This Morning I Am Born Again.” Apparently, he found a piece of writing by Woody Guthrie and put it into song form, only asking Guthrie’s permission after the fact. The resulting piece of music was all his own.

Later in the set, Cleaves announced that he was going to play his signature folk song, “Breakfast in Hell.” Before starting into it, he facetiously listed the reasons why the song should be considered as a folk song, including a minor key, liberal use of a capo, audience participation, an eight minute length, and lyrics based off a true story wherein the main character dies. He referenced a past review of one of his performances where the writer griped at the fact that this was not a “true” folk song because only one person died.

After the lengthy song, Cleaves took a break and let his fiddle player, Chojo Jacques, take the spotlight and rile up the crowd with a zesty solo.

Slaid Cleaves proved himself as a country artist not only by yodeling quite proficiently, but also by ably telling stories both within his music and between songs. Before he performed his piece “Horses,” he relayed the real-life story of a character in the historical novel “Seabiscuit” that inspired him to write the song. After the man about whom he wrote the song passed away, Cleaves was able to meet his wife of 72 years and perform some of his music for her.

He closed the show with a crowd favorite, “One Good Year,” then returned for his encore with a bonus track from his new live album titled “Go for the Gold,” an unplugged gospel tune that denounces the importance of religious affiliation versus personal moral integrity.

Both musicians stuck around after the show to sign autographs and chat with fans. Both demonstrated their intense passion for music with a remarkably down-to-earth attitude. Those who missed the show would be doing themselves a favor to check out both of these talented artists online.

Acacia DiCiaccio can be reached at [email protected]