Concert Review: Kris Kristofferson @ Sixth & I Synagogue, DC

Juli Thanki | March 3rd, 2009

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.

  1. Juli
    March 3, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Epilogue: I’m told that Kris did manage to visit Professor Weismiller for over an hour on Sunday morning.

  2. Dr. No
    March 3, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Awesome. I love Kristofferson. While I’m not a fan of his political beliefs, I’m a huge fan of his songwriting and the impact he’s made on country music.

  3. Kelly
    March 3, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Great job Juli – A performance like that is about as good as it can get, in my opinion!

  4. Baron Lane
    March 3, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Excellent Juli, thanks. I can’t wait to see Kris and Merle Haggard next month!

    “Epilogue: I’m told that Kris did manage to visit Professor Weismiller for over an hour on Sunday morning.”

    I would have loved to been a fly on the wall…

  5. CMW
    March 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Great review, Juli. I saw Kris in a similar setting a couple years back and it was one of the highlights of my life.

  6. Juli
    March 4, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for the comments, guys. It really was an amazing show and I felt so lucky just to be there and hear Weismiller’s story.

    Baron, you are going to have an excellent time at Kris and Merle. Can’t wait to hear all about it; Hag is still on my “to see” list.

  7. Ken
    March 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    A couple ladies joined in as a chorus at an approproiate time on one song. It was a touching fan tribute, made the song nice, and got a smile and a thinks out of Kris. Delightful moment typical of the entire concert.

  8. Andrea
    March 10, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Your review was spot on – it was a perfect description of my experience of Kris and the show.

  9. MARY
    March 11, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    hello from the west of Ireland and dont we envy all you lucky Americans who are so fortunate to see “the greatest singer/songwrite alive” more often than us. Saw Kris last year on St Patricks Day in Mayo/ He is a living legend, a gem of a man and we hope so much to see him back in Ireland real soon.

  10. Michele
    March 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Sounds like Kris is a sweet guy…nice story about him and his mentor.

  11. Joanne
    April 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    We went to the Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard concert last night in Santa Rosa. They were outstanding. They played for two solid hours, no break. Unbelievably good. They’re both still babes, too.

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