‘God loves you when you dance’
Billy Joe Shaver— a diamond in the Big Room
Something in the dust, the stars and the flashing neon signs of rowdy prairie towns fills the spirits of certain Texas boys with gritty, romantic poetry and simple, heartfelt music and sets them loose to show the rest of us what depths and heights of emotion can be wrung from a guitar, a bottle and the memories of towns and nights and loves that might otherwise fade away.
Watching tall, lanky Billy Joe Shaver break into a loose-jointed burst of rock ‘n’ roll cowboy dance with a big smile spread across his craggy 66-year-old face, it was no challenge at all to glimpse the little Texas boy who had grown into a legendary songwriter.
Backed by his young band, Diamondback Texas, Shaver delivered two solid hours of honky-tonk country rock interspersed with patter such as this bit of wisdom: “It’s not what goes into a man’s mouth but what comes out of it that defiles a man. So drink up and be careful what you say,” which he imparted during the introduction to “The Word was Thunderbird,” a lamentation of the day the price of Thunderbird wine went from 80 cents to a-dollar-twenty-nine a bottle. That song also showed off the band’s mastery of dynamics, flowing from loping, moody country rock into a guitar solo that descended smoothly into near silence before building and soaring out on a nice heavy guitar-drenched crescendo.
Despite Shaver’s legendary songwriter status the Big Room crowd didn’t waste any time sitting around in awe. This was a honky-tonk show, and as Shaver asserted more than once, “God loves you when you dance.” So there was plenty of action in front of, as well as on, the stage. But during the numbers that Shaver performed a cappella or accompanied only by his own unique guitar playing things settled down to a quiet that was accented only by the sound of pint glasses being set gently down on wooden tables.
He might be an old chunk of coal, a honky-tonk hero, a fallen angel or a tramp on your street, but no matter how you look at him Billy Joe Shaver is the kind of guy you want around when a good country song is what’s called for.