041416 Ry Cooder/Ricky Skaggs/The White Family, Ottawa, ON

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On April 14th, 2016 I had the great pleasure of sitting in a comfortable, small local theatre watching the great Ry Cooder play guitar and as you can probably surmise, I loved it.  

It didn’t hurt that Ry’s tour manager actually took the time to return my emails and arranged a meeting so Mr. Cooder could autograph some items for the charitable organization I run (Instruments For Africa), where I found out that the guitar hero is a pretty nice fellah besides. 

M’lady and I arrived at the Centrepointe Theatre early and found our way to Ry Cooder’s dressing room through the loading bay behind the venue.  In addition to bringing an acoustic guitar to get signed I had also brought a couple of Cooder’s albums that I selected somewhat randomly at my local record store, Bop Till You Drop and a live one recorded in Hamburg in 1977.  He looked over the live record pretty closely, turning it around and perusing the back.  “I’ve never heard of this one,” he muttered with obvious curiosity.  

“It must be a bootleg.”

“Well, I…er…that is…” I stammered, but Ry didn’t care.  With a shrug he just turned the cover back over and applied his John Hancock with a flourish, same as he did with the studio release and the guitar.  We chatted a bit about travelling in Mali (where he ‘discovered’ and later sparked the international career of Ali Farke Toure) and his work on the Crossroads album, a record that was very instrumental to my musical development (pun intended, of course).

Toddman, m’lady, Ry Cooder signing a Ry Cooder bootleg record, Toddman (L-R)

After a short visit we wished him a good show and returned our booty to the car before entering the theatre proper and finding our great seats on the aisle of the fifth row.  If I remember correctly there was no opening act per se, although the White Family (an older gentleman, his wife and their daughter maybe?…I’m pretty fuzzy on many of the details of this concert that are not directly related to Ry Cooder) might have warmed up the crowd with a few songs.

As a matter of fact, I think they did do a few songs all by themselves before being joined onstage by Ry Cooder – who took up his guitar-riddled station on stage left – and the legendary Ricky Skaggs standing centre-stage with his mandolin.  The evening then proceeded into a lulling string of creative and wholesome-sounding olde-timey country/roots songs that were so authentic they sounded like they had been written in dirt.  From his perch to my right Ry Cooder was incessantly understated and brilliant.  I couldn’t risk taking my eyes off of him for a moment; I wasn’t just afraid of missing something brilliant, but I’m sure if I looked away I would quickly forget he was there, so subtle and charitable was his playing.  I couldn’t hear a smidgen of ego in his music whatsoever (if you pay any attention at all you’ll hear ego in an awful lot of great players) and I loved it.

After the show there was a meet-and-greet in the lobby so I ran back to the car and grabbed the Ricky Skaggs album I had brought along just in case – and one of my mandolins taboot – and got them both signed as well (Skaggs’ management didn’t get back to me before the show).  I also took the opportunity to shake Ry Cooder’s hand once again and tell him quite honestly how great I thought the concert had been.

What a great night.

(It’s quite curious to note that as I type this, tickets are on sale for Ry Cooder’s return to Ottawa’s Centrepointe Theatre and not only have I not purchased a ticket, but I really think I won’t.  This time he’ll be playing with his own band – which I’m sure will make for an be even better show – but for reasons I can’t imagine I’m balking at the $90 ticket price.  Sure, $90 is a fair enough chunk o’ change, but I’ve paid a lot more for acts that I was less confident in many times before.  Could be it’s because the show is during jazzfest so I’d have to miss a concert that I’ll already have a pass for to see a concert that will cost me money, but really, how often do I get a chance to see Ry Cooder?  Aargh!  Why is life so hard?

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