Lessons in life: Jackson Browne at Ruth Eckerd Hall

click to enlarge Lessons in life: Jackson Browne at Ruth Eckerd Hall - Jeff O'Kelley
Jeff O'Kelley
Lessons in life: Jackson Browne at Ruth Eckerd Hall

Dear Miss Rognes:

Don't know if you remember me, but I sure remember you. You were my 8th grade English teacher and my 9th grade Drama teacher. You taught me a lot about academics, self-assurance, motivation and hell, you taught me a lot about life. You were always encouraging me and you always had something positive to say. You were the teacher every student loved and hoped he or she would be lucky enough to end up in one of your classes. I always look back at those years in the early 1980s when I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing you, and being taught by you with great pride and happy memories. [Text by Gabe, Photos by Jeff.]

I always remember your fondness for singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. You had his lyrics handwritten on placards that surrounded a massive poster of him caught live in concert. I remember looking at those couplets you'd painstakingly and neatly written on construction paper, and wondering what they meant. The lyrics to "Boulevard," the hit single Jackson Browne was riding high with at the time I was your student, didn't mean a whole lot to me. I didn't get what the big deal was about a guy writing a song about people walking down a street. I was too engrossed and wrapped up in my Devo records to notice or care about anyone else, namely a seemingly dull and boring dude singing about meaningless stuff.

You'll be glad to know that of all the things you taught me and instilled in me, my love and appreciation for Browne has been added to that sterling list. See, I didn't get those songs and those lyrics of his when I was 14 years old. I didn't know a whole lot about life or what it means to sit back and reflect on it. I just didn't get it. As I've grown and matured, I've really come to appreciate Browne and his ability to make me sit and think about this thing we call life. I can't think of anyone who is a better conveyor of the trials and challenges of maturity within his lyrics than Browne. You'll also be proud to know that I've had the opportunity to see Browne a couple of times in concert lately, too ... most recently last Wednesday night when he brought his solo acoustic tour to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall.

For two-and-a-half hours, Browne poignantly walked a near-capacity crowd through several decades of his finest compositions. Coolest of all, he did so without the aid of a setlist; instead he opted to wing it and play whatever came to mind ... or whatever the loudest person in the audience requested. Browne met all the audience banter with the height of poise and humor. The requests he was able to make out he, for the most part, granted; the indecipherable ramblings he made light of and did his best to decode. You could say he was a good sport about it. Where a lot of other established artists with massive catalogs and years of experience equivalent to Browne's might scoff and get their feathers ruffled, Jackson instead confronted the situation with the greatest of ease and handled himself like the seasoned pro that he is.

Whether seated on a plain wooded chair picking any one of his dozen or so guitars, or perched behind a small, simple electric piano, Browne turned every one of the songs he performed into something really special. Digging deep on obscure album cuts like "Love Needs A Heart" from his 1977 classic Running On Empty, or shifting to more familiar material like his first hit single, "Doctor My Eyes," Browne's passion and enthusiasm never waned. The beauty of putting on this type of loose, unscripted show is the anticipation of what's coming next. Totally unpredictable and unexpected, the show, which was split up into two sets separated by a 20-minute intermission, kept the appreciative crowd entranced and enticed all night long.

When broaching rarely-played material, like 1980's "That Girl Could Sing," Browne stumbled on lyrics and racked his memory for chords and melodies. But in all honesty, I'd take this type of human error any day over choreographed, stale, lifeless Vegas-style autotune-laden mega-tours any day of the week. The genuine emotion and laughter that was evoked in both the performer and his audience was priceless. You can't plan this type of stuff.

And, it's also interesting to note that Browne has lost absolutely nothing in the vocal department. His youthful, wistful, hopeful delivery sounds as fresh and clear as it has for the past 40 years. The effortless beauty of his voice is as untarnished and pure as ever.

Hearing lines like "Don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them" from his classic "These Days" hold the keys of wisdom for me these days. I wouldn't have appreciated them while entering my adolescence but now, as I approach middle age and I've had time to look back and assess where I am and how I got here, they are now defining words to me.

The entire night was full of highlights, funny moments, anecdotes, memories, recollections and all those songs. More of a reunion with an old friend who tells his stories with a guitar in tow than a concert, the evening had an air of familiarity and comfort surrounding it.

The obviously appreciative crowd rose to its feet on several occasions to shower Browne with eager applause. The words he's committed to vinyl since the dawning of the 1970's have continually struck a chord with his large group of followers. No one else in the biz can dart around sensitive topics like love, life, politics and age quite as eloquently as Jackson Browne. Wednesday night's show was a glowing example of the depth of his catalog and the connection he's always kept with his fans.

So, in a day and age when the role and importance of schoolteachers is sadly being diminished and reduced, I honor you and gladly report that you were right, Miss Rognes. Jackson Browne is an amazing singer and songwriter. You taught me a lot of meaningful lessons that are obviously still resonating with me. Thanks for your wisdom, encouragement and support. And most of all, thanks for pointing me in the direction of appreciating Jackson Browne.


Complete setlist:
Barricades of Heaven
I'll Do Anything
Call It A Loan
Late For The Sky
Love Needs A Heart
Opening Farewell
The Pretender
These Days
Giving That Heaven Away
To A Dancer
Running On Empty
Your Bright Baby Blues
Late For The Sky
Fountain of Sorrow
Off of Wonderland
That Girl Could Sing
Somebody's Baby
Doctor My Eyes
Sky Blue and Black
Mohammed's Radio (Warren Zevon cover)
Here Come Those Tears Again
I Am A Patriot
Take It Easy
Before the Deluge

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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