Bobby Bare, April 28, 2018: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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At Gobbler Theater, Johnson Creek, Wisconsin: Bobby Bare started his set with his best known song, “Detroit City.” In fact, Bare began with the song’s chorus because, he said, “The chorus is what people like best about that song.” This urban portrait was followed by “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” a mournful hit for Bare in 1965. After singing a clever number that cast doubt about whether some conflicts could have a “Winner,” Bare returned to the city for “My Baby Walks the Streets of Baltimore.”

His Wisconsin audience greeted each song like an old friend.

We had been told that Bobby Bare was not feeling well. Such pre-show announcements are often code for an audience to be ready for a lackluster concert or a short set. And while Bare did not attempt to hide the fact that he had a bad cold, his performance left no one disappointed. The only sign of fatigue was when the singer decided to sit down for a couple of numbers. It was clear that this was unplanned, for there was no convenient chair available. He finally just pulled his guitar amp to center stage for an impromptu seat.

Bare took his time, offering unhurried versions of songs, several of which included spoken narratives. He also related personal stories between almost every number. Many were funny, some were poignant; rapt attention was paid to each. At the first hint that Bobby Bare was open to requests, the respectful crowd at Gobbler Theater came alive with suggestions.

The performer seemed glad that the audience knew his work. To the delight of all, Bare proclaimed: “Yell ‘em out! If I don’t know one, I’ll sing it anyway.” Backed by guitar, bass, and drums, Bare took requests for “Sundown” and “Tequila Sheila.” When a voice from the back shouted for “Lincoln Park Inn,” Bare acknowledged he’d be “going way back” for this number, and then gave a perfect rendition of the song.

“I’m trying to get my voice ready to sing ‘500 Miles,’” he smiled, “but I’m not there yet.” Bare laughed as he explained: “That song is hard to sing; it’s all vowels.” He parlayed this discussion about lyrics into a description of his relationship with Shel Silverstein. It’s clear that Bare holds Silverstein’s memory close to his heart, for he spoke at length about songs he had recorded by this multi-talented man.

Bare bookended his Silverstein tribute with “Mermaid” and the upbeat “Still Gonna Die,” songs containing eternal themes of country music — sex and death. Late in the set, Bobby Bare played a number that demonstrated a more reflective side of Silverstein’s songwriting talent, simply called “Time.” He then declared his voice fit for the challenge, and sang “500 Miles.” It was worth the wait: Bobby Bare’s emotional delivery showed why he was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A hot version of “Marie Laveau” ended the night.

At the concert’s meet and greet, one woman seemed surprised to find herself standing in line by a young man. After all, one of country music’s reigning superstars was also giving a concert on this same night, at the nearby Miller Park baseball stadium. She asked why he chose to come and hear Bobby Bare instead. The young man looked at her. Slowly and deliberately, he recited the title of Bare’s 1973 album: “Lullabys, Legends, and Lies.”

I couldn’t think of a better answer, myself.

Tom Wilmeth is the author of ‘Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,’ which has earned raves from the likes of Gary Burton and Hal Holbrook. It’s available now from Muleshoe Press via Amazon.

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth, an English faculty member at Concordia University-Wisconsin since 1991, has given presentations and published widely on the topics of literature and music. Author of 'Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,' he earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in College Station. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Wilmeth
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