Gary Clark Jr. will fuse blues, rock and R&B at his Vail show Thursday
Gary Clark Jr., originally from Austin, Texas, will play at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater as the second-to-last act in the Whistle Pig Vail series, which has so far, brought big-name, national acts to Vail. His show is on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
At age 12, Clark picked up a guitar for the first time, learned how to play and started looking for gigs in Austin. He booked anything he could find. His father took him to Austin’s premier blues club, Antone’s at age 15, and he developed a friendship with Clifford Antone, who ran the venue. Clark got on stage and played Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy.”
That jam and friendship led to a series of regular gigs at the club. It eventually earned him the distinction of being one of the best blues guitarists in the city – no easy feat in a place known for producing high-caliber blues and rock music.
After recording two LPs and an EP as an independent musician, Clark took a slight detour and starred alongside Donald Glover in the 2007 film “Honeydripper.” The plot of the movie loosely aligns Clark’s relationship with Antone: Tyrone “Pine Top” Purvis (Glover) owns a faltering blues club that is saved when he adds a new guitarist, Sonny Blake (Clark), who attracts a younger audience.
Antone was arrested in 2000 for trafficking marijuana, and after his club closed in 2014, Clark and a childhood friend invested in it and relocated it to its original location in downtown Austin.
“All the opportunities I’ve seen in my life are because of this place. … To get an education, drive 15 minutes and have my mind blown? How could you not be a part of this thing? It’s everything,” Clark told Rolling Stone earlier this year.
Clark became famous for his music in 2011 with “Bright Lights,” a prime example of his ability to weave blues, rock, R&B and soul into one package. For those unfamiliar with Clark, his sound is like if Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Leon Bridges got together for a jam sesh.
He’s covered The Beatles’ “Come Together,” as well as “Ohio,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The song, a collaboration with Jon Batiste and Bridges, takes the electric track about the Kent State shootings in an eerie, acoustic direction and was featured on a Spotify playlist inspired by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 2017 documentary, “The Vietnam War.”
In 2019, Clark took the same politically-fueled songwriting spirit to “This Land,” a powerful essay on being black in the American South. In the interviews with Rolling Stone this year, Clark reflected on a recent instance in which he experienced racism. He and his wife bought a ranch outside Austin, and when a neighbor’s donkey wandered onto the property, the family drove over and informed the neighbor one of his donkeys was missing. The neighbor made comments about how Clark couldn’t live there in front of his kids.
Growing up in south Austin, he remembers being called the N-word daily, vandalism on his house and mailbox with the N-word and comments like “go back to Africa.” The song was inspired by all these experiences, like, “people wanting to touch my hair … rolling up to my house with Confederate flags,” he said.
“This Land” is the title track of the new album he released this year. Sitting at 17 songs long, “This Land” has earned favorable reviews from Pitchfork, Variety and Paste Magazine. He will play the 45th season of Austin City Limits on Oct. 5, kicking off a bill that will also showcase Vampire Weekend, Maggie Rogers and H.E.R.
Tickets for Clark’s show at the Ford Amphitheater on Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m. are still on sale. Call 970-845-8497 or visit grfavail.org for more information and tickets. Get to know him ahead of the show by listening to his NPR Tiny Desk concert.
If you go …
What: Gary Clark Jr.
When: Thursday, Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail
Cost: Pavilion seating $94.00 – $114.00, Lawn seating $69.50
More information: Visit grfavail.org or call 970-845-8497.
Richardson has shot for the magazine since 1984, and his work is up for public viewing at multiple locations in the area.