From the moment Johnette Napolitano walked onstage at Live Oak Music Hall in Fort Worth on Friday night, it was clear there was a problem. The Concrete Blonde singer was in town for a solo acoustic performance, but from the very beginning she was visibly intoxicated. After fumbling through a handful of songs, Napolitano fell over onstage and the show was over, leaving her fans torn between concern for her health and demanding refunds for a show that barely lasted 10 minutes.
The drama started during the opening set, when Napolitano wandered out on stage ahead of schedule. "During the last song Johnette came out and was totally incoherent," says Amanda Rebholz, who attended the show and is a longtime fan of Napolitano and Concrete Blonde. "She sat on the other bar stool and [the other singer] tried to keep playing but Johnette was singing over her and talking over her. It was very weird."
After Napolitano then wandered backstage, she returned immediately after the opener had finished to launch into her own set. "It was immediately obvious she was not sober. She had her legs wide open; she was wearing a skirt and just sat spread eagle in her chair," says Rebholz. While Rebholz says the show was billed as an intimate night of Napolitano's solo material, she proceeded to play "Joey," one of Concrete Blonde's oldest and most recognizable songs. "She sang about two verses and let the audience take over. She trailed off and was mixing up the lyrics and adding things in. It seemed very strange. It was like she couldn't remember the song at all and was just pawing at the guitar."
The situation continued for another couple songs, totaling "maybe 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops," by Rebholz's estimate. "It got to the point where the audience was just singing the entire song for her," she says. "Then she's singing 'Tomorrow Wendy,' obviously one of their huge hits. She gets maybe halfway through the first verse, stands up, grabs the mic stand and just goes down."
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As video of the incident shows, Napolitano continued mumbling into the microphone, which she held up in the air to encourage the crowd to keep singing. Finally the curtain was lowered, with Napolitano still lying on the stage. "Then people started booing," Rebholz explains. For the next 10 to 15 minutes, there was no explanation of what was happening, and several people in the crowd went to the bar to start closing their tabs. "Our waitress was like, 'Yeah, they're frantically pouring coffee down her throat, trying to get her sober enough to perform.'"
Eventually Napolitano reappeared on stage, but not for long. "She's sitting there on the other barstool with a huge grin on her face, singing along to the house music with her eyes closed," Rebholz says. "She was like, 'You guys have been fantastic. Take care of yourselves. Good night' — and she walked off stage." That was the end of the concert, which Rebholz says only lasted about 45 minutes from the time the opener took the stage to the time Napolitano left it.
Over the weekend, Napolitano only addressed the situation with a post on her Facebook page, which read, "Thank you I owe you another one and a better one." Another post indicated that she had lost her phone that night. Rebholz found the lack of a true apology unacceptable, although in a thread on the show's Facebook event page other fans chimed in in Napolitano's defense. "Other people were like, 'Oh, it's fine. It's the risk you take. You know her reputation,'" Rebholz says. "But that doesn't have to do with me. If she's an alcoholic, she shouldn't be booking tours if she can't fulfill her end of the deal."
Having paid "almost $200" for a VIP pass, Rebholz sought out a refund from the venue, but it's not clear yet what might happen on that front. "I was told that her manager said she'd contractually fulfilled her obligation because she had shown up and she had gone onstage, so they still had to pay her because in their eyes she had played a gig," she says.
The Live Oak's Brooks Kendall Jr. confirms that this is the case. "The way our deals are structured here is that the artists get all the money, so it's not like we're sitting on a big pile of money we can use to give to people," Kendall says. He planned to speak with Napolitano's team this morning but wasn't optimistic about getting refunds. "Our policy is to not give refunds, but in this case if we can find a way to give people who are really unhappy a refund, we're going to do it."
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Napolitano had played a show in Austin on Thursday and appeared on a local news show Friday morning before heading to Fort Worth. In another post on Facebook that day, she referenced having been given a bottle of mezcal at the station, and Rebholz says that when she first crashed the opener's set that night she referred once again to having drank the mezcal. Kendall, however, says that nothing had seemed out of the ordinary during her load in. "She was a bit goofy but actually a total pleasure to deal with the whole afternoon," he says. "Whatever got her to where she was going [by showtime] must have really happened or accelerated" after that, he suspects.
This morning, Napolitano issued an official apology, and made a reference to the broadcast for contributing to her issues:
"I truly do apologize to Dallas fans this weekend. After a long day starting at Fox TV in the morning and recent back trouble I miscalculated my pacing and I am very touched by everyone’s concern. Shall endeavor to set things right but I certainly am not happy about it, as everyone knows, I've played hundreds of shows for decades and i’m truly regretful and appreciative of everyone more than i can say."
Kendall says it's unlikely that the Live Oak would invite Napolitano back after Friday's experience. "She has a tight-knit, small fan base and at the ticket prices we'd have to charge we would be relying on the same people who came to this show to come to another one," he says. "And I don't have lot of faith in getting the same turnout. It's not anything personal against her, but I don't think it would be a good business move to do again."
For her part, Rebholz mostly finds the situation to be a sad one. "It was just unbelievable. From the minute she walked out she was destroyed. There was no way she could've played a gig," Rebholz says. "The last time I saw her was in 2005, and I know a lot of things have changed since then, but she was just this powerhouse. She was an amazing performer. I don't know what's the deal."