The band performed a mix of originals, instrumentals and covers during a 100 minute set
Full disclosure: Stepping into the St. George Theatre on Sunday night (Sept 24th) was like stepping back into childhood for this reviewer. To hear the distinctive music of The Charlie Daniels Band (CDB) is to remember growing up listening to tunes like “Redneck Fiddlin’ Man,” “The South’s Gonna Do It (Again),” and of course “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Quite an eccentric choice of music for an eastern Pennsylvania native, I am aware. Still, the music evokes those memories and more. For one, the first time I heard the Charlie Daniels Band live was in Nashville, at the Opryland hotel during a work-related conference my mother was attending. Knowing my love for country music and that CDB would be headlining, she drug Dad along and we made a family trip out of it.
I don’t remember much from those childhood years, but that short visit to Nashville has stayed vivid all this time. The other highlight of that trip was making my first-ever on-air broadcast. At the time, there was a satellite studio for the radio station inside Opryland. The DJ, seeing this cute kid and his mom peering in, invited us in and we chatted about that very same CDB concert. The station? WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
So it was a cool full-circle moment on a random Sunday in late September, I made my way to the Staten Island to attend a show and sit down with Mr. Daniels, whom appeared on my talk show Talk For Two via phone earlier this year. Our in-person interview will air next month, when he begins promotion for his new book, Never Look at the Empty Seats.
After spending nearly half an hour backstage with Charlie Daniels, it was time for the show. The CDB bounded on stage with rousing renditions of “Southern Boy” and “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye.” The night featured a mix of old songs, (“Long Haired Country Boy”), new songs (“Tennessee Fiddlin’ Man”) and covers (“I Shall Be Released”).
This was Daniels’ first venture to Staten Island, and it was immediately apparent that his rowdy southern music was a perfect fit for the Staten Island crowd, notoriously more raucous than their Manhattan neighbors. Throughout the night, Daniels drew cheers from the crowd as he dispensed a little southern wisdom, condemning terrorism, praising America, and giving thanks to God and the military for fighting in “hell holes” like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Charlie Daniels Band kept the focus on the music while putting on an awe-inspiring show. Their concert lighting was minimal, but their stage presence enormous. In his forthcoming book, Daniels describes his ‘jam band’ music as a mixed bag of country and southern rock that is defined not just by Daniels alone, but by the band that plays it.
The status quo is for an artist to record with session musicians but tour with live musicians. Charlie Daniels broke tradition by keeping his lineup the same in the studio and on the road. He has been sticking to this method for 45 years. The result is a band that looks and feels most at home on the stage.
Charlie Daniels considers himself a part of this six piece band, and shares the spotlight equally with his talented musicians. A few instrumentals were sprinkled throughout the night, including the original “Black Ice”, which featured drummer Ron Gannaway, and a steroid-injected “William Tell Overture,” thanks to the near heavy-metal guitar licking of Chris Wormer.
When your catalogue is as wide and deep as the CDB’s, striking a balance can be a tricky thing. After all, there are songs people clamor for, songs to showcase the band, and covers. But after nearly six decades in music — Daniels himself got his start in so-called “copy bands” — the group has the formula down.
Of course, the Charlie Daniels closed with his magnum-opus, “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the crowd reached a fever-pitch level. It is a song Americans cannot go to a wedding, reunion or bar/bat mitzvah without hearing. During this finale, the crowd reached a fever-pitch level. And, somewhere deep inside this reviewer’s musical heart, an eight-year-old was smiling.