Smile Politely

Lyle Lovett and Champaign in mutual love affair Friday night

Marquee at Virginia Theater of Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, Fri Jun 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Ray Miner

When recording artist Lyle Lovett says he travels with a large band, he isn’t kidding. He brought his Large Band, including horns, electric, acoustic, bass, steel guitars, violin, piano, drums, and background vocalists to Champaign for an evening of truly great entertainment at the Virginia Theatre last Friday night. 

A very large crowd of Lovett fans filled the Theater in anticipation of a show that turned out to be not only musically satisfying but one that was also filled with Lovett’s stories and informative breaks in which we learned the background of many of his bandmates.

It’s hard to classify a single genre for Lovett’s music. People ask, “What kind of music does he play?” I would answer his music is some country, some swing, he gets down with some blues, some jazz, he did a song with an Irish flavor, he does what would be considered singer/songwriter style tunes…it’s a menagerie of styles that he mixes and blends into an interesting concoction that creates a pretty awesome show. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has surrounded himself with fabulous musicians. Every one of the musicians and vocalists were top-notch.

Immediately after the show concluded, I turned to the man I was sitting next to, Doug from Gilman, and asked his impression. “It was awesome!” he exclaimed. “Great venue and intimate crowd”.  It was his first trip to the Virginia Theatre and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “I really liked the way he gave everyone in the band a chance to shine”, he added. Song after song, several of the members were given solos, sometimes a couple of musicians being featured, and other times many among the band got into the solo act as parts were traded around the stage. This pattern was set at the very beginning of the night.

A stage set up for a performance. You can see 2 guitars, an electric bass, a piano, drums, and 5 microphones.
Ray Miner

The band, minus Lovett and the other vocalists, walked onto the stage around 7:45. Dressed in black suits and ties, they proceeded to do an opening number in which all members individually owned the spotlight for a time. It was a great warmup for the rest of the evening. Then Lovett walked onto the stage with his backing singers to a roar of applause. 

Lovett led off with a duet of a Tammy Wynette song, “Stand by Your Man”, and followed that with a bluesy number “Here I Am”. Next came a country swing tune before he paused to complement the Virginia Theatre and the people of Champaign. He told the crowd he liked being back in Champaign and commented that the Virginia Theater is a beautiful place. “It’s historic,” he said, “like some of the rest of us!” quipped the 65-year-old Lovett, getting a round of laughter from the crowd. He gave kudos to the city and its people for keeping such a vintage place alive, vibrant, and beautiful. This drew more applause from the audience but it also drew applause from the band members for the audience and the town. 

Lyle has a set of 6-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. He often told stories about them and played several songs that he wrote from watching them grow. Pig Meat Man, Pants Is Overrated, Are We Dancing, and The Twelfth Of June came from their love of bacon, not wanting to wear clothes, dancing around the living room, and their birthdate.  

15 members of a band playing various instruments or singing onstage
Ray Miner

Lovett and the Large Band played 24 songs during the evening. Lovett waxed a bit philosophical as he was about to play a song about relationships. He reflected back over the years and said what he has learned about relationships “is very little”. The man has a sense of humor! Lovett did another duet, a Paul McCartney-penned tune, “World Without Love”, this time with pianist Jim Cox. Before the evening ended, he sang a couple of his more popular songs, “If I Had a Boat” and “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas”. He brought the house down with that latter. The band finished their evening to a rousing round of applause. They came back for a one-song encore that again featured many solos as lead roles were passed from player to player. It was an evening of great entertainment.

At different points in the show, Lovett would take time to introduce band members. He talked to them with some light-hearted banter and through the conversations, we, the audience, learned more about them. This left me with a sense of having more of a personal relationship with those on stage. As he talked to them, we began to realize just how much talent there was standing up there with Lovett. The drummer and bass player have been playing together for over 50 years. They played in James Taylor’s band, and they also have a band of their own: The Immediate Family. The pianist has played with the likes of George Strait, Willie Nelson, and Ringo Starr. The rhythm guitarist played with Vince Gill and actually started out with Alison Krauss! That certainly got some applause here in Champaign!

Lovett’s band members hail anywhere from Los Angeles to New York and he certainly knows how to pick them. It was around 10:30 when the band bid us adieu, after a 2-hour and 45-minute performance and one that those in attendance will likely remember for a long time.

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