Previous to July 11th, 2017, I had never been to Huber Heights. The only thing I knew about the place was that Ohio State great Braxton Miller was from there. For this reason alone, Huber Heights was endearing to me but after watching Dawes open for Willie Nelson and Family at The Rose Music Center, I am definitely willing to go back.
I started my evening at El Toro Mexican Bar & Grill. This is a standard casual Mexican restaurant very similar Central, Ohio chain El Vaquero. I sat at the bar and ordered a large frozen salted margarita – that is right, FROZEN…I am not ashamed. In fact, I wish I had a frozen Margarita machine at my house. I would be diabetic, but it would be worth it.
While sipping my deliciously ordinary Margarita, I decided on the Burrito California in the Texana style – grilled chicken, steak, and shrimp along with guacamole, pico de gallo and green salsa on the inside and topped with white cheese sauce served with a side of rice. It was what you would expect at casual Mexican restaurant in this style – nothing to write home about, but something to write about on the internet.
The chips were fresh and the salsa had a little heat. All in all, my tab was $20. Everything was serviceable and predictable. I just wanted to have some Tex-Mex because I was going to see the pride of Austin, Texas. If you want a quick dinner before going to The Rose Center, El Toro is certainly money better spent than Applebees, Friday’s, Olive Garden, etc.
At this point, I still had an hour before the gates opened. I was planning on relaxing in The Rose Music Center parking lot, but I discovered local bar T.J. Chumps was only about a football fields distance (a legitimate unit of measurement) from the venue. I noticed a lot of people in bandannas and Willie shirts walking in, so I decided to join my people.
T.J. Chumps is exactly what it sounds like. A large warehouse type restaurant with a loaded menu and lots of crazy junk on the walls. There are three areas – a large indoor space, a large covered patio, and a large outdoor patio. It is the kind of place where a men’s softball teams goes to throw back a few after the game or also where a high school freshman wants his birthday party because of the large screens and killer chicken wings. Don’t get me wrong, these places certainly serve a purpose, and my purpose was to talk to some fellow fans before the show.
I sat myself at the outdoor patio bar and ordered a cold pint of Miller Lite.
The Willie fans had already taken over – I immediately felt at home. Looking around I saw people of all ages, backgrounds and races. It was a warm and friendly vibe and everyone had a story to tell. The main story I heard was that I shouldn’t have waited until I was 40 to see Willie for the first time. Rookie mistake.
After nursing my drink, I wandered into The Rose Music Center fifteen minutes after the gates opened. To say I was surprised at how nice this venue is would be an understatement. I was initially skeptical because of the proximity to the highway. I was sure we would hear traffic, but that noise was non-existent. Well done Huber Heights, well done.
Seats are assigned and there is a roof, so shows are never cancelled. The 4200 capacity amphitheater is hosting its third concert season and there does not appear to be a bad seat in the house. Maybe it was the chill vibe of the night, but all concert goers and Rose Music Center staff were friendly. The Rose Music Center is a well-oiled machine and everything ran smoothly.
As for food and drinks, it is pretty standard fare. Domestic aluminum bottles, craft beer drafts, mass produced wine and bottom to mid shelf spirits. I did not check out the food options, but Skyline Chili certainly made its presence felt -literally and figuratively – as it always does.
After touring the facility a bit more, I found my seat at 7:50. Dawes promptly started at 8. Like I said…well-oiled machine.
I was slightly familiar with Dawes. I knew a few singles from CD 102.5 FM and had seen them on Austin City Limits. I liked what I had heard and what I had seen and thought they might be kind of bland live. I was happy to be wrong.
Hailing from California, Dawes is a five piece (2 guitars, bass, drums, keys) that embodies the early 1970s Southern California folk/rock/pop/alt country vibe. My first thought was Jackson Brown fronting the Eagles with Warren Zevon on keys – and not because the drummer sang and looked like Don Henley. Sure, that comparison is hyperbolic, but that is really how they sounded. In fact, if Dawes would have had a woman join them on stage, I am sure she would have looked and sounded like Linda Ronstadt.
Every song told a story or had a narrative. Thin, hip, and handsome, the guys in the band could all play and sing. Many songs had well performed three part harmonies – most especially on the CD 102.5 FM single My Time Comes.
