The City Winery Hudson Valley in Montgomery, NY, is a destination venue that everyone should have on their list of places to visit. The location is great, it’s easy to get to, and it boasts a cool ambiance, an excellent dinner menu, friendly staff, as well as locally-sourced wines and beers. Seeing the Cowboy Junkies, one of my favorite bands, at the City Winery Hudson Valley, makes for a perfect evening.
My first time seeing the Cowboy Junkies was fortuitous, as it happened on a whim. In July 2000, while on business in Seattle, WA, I had an unplanned evening and noticed that the Cowboy Junkies were playing with Leo Kottke at the waterfront amphitheater. I arrived at the box office only to find the show sold out. As I pondered my next move, I put a finger in the air; sure enough, someone approached and offered me a ticket. Leo Kottke shared a story about how Duane Allman awoke from a dream and wrote out the chords and music to 'Little Martha.' He posed the question to the audience: "Why can't that happen to me?" He then played the best live version of 'Little Martha' I had ever heard. The Cowboy Junkies' performance followed, and I have been a fan ever since. It was a truly great evening.
The City Winery Hudson Valley theatre is set up with long tables for dining, similar to the old Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. The band came on stage a few minutes after 8 pm. Margo Timmins took her place at center stage. Her voice is as strong and sweet as ever. The band, having played together for many years, performs as tightly as any I've ever seen. After the second song, Lou Reed’s 'Sweet Jane,' Margo announced that they would play two sets that evening. The first set, a bit shorter, would mostly feature new material. Then, after a short break, during which everyone was encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine, they would return to play a longer second set filled with all their hits.
What makes the Cowboy Junkies' shows so special and unique isn't just the music, although that's a huge part of it; it’s the connection Margo creates with her fans and the audience. She tells off-the-cuff stories that, even if rehearsed, still sound like she's sharing them for the first time. The second set featured several hits, and the highlight for me was the story Margo told about touring with Townes Van Zandt and the song they wrote about a memorable long ride from Boulder to the next show in Austin. Townes Van Zandt taught them how to play dice. Whoever said the long rides from show to show are boring never got to ride the tour bus playing fast dice games with Townes Van Zandt. The story and the song left me wondering if anyone got hustled, but certainly, no one was the poorer for the experience.
Midway through the second set, the rhythm section left the stage, and the band played as a three-piece acoustic trio. They performed several new songs from the Cowboy Junkies' latest release, 'The Barn Demos.' The featured song 'Blue Skies' was upbeat and far more lively than an earlier new song from the first set, 'Hell is Real.' This band is consistently entertaining and a joy to see live. They will be back on the road again this summer, and I recommend that anyone who has the chance should go see them. It’s a treat every time.