Clarence Gatemouth Brown (not pictured at this event)
Without playing a note, or even gracing the stage just once, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown owned the night. As performers such as Josh Alan, Mad Max and Bugs Henderson entertained the far-from-capacity crowd with a mix of blues, rock, country and whatever else they felt like playing, the reason for their presence was never far from mind. They were there for Gate, and they didn't want anyone to forget it, telling their favorite Gatemouth stories and donating proceeds from their CD sales to one of their heroes. Poor David's owner David Card even inducted the legendary musician into the Poor David's Hall of Fame. "He's the first one," Card said, "and may be the only one." The world-renowned, Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist was diagnosed with lung cancer not too long ago, and this benefit, on the eve of Brown's 81st birthday, was to help defray the cost of his mounting medical bills. The evening was an interesting mix of good-time revelry and solemn reverence--especially when Brown made his entrance. As Josh Alan played his final tune, a rollicking Jimi Hendrix cover, Brown appeared--without swagger or fanfare, but in a wheelchair, looking frail and small. He smiled sweetly, though, and offered a polite "thank you" when patrons moved chairs to make way for him. He wasted no time lighting up his pipe (in the "No Smoking" section, no less), and he cordially signed autographs and posed for pictures. Aside from a video tribute showing Brown in healthier days, this was his only performance of the night--sitting, smiling, talking and smoking. For the fans who surrounded him, extending warm wishes and asking for his signature, that was enough--enough just to be near him, to be in the presence of greatness. Perhaps Bugs Henderson summed it up best, closing his set with "God bless Gatemouth Brown." Indeed.