It was hard to believe that Charlie Louvin, a living legend of country music, was playing to a small audience Sunday evening at Schubas, without a whole lot of publicity or hoopla. The guy just turned 80, he’s up for a Grammy, and his songs have been covered by the likes of the Byrds and Uncle Tupelo. Seems like he deserved a bigger concert, but the intimate venue made for a fabulous little show. Schubas had chairs set out for the 6 p.m. show, which started maybe even a minute or two early.
There’s something about the gravelly qualities of older singers’ voices that works really well for me in a country-music setting. Louvin still sings quite well, with that sandpaper roughness. It was pretty inspiring to see him putting on a show at his age, and winging so many songs. He kept telling his band to ignore the set list and play other songs they hadn’t even practiced. As he called out the musical keys for each song, it prompted one of his many corny jokes (delightfully corny, I mean). “Music’s just like crossing the street,” he said. “You’ve got to C sharp or you could B flat before you get to the other side.”
Yes, indeed, Louvin is on old-fashioned performer and he told plenty of jokes like that and commented directly at some audience members and the waitress. Highlights of the set included “Atomic Power,” “The Christian Life,” “Long Journey Home” (with the chorus of losing all your money but a two-dollar bill) and “Ira,” his touching tribute to the brother (the other half of the Louvin Brothers) who died so many years ago. I got a little choked up watching this octogenarian singing about how he will soon be up with Ira among the angels. (I sure do hope he sticks around for a while, though.)