The man in the preacher hat summed up my evening. "Lydia Loveless is up next. I love getting to say that. What a Saturday night!"
It was indeed a Saturday night I won't soon forget.
Back during the halcyon days of summer, I'd bought a $12 ticket to see Lydia at the Southern in Charlottesville and tonight a favorite couple came by to scoop me up and ferry me there.
Our first stop was Public Fish & Oyster, where we encountered a full house and no availability until 9:30 unless we were willing to sit on the patio.
I had only one question and the answer was yes, they had heaters out there, so we joined a growing group of poor planners like ourselves to eat dinner outside on the coldest evening in months.
Cozying up to a heater and with a borrowed blanket from the restaurant that shared the patio (honestly, we thought the blankets were Public's), we managed quite nicely, thank you.
Food-wise, we were in high cotton. From the blackboard offerings of East coast oysters, we had the two saltiest bivalves: PEI's Canada Cups and Rhode Island's Beaver Tails, the former the briniest and thus my fave.
When our affable server Cameron warned us that there were only two orders left of tonight's special, I immediately reserved one because how often does a person get offered wolf fish cheeks with remoulade, vinegary cucumber slices, jalapeno hush puppies and corn on the cob, all on the same plate?
Just to be sure, I also got fried brussels sprouts with a stellar apple slaw (even though brussels had a superfluous apostrophe on the menu and menu mistakes like that grate on this reader's eye), tasted a damn fine clam chowder and politely declined rockfish because I was full (room was found for chocolate torte, but that's a different story).
Over dinner, my hatted friend shared that she'd heard from long-time friends - a couple in Madison County also en route to tonight's show - who'd started today by making a fire, laying in bed and listening to Lydia's new album on vinyl.
If there could be a finer start to a day...well, I'm listening.
By the time we rolled out, the patio was completely full and the temperature had dropped ten degrees. November, you can be unpleasant.
But the Southern was as warm and toasty as the name suggests and we arrived early enough that the doors hadn't yet opened, so when they did, we bolted to claim spaces on the raised seating that surrounds the poles in the room.
It's not my first Southern rodeo by any stretch and I know those structures make fine places to stand once things get crowded.
The musician in our group immediately commented on the '70s-era drum kit onstage (the bass drum had a picture of Paul Lynde on it), the abundance of guitars (Fenders, Gibsons and a Silvertone) and had an epiphany when he spotted the Fender amps ("That's why the guitar tones sound so good on the record!").
We were amazed that the show wasn't sold out or even close to it, although it was at least diverse with everything from UVA students to plenty of Baby Boomers and skewing heavily male. Our collective opinion was that it would've sold out in Richmond.
Opener Aaron Lee Tasjan came out looking like a 21st century Hazel Moates - or at least that was our take after seeing "Wise Blood" last night - in a cream-colored "preacher's hat" over long, straight hair, a dried blood-colored jacket, a black shirt buttoned all the way up and tight pants, accompanied by Brian from Waco, a superb guitar player.
They give you loose gravel and call it rock steady
Explaining that in Omaha, someone had given him a napkin full of acid, he said he'd gone home, taken it and written four folk rock songs, including one called "Little Movies," which didn't have a particularly folk-like bent, but was a solid song anyway. Ditto "Memphis Rain"
One of these days I'm gonna lose my mind
Can't wait to see what that helps me find
His songs were smart and literate (how often do you hear a reference to poet laureate Phillip Levine?) and sometimes just plain clever, like "Twelve Bar Blues" about 12 different bars, comparing their strengths and weaknesses.
When an annoying woman right up front began trying to get his attention, he told her, "Don't start with me. It's been a long week and I smell terrible and you don't want what I got."
Always believe a man in a preacher hat.
Aaron and Brian closed out by rocking hard to "Success" before Aaron rhapsodized about how fortunate we were to be spending Saturday night with Lydia Loveless.
The stage was reset for the headliners, PBRs were placed at each station and the band came out. Lydia's look said it all: a coonskin hat, a red plaid sweater, fur-lined boots and silvery blue eye shadow and her first words - "Illustrious intro here. Hello!" - said the rest.
"It's hard to feel rock and roll in a sweater, so I opted not to wear pants, just tights because I live in a van." I'm guessing that despite that, she didn't smell as terrible as Aaron claimed he did, but I have no proof of that.
Besides, odor issues aside, her leather guitar strap with her name burned into it was totally badass. And the woman has a voice that rivals Neko Case's for purity, nuance and my willingness to listen to absolutely anything she's singing.
After beginning with the provocative "European," they moved on to the bruised emotions of "To Love Somebody" as the smell of weed permeated the air, making us wonder how that even happens in a public place.
With "Real," she mined the authenticity of her past and the honesty of that hardest of goals - successful relationships - and by that point, there were enough tall people in front of us that it was time to stand on our seats. From that perch, we had a terrific view of Lydia and the four musicians with her, all of whom looked markedly older.
The bassist was a hair flipper, constantly whipping his long, curly hair to and fro and the guitarist on the right was a major showboater with his low-slung guitar and trucker's hat, constantly seeking the spotlight, while the drummer just did his job and other guitarist wowed on 12 string and pedal steel.
"Enough of the rock and roll shenanigans. It gets a little out of control," Lydia announced, stating the obvious. "Let's just play some nice peaceful songs." That's how we got to hear the more low key "Midwestern Guys."
The band exited so we could experience just Lydia and her guitar and, in many ways, it was the truest and most captivating way to hear songs such as "Out on Love" and "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud." Apparently being home-schooled makes you capable of such literary lyric-writing.
When she did "More Like Them," my thoughts naturally went to the couple whose day had started with a roaring fire and vinyl. In Lydia's words, why can't I be more like them?
She wasn't a big talker between songs, but late in the set, she shared that two months in a van with four guys and too much testosterone was wearing on her, along with "electing a misogynist this week so there's a black cloud around us all..." and then some idiot yelled out a song request and she finished by saying, "...and people telling you what song to sing in the middle of a sentence."
The band returned and she sarcastically said they were going to do "the hit single from our smash record," to which the less annoying guitarist asked, "Which one?"
"The one that bought your house, your second house," she said, launching into the melancholy "Longer," in which her voice may or may not sound like vintage Shelby Lynne (a reference only Baby Boomers will get), bending almost to the point of breaking before soaring again.
The brief encore was just Lydia and her guitar and our dream evening bubble popped.
I scrambled onstage and snagged the set list as a souvenir. All three of us walked out of there enthralled with what we'd just heard, amazed at what $12 had bought us and sorry that Lydia hadn't gotten the full house she deserved.
We, on the other hand, got the best Saturday night imaginable. Amen, preacher man.