Today I Work My Fanny Off

Steve Earle & The Dukes
Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center
June 14, 2022

Waiting to enter the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center, an intimate venue located about 50 miles northwest of New York City in the scenic Wallkill Valley, a friend noted it had been decades since we’d seen two concerts within a two-week period.

It was either proof positive that the pandemic has reached the ‘learn-to-live-with-it’ stage or that time travel has been invented. There’s a bit more of me than there was when I seemed to live in clubs, so I think we can reject the latter proposition.

The easier test would have been to ask when was the last time I saw Steve Earle and the answer would have been, “Never.” That seems almost improbable. I remember where and when I bought Earle’s first album, Guitar Town. I’ve been listening to him ever since.

Earle and his band, The Dukes, are touring in support of his latest record, Jerry Jeff, a tribute to the songs of the late Jerry Jeff Walker. If you were alive in the early 1970s you probably couldn’t have missed Walker’s major hit, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band‘s version of  “Mr. Bojangles,” which is almost an outlier in his catalog. A stalwart of Austins rebel country scene, Walker actually hails from Oneonta, NY, a couple of hours up Route 17 from Sugar Loaf.

Walker was an early local favorite of Earle’s and this is his act of homage to a mentor, and an opportunity to once again sing Walker’s big hit. He’s done this before, notably with the music of Townes Van Zandt, another singer-songwriter with a Texas connection

Earle played half a dozen songs from the new record, interspersing the tunes with anecdotes about Jerry Jeff. If you ever want to hear tales of musicians just wind Earle up and let him go. He has a story for almost every occasion.

The latest material took about 40 minutes to cover and for many artists that would represent an evening’s work. Earle was just getting started and I think he may want to wrest the title of the hardest working man in show business from the late James Brown because the set extended another 90 minutes or so including the encore.

Steve Earle
The guitar looks like a Telecaster Thinline Custom with a Bigsby tailpiece.

The anecdotes kept coming, too, as did a fair bit of political opining. My politics probably align with Earle’s, and there were more Priuses than pick-ups in the parking lot, so it was probably a safe venue for his decidedly left-of-center views. It does make me wonder, though, how he managed to live in the aforementioned guitar town for so long.

Anyone who came to hear his better-known songs–I don’t think Earle’s biggest successes qualify as hits, and if they do it’s glancingly–was not disappointed. I have limited patience for the conceit that only new material and growth matter. I’d argue it’s entertainment, but in Earle’s case, he has an impressive catalog. Those songs deserve to be played and sung by Steve Earle and heard by his fans. At 67 he’s still in good voice, though he looks bit like a druid, and who knows how many tours are left.

The current lineup of The Dukes is a tight unit whose members comfortably shift between acoustic and electric instruments. Earle himself played mandolin and mandocello in addition to guitar. Between Earle and Chris Masterson, whose wife, Eleanor Whitmore plays violin and keyboards in the band and who was one half of the opening act, The Whitmore Sisters, the guitar roadie earned his daily bread. Instruments were changed like socks.

The encore reminded me of one of Levon Helm‘s rambles. It just felt loose, friendly and most importantly, fun. They also ended with covers of songs by the Grateful Dead and, The Band, both groups for which I retain a soft spot,.

I exited the show to find the Strawberry supermoon sitting above a nearby ridge. A warm summer’s eve, it offered the perfect opportunity to drop the windows, crank the radio and drive home ignoring the workday starting in a few short hours.

Maybe time travel does exist.


Here’s the link to the setlist:

And here’s some of the show to whet your appetite.


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