Back in 2008, I stumbled on to the summer concert series at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens when my sons needed a weekend escort for an activity in ATL. Since then, seeing a show at this fabulous concert venue has been a highlight of every summer. There are only a handful of shows each season, and they sell out fast. This year my pick was to see Lyle Lovett in his “Acoustic Group” configuration.
The setting for the 8:00 PM shows is a large lawn on which folk are allowed to station themselves on short-legged beach chairs or blankets. Concert-goers usually start lining up several hours early, and I arrived about 6:30 PM to find a rather long line meandering through the park. The Gardens concert crowd is perhaps a bit more upscale than usual, and the venue seems to cater to this needy bunch with offerings of wine by the bottle and fancy picnic-style dinners. Overall, I compliment the Gardens crowd for being quiet, well-behaved and respecting to the both artists and fans. Something I can’t say about another area venue, the horribly annoying Chastain (aka “Chat-stain) Park.
The band setup for a Lyle Lovett show comes in several different shapes and sizes, and tonight’s Acoustic Group did not disappoint. Let’s be honest: There are not many artists for who you’d want to sit through a 2 ½ hour set with no opening act. Lyle Lovett, however, is just one. Aside from the sheer entertaining quality of his songs, singing, and the band’s musicianship, he is perhaps the most gracious and gentlemanly performer out there.
In between songs, his storytelling flare and dry sense of humor created a wonderful flow. He respectfully incorporated both the venue and the city into his between song comments. The Gardens’ “moat” in front of the stage and poisonous frog exhibit near backstage were perfect fodder for his joking. He even gave a nod to The Varsity, Atlanta’s legendary “World’s Largest Drive-In” telling us that’s where he and the band would be after the show.
This night’s set was a career-spanning one covering Lovett’s remarkable 13-album output since starting in 1986. Although not necessarily big on the charts these days, he has consistently released great records. In the process he has developed and maintained a large, loyal following.
An artist of Lovett’s stature can get good players to back him, and Lovett didn’t waste any time showing them off. He let the band go on an instrumental workout for the night’s second selection. As he introduced the band later, he plugged their solo records which were for sale at the merch tent. Lovett even let his two singing sidemen each perform songs from their records. Of course, being in Lyle’s band requires a snappy wardrobe: All wore dark suits, white shirts, and ties.
Lovett is a class songwriter. In addition, he has a knack for being a great interpreter of a great song. The set this night included several selections from both of his covers records: 1998’s Step Inside This House; and his latest effort, 2013’s Release Me. Not wanting to disappoint, he included the three classics from his landmark 1987 record Pontiac: “L.A. County,” If I Had a Boat,” and “She’s No Lady,” perhaps his signature song.
As I have grown older I have become more and more set in my ways about what I will and won’t do. Two things that remain on that list after this night are (1) I will never allow myself to miss Lyle Lovett in concert; and (2) I will be sure to visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens every summer. My calendar is already set to watch for ticket sales come next April.
- Up in Indiana
- [band instrumental]
- Farmer Brown
- Here I Am
- Release Me (Eddie Miller cover)
- White Boy Lost in the Blues (Michael Franks cover)
- Isn’t That So (Jesse Winchester cover)
- Bears (Steve Fromholz cover)
- Texas Trilogy (Steve Fromholz cover)
- Cute as a Bug
- Give Back My Heart
- I Will Rise Up
- Temperance Reel (Luke Bulla lead vocal)
- Remember Well (Luke Bulla lead vocal)
- It Ought to Be Easier
- If I Were the Man You Wanted
- L.A. County
- Nobody Knows Me
- Let Me Fall (Keith Sewell lead vocal)
- If I Had a Boat
- She’s No Lady
- That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)
- White Freightliner Blues (Townes Van Zandt cover)
- North Dakota
- You Can’t Resist It
Lyle Lovett – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
Luke Bulla—Fiddle and Guitar
Keith Sewell—Mandolin and Guitar