Written and Photographed by Julie Shaw
I love the banjo. I will never apologize for that. I don’t know exactly what it is about a banjo that makes me so happy, but every single time I hear one, I can’t help but feel better, about all things in life. The two bands that played this night both brought their banjos and I feel like we are all better for it.
I clearly am not the only person who is drawn to the banjo. The line to enter The Fonda Theater wrapped around the corner with fans willing to wait hours in the cold in the middle of Hollywood to see Larkin Poe. Before the show began, I wandered around the theater, as I had never been there before. This particular theater has a rare feature for Los Angeles, a crooftop bar that belongs solely to the theater, and not rented out as its own venue. What made this rooftop bar especially different was the fact that the concerts that are gracing the stage inside are projected with full volume on the wall outside for all to enjoy. The people who live in the apartments across the street are either incredibly lucky, or angry all the time.
Opening the night was Avi Vinocur (lead vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo), Patrick Dyer Wolf (lead vocals, banjo, guitar), Adam Nash (guitar, pedal steel, fiddle), Chris Sugiura (bass), and Scott Griffin Padden (drums), otherwise known as Goodnight, Texas. A mix of blues, folk, and rock, Goodnight, Texas played a 40 minute set filled with their best work, from their 2012 album, A Long Life Of Living, including “I’m Going To Work On Maggie’s Farm Forever” and “Jesse Got Trapped In A Coal Mine”. Goodnight, Texas, who got their name from an actual town named Goodnight in Texas, also played “The Railroad”, a song the entire nation has heard and fell in love with, even if they didn’t realize that it was this specific song playing at the beginning of the first episode of the dumpster fire, The Tiger King.
After a short break, Larkin Poe, sisters Megan Lovell (vocals, lapsteel guitar, dobro), and Rebecca Lovell (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, piano, bass) along with Tarka Layman (bass), and Kevin McGowan (drums) took the stage. The stage was cast in purple light and slowly became engulfed in smoke. Larkin Poe, who took their name from their great-great-great grandfather, who was a cousin of Edgar Allen Poe, opened with three songs from their 2022 album, Blood Harmony, a gorgeous anthemic, “Strike Gold,” “Kick The Blues,” and “Summertime Sunset.”
As I was leaving the photo pit, Larkin Poe started playing “Preachin’ Blues” from their 2017 album Preach, which made me stop in my tracks. Megan’s lapsteel caught my ear, and I froze, I needed to hear her play this song. Next they played “Blue Ridge Mountains” from Venom & Faith, “She’s A Self Made Man” from Self Made Man, and “Bad Spell” from Blood Harmony.
As the night went on, it became more clear that Grammy-nominated Larkin Poe is vastly underrated. The Lovell sisters; vocals, and musical talents are indescribable and fill the soul with comfort…”Southern Comfort” from Blood Harmony. If Larkin Poe hasn’t made it clear by now, they are from the south, born in Georgia and currently residing in Nashville, and have no qualms about announcing their roots in their song titles, like the next song, “Back Down South” from Self Made Man. The set continued with “Mad As A Hatter”, which they wrote for their grandfather who suffered from schizophrenia, as a way to start talking about mental illness and the heartbreak of watching someone you love slip away. Next came “Holy Ghost Fire,” “Might As Well Be Me”, “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues”, “Wanted Woman / AC/DC” and lastly, “Bolt Cutters & The Family Name” from Blood Harmony.
Of course, the show did not end here. As is tradition, Larkin Poe returned to the stage for an encore. Their first encore was “Deep Stays Down” from the tour’s namesake album, Blood Harmony. The second encore was truly a remarkable experience. Living in Los Angeles has perks that many other cities don’t, like surprise guests showing up at the most random times. For example, on this night, for the very last song of the evening, instead of simply hearing a cover of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “Runnin Down A Dream,” we were gifted the joy of watching Larkin Poe joined by the actual Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Steve Ferrone. As someone who grew up in The San Fernando Valley blasting Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as I literally drove on Mulholland Highway and Ventura Boulevard, well, I am not going to say I teared up a little, but I totally teared up a little.