Editor’s Note: Check out Part 1 of Austin’s piece here
Between 2004 and 2010 I got to see Robert Randolph gain a lot of notoriety and success. I got to see him steal the show on the Grammy’s. Unclassified (2003) and Colorblind (2006) were really solid records for an artist known mostly for his live performances. But, slowly, starting in maybe 2007 or so, I was subjected to seeing Randolph lose a little bit of flavor just about every time. I don’t think I was seeing too many shows, maybe twice per year or three tops. The playing time went from two and a half to three hours to about an hour and a half. The setlist flatlined at mostly the biggest hits off of his two most popular albums. And the lineup behind Randolph never seemed to be the same.
Simply put, Robert Randolph and the Family Band was broken by the time I last saw him in the summer of 2010. To make matters worse, Randolph developed a more gospel-tilt on his 2009 album, We Walk This Road, and had replaced a lot of his more energetic songs, which were sounding flat by that point, with a lot of sleepy gospel numbers that no one wanted to hear.
During this show, the last time I saw Robert Randolph live, the band seemed to be barely bringing themselves to go through the motions. The crowd was miserable, and the dull blue spotlighting was lulling the entire theater into a drowsy existence. I was in the front row, regretting my decision to drive two hours for the show. I essentially started goading Randolph to play something that would wake everybody up, something that would get the room moving.
With a bit of a twinkle in his eye, Randolph started playing “Ted’s Jam”, but the crowd was so lulled from the songs earlier in the set, they didn’t seem to be able to recover. Robert Randolph seemed discouraged by the reaction. Now, mind you I was rollicking drunk and kind of pissed off at this point. But, I would not let up yelling out to Randolph and the drowsy crowd around me. Finally, I put my thumb in the top of my two s16 oz. aluminum bottles of Bud Light, shook them mightily, and just started spraying them everywhere. Not even Robert Randolph was spared from the spray. I was shocked that I had even done that, but looked up at the stage, and Randolph had kicked his stool to the side, started to play ferociously and was motioning at me to continue to spray my beers on the crowd. I, of course, obliged.
The rest of the show was a riot. The crowd was in and the band was in, and the show didn’t slow down for a moment. Over the years I may have romanticized this story a bit in my head but the basics are all true. And, even though it turned out to be an awesome show, I haven’t seen Robert Randolph since.
Knowing full well I can’t pump up every crowd, or ever recreate that ridiculous show for that matter, I kind of decided that after several years as a really big fan, I could leave Randolph on a high note. A few years later, Randolph seems to have abandoned his gospel stage with his latest album, Lickety Split, which I have admittedly not listened to and probably won’t make an effort to.
It was just kind of sad to see the Family Band lose members, lose energy, and lose passion. Especially since they left such a big mark on me as a 17 year old kid all the way through my college years. It’s one of those things where I truly hope that some time down the road a perfect situation arises where all my friends who shared my passion for Randolph will be in the same place, and we’ll go see him, and it will be just like that first show. He’ll be totally reinvented, and it will be one of those shows that leaves a mark on me for years to come. That’d be really cool.