Chuck Ragan | 08.02.10

A pair of acoustic sets rocks The Firebird on a hot Monday night.


photo courtesy of Bryan J. Sutter

Monday, August 1, 2010
The Firebird

Around 80 people filled The Firebird on Monday night and were subsequently treated to hours of highly entertaining and passion fueled acoustic music. Starting us off was St. Louis’ own, Sink the Bismark. I’ve seen them play around half a dozen times and was really curious to see how their sound would translate acoustically. I was not disappointed. And I wasn’t the only one impressed — everyone else I talked to really enjoyed the set. They did a great job of capturing their live show’s usual energy, only this time, it was a little more intimate. With guitarist Matt Brennecke, bassist/vocalist Mike Kostecki and vocalist/guitarist Andy Binder sang songs of travel, love, booze and, of course, The Fest (Gainesville, FL’s annual punk rock festival). The crowd stood back a bit, in typical St. Louis fashion, but was unquestionably into the performance.

After a short break, Chuck Ragan took the stage. For those that are unfamiliar, Chuck is part of the influential band, Hot Water Music — formed in Gainesville in 1993. He released his first solo album, Feast or Famine, in 2007. I saw Ragan’s solo set last year at The Firebird, too. If I’m remembering correctly, it was just him, his harmonica and his guitar, with a few guest musicians here and there. This time, he came with a full crew: newcomers (fourth time playing with Ragan) Joe and Mitch, on stand up bass and acoustic guitar, respectively, and John, the incredible fiddle player that looked and sounded like a mountain man directly out of the Charlie Daniels Band. From the start it was apparent that there wasn’t a set list —the band was taking requests all night and Ragan finally came clean, “We’re just kinda makin’ it up as we go along. Hope you’re having as much fun as us!” I’m taking the freedom of speaking for everyone but it sure seemed like we all were —the crowd had gathered itself directly in front of the stage, began buying the band shots and hanging on every word. And with lyrics like “I was dreaming I could ride the sun, westward as it dropped,” how could you not?

Midway throughout the set, Joe, Mitch and John stepped off stage and we got Chuck alone for three very special songs. The first was “God Deciding,” by Hot Water Music, which he dedicated to my good buddy, Abe, in the front row and, as of then, probably received the best crowd reaction. Next, he played “Rye Whiskey,” by the Hot Water Music side project, Rumbleseat. Finally, he perfectly covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Reason to Believe,” from the album Nebraska. The other three musicians joined him back on stage to play, “The Boat,” which Ragan described as “a simple song about how music keeps your head above water,” a song about “living, loving, breathing music.”

photo courtesy of Bryan J. Sutter

Unfortunately, the night had to come to a close. The audience got to choose the last song and an overwhelming number of us were shouting for Feast or Famine’s “California Burritos.” After Ragan thanked us and invited us to stay for shots of whiskey after the show, they band began to play. If crowd participation was good during the Hot Water Music song, it was downright outstanding for this one. Everyone around me was dancing and singing and clapping along to Ragan’s scruff voice shouting out, “because I can’t stand feeling nothing, I can’t stand feeling old, I can’t stand standing for nothing when standing up is all I know.”

The show couldn’t have ended better. After the lights came up, with our convictions reaffirmed and new friends made, we left with hearts and heads full of positivity and hope. What more could a music lover ask for? | Nicole Madden

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