Credit: David Bazemore
Take away the historical trappings and realities of a 2022 Sunday night in Santa Barbara, and we could imagine Charley Crockett’s conquering appearance at the Arlington Theatre as a trip back in time. The tall and uniquely talented Texan taps directly into C&W twang vocabulary of the “classic” sort, penning instantly fetching tunes tinged by another era.
In short, at the Arlington, he and his vintage-sounding band partied like it was 1965.
Crockett’s first headlining gig in Santa Barbara was officially the kickoff concert in the new UCSB Arts & Lectures season, a brave but also smart and hip booking for the organization. The appreciative crowd was a mixed one, with plenty of cowboy hats in the room, worn both sincerely, ironically, and for fashion’s sake. It was a different kind of A&L audience. Some folks were vocally not so keen about the masking policy, and some illegally hitched their wagons and Teslas on Sola Street.
Crockett worked for years in a hardscrabble fashion, busking, restlessly hopping from town to town, coast to coast, “hoboing,” as he says. He worked on a marijuana farm (pre-legalization) and faced felony counts. But he has made up for lost time, while also using his life experience in the process of songwriting, making 11 albums in the past seven years.
Needless to say, at this point, Crockett has plenty of material to pluck from in concert, despite the fact that he leans towards the old school country approach of short, to-the-point songs. The show opened with a spaghetti western omelet of sound, a whistling theme and lonely trumpet intoning, with Crockett’s ace band onstage (pedal steel, piano/organ/clavinet, Telecaster guitarist, acoustic bass and drums). The leader, in his Stetson hat and big-toothed smile and guitar worn real high, came onstage and kicked of “Run Horse Run,” then sidled into a borrowed theme song, Johnny Paycheck’s “Jukebox Charley.”
Crockett is no self-conscious throwback: he digs into and lives creatively within the genre. He paid due respect to past heroes with covers of Tom T. Hall (“Lonely in Person”) and James Hand, while delivering his classics-in-the-making, including newer “hits,” “The Man from Waco,” “Welcome to Hard Times,” “I’m Just a Clown,” and the set-closing “Goin’ Back to Texas.” Blues and soul slip naturally into his mix, too, bolstering the idea of country music as “white man’s soul music.”
For encores, he offered a solo guitar-vocal rendition of the tender “Time of the Cottonwood Trees” and brought back the band for a fast train groove to close, twirling his guitar cable like a lasso on his way offstage. A neo-classic country star is reborn.