021011 Jerry Lee Lewis/Frankie Ford, Naples, FL

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For some time I had planned February 10th, 2011 as the official end of the Rock & Roll Field Trip.  After a pilgrimage that saw m’lady and I visit the homes of Son House and Mississippi John Hurt, the graves of Duane Allman and Elizabeth Reed and all three tombstones attributed to Robert Johnson, at least three Music Hall’s of Fame, both the house where Elvis was born and the one where he died, Nashville, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, the Allman Brother’s Big House, Sun Records, Fame Studio, and even the bus station in Macon, Georgia where Little Richard came up with the lyrics to Tutti Frutti…well, there really could be no better way to end a trip like that than a concert featuring the great Jerry Lee Lewis (1935-2022).

The trouble was we didn’t have tickets.

Tickets went onsale before we were able to finalize our travel dates for the Rock & Roll Field Trip and though they sold well it was far from an instant sellout.  As my planning went on I monitored the ticket sales pretty closely and though I was anxious to jump on a pair I wasn’t too worried about the show selling out.  

And then it did – all at once it seemed – and just when we’d confirmed that would could be there for it too!  I was disappointed but I knew if anyone could get tickets for the show, we could.

And so after the road trip of a lifetime we woke up at my mom’s place north of Tampa and drove to Naples.  Naples struck me as a city built for the retired.  We literally saw more golf carts than cars as we wound past condo after condo in search of the Philharmonic Center.

We parked ourselves next to the box office at about 2pm, me strumming my guitar in the sun while m’lady stretched out on a park bench.  To say we stood out among the few folks that strollered by is an understatement.  We told the lady in the box office that we’d be willing to sit there all day in search of a pair and we were, but then somehow – by some miracle – in less than twenty minutes the box office lady found tickets for us.

We killed the afternoon somewhere and were back at the venue and in our soft, cushy seats well before showtime.  Frankie Ford came onstage and told the same tired jokes he’s surely been telling from the same piano stool for fifty years or more.  The gags were as funny as they were fresh, but the spunky ’50’s rocker kept the crowd interested and awake with one generic tune after another until throwing out his only well-known song at the end of the set, Sea Cruise (“ooh-ee, ooh-ee baby…”).

Like a standard revue show Jerry Lee Lewis’ band came out to warm up the crowd.  After several instrumental rockers Jerry Lee’s sister joined the band onstage, singing and playing the piano in stylistic mimicry of her brother.  But it was a treat that wore out its welcome.  After five or six songs the crowd started getting restless.  After eight songs they were actually booing and cat-calling.

And no wonder!  I’m sure many in the purely geriatric crowd were anxious to get home to their beds and meds (m’lady and I were the youngest in the room by far).  I was impressed with how feisty the old folks got, shaking their fists at the stage and calling for Jerry Lee Lewis.

And then out he came, to thundering (if cantankerous) applause.  The last man standing from Sam Phillips’ Million Dollar Quartet, Jerry sat down at the piano and immediately pounded it into submission, and all was instantly forgiven.  Jerry Lee Lewis sold more Sun Records than anyone else on the label; more than Johnny Cash, more than Carl Perkins, and yes, even more than Elvis Presley.  If it wasn’t for the kerfuffle over marrying his young cousin (his third of seven wives) that truncated his career, The Killer would most certainly would have enjoyed a fame similar to that of Elvis.  

In short, the guy had it all; the looks, the sound, the skills, the songs, and the showmanship.  And you know, he’s still got it.  He put on a really good show, rollicking through one boogie-woogie great after another.  Lewis proved he still had impressive chops as he plunged into hits from contemporaries like Chuck Berry and Elvis in between his own legendary numbers.

For the encore he even performed his signature move, standing up and kicking the piano stool away to kick off a solo, causing the ancient crowd to go almost rapturous with nostalgia (and hope, I suppose).  All that were able climbed to their feet and cheered loudly.  In all Jerry clocked in maybe forty-five minutes on the stage, tops, but it was enough and it was all pretty darn great.

And yeah, seeing one of the true original Rock & Roll pioneers put on an admirable performance in front of a quaintly disgruntled and unquestionably original Rock & Roll crowd was indeed a fantastic closer to the Rock & Roll Field Trip.  Fortunately for us the RRFT ended in Florida, just a hop, skip, and a jump from The Keys.  We would have been remiss to not take advantage so of course we did, but that’s another dozen stories.

(Which, in brief, would include a night in the world’s only underwater hotel, a glorious sunset in Key West, checking in to our Disney hotel on Valentine’s Day, and ever so much more.)

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