Concert Review: Kris Kristofferson @ Sixth & I Synagogue, DC
So Kris Kristofferson walks into a Chinatown synagogue…
It may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but on a cold, rainy Saturday night in Washington, DC, Kristofferson played to a packed house of worship: the historic Sixth & I Synagogue located in the heart of gentrified Chinatown.
At 72 years old, Kristofferson can still captivate an audience with just guitar, harmonica, and the power of his words. A bit under the weather—at one point he remarked to the audience that we “paid a lot of money to watch an old fart blow his nose”—he played for nearly two hours; aside from a brief intermission, there was hardly a break between songs. His gravelly voice didn’t miss a note, though there were a couple forgotten lyrics along the way. However, he easily glossed over these moments with a dash of his movie star charm and humor, and the audience—acting a bit too rowdy for such a venue—ate it up.
Kristofferson’s “left of liberal” political views were evident from the very first song of the show, “Shipwrecked in the 80s,” which he dedicated to veterans of Iraq and Vietnam protesting the war. The crowd (mostly aged hippies, if their reaction to all mentions of peace and/or getting stoned is anything to go by) responded with thunderous applause the second the final chords of each song were strummed.
With the exception of “Why Me,” Kristofferson played all the songs he’s known for, as well as quite a few of his lesser-known masterpieces including “Johnny Lobo,” “They Killed Him,” “Heart,” “To Beat the Devil,” and “The Promise,” which he introduced as “a song I wrote for my kids…and their mamas.” At times it seemed almost like I was at an intimate poetry reading–such is the skill with which Kristofferson crafts his songs. There’s never a word out of place, and the lyrics are stunning both for their simplicity and the complex emotions they invoke.
From his songs to his between-song banter, Kris Kristofferson is a storyteller in the best sense of the word. And before the show started, I got a brief insight into the long road he’s traveled to get to this point. I was seated next to a lovely woman named Barbara, who happened to be close friends with Edward Weismiller, a remarkable poet and Rhodes Scholar who was Kris Kristofferson’s creative writing professor at Pomona College fifty-some years ago. He’s the man who was partly responsible for Kristofferson’s Rhodes Scholarship. What’s more, Weismiller has said that of all the students he taught through the years, young Kris was the only one who would read his professor’s comments and rewrite his work.
Impressive, yes, but here’s the important part of this little tangent: a story that epitomizes the type of man Kris Kristofferson is. Barbara managed to get an audience on Kristofferson’s bus by mentioning Weismiller’s name. Upon hearing that the two were friends, Kristofferson asked for Weismiller’s phone number and proceeded to call him then and there; he would have visited too, if he didn’t have to be in another city by morning. After hearing “Casey’s Last Ride,” which Kristofferson dedicated to his old mentor (now 93, blind, but still sharp as a tack), it’s clear that he learned quite a bit reading the comments left on his undergraduate stories.
If I had to describe my religious standing in one word, it would probably be “fallen.” But sitting in those uncomfortable pews, listening to America’s greatest poet sing of social justice, peace, and loving one another, I can’t recall an instance in which I felt more spiritual.
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