If you closed your eyes, you could easily imagine hearing the St. Vrain river burbling nearby, giving the illusion of an oasis of calm in the middle of the city (once you negotiated the difficult parking!).
Brown, sporting his usual straw hat, played first, accompanied by his longtime musical partner Bo Ramsey, who sprinkled in electric guitar riffs to liven up Brown’s laid back acoustic strumming. Opening with “Stiff Old Bones,” and sitting on a chair surrounded by two end tables with lamps, Brown projected the aura of someone playing in his living room, casually picking out different tunes from the ether and singing them in his low-key, trademark gravely baritone.
Later in the set, as the sun started to get lower in the horizon, it peaked through the trees and shone on Brown’s face, causing him to comment, “That sun is like a big ole’ spotlight.” Brown’s humor shone through well on “Fat Boy Blues,” while the late set “Down at the Mill” gave the audience a touch of working-class angst and misery.
Nanci Giffith, looking thin and somewhat frail, took the stage to a great round of applause from the crowd, which started to sing along on the opener, a tender take on John Prine’s “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”
On the classic “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith dedicated to her father, who had “just gotten married last month, at 84, to his significant other of 30 years,” Griffith seemed to hit a bum note or two on the guitar, though it didn’t detract from the song’s poignancy. She said afterward that if she seemed clumsy on the guitar, it was because she had recently surgery on her right hand and is still getting her coordination back.
Griffith recently released an album, “Intersection,” and played a few songs from that disk, including “Bethlehem Steel,” which she said was partly inspired by Robert De Niro in “The Deer Hunter,” as well as the demise of the steel industry. She also played “The Loving Kind,” a song she wrote from her 2009 album about Richard and Mildred Loving, and said hopefully, “the government will get out of the loving business.” She also talked about receiving a Bill of Rights Award from the ACLU for the song, and how strange it had been to be on stage with some of the other winners, mostly legal experts, who didn’t seem to know who she was.
Giffith was accompanied by Pete and Maura Kennedy. Pete Kennedy played a customized Gibson Les Paul, which he had hallowed out by hand and then covered on the back with a Miles Davis album cover. The guitar’s tone had a nice woodsy feel to it. On “Tequila After Midnight,” Pete’s guitar solo seemed to echo Jimmy Page’s country-drip guitar work on “Down by the Seaside.” The pair harmonized beautifully with Griffith on “Across the Great Divide,” which Griffith dedicated to Susanna Clark, who recently passed away.
On the encore, “Hell No (I’m Not Alright),” Griffith had her two tour manager, Phil Kaufman, and guitar tech, Bruce MacKay, onstage with her as “The Clap Brothers,” getting the audience to clap along at key moments during the song and bringing another perfect Botanic Gardens concert to a close.
Greg Brown (partial)
Stiff Old Bones
Let Me Be Your Gigolo
The Evening Call
Down in There
Fat Boy Blues
Down at the Mill
Out in the Country
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Love at the Five and Dime
Never Going Back
Just Another Morning Here
Trouble in the Fields
The Loving Kind
Across the Great Divide
Tequila After Midnight
Listen to the Radio
Hell No (I’m Not Alright)