I’ve been lucky enough to see Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson twice each. Exactly how lucky is that? I don’t know. They’ve all toured non-stop, but Destination Florida is always up in the air. There are some artists, though, that I’m thankful I’ve had the chance to see just the once, and that one show encompasses everything I hold dear about live music: the surprise, the intimacy, the times when you get so absorbed in the band, deciphering drumbeats and riding pedal steel riffs, that you finally stop worrying about people judging both of your dance moves. Perfect, untouchable nights, in the moment and in the memory. But at the same time, I’m always lustful for an encore show. These are the best one night stands I can think of:

5) Alejandro Escovedo — I saw the Austin TX stalwart in Austin the one weekend I’d happened to be visiting my sister and her new daughter. The best show I’ve ever seen with a full stable of background singers. He’s the man, total professional. Gun. Slinger.

Alejandro Escovedo – Gravity Falling/Down Again/Street Hassle

4) Neil Young — Duh. It was the most recent tour, for Le Noise. He’s been spooky on his own, acoustically, and he’s been spooky with Crazy Horse, but this tour was him being spooky all on his lonesome, electrically. Neil and his echoes, which is what he’s been all along anyway. Allan Toussaint opened. Nothing like the smell of weed wafting through the Hard Rock Casino. Rock on, sexagenarians.

Neil Young – Sedan Delivery

3) Ruby Coast — 3pm on a Friday, the very first show of the very first Harvest of Hope Festival in Elkton. Besides me, the only people there seemed to be the folks from the To Write Love on Her Arms booth trying to give me stickers. Ruby Coast played great songs, coming out of nowhere, in the middle of a fairgrounds in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me that afternoons can be fun. There are others whom I’ve only seen at Festivals like this: Glossary, Billy Bragg, The National, Hot New Mexicans, Avail. But, Ruby Coast was the show that made me felt like I’d earned it. They were all in high school at the time.

Ruby Coast – Liza Liza

2) The Pack A.D. — Not to be too incestuous about it, but the only time I had a chance to see Canadian duo The Pack A.D. was at the NineBullets 4th Anniversary Party. And they blew my face off. And I don’t even miss my face. Just guitar by Becky Black and drums by Maya Miller. It was all sweaty screaming hammering effort. Lots of interaction between Black and Miller, jumping on the drum kit, windmills. Not unlike a Two Cow Garage show. They put everything they had into a show where they were the oddball on the bill. Plus, Miller was willing to humor me a conversation about Star Wars and Sleater-Kinney afterwards. (By the way, the Pack has a new album on the way.)

The Pack A.D. – B.C. Is On Fire

1) Jonathan Richman — Slow as I am, I found out about Jonathan Richman coincidentally one week before he came to town because he was mentioned in Carolyn Mark’s years-old cookbook (she spelled his name Jonathan Richmond), from which I was preparing a delicious whiskey cake. Going into the show I knew only one song, “Dancing at the Lesbian Bar,” so everything was new to me. Richman had the whole bill to himself that night, and he played two sets, just him and his drummer Tommy Larkins. As each song passed I couldn’t believe how tight every lyric was, how complete of a grasp he had over his words, every one was so exact and so rightly chosen. I didn’t know lyricists were capable of that precision. The only people who even come close are Leonard Cohen, David Berman, Branden Barnett, and Franz Nicolay. What I needed was not so much to be loved, as to love, Richman sang. It was the first time I’d heard that, but it’s simple and true enough that it beats with familiarity. Songs he sang in Spanish, French, and Italian all hit as heavy. He sang about Vermeer and Picaso and Van Gogh and driving through suburbia at night out of boredom. He knows how to eschew all the false angles of approaching an emotion and doesn’t settle for a lyric until he finds the absolute core of what he’s trying to say. It felt like I was being serenaded, and I’d never been serenaded, so I wasn’t sure if that’s what it felt like, but I didn’t care. Favorite line of the night: We don’t want the past, we want the moment, just like bread, it’s gotta be fresh, even a day old is getting to be…too much.

Jonathan Richman – Since She Started To Ride

Author: Mike Ostrov

Mike Ostrov relays the history of popular song on message boards and under rocks.


  1. Here are mine:

    Otis Gibbs: Caught him last year at SxSW. Almost exactly like you hear on cd but with cool stories in between the songs. Managed to silence a room full of drunk (it is SxSW) people. Otis has become one of my favorite acts and to see him pull it off perfectly live…..made my night.

    Lee Bains & The Glory Fires: Booked him for one of the Ninebullets SxSW showcases last year. As anyone who was there can attest, I was blown away by these guys. Huge, shit eaters grin on my face I kept saying, to anyone who would listen, “THIS is why I love live music!”

    Charlie Parr: Saw Charlie in a Minneapolis bar one night. It was a perfect amalgam of the night, the right amount of booze and the perfect crowd. Sold out bar. Everyone in the bar knew all the words to all the songs. That night provided the type of high I keep chasing when I go to shows now.

    William Elliott Whitmore: Saw him in Tampa. With 12 other people. Embarrassing for the city. Enraging for me. Either way, W.E.W. put it down like a professional in what was basically a personal show. Can’t beat that.

    The Black Keys: They played Tampa on their Rubber Factory tour. There may have been 50 people there. To quote Mike, “they blew my face off and I don’t even miss my face.” It’s a shame they’ll never be that band again.

