Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Snaveley's, July 1982

Ramblin' Jack Elliot

Snaveley's, July 1982

Thank God Snaveley's exists to combat the general atmosphere of Sixth Street. On Saturday night it's impossible to park your car within three miles of where you want to go, so you have to thread your way through drunken preppies and confused tourists. Any sane person would have nothing to do with it -- but I really had my heart set on seeing Ramblin' Jack Elliot. Elliot seems less like a performer on a stage than a guest in your living room just dropping by to visit and pick a little; Snaveley's intimate atmosphere aids the illusion. Elliot often threads his own lyrics into those of traditional songs, with delightful guitar pickin' putting texture and structure underneath. So evocative Depression-era songs like "Cooley Dam" or "Stewball" become relevant in the Eighties without losing any of their historical impact. At the end of his first set, he sang "to be continued" and wandered off the stage to visit with friends in the audience. It's consistent with his style to weave a promise to return into the end of a song, but it also made me consider his historical role. His use of "talking blues" can only be called Homeric, in spite of the fact many people think the style was invented with Bob Dylan's. Given Elliot's place in music history, I was surprised that Snaveley's wasn't packed; on the other hand, the audience's respectful silence during Elliot's performance, in contrast with the rowdy weirdness of the street outside, made me feel like I had somehow wandered into a New York coffeehouse from downtown Dallas on Texas-OU weekend.

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