I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more than a bit of a snob about music venues and their clientele. It boils down to a personal rule that if I can’t have the experience that I want at the show then I’m not going to go because I’ll only be disappointed. I generally don’t go to ampitheatre or arena shows unless it’s a free ticket, and there are even some smaller venues that I won’t visit unless it’s a performer that I really love. One such venue, is City Winery. I had never been there before yesterday but I knew enough about them from booking acts at the original New York location to know their shtick. I was pretty confident that they would be everything that I dislike about a certain eponymous venue in town but worse since it’s not just a winery but in the divisive Ponce City Market with a distinctly Buckhead-esque clientele.
Few things were get me to give in and go to CW.
It turns out by dad’s decision to venture into the big city to see Wanda Jackson, a bucket list show for him, was enough to get me to in the door.
Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly, somehow does the unthinkable of spanning the tastes of my opera locking uncle, my country/gospel loving dad, and kitch/feisty old lady loving me. I couldn’t miss the chance to see the tiny lady with the big bawdy voice, big hair, and fringe and rhinestone adorned outfit again. I saw her a few years ago supporting her Jack White-produced The Party Ain’t Over, at The Loft, which is a favorite and a very different venue.
I almost could have left after the first few songs, as she opened with my favorite “Riot in Cell Block #9,” closely followed by “Funnel of Love,” my first Wanda love (discovered by way of But I’m a Cheerleader). She also did “Jailhouse Rock” and “I Saw the Light”. I couldn’t see my dad’s face, but knowing how he loves classic gospel I know he was loving that.
While she might disagree, Wanda is a bad ass. Even at 80 and recovering from surgery/bronchitis, Wanda is much more with it than some of the older performers I’ve seen in recent years. For example when I saw Paul Revere and the Raiders and Loretta Lynn in the past five years they didn’t so much perform as have people perform around them. Wanda forgot the lyrics a couple times, but she called herself out for it. She also kept up with her stage banter better than most. Even if every word of it was scripted she kept it up, calling dates with confidence. It’s easy for the backing musicians in this case to be glorified sitters for aging performers but she clearly didn’t need it and there was obvious reverence in the faces of all of the boys in the band, several that I recognized from a few years ago.
There was great people-watching to be done in the crowd, huddled around small tables dotted with wine glasses. There was a fair share of quintessential rockabilly chicks with cate eye classes and leopard print ensembles alongside what I affectionately call crusty old guys with their beloved records they’ve had for decades. Comingled among them were couples that perfectly fit the City Winery stereotype, the smell of wine getting stronger as their next glass is delivery to go with their apps.
Though City Winery does serve food, in addition to being a winery and music venue, but we opted to eat at Manuel’s Tavern, which I introduced Dad to on his last visit to town. It’s more our speed and inspires a certain amount of awe from my dad for its history. What I saw of the food in the low light looked good, and it certainly smelled good, with the exception of some very fishy fish at a nearby table. I wanted to try the flowerless chocolate cake, but after a French dip and tots I was in no condition for to eat much of anything.
Ultimately City Winery did prove me a bit wrong. I didn’t feel like I was being walked over by the staff or audience and I didn’t feel like I wasn’t allowed to outwardly enjoy the music. The sound was good and the room managed to have a pretty good vibe, though some of that may have been to in large part to the audience members joyously dancing to “Fujiama Mama.” For the right show I just might go back.