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Country music at its finest

Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers
The Fox Theatre
Tucson, AZ
January 24, 2019
Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers

Review and photos by Frances Sealy

This was the third appearance that the 'silver tongued devil,' Kris Kristofferson, has made at the Fox Theatre in recent years and it was by far the best. Previously, his appearances have been very different since there was no band to accompany him. The members of Merle Haggard's former band added another layer to the country legend's live show.

The sold out performance was a delicious offering of country music at its best.

Kristofferson has come a long way since he pitched his songs to country singers while working as a janitor at Columbia Studios in Nashville in the late 1960s.

Everyone in Nashville loved Kristofferson's compositions, but they were initially afraid of the grittiness and truth of his lyrics. Nashville was wallowing in the 'Vitalis' slickness in their music that was heavily filled with violin strings, redundancy, and unwavering clean lyrics. No one knew what to do with Kristofferson's refined lyrical poetry.

Ray Stevens first recorded "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down." Stevens' polished version of the song had dismal record sales. He had built his career singing novelty songs. Kristofferson had quietly expressed his disappointment at the sales. Johnny Cash's recording of the song got Kristofferson the jumpstart that his career needed.

Cash was at the pinnacle of his career and he promoted the best songwriters at the time. Kristofferson was at the top of his list. Most of his songs were made hit records by other artists.

Kristofferson was once a Rhodes scholar and had read Salinger, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Thoreau extensively. In the early days, he kept company with musicians Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan among others. All of these things contributed to his writing of bluntly sensual protest songs that in the old days were considered to be underground.

There is little doubt that Kristofferson is a poet. One only has to read the lyrics of his songs to realize just how powerful his lyrics are. "Me and Bobby McGee" was Janis Joplin's only number one hit record. "Help Me Make It Through the Night" was the biggest crossover hit from country to pop charts in 1971 for Sammi Smith. Her version remains one of the most successful country singles of all time. Ray Price's version of "For the Good Times" was another crossover-hit record.

The show was filled with 30 songs from Kristofferson's songbook including four Merle Haggard songs. There was plenty to satisfy any fan to savor.

The Strangers are a band that was back up for Merle Haggard since 1965. Haggard passed away in 2016. The band has filled that void by touring with Haggard's sons, Ben and Noel, as well as Kristofferson. This tour features Doug Colosio on keyboards and vocals, Jeff Ingraham on drums, and Scott Joss on vocals, fiddle, and guitar.

Joss' vocals are incredibly close to Haggard. The songs "Okie From Muskogee," "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," "That's the Way Love Goes," and " Daddy Frank" were given fun yet reverential treatment that was well received by the fans.

From 2004 to 2015 he suffered from what was initially and incorrectly thought to be early onset Alzheimer's disease. Kristofferson seemed to accept his diagnosis of dementia as a side effect of getting hit during his tenure as a boxer in college.

However, a second opinion changed the diagnosis to Lyme disease and appropriate treatment. His recent shows demonstrates a man who has come back to life. He maintains his ability to add the exact amount of vigor to his lesser-known gems as well as his timeless classics from his entire career.

He may still suffer short-term memory loss, but when it comes to his songs and his history, his mind is sharp. Vocally, Kristofferson's growly voice has gotten gentler in his elder years. Yet he still has the conviction of earlier times. Kristofferson and the band were obviously having a good time as they entertained the adoring fans. Trading smiles and other signs of interplay were plentiful between them.

The fans spent plenty of time playing the choral section of the show as they sang the timeless words from "Help Me Make It Through the Night," "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," and "Me and Bobby McGee."

Kristofferson said it best in his song "Best of All Possible Worlds," "There's still a lot of drinks that I ain't drunk, and lots of pretty thoughts that I ain't thunk." Here's to more shows for Kris Kristofferson.
Set List:
1. Shipwrecked in the Eighties (Kris Kristofferson and the Borderlords cover)
2. That's the Way Love Goes (Merle Haggard cover)
3. Darby's Castle
4. Me and Bobby McGee
5. Here Comes That Rainbow Again
6. Best of All Possible Worlds
7. Help Me Make It Through the Night
8. Okie From Muskogee (Merle Haggard cover)
9. Casey's Last Ride
10. Rocket to Stardom
11. Feeling Mortal
12. From Here to Forever
13. Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man) (Merle Haggard cover)
14. Broken Freedom Song
15. Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)
16. Just the Other Side of Nowhere
17. Duvalier's Dream
18. I'd Rather Be Sorry
19. Today I Started Loving You Again
20. Jody and the Kid
21. The Pilgrim, Chapter 33
22. Jesus Was a Capricorn
23. I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink (Merle Haggard cover)
24. To Beat the Devil
25. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
26. The Silver Tongued Devil and I
27. For the Good Times
28. A Moment of Forever
29. Why Me
30. Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends
(Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge cover)

Related articles:

Merle Haggard / Kris Kristofferson - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - Mar. 2012
Willie Nelson / Kris Kristofferson - Concert review - Rosemont, IL - Feb. 2010
Kris Kristofferson - Country Music Television Awards - Apr. 2007
Kris Kristofferson (SxSW Festival '04 ) - Concert review - Austin, TX - Mar. 2004

Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers
Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers

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