LIVE: Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys @ Club Helsinki, 9/1/17

September 7th, 2017, 4:00 pm by Greg
Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys

Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys

Review and photographs by Ed Conway

Now that August has passed, it’s getting to be time for Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys to pay a visit to Upstate NY. While he makes a couple of other stops in Buffalo and Rochester, his Greater Nippertown visit has become an annual show at Club Helsinki in Hudson. According to an aside between songs, they were also the last band to play the original Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, and it sounds like it was a wild time.

Opening the show was Boston singer-songwriter Sarah Borges. Although she has been to our area many times, I had never seen her until this night. Her deadpan delivery for song introductions made her unexpected punchlines quite humorous. She had the timing of a seasoned comedian, leading Big Sandy to later quip, he would pay to see her do a stand-up routine. This sense of understated humor also carried through to her songwriting as well.

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Big Sandy, aka Robert Williams, took the stage loose and ready to have a good time. He is a charmer in the best possible way. He can make the audience feel like he is their friend and that there is no place he would rather be than right there with them. To able to do this night after night, no matter how road-weary he may be shows the kind of seasoned professional he is.

Having an ace backing band sure helps, too. The Fly-Rite Boys are made up of guitarist Ashley Kingman, whose easy, relaxed style belies a blistering solo style that perfectly complements the lilting melodies of Williams’ songwriting. Upright bassist Kevin Stewart makes the instrument seem easy. He can smoothly go from pizzicato to slap and back again without ever losing his trademark smile. New to the Fly-Rites is drummer John Brooke Emilio, who also apparently doubles as Big Sandy’s bodyguard.

Throughout the evening, the audience was treated to a wide sampling of songs stretching back nearly 30 years. A couple of the crowd favorites included “Love That Man” from Turntable Matinee and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” from Feelin Kinda Lucky. My personal favorites, however, were “Tequila Calling,” a lament of how tequila is ruining his life, and “Hey Lowdown,” a warning to a rival that ends with both getting their comeuppance in jail, both of which were off the album Night Tide.

Although most of the songs throughout the show were originals, there were some covers, including an old George Jones song “(Dadgummit) How Come It,” a rockabilly song recorded under the name Thumper Jones, so as not to jeopardize his country reputation. Closing out the main set was “Chalk It Up to the Blues” off It’s Time, with Stewart and Kingman singing back up – although they did change the lyrics to “Oooo Chops Chops” when they saw Lustre Kings bassist Chops LaConte sitting in the audience.

While they may be labeled primarily as a western swing band, the encore set hinted at some of their versatility. The first of their three-song encore was a duet version of Ken Boothe’s reggae song “When I Fall in Love” performed perfectly by just Big Sandy and Stewart. Next up they played the Bill Monroe bluegrass song “Little Cabin Home on the Hill” before coming back to the title song of Big Sandy’s Feeling Kinda Lucky album.

Being the Friday of Labor Day Weekend may have kept the crowd down only slighty. The tables and bar stools all seemed to be full and there were was a bunch of dancers using up the space in front of the stage. All in all, it was a great night of music as Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys never disappoint.

UPCOMING: Big Sandy is slated to return to Greater Nippertown as part of Horton’s Holiday Hayride at Colony in Woodstock at 7pm on Friday, December 8 with a line-up that also features the Reverend Horton Heat, Junior Brown and the Blasters. Tickets are on sale now, priced at $50.

Big Sandy

Big Sandy

 John Brooke Emilio and Ashley Kingman

John Brooke Emilio and Ashley Kingman

kevin Stewart

Kevin Stewart

Kevin Stewart and Ashley Kingman

Kevin Stewart and Ashley Kingman

Sarah Borges

Sarah Borges