by Jane Roser
One of the last shows I caught at DC’s fairly new to the scene listening room was the legendary Emmylou Harris. The venue is perfect for singer-songwriters. There is good food, a great sound system, lots of space and the audience is so quiet and respectful during the artist’s set, you could hear a pin drop. It’s a fitting setting for the granddaughter of Hank Williams, Sr.- Nashville singer-songwriter Holly Williams felt right at home.
Starting the night off was DC singer-songwriter Justin Jones who enthralled the audience with his deadpan humor and beautiful songs. “About three years ago I was playing at the Rock & Roll Hotel. Well, listen, don’t leave your acoustic guitar in the van when you’re playing there. I think the doors were unlocked, there was no breaking and entering, it was just guitar gone! Now I’m several $200 guitars richer and every soundman’s dream.”
Jones sang several of his own songs, including “Little Fox” and a few covers, including one by his fellow Deadmen band members, John Bustine; a gorgeous ballad about a man who went from being in prison to being on the battlefield. After Jones finished singing this, his phone rang, “this dude calls me all the time,” he joked, “he just called me right now and left a voice message.” Jones then asked if there were any singers in the house and Katie and Lee raised their hands and hopped onto the stage. “Is this mic on? Boom! It’s on, you’re all warmed up,” said Jones. Katie needed a beer, but Jones whispered, “shhhh…I’ve got limited time, so here’s what we’re going to do. Man voice sing ooooo- super easy, got it? Girl voice sing ooooo- got it?” Katie and Lee sang back up harmonies and kept the audience entertained when Katie started laughing mid-song and Lee handed her his beer. “Look,” joked Jones, “I think I just spotted our next country duo- Katie Lee! Yeah, it’s that easy to be in the Justin Jones Band, friends.”
Jones sang a theme song from an “obscure hunting show.” It’s so obscure, I had to give up Googling for the song title. His two young daughters started yelling and giggling from the sidelines and Jones just looked over and said, “silence. Is mommy there? Mommy’s killing it.” The final song was written by Jones for his wife, Melanie, who worked days and he’d work nights, so the song’s theme was about the relationship between the sun and the moon. As Jones was playing the guitar intro he said, “every time I play this intro I think of “welcome to your life, there’s no turning back” [that’s a Tears For Fears song for all of you born after 1985] but I wrote this in 1982…so…how ’bout this $200 guitar?” The audience loved Jones and I can definitely recommend to anyone to see him live. He’s fab.
Holly Williams came out after a quick switcharoo and started her set off with a few solo songs before the rest of her band joined in. Williams is extremely gracious and verbalized her love for The Hamilton and their baby grand piano which was nestled on stage right. Williams started off with a tune from her first record called “Sometimes” and then said to loud cheers from the audience, “in a room that sounds this good, I may play a few extra songs this evening if that’s okay?” Williams then went into “Clay Pigeons” by one of her favorite writers, Blaze Foley, who was murdered in Texas in 1989 and everyone from Emmylou to John Prine have covered his songs.
Annie Clements (bassist, who also tours with Sugarland) and Anderson East (guitar) joined Williams on stage to sing “Railroads” off her new album, The Highway. This lovely song is about an old moonshine town where hobos used to jump the trains and make illegal whiskey. “Gone Away From Me” and “The Highway” were next, with an introduction by Williams that “we were done with the record, but I felt that there was a song missing. I was born the same day as Jack Kerouac, so this is my love song to the road.”
Williams has a commanding voice, strong and sincere. She resonates well with her audience, both in her stage presence and the meaningful songs she sings that her audience can easily relate to. After a quick nod to the venue’s amazing cheese tots, Williams sings “Happy” and “Drinkin'” to a lot of “whoo-hoo’s” from the crowd who are bobbing their heads and singing along. The Hamilton’s piano then got some lovin’ when Williams sat on the bench to play “Alone” off her record Here With Me. “There’s a great fear, as a musician, of ending up alone. It’s hard to date other musicians, but I met a nice one and married him right away. I wrote this before I met him, though.” After finishing, she then played “Without You.” “I met my husband soon after that,” she explained, “we’re always chasing planes, trains and automobiles. He plays in a band called Kings Of Leon; I just spoke with him tonight, it’s 3 am in Dubai, so this one is for Chris Coleman.”
“Mama”, a lovely tribute Williams wrote for her mother, Becky, followed, then “Without Jesus Here With Me” about a serious car accident she was in with her sister, who died at the scene and then was miraculously revived. “Let Her Go” was co-written with her husband and deals with holding onto something for way too long. “We’ve all been there,” she said. “Giving Up” was written for a friend who was struggling with addiction and there just comes a time when you can’t do any more for someone and you have to just walk away.
Williams spoke a little about the charity she works with called World Vision, which pairs sponsors with needy children around the world. Williams herself sponsors a child, whom she met on a January mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Several brochures are available at each show and the band will help you sign up to sponsor a child right then and there (and when you do, you also get a free signed CD).
“Any John Prine fans in the house?” Williams asked next. “This is my favorite song John ever wrote and I’ve been touring with him a lot and feel very blessed to hear this every night.” The audience screamed and clapped when she started singing “Angel From Montgomery” (which I recall she also sang at the Union Transfer show to massive applause).
The final song is Williams’ hit ‘Waiting On June” about her maternal grandparents. “I didn’t know Hank Sr., he died in 1952 and I lost both of my grandparents before this album was recorded,” Holly lamented. The song speaks of how her grandparents met, their full life together and their final moments. It is exquisite and has a whole lotta heart.
After a standing ovation, Williams came out for an encore and to the sheer delight of the audience, she chose to perform the Hank Williams song “I Saw The Light” and encouraged the audience to sing along, “this is my favorite song my grandpa ever wrote.”
The line for an autograph, a photo, a hug or a handshake wound behind the tables and Williams took the time to meet with every one of her fans. She took a selfie with my friend Maureen and also sent her a sweet Tweet the next day. I was touched she remembered our conversation when I interviewed her last month and her graciousness, generosity and humanity is inspiring.
When I went up to the merch table to buy a CD, I looked at all of the World Vision brochures of the children needing a sponsor. I recently lost my friend, Ariel, in a tragic car crash and had been wanting to do something in his memory. Ariel was from Bolivia, but I didn’t see any children from Bolivia to sponsor. Just when I was about to leave, I kept staring at one little girl’s picture, so I picked up her brochure and noticed that her name was Ariela. I signed up right there to sponsor this four year old child from the Dominican Republic and one day will send her Holly’s CD and say “this is how we met.”