Music Park: Kinky Friedman @ City Winery — 7/9/18

Kinky Friedman (Photo by Brian Kanof)

Detective novel author, would-be politician, Jewish country singer, and iconoclast Kinky Friedman, touring behind his first album of new material in four decades, made an appearance as only he can at DC’s City Winery on Monday.

The 73-year old Kinky, trademark cigar in his mouth, clad in cowboy boots, Stetson hat, and blazer, took the stage solo with his acoustic guitar. Next to him on stage, a stool held a glass of tequila and two bottles of water. Kinky enjoyed the tequila over the course of his performance, but I do not recall him opening the water.

I’ve never been so close to a performer onstage before. I was right up against the stage, and had to crane my neck up to see Kinky, born Richard Samet Friedman. I’d never made eye contact with an artist during a performance until last night, and it was an awkward experience for me! It never even occurred to me that, if the artist was close enough to the audience, there would be eye contact.

This album, Circus of Life, and this tour are a big deal for Kinky. As I said, this is his first album of new material in 40 years. As Kinky told the story, one night, about 3am, he was watching Matlock, “a sure sign of depression,” when his good friend Willie Nelson called. Willie told him to turn off Matlock and start writing. This got Kinky motivated, and in the next few weeks, he wrote a dozen songs, after not writing one for 40 years. Kinky then played his song about Willie, “Autographs in the Rain.”

It’s not like Kinky was being lazy during those 40 years. As he said, he was “doing other things.” Kinky was quite musically productive with his band – I kid you not – The Texas Jewboys in the late ’60s and ’70s, but his career stalled in the ’80s. He turned to writing, specifically detective novels, and later parlayed that into column writing.

From his perch as a columnist, Kinky dived into the 2006 race for governor of Texas. Running as an independent, he placed sixth in the field, despite the amazing slogan, “My governor is a Jewish cowboy.”

Kinky has a number of famous fans and admirers, and we heard about a couple of them Monday night. Bill Clinton’s favorite song, we learned, is the delightfully raunchy “Waitret, Please Sit On My Face.” Kinky took a left turn into far more serious territory, discussing how Nelson Mandela loved his music. While he was imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela created what Kinky called a “bootleg radio station” for the prisoners there, using smuggled tapes. After he got a tape of Kinky’s song “Ride ’Em Jewboy,” an extended tribute to the victims of the Holocaust he signed off with it every night. After relating this story, Kinky played the song.

(This did not mean he was Mandela’s favorite artist. Mandela, it turns out, loved country music. His associate, a man named Tokyo Sexwale, told Kinky that Dolly Parton was Mandela’s favorite.)

In one of the show’s highlights, Kinky brought out one of the Texas Jewboys, DC resident Larry “Ratso” Sloman. Larry accompanied Kinky on Chinga Chavin’s “Asshole from El Paso,” displaying some mean guitar licks. He then played solo on a tune by Billy Joe Shaver, who they had toured with in the ’70s.

In addition to playing his music, Kinky read a chapter about his father from his book, Heroes of a Texas Childhood. Kinky’s father, a navigator, flew more than 30 missions during WWII. After the war, he moved his family to Texas, where he dedicated his life to working with kids.

Kinky’s fans are passionate. At the end of the evening, he received standing ovations after his main set and his encore. He stayed to “sign anything but bad legislation,” as his opener and producer put it, and a swarm of fans formed around his table. They had everything from novels to political posters to albums.

The new album by Kinky Friedman is getting rave reviews from a variety of publications, and it’s climbing up the streaming lists. It’s a great listen, and I highly recommend it. Seen live, there’s a whole other dimension to Kinky that’s absolutely worth it. If you can possibly make it, get out and see this American original and Texas legend!

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