Getting ill on the road: it’s every musician’s nightmare. For a one-man, high-octane show such as Jason Ringenberg’s, it’s a potential disaster – one that seems to be chasing the Tennessean country-rock legend around as he embarks on his first UK dates for more than two years.
With the flu – “the kind that kills people” – doing its best to lay him low and turn that distinctive voice into a croak, Jason has come closer than he’s ever been to cancelling shows. But amazingly he’s here tonight, upstairs at The Prince Albert in Brighton, a small pub next to the train station, and rocking up a storm – albeit at slightly less than gale force.
A back injury – sustained while lifting a suitcase – means that, unusually, no boot marks are left in the stage. And his voice is a little hoarse on the high notes, though this doesn’t seem to temper his choice of songs in any way, nor dampen his spirit. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face are still there.
When you consider that even his clothes are conspiring against him – while getting ready, he spills water over his trousers and has to go on stage wearing the denim dungarees from his afternoon Farmer Jason kids’ show – it’s a remarkable performance. Set opener Life Of The Party might have been a mission statement.
Perhaps mindful of wasting paper, Jason doesn’t use a setlist, preferring to make it up as he goes along, granting requests and raking up goodies from both his and Jason and the Scorchers’ back catalogues: Self-Sabotage, Shop It Around, White Lies, Under Your Command, Harvest Moon, Absolutely Sweet Marie, Bible And A Gun, Tuskegee Pride, Blanket Of Sorrow, Broken Whiskey Glass.
Aware that his alter-ego Farmer Jason has an adult following too, he slips in A Guitar Pickin’ Chicken. The rooster noises from the audience were louder at the kids’ show, but Jason still looks pleased to hear them.
As always, Jason has lots to say as well as sing, and seasons the set with stories – of writing Harvest Moon and being told by Scorchers guitarist Warner E. Hodges that it’s “wimpy”; of befriending Steve Earle “before he was Steve Earle”; of his mum’s pride at him having written a gospel song (Under Your Command); of Scorchers drummer Perry Baggs’ health battles; of being “roughed up by soccer hooligans” in Aberdeen on this tour (they were trying to steal his hat but, says Jason, you can see who has it).
This is what cheering was invented for, and a good metaphor for everything that Jason’s battled against on this trip. You can take him down but you can’t take him out.
I guess the moral of the story is that if the odds are stacked against you, if you’re not a betting man does it really matter? I don’t often have a flutter, but I’m glad that tonight my money’s on Jason Ringenberg. I leave the venue feeling very rich indeed.