Any sort of reunion, from family to band, is fraught with danger.
When Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, three guys who have carved out celebrated solo careers, decided to get their Lubbock-born Flatlanders group back together after 30 years, they didn't have to worry about getting food poisoning from Aunt Fay's potato salad. But they might have had concerns about matters such as song selection and public reception.
Friday night, in front of a packed house of about 400 people at Gruene Hall, any questions about reception and material were quickly dispelled. Ely, Gilmore and Hancock, accompanied by bassist Gary Herman, percussionist Rafael Bernardo and guitarist Rob Gjersoe, rolled back the years and did a fine job of it. The evening, a sit-down affair, did start slow. Gruene Hall's well-worn dance floor, a floor on which people can, and will, dance to the Lord's Prayer, was covered with chairs. Consequently, what could have been a rousing party seemed for a while like a really big house concert.
The Flatlanders opened with a mixture of old songs and new; "Hello Stranger" and "One Road More" from their fabled one and only album and "South Wind of Summer," from the soundtrack to the movie "The Horse Whisperer," the project that got the reunion moving full force.
From downbeat, Ely, Gilmore and Hancock were in sync, swapping verses with ease and taking turns talking. Ely, who rocks the hardest when fronting his own crew, was the most subdued. What was readily apparent Friday, and what helped carry the show and the flow, was mutual respect for each other and for the songs' originals and covers.
Ely paid tribute to the late Townes Van Zandt, a singing songwriter who influenced most Texas artists of the past three decades, as the Flatlanders launched into Van Zandt's "Snowing on Raton." Gilmore then delivered a classic line that ratcheted up the energy level in the room while explaining the professional relationship the three share. "This is a Joe Ely song that was written by Butch Hancock," Gilmore said with a laugh. "But I'm going to sing it."
The Flatlanders followed with a version
of "I Keep Wishing For You" that got even the chair-bound
moving. From that point through the three-song encore of Willie
Nelson's "One Day at a Time," Gilmore's "Dallas"
and Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues," the Flatlanders
were again a band.