Walking into the Largo at the Coronet is like stumbling upon a music lovers oasis in the middle of a crowded city. It’s the sort of place that asks the wanderer how he or she just found such a wonderful place. Nestled in between FabFitFun Inc. and The Roger Room on La Cienega, and across the street from a Nude bar, The Largo at The Coronet is easy to miss. In fact, the theatre itself isn’t pressed up against the sidewalk like its neighbors. Instead, it’s hidden behind a gate with a doorman, through a courtyard playfully decorated with twinkle lights, and through a set of double doors. Assigned theatre style seating? That’s correct, my friend. And while the 13-year-old in all of us may crave a standing room only section to rock out to, the seasoned, denim jacket wearing crowd in attendance, looked perfectly happily clutching paper coffee cups filled with Guinness and reclining for an evening of Willie Watson.
With the dim lights overhead, it was easier to tell the age of an attendee by how closely they held their phone to their face, rather than straining an eye to make out hair color or age lines. Needless to say, the age of the crowd skewed older, but their energy rang through the theatre like a bunch of teens at a pep rally.
The setup at The Largo feels reminiscent of a high school talent show. Not because the talent is amateur, mind you, but because of the intimacy. Imagine a tiny concert hall with enough seating for only a class or two, and a stage raised just high enough for everyone to see without straining their necks. Light that stage with a canopy of twinkle lights and a few stage lights, grab a seat, and you’re sitting at The Largo.
After a delightfully peaceful set by the talented Bedouine and a quick 10-minute recess, Willie Watson took the stage. Before the set, the venue manager reminded everyone in attendance about The Largo’s strict no cellphone policy which came as a welcomed surprise and helped keep the evening incredibly intimate.
With a roar of the crowd and a brief hello, Watson launched into “Take This Hammer.” Before continuing with the review, there are a few things that must be straightened out. First and foremost, Willie Watson is an amazing musician. His fingers move at speeds that should be physically impossible while playing the guitar and banjo. It’s almost as if he’s a cyborg or is secretly Luke Skywalker. Nobody is as dexterous as this guy. Second, his voice and voice control for that matter are simply astounding. When he opened with “Take This Hammer” nobody was prepared for his long drawn out notes at nearly every turn, manipulating his voice and stretching every moment into a lifetime.
But while all of the above is enough to consider any show a success, it is Watson’s personality that made his show at The Largo truly unforgettable. Maybe it was a purposefully long-winded story about bad manners experienced while touring? Or perhaps the jokes about the audience not getting their daily dose of Vitamin B (which of course, stands for Banjo)? Or was it the way he leaned back when strumming the strings off of his guitar? It’s hard to pick a moment out, but rather it was the combination of all of the above that Watson made it so no one could look away. With a performance like his, it wasn’t necessary to restrict cell phone usage, not a soul in the crowd would have looked anyway.
So whether he was cruising through “Mexican Cowboy” on his banjo, strumming away on the acoustic guitar with “Leavin’ Baby” or conducting the audience through a call and response during “Stewball,” Watson wore a smile better than he wore his Stetson cowboy hat. And to be clear, he looked like he was born in the damn thing.
As one woman put it, “if this was your first live Folk music experience, you’re setting your expectations at the very top.” It’s difficult to argue with a performance like that one.
Take This Hammer
James Alley Blues
On the Road Again
Keep it Clean
Frankie and Johnny
Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down< Midnight Special Encore
My Baby Left Me
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna