This past Friday night, at the invitation of our No-Blood-Kin Cuzzin Al Cooper, we headed south to Red Lodge, Mt to spend an evening listening to this guitar-pickin’ knight – the revered Reverend Al – perform at Snow Creek Saloon.
Now I’ve gotta admit that we’re not much for bar-hoppin’, but we love our Cuzzin Al (a Missippi boy who now calls Wyoming home), and love to listen to him sing and play. We’ve been following his musical career since he had a band (Out of the Chute) in college. Post-college, Al was accepted into the Montana State Highway Patrol program, and was the first – and only – patrolman to sing at the organization’s graduation. He also sang one of his own songs at his wedding and spent some time singing and pitching his songs in Nashville. He writes incredible songs, and is an outstanding singer and guitar player. And an all-around nice and funny guy on top of all that. So, of course, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get to hear him play and sing (and btw, he just keeps getting better and better).
The Snow Creek has lots of neon, which we admired:
And a lovely long bar, cozy tables, a wood stove, and a great tin ceiling:
Before the music started, we ordered some of the local nectar – Bent Nail IPA -hand-crafted less than a mile away at Red Lodge Ales.
And then our good cuzzin started playing and singin’ and the whole atmosphere changed. Dressed in faded jeans and a striped cotton shirt, a dimpled cowboy hat, and a little beard stubble, Al ran the gamut of musical songs and styles – from Loudon Waintwright III to James Earl Keene, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, Charlie Daniels, Meat Loaf, and Kenny Chesney. He sang the classic “Up Against the Wall You Redneck Mother,” the “Oreo Cookie Blues,” “I’d Lie to You for Your Love (and that’s the truth),”and introduced me to the politically incorrect (but very funny) song by Hayes Carll called “She Left Me for Jesus.” And, of course, he sang the consummate country western song that included all of that genre’s icons: Moms, trains, getting drunk, prison, and pick-up trucks. It all put me in mind of Bob Dylan’s interview years ago where he said that “”anything worth thinking about is worth singing about.”
It always amazes me that there’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t incorporate music into its rituals, its celebration, and everyday life. Our magnetism to music almost seems to be in our DNA – and acts, too, as a collective and communal force that binds us together. This was true Friday night, as – between lots of laughter and the clink of glasses and long-necks – we all found our smiling selves tappin’ our feet and dancin’.
Another thing that music does – which I noticed with Al while he was playing, myself, and everyone listening and dancing – is to cause a Zen-like focus, illuminating the shimmering present moment.
I’ve never asked him, but Cuzzin Al is so good at everything he does musically that he puts me in mind a little of what Ray Charles said: “I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me – like food or water.” And, as mentioned above, music and other forms of art were also absolute necessities to all cultures. It’s just that some of us play and sing and create it, and others of us get to enjoy all that creation. We were honored to enjoy the evening and to be anointed in the present moments of Al’s talents and creations.
Check out some of Cuzzin Al’s original songs on his website. (I’m pretty darn partial to “Playground,” so don’t miss listening to that one.)