Spider John Koerner
The Plough & Stars,
Cambridge, Massachusetts
(17 March 2000)

The flyer announces that Amlan Alla Sean O'Koerner will be performing on St. Patrick's Day, and the tiny Irish pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is packed despite the nasty weather. The show began at 8:30 and it's after 9 when I arrive. I worm my way to the back, where a miniscule stage supports a monument to tradition. A pretty woman of 50-plus has also just come in and exclaims to a companion, "It IS him! Spider John! It's Spider John Koerner!" The admiration in her voice reflects the sentiments of the ageless crowd. This, afterall, is where Koerner feels that what he does is at its best. His sidemen are old "compadres," people who've been playing with him for years. I've missed the first set, but Koerner says the fiddle player hasn't arrived yet, either.

When the second set begins, we are anticipatory. Something is happening here, and the audience is a part of it. Koerner climbs back onto the stage area and in his quiet unassuming manner, unpacks the 12 string Epiphone and straps it on, along with the harmonica holder. His band now is Paul Strother on Ktamer electric bass guitar, Robbie Phillips on his own homemade electric Wombat bass (more aptly called a "gut bucket") and Chip Taylor Smith on fiddle. Although they are able to play together only a few times a year at best, they are connected -- they know what's going to happen, and it's cooking! This is folk music the way it is suppose to sound!

Koerner's "Phoebe" is a dance tune and we don't care that we have only six inches for jitterbugging. When he launches into "Dodger," the crowd is with him, and from that point on it's like hydroplaning and we are riding high. Chip's eyes close as his fiddle talks to the 12-string and Robbie rocks back, finding notes that match the pulse of the crowd. Koerner's impeccable timing resonates through the stage from that stomping, pumping, scrawny leg, taking us with him, down the old Chisholm Trail out onto Massachusetts Avenue.

Spider John Koerner, Minnesota's "premier blues picker" and a third of the 1960s seminal country blues trio Koerner, Ray and Glover, has been performing for more than 40 years now. He began developing his syncopated style of traditional American folk music in the early 1970s, intent on putting all the power into it that he had heard in traditional music played on European stages. Check out his live show. He has succeeded.

[ by Linda M. Knudsen ]



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