PINEY WOODS MAGIC

By J. DANIEL CLOUD,

I’m really not one for music festivals, or festivals in general, for that matter.

Take a little social anxiety, add an aversion to racket and an introversion of long standing, and you’ve got a picture of me in the midst of a crowd.

Fortunately for me, the Piney Woods Picnic is smaller, more intimate, than a typical music festival.

Small enough that a person so inclined can hang on the fringes.

I say “fortunately” because the Picnic was where Grayson Capps played last Saturday night.

Grayson Capps is one of my favorite semi-local musicians, not least because he was the first musician I saw here in Hattiesburg, at Live at Five back in 2011.

I had just moved to town a few months earlier and hadn’t found my footing yet. At that show I met a couple of people who became good friends (Hey, Mr. Kevin!) and I am grateful that I had such a positive introduction to Hattiesburg’s music options. Sitting on the tailgate of my own beat-up pickup, within sonic range of the stage, I finally felt like I’d moved to Mississippi.

My wife accused me of going native. She’s from the Gulf South, so she’d know.

That first time, I took a few photos while standing in front of the big-ass speakers, and fell in love with the man’s sound, the band’s sound. I printed only one of the photos.

In it, he appeared to be calling down the rain.

I’ve seen Grayson a few times since, pretty much anytime we’re in town simultaneously. The last time was last year, when I took the picture with me to show him. But I got sucked up in the music and dancing and forgot all about the photo, until I got home and found it crunched up in my pocket. Back to the darkroom.

And back to the present, or at least the more recent past.

I do love sound check time. That glorious period when the music hasn’t officially started. The instruments and musicians are busy figuring each other out again. It’s hot out there in the woods, and simultaneously dry and humid. Not a time to be fussy, but everybody involved is doing the best they can.

This ain’t no chamber, and it ain’t no orchestra, either. No climate control.

I was not expecting to hear Led Zeppelin’s song The Ocean as introductory and tuning music. “Singing in the sunshine. Laughing in the rain.”

When bands shuffle on and off stage, festival-style, things gotta be adjusted in the in-between times.

Grayson gets on stage, and he looks exactly like he did eight years ago, when I first saw him in real life. Same as he looked 15 years ago when I first saw him in the New Orleans-based movie A Love Song for Bobby Long.

In that movie, he plays his songs in a bar while Scarlett Johansson and John Travolta get to know one another.

If you haven’t seen that movie, find it. Grayson’s father, Ronald Everett Capps, wrote Off Magazine Street, the novel upon which the movie is based. It’s a really good movie, largely because of the soundtrack. The book isn’t horrible, either.

Grayson doesn’t just look the same. He sounds the same, too, except that his voice keeps getting better. I guess if you’re preternaturally old, you don’t have to age.

A couple of questions for dedicated festival-goers:

1). When you’re hanging out in the dark, how do you know where the damned ants are, so as to not sit on them, without using a flashlight and blinding everyone else?

2). Why don’t the Piney Woods burn down, given the bonfires and open-burning citronella candles and other combustibles?

3). Do glow sticks come in belly-button-piercing form? I really don’t know. I asked a young woman who was wearing a lot of glowsticks, as well as a belly ring. She said, “If not, they damn well should. You could make an awful lot of money selling those, I bet.”

(No matter how many times I asked, nobody seemed to know why the woods don’t catch on fire. One young lady said she thinks it’s because pine straw isn’t as flammable as people would have you believe. Everyone else around the picnic table disagreed vociferously.)

But Grayson is on stage now.

“How’s everybody doin’? Yeah, we are, too,” he said to a chorus of Woo-Hoos. “My name is Grayson Capps, and we are so glad to be here.”

The first song: Get Back Up: “Yesterday was a very nice day indeed. I got up out of bed, went outside and brushed my teeth. Put on dirty clothes and go back to work.”

That one’s on Grayson’s 2005 album, If You Knew My Mind. It came out at the same time as the aforementioned movie, and “A Love Song for Bobby Long” is just one of the fantastic songs on that lovely album.

I’ve heard the man tell me that “yesterday was a very nice day, indeed,” quite a few times, and every single time I wonder whether he’s trying to convince me or himself. Matter of fact, there’s an awful lot of that in his music.

See, I don’t know for sure whether it’s Grayson Capps’s story he’s telling, but it seems about right. He’s believable. His singing voice matches his writing voice and, truth be told, they both match his appearance. More interesting than pretty, but plenty of either when required.

“High on whiskey, low on cash.”

“I’m out in the backwoods, singing my song, about a good man that’s done gone wrong.”

Those are lyrics from “Bag of Weed,” one of the many fine songs on Scarlett Roses, Grayson’s sixth (and most recent) studio album, which came out in 2017. And the crowd loves it. Of course they do. It’s a damn fine song. But a good portion of the crowd knows every single word.

Meanwhile, I’m taking notes in the dark, as best I can, with LED hula hoops everywhere. So many hula hoops. Only one of them had spokes of fire, to the best of my knowledge.

“Y’all sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” Capps said. “Out there singing ‘a bag of weed, a case of beer, a little George Dickel, and some American Spirits’. It is the Christian thing to do. Thank you.”

Another off the newest album, Taos, came shortly after. Very few sang along with that one.

It’s a chilling story about, best I can tell, a man driving too fast, too long, and potentially too drunk. There’s a wreck, and some death, and a good bit of intentional discordant noise as the driver sits in prison beleaguered by guilt.

It’s hard to sing along with, and the subject matter’s nothing to celebrate. Like singing along to The Green Mile. The song was an integral part of the show, however, whether or not anybody knew what to do with it.

And then along comes “Sweet Transvestite”, from Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was not expecting that one, and I don’t reckon anybody else was, but the 52-year-old longhair in skinny jeans and boots seriously killed it.

If you only know Capps and Co. from studio albums, the live shows are much more free-form, more relaxed, more jam-band in nature. I do so love to see musicians play together. That’s “play” with a Capital P.

At the end, they did one of my favorites, “drink a little poison before you die,” as an encore.

And Grayson said: “When you leave here, don’t forget to look up at the sky. It’s really beautiful, and it’s always there.”

After the show, while local musician Cary Hudson was rounding up members of his band to get onstage, I got a minute to talk to Grayson.

“We’ve been coming here for three years for this (the Piney Woods Picnic), and it’s getting better and better,” he said. “There’s a really great vibe, a great group of people. At this point, when we come out here, we’re just coming home to visit friends and family.”

And he signed the photo I’ve been carting around for a few years.

Yes, it was a very fine day indeed.

Cloud is an uncredentialled student of Southern literature and loves both words and music. He pulled Ronald Everett Capps’s ‘Off Magazine Street’ off the shelf while writing this column. “I didn’t remember that it was a first edition of the book, signed by the author, Grayson’s father. Matter of fact, I bought it that way, at a shop just off Magazine Street.”

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