New Riders of the Purple Sage – Live at The Westcott

By Gauraa Shekhar

Buddy Cage, the pedal steel guitarist, shoots an amused look in my direction. Standing in the front row, I can almost feel him say, “What are you doing here, kiddo?” I suppress the urge to stereotype as I scan the crowd—sixty-somethings men and women dressed in overalls, hippie dancing to “Where I Come From”. The old man in pigtails standing next to me flashes a huge grin and offers me a whiff of an aromatic something passing hands. “No, thanks!” I assure him I am good. I feel out of place. I am the only one with black XX’s stamped across the back of hand—evidently, the only seventeen year old in the room.

photo by Frances Huang

The New Riders of the Purple Sage chime into chorus. And I am pulled out of the background, zapped into the song. The group of seventy-year-olds with their twangy opening burst out more energy than the two young acts before them did—combined. Tonight, there is reason to celebrate. “It’s the 7th year anniversary of our renaissance!” screams David Nelson before cranking the intro to “Panama Red”. “We’ve been together for 45 years!” adds Falzarano. The crowd went berserk.

As The New Riders of the Purple Sage jams to oldies like “Glendale Train”, “Last Lonely Eagle” and “Louisiana Lady” from their eponymous record, nostalgia billows over the crowd, overwhelms it. Lovers lock eyes, friends hold hands and you can almost feel the music transcending time. The band is playing “Down for the Ride”, when I witness a man jump out of his wheelchair. He holds onto the railing in the front row for support, sways along with the music as he lands on his feet. He catches me looking at him in awe. “Kid, do you know what music is?” he asks. “It’s knowledge. It’s how stories are shared from campfire to campfire and eventually brought to us today.” I nod, soaking in this bizarre experience before me.

The show rollicks towards an end and as Nelson mentions a closer, the crowd begins to chant, “Dirty Business! Dirty Business!” And there you have it. The band plays the eight minute long hit single from their debut album and the crowd simply loses itself in it.

I don’t quite know what I was doing there but I felt that no EDM show could measure up to this weirdly wonderful night. Tonight, this was a community: all as one. As they say, it’s always a freak show when the riders come to town.

Download Steven Weld’s recording of the show

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