The Bruce & Kelly Show

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis theme their Antone's residency

The Bruce & Kelly Show
by Cody Hamilton

Earlier this year, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis took over the Continental Club Gallery on Thursdays. Along with a crack band, the husband and wife team put on what I thought was the best local act I’ve seen so far this year. Great songs from both their catalogs, some new tunes, and a couple of wisely chosen covers combined for a knock-out set.

For summer, they’ve moved to Antone’s on Tuesday nights and, with the July 4 holiday tomorrow, tonight’s gig should be a star-spangled event. I asked Robison what's different about the new residency besides the bigger room, and he replied that they're trying to make it just as intimate as the tiny Gallery gigs.

“We came up with the idea of a theme that’s become a big part of the show,” he says. “The reason that the shows with Kelly have been so much fun is because it’s times three. We play my songs, we play her songs, and then we do these things that add a theme of about three songs. It makes the time go by so quickly, I just really enjoy it.

“This week’s theme is ‘place names,’ so Kelly will probably do ‘That’s How I Got to Memphis.’ We get together and have about 40 options and it just depends on what clicks. That’s how we do everything. Whenever the music sounds good that decides what we’re going to do.”

Last year Robison and Willis took to Kickstarter to help fund a new album. He says the disc's done but it won’t be available until after the New Year. Live, the duo provides a taste of what’s on it, including an intriguing version of Dave Alvin’s “Border Radio.” Robison says there’s also a Robert Earl Keen song and one he wrote with Hayes Carll.

“It’s different,’ he relates. “I think I should've been doing more of this all along. We just went and found the best songs me and Kelly sing together, but that’s where we come from. If you hear someone like Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt interpreting songs by other songwriters, it's just a completely different thing. As a songwriter I really appreciate that. That’s what I love when people sing my songs. We’re still trying to figure out the release thing and believe me it’s painful, the wait.”

Using Kickstarter was an amazing success for the couple, but Robison's hesitant to say he would return to that avenue for funding again. One thing's for certain though: he’s energized about the project in a new and surprising way.

“There was one side to this whole thing that was just amazing. There’s people out there that want to be involved and that’s one way that they can be involved. It’s a great thing that people can feel like they’re part of it. It was a huge thing. It paid for the record and it’s fantastic that we didn’t have to dip into our kids' college fund to pay for it.

“But it’s humbling and amazing. Lots of people and other artists have asked about it. It’s an interesting time to be in the music business. One thing for sure is that I’d like to continue that kind of engagement even if it’s not strictly from the funding standpoint.

“The whole thing was scary, but we have an amazing manager, Mike Crowley, who’s spearheaded all of these things, from me and Kelly doing the record to the residencies. He’s a really creative guy. He’s got an amazing amount of verve when it comes to figuring it all out. It’s been a lot of fun.

“I think that in the stages of grief over the music business I’m past acceptance and moved on to some sort of excitement for the future.”

Here's Kelly Willis singing “Harper Valley PTA” at the Continental Club Gallery:

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Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, Kickstarter, Dave Alvin, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Antone's, Mike Crowley, Harper Valley PTA

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