The sweat beaded on Junior Browns forehead as he pushed back his hat and rolled his eyes upwards, lips pursed and tongue pushing against his cheek, as with his free hand he pulled a deep, low, nasty note kicking and screaming from Big Red, his half electric, half-pedal steel guitar.
Juniors always-dapper style may have gotten him into trouble Sunday as he performed at Michael Martin Murphys WestFest, where the sun baked the Pioneers Museum grounds and tortured concertgoers. His new beard, green suit, tie and signature white cowboy hat were ill-suited for the July heat, but even the humid temperatures and sweaty hands couldnt stop Junior from delivering his usual other-worldly performance, twisting and contorting through the short set.
The view from the sea of lawn chairs was blocked as the largest crowd of the weekend ventured up to the stage to watch Juniors fingers fly through acid-tinged versions of Long Walk Back and My Wife Thinks Youre Dead, among the mixture of standards and new tracks from the new album, due out at the end of July. Junior growled purposely low, watching delightedly as the crowd responded to the bass rumbling painfully loud from the speaker towers. He then began to yell I got a star on my car and a-one on my chest and the crowd erupted in a chorus of hoots and hollers, jumping to Highway Patrol. Brown looked positively evil as he launched into Hillbilly Hula Gal, enjoying the heady effect he had on the overheated crowd as they shimmied and shook.
The lovely Miss Tanya Rae, Juniors wife and highly skilled rhythm guitarist nudged him and said last song, to no avail. Bizarre, non-conformist notes filled the downtown area as Junior let it all out on that guitsteel, oblivious of the schedule. Brown was playing for himself, and had a ball getting all the little girls to jump and sway to a wicked jam through television Western theme songs, bridging from Bonanza to a raucous Secret Agent Man. He flicked the pick over the strings and away from the instrument, tightening the strings and blissfully listening to the distortion emanate from the stage and into the masses.
Like either a god or a bobbing head doll Junior worked at Big Red, each note a seeming stroke of genius worthy of nodding, satisfied movement. As Secret Agent trailed off into a classic aimless Junior-style jam, he leaned close to the guitsteel and lightly strummed its strings, creating a quiet medley of notes more easily felt than heard. Like a lover he touched Big Red, an intimate conversation taking place. It felt intrusive to watch Junior gain so much pleasure from the high sporadic notes that sprang and leapt from his hands even Tanya Rae looked a little embarrassed. Enough already! Junior suddenly yelled at himself, but still even more music escaped his pick.
Finally the promoters and crew began to mill about nervously, and Junior got the hint. He thanked the band and crowd, but then mischievously jerked his thumb upwards at the sound guy as if to say turn it up! and jumped into a countrified Foxy Lady before the goofy MC had a chance to get a word in. The band dove in with him, Tanya Rae providing a haunting vocal to Juniors rhythmic, animalistic musical ritual. Junior apparently is possessed by demons when he takes the stage, and those monstrous little devils had a hold of Brown as the crowd watched him struggle to end the song. At last he unleashed a cry of Put that guitar down, boy! into the mic, and reluctantly released the guitsteel to its custom stand. No exaggeration here folks, Junior fought a deep inner battle before dropping that guitar. Still hepped up, Junior waved goodbye as the band played an exit piece ala The King, and skipped off the stage.
The hot crowd stood stunned and deaf, a lost congregation suddenly separated from its spiritual leader. In a way, Junior ruined everybodys damn day. Theres no following an act like him, theres no way to gently coast off a Junior Brown show, no matter how short.