Alan Jackson took the stage for a rare club gig at a packed CBGB in New York City last night. Jackson’s appearance was his first full NYC set since he dropped in at the larger Irving Plaza in January 2000. The performance fell on the same day that Jackson’s latest album, Drive, topped the pop charts for the third consecutive week.
Although Jackson might seem like an odd fit at the nearly thirty-year-old club that fostered the careers of the Ramones, Television and other punk and New Wave pioneers, his country music is actually a better fit for the original direction of the venue, which took its name for the country/bluegrass/blues that owner Hilly Kristal envisioned booking. “The first band that ever played here was a country artist called Con Fullum Band,” Kristal said. “But nobody as big or important as Alan Jackson. We’ve had AC/DC and all kinds of rock bands, but to have somebody who doesn’t need it want to play here is an honor.”
Jackson said that playing the club was like revisiting his early career. “This is like deja vu for me,” he said. “This is the kind of place I was playing ten, twelve years ago . . . well a lot nicer than some [laughs]. The kind of music that I make and the kind of entertainer I am I probably fit in better in a place like this than some of the bigger arenas that I play, where I just walk out there and sing. I’m just a singer and songwriter, but they try to put the lights and video around me and make me look exciting.”
The venue is also just two miles from the site of the World Trade Center, the collapse of which inspired Jackson’s hit single, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” which Jackson included in his twenty-five-song set. “I’ve had a lot of hits over the years and a lot of big songs, but nothing that’s drawn such attention and had such an effect on people,” Jackson said. “When it happened, I was just floored by it. Like most people, I was just really devastated. I didn’t want to write or sing or do anything. Two weeks later, I wanted to write something. I didn’t want to write that patriotic song, but I didn’t want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day. That thing came from heaven, or somewhere [snaps his fingers] in the middle of the night. Somebody asked Hank Williams about songwriting once, and he said that he just holds the pen — God writes the songs [laughs]. Believe me, that’s the way I felt on this song.”
As for his chart-topping run, the soft-spoken Jackson seemed surprised by the success. “I’ve just been so lucky in my career to do this twelve years and still be somewhat viable out there on radio and live shows,” he said. “I hate to say it, when my album came out they told me there was a group that had been on the charts for several weeks and they were going for a new record and my song knocked them out. I didn’t even know who they were. Called Creed, I believe. I have young daughters and they listen to some of the pop stuff, the little kid groups and things and Britney Spears. I’m kinda familiar with them, but I like all kinds of music. If it’s real, it’s good.
Early in my career, one of my bus drivers told me, “I was driving Alice Cooper for awhile and he was listening to your CDs all the time.” I said, “You’re kidding me.” And he said, “Yeah.”