By Kimberly Brown
There’s no bar.
At the Crest Theatre last Thursday night, there to see Jeff Bridges and band, the Abiders, it’s the first thing I notice. And I’m clearly not alone. Countless attendees make their way through the front entrance and head straight to the recessed space across from the concessions stand—the old standby watering hole for events like these. But the well is dry, at least for now.
An employee scooping popcorn tells me they’re still in the process of obtaining permits under the new management.
It’s not the first faux pas under the Crest’s new setup. In November, the first very concert scheduled after the changeover was canceled, tickets refunded. And just before the holidays, the theater was shut down temporarily after county health inspectors found rat feces in the vicinity of the snack bar. And now, a sober night of country-rock?
I’m waiting for water in a line like I’ve never seen when the crowd begins to cheer, and a familiar voice comes over the sound system: “Alright, yeah, man!”
Bridges and band take to the stage, and his aura is catching. He’s just as laid back as you would expect. A calm washes over the crowd as though the Dude himself had sparked a J and puff-puff-passed it to the whole of the audience. In an instant, the bar goof is forgiven.
He explains this stop as the beginning of a short, three-city “I Don’t Know” tour, and encourages the crowd to revel in the “openness and space that not knowing creates.”
When he shatters his water glass two songs in, that same “fuck it” attitude comes through, and it’s brilliant.
The band plays a blend of tracks from Bridges’ own discography, from Crazy Heart, from The Big Lebowski. There’s twang, there’s folk, there’s some fully psychedelic moments. Their sound is an incredible blend of crisp and loose, like watching a jam session for the world’s most on-point and polished band.
But I’m almost convinced it’s the hush between the songs that proved the band’s hold over the audience best. More than once, Bridges and Co. stopped to tune a guitar, to tweak this or that, as you do—in total silence, for what most would consider an uncomfortable amount of time. No small talk, no bullshit.
And only the first time did you get nervous laughter from the seats.
And OK, yeah, you got some jerks screaming for “Freebird” and the Eagles once or twice. But for the most part, we owned it.
Good vibes and gratitude abound. More than once the group acknowledges one another, their sound man, their tour manager, their roadies. Bridges thanks Abider and musical director Chris Pelonis, Pelonis thanks Bridges, Bridges thanked Crazy Heart collaborator and music producer T Bone Burnett. He thanks fourth-grade pal Johnny Goodwin. The love is flowing, man.
Bridges and the Abiders finish their set with a string of favorites, including Crazy Heart’s “Somebody Else” and Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me,” bringing up the house lights just enough for the crowd to dance at the stage. It’s a feel-good ending to a damn good-feeling night.
And so, the Dude abides. Does this mark the turnaround point for Crest 2.0?
Think I’ll hang back for a while before making that call—in the openness and space that not knowing creates.
Photos by Paul Piazza