We were incredulous when we heard earlier this year that Hot Tuna (acoustic) would be playing at the tiny Bull Run Restaurant in central Mass and we snapped up tickets to both shows as soon as they went on sale, as did a good number of others apparently.
Sunday, July 1st came around and we headed out there for brunch (I got eggs Benedict and Sarah got their Hot Tuna special, a spicy mash of seared tuna) and a few beers before the 3:00 show. I hit the bathroom downstairs and ran into Jack Casady, who was giving the towel dispenser the eye when I walked in. We had a short but pleasant conversation ... guys don't usually hang out in the bathroom.
We were front and center for the show, with Jack, Jorma, and Barry Mitterhof on low chairs which meant a lot of the people in the very full room couldn't see them that well, which must have been disappointing. Jack was playing a new Epiphone bass and Jorma had his old Gibson. Barry alternated between instruments, but for most of the songs stuck to a traditional mandolin.
We were in heaven from the first note, with Jorma growling his lyrics and working his fretboard with his thick, muscular fingers like we'd heard for years but never seen so close, Jack hunched over his bass and attacking it with a three-fingered run up here and a run down there, while all the time resting his thumb on the lowest string until it was needed too, and Barry playing incredible mando leads when Jorma nodded to him to go for it. The setlist for the first show was at Jack's feet and was clearly visible to us. They opened with Been So Long and sprinkled in some lighter songs but mostly played the blues: Been So Long, Nobody Know You When You're Down and Out, I'll Let You Know Before I Leave, More Than My Old Guitar, Second Chances (excellent version, Jorma in fine voice), Let Us Get Together Right Down Here, Barbecue King, Children of Zion, Come Back Baby, 99 Year Blues (after which Barry advised a couple of 8-10 year old boys at one of the front tables to pay no attention to those words), and then Bread Line Blues.
Phew, that was some set! Sarah and I were riveted by their musicianship and the great songs. They stood back behind the stage and then sat down again for their "encore." We could see that Sea Child and I Know You Rider remained on the set list, but they decided to mix it up a bit and did Parchman Farm into Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning, and then followed that up with Water Song! The whole room was standing by the end of that, even in the late afternoon on a hot July day.
Many people stuck around for the 7:00 show, as did we. We walked around a bit, talked with other attendees/devotees, and had ice cream on their patio, then took our places at our table (in front of Jack this time, not the very center table). We got some dinner, more beers, and then the band came on a half-hour late (but that was all right). They digressed from their second set list a bit more, but covered some more of their essentials, like Hesitation Blues, How Long Blues, Mama Let Me Lay It On You, Things That Might Have Been (another killer Jorma vocal), Red River Blues, Uncle Sam Blues, Vicksburg Stomp, and I Am the Light Of This World.
The guy sitting next to me (in the seat I was in for the first show) had his camera out and took this video.
This show was just as good as the first, or possibly better! Barry pointed out for the large number of us who were at both shows (though we knew this, duh!) that they hadn't repeated any songs. They stood behind the stage again after they were done ... everyone was beginning to tire, and then they came back and did I Know You Rider and then actually repeated a song: they closed with Water Song again but how could you complain about that? Well you couldn't and if you did then you would have to be from another planet. Actually, I could listen to Come Back Baby for a few days straight and not get tired of it.
Back to our cars and back home. We got copies of both set lists and were very, very thrilled to see this band we'd been following for so long in such an intimate setting. I first saw them in 1976 (at Northeastern) and they're still going strong over 35 years later. This music has accompanied me for most of my life and we sat six feet from the geniuses behind it while they played it once more for us!