At times the lyrics were silly and at other times profound. For example, Dawes closed their 40 minute, 7 song set with All Your Favorite Bands.
‘I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person
That you’ve always been to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together’
Sure, those lyrics are a little corny but the chorus really stuck with me. Maybe because I REALLY want an El Camino. If you get a chance to see Dawes live, jump at it. Dawes may not be reinventing the wheel, but they certainly are putting their own spin on it.
At this point I assumed I had 20 minutes to use the restroom and grab a drink. I wanted a cold beer to watch Willie Nelson because I am an American and I love this country. I settled on a 20 ounce Goose Island (Chicago) IPA draft, reasonably priced (at least for a show) at $8.50. I found my seat again with about seven minutes to spare. As I thought, Willie walked on stage promptly at 9.
The man, myth, and legend walked out by himself and the house erupted. Wearing black jeans, an American flag t –shirt, a black cowboy hat (with the bandanna underneath) and carrying his guitar Trigger, it was a surreal sight to behold.
The band came out after Willie. Sister Bobby – at 86 years young – had to be accompanied to her piano, which at the time I believed to be worrisome, but ultimately my worries were for naught. After all she is Sister Bobby and knows what she is doing. I am just a dude from the suburbs. What the hell do I know?
Willie and Family opened with Whiskey River and the crowd appreciated the gesture. From this point it was hit after hit after hit. You can do that when your first recording took place during the Eisenhower Administration.
Soon after the opening number, Willie and Family performed Beer For My Horses. Willie requested that the crowd sing the chorus, and the crowd obliged. I was just happy that Toby Keith was not in attendance. That certainly would have ruined the evening, the vibe and my freshly poured Goose Island as I would have chucked it at his head.
This was followed by Willie telling the crowd ‘Lets do one for Waylon’. The band immediately started into Good Hearted Woman and the crowd immediately went into a frenzy – or at least as much of a frenzy as possible when 40% of the crowd are AARP members. Again, Willie asked the crowd to sing the chorus and again the crowd obliged. Willie established dominance and was in control. At this point, if Willie would have told me to throw stones at my grandmother, I would have hopped into my car, found a rock quarry and driven to Indiana.
After this, Willie and Family performed a medley of Funny How Time Slips Away, Crazy, Nightlife and Listen To The Blues. The band was finely tuned and really going strong at this point – especially longtime band member, music legend and harmonica player Mickey Rapheal. Rapheal did a lot of the heavy lifting, either because he was the best musician on stage or because at 65 years old, he was one of the youngest musicians on stage.
The band also paid tribute to Hank Williams with Hey Good Lookin’ and Move It On Over and to Ray Charles with Georgia On My Mind. Of all of the evening’s covers, Georgia seemed to come the most naturally to Willie. I truly believe it is because Ray Charles and Willie are essentially the same musician…but that is a topic for another day or PhD dissertation (if I win the lottery and can successfully bribe my way into PhD program).
Other Willie classics were On The Road Again, Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, and Always On My Mind. During Always On My Mind – which may be the most perfect pop song ever written – the crowd was the most silent of the night. It was a moving rendition and the crowd soaked up every moment. Conspicuously missing from Willie’s catalog were To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before and Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.
All in all, the 75 minute set was worth every penny. Willie and the band are true professionals and had the crowd at their command. Outstanding musicians knowing and respecting their audience was the name of the game. As Willie and Family brought Dawes out to sing with them on the closing medley of I’ll Fly Away and Circle Be Unbroken, I kept wondering, ‘WHY did I wait so long to see this American icon?’
Don’t be like me and make the same mistake. As always, thanks for reading and I hope to see you next time!
ADDITIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS
- Speaking of Warren Zevon and Mickey Raphael, checkout Raphael accompanying Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires on the cover of Zevon’s Mutineer. David Letterman was Zevon’s most famous supporter and the clip is taken from an episode of The Late Show.
- Still don’t think Willie and Ray aren’t the same person? Check this out. If I had a time machine and could only go to one show, this may be that show.
- Besides my wife and Starliner Diner, the best thing about living in Hilliard is its proximity to The Rose Center.