  2. bob segar, tom petty, charlie daniels, kid rock, and neil diamond …yes neil diamond …..those are in no particular order

  3. Green On Red – was lucky to see them live at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut in Glasgow, more than 20 years ago – one of the best live gigs ever.

    Pink Floyd – summer of 1967 at Aberdeen (my home town) Beach Ballroom. (I was 16 years old);
    The Who – summer of 1967 at Aberdeen Beach Ballroom
    Cream – as above (that was one of the greatest summers ever!!!)

    Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks – Lemon Tree, Aberdeen July 2003. Musical heroes of mine from way back and another night of great music by a terrific band of musicians. At the end of the gig, Dan & all the band stayed on to chat with fans – a lovely gesture by lovely people.

  4. Johhny Cash two weeks before he retired from touring.
    Fugazi on their last tour
    Rage Against The Machine
    Black Keys in 2003
    Rollins Band doing Black Flag tunes on the WM3 benefit tour

  5. William Elliot Whitmore- I too was with a very small group of people, I think there were 9 of us total in the small upstairs room at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, this particular show was with Tim Barry and Josh Small, so It was indeed very intimate.

    Frank Turner – WANT MORE, will get some soon I think, opening for Lucero and Social D just didn’t give him enough time.

    Bob Dylan- At a beautiful outdoor venue in the middle of million dollar homes, but he never picked up a guitar, only played the piano. And Merle Haggard opened up.

    Im actually embarassed by this one
    Two Cow Garage – I have only seen them play once even though they have passed through ATL at least twice since the first Lucero Picnic, which is where I first saw them.

    Cory Branan- I caught half his set at the picnic, which doesnt count cause he had no sound at all, then once with Jon Snodgrass and Joey Cape. I must say THAT show was a GOOD one. I could use a little more of Cory AND Jon in my life.

  6. Seen Dylan 15 times and Neil Young 5 times, and those artists are so unique that every show seems new and fresh.

    But these are some of the best shows I’ve seen only once:

    – Todd Snider. He’s the best one out there. I’ve never laughed that much at a show, while also totally enjoying the music.
    – Robbie Fluks. How good is Robbie Fulks? Answer: Pretty fuckin’ good! His songs are some of the best ever written, and his between-songs banter is fantastic.
    – Tom Petty. Saw him at the last show on the Into The Great Wide Open Tour, and it’s one of the best shows ever.
    – Teitur. Teitur Lassen from the Faroe Islands is a singer/songwriter that captures his audience like no-one else. Magic
    – Simon & Garfunkel. With The Everly Brothers as guest artists. Phenomenal!

  7. Good idea for a top 5!

    At first I was disappointed, because he was ‘just’ the opening act and I had been looking forward to a full-blown concert, but, man, he was amazing. Most of the rather big crowd had never heard of him (and I had never heard of the main act, Alela Diane – who is awesome). It was in a theatre and he totally stunned the crowd. Later on he joined Alela and her band. Perfect night.

    I had never been fortunate enough to see Dead Moon, even though they regularly toured Germany, but the Pierced Arrows concert made up for that. Pretty much the best rock’n’roll band I’ve ever seen live, and in my favorite little punk rock club down at the harbour.

    Holy fucking shit. Go see them live now! And among the nicest bunch of people who ever suffered through my drunken post-show fanboy ramblings.

    Closing a LONG night of a warm-up night for a heavy metal festival. Most have left by then, but those who stayed will remember it always. Again, nice guys who were more kind and patient with me than I probably deserved. To my defense, I had to drink a lot of beers during the 7 hours or so of costumed true metal bands…which was fun, actually.

    Lost Horizon tour. Amazing.

  8. bob dylan
    doc daily (no magnolia devil sadly). there were 6 people in the bar but man, what a great show.
    william elliot whitmore opened for lucero one time in colorado
    jason isbell
    devil makes three

  9. Son Volt
    State Theater – St Pete, FL
    On the Trace tour.. 1996

    Van Morrison
    Ruth Eckerd Hall – Clearwater, FL

    The Nick – Birmingham, AL

    Ryan Adams
    Austin City Limits Festival – Austin, TX

    William Elliott Whitmore
    Common Grounds – Gainesville, FL
    He opened for Against Me!

    1. Steve Earle and The Dukes
      Guy Clark
      Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt
      The Kenny Wayne Shepard Band
      Dwight Yoakam

  10. Lucero — damn shame it has only been once (so far), but blew me AWAY … shitty little dive in NC, handful of folks, and I was SOLD….

    Smashing Pumpkins/Red Red Meat – still my personal favorite show, never dared to see either live again so as not to tarnish the glow…i still get tingles thinking about it…

    Blue Oyster Cult — only managed to catch them once, but it was a FANTASTIC show … the city (okay, town) was truly on flame with rock and roll….

    Too Much Joy — man, these guys were fun, rockin and just flat out fantastic!

    Uncle Tupelo — on the Anodyne Tour before they called it a day… crappy town, only about 20 folks at the show, the band wasn’t happy, small crowd was lame and the boys still laid it all out….

    Lynchie… man, I would have LOVED to catch green on red, and as for your summer of ’67 … damn…..

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