Townes Van Zandt leaves entertainment in his wake

Santa Monica: Last night at the Ash Grove, a number of musicians gathered in memory of Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who died late last year. The tribute was titled "For the Sake of a Song" which is just one of Van Zandt's many wonderful compositions. From 4pm till midnight, a packed house of family, friends and fans were treated to varied and heartfelt performances.

The early portion of the show was dominated by such Los Angeles singer-songwriters as Russell Scott, Rick Shea and Dan Bern. Each performer tried to do at least one Van Zandt tune in honor of the bittersweet occasion. Walter Salas Humara and Michael Hall played together for a version of "Rex's Blues." And female vocalist Kris McKay played "For the Sake of a Song," which was performed again much later by Van Zandt's long-time friend David Olney.

Several of his songs were performed more than once in the course of the evening, but the breadth and depth of his songbook was not ignored. Austin resident Michael Fracasso reached a new level with his renditions of "Loretta" and an especially poignant "Marie." Peter Case sang "Delta Momma Blues" and Okie Jimmy LaFave did "Going on Ratone."

Bob Neuwirth contributed a number of funny stories about Van Zandt and sang some of the evening's most moving tributes. Jeanine Van Zandt gave a brief speech in memory of her husband and JT Van Zandt looked and sounded much like his father as he sang a couple of songs.

Several other artists told the four or five jokes Townes Van Zandt was known to have repeatedly told on stage. An old drinking buddy, Steve Young, sang a solemn version of his own classic, "No Place to Fall."

Emcee Butch Hancock sang several of Van Zandt's better-known songs, including "Ira Hayes" and "Tecumsah Valley," before being joined on stage by everyone for a rousing finale of "Pancho and Lefty." An intense but lovely celebration, the evening ended with some Van Zandt performance footage.

It was an incredibly long show but over all too quickly. As Townes Van Zandt himself used to say, "Time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana." (Mitch Myers)