Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels
Eddie's Attic, Decatur, GA January 20, 2000
by David Whited
This was classic Eaglesmith by all accounts. The night played out just like one of his songs, and the band rocked on.
For those of you who are still unfamiliar with Fred, I'll offer a little background. Fred came up in a large Ontario farming family, and suffered through all of the character-building trials and tribulations that come as a part of life on a family farm. As a result, he's a pretty resilient and earthy guy. He knows the workings of farm machinery and all things mechanical. His chosen mode of transportation is very often one of a couple of vintage buses that he and the guys in the band work on themselves. Apparently, it serves him rather well, since he's opted for this mode of transportation for a good number of years. Every so often, he'll even whip out the roller and pan and give the bus a fresh paint job. Fred knows how to stretch a dollar, and when it comes to vehicles, he'd tell you that seven one-hundred-dollar cars are better than one seven-hundred-dollar car.
On it's way to Metro Atlanta, with the legendary Willie P. Bennett at the wheel, the old touring bus had successfully traversed Canada and made it South through the winding snow-covered hills of Appalachia. As Fred noted during the show, Willie was an excellent driver... it was the parking that presented him with problems. Somehow, in the course of parking the big old bus in downtown Decatur, a couple of the wheels had gotten into a ditch and ultimately off of the ground. This left the bus resting on it's frame.
I was killing time at the pool table about 20 minutes before the scheduled show time when I spotted the familiar face of Willie Bennett discussing the predicament with the club management. It seemed that the guys had called a wrecker service, but they were being told that it'd be 11:00 p.m. before they could get a tow truck out that was big enough to extricate the bus from its predicament. Fred was reluctant to leave the bus unattended for a very long period of time for fear of it being impounded. Shortly after Willie's conversation with the club's management, the Decatur police were called. I watched the negotiations as a couple of very helpful city policemen gave the boys assurances that the bus would not be impounded. The police also called a wrecker service that was able to respond in pretty short order. Nevertheless, Fred, utilizing his instincts in matters mechanical, stayed with the bus and offered some resented but necessary tips to the tow truck driver. These were tips that allowed the driver to free up the bus without literally breaking it in half. Fred's dealings with the driver also served to give him a little more material for his hilarious between-songs monologues.
The show started about 30-40 minutes late. Eddie (the venue's namesake) offered a half-price special on Bass Ale to compensate the crowd for the delay. This turned out to be a very kind but totally unnecessary gesture. Fred and the Squirrels seemed to have drawn energy from the evening's ordeal and delivered one of their best Atlanta shows to date. It was intense. The mix of material was different enough from last year's show at the Star Bar to make this show a whole new experience. It was a school night, but Eddie's Attic was full with a crowd that literally spanned all ages. It was clear from the mouthing of the words that was going on that most everyone in attendance was familiar with Fred's work, at least with his U.S. releases. I also know from comments after the show that Fred even succeeded in converting the young doorman.
The set list provided a good sampling of material that spanned Fred's twenty-plus career. It was a good mix of the old bluegrass-influenced folk material from his earlier years, and the more rock and roll-flavored material of his later releases. His excellent "Time to Get a Gun" made its Atlanta debut (Fred's last show here was shortly after one of the school shootings, and I think he may have omitted the song for that reason). Everyone was very amused with Fred's story of his first meeting with Bluegrass Royalty at Merlefest. This story was used to introduce the very moving tribute to bluegrass legend Carter Stanley from Fred's 50-Odd Dollars release.
The usual (or should I say unusual) contingent of Fredheads who follow Fred around in their Airstreams were in attendance, and they laid claim to the complimentary bottles of propane that Fred always hands out to them after the show. As usual, they were also late, which Fred attributes to the constant state of confusion that they seem to always be in. Tonight, they apparently ended up hauling their Airstreams to some other town with a Dutch-sounding name. (You'd think he'd figure out that they might possibly be misusing the propane). Fred dedicated "Just Exactly When Did We Become White Trash" to the Fredheads, as he always does.
I couldn't have asked for a band better suited for this venue, or a venue better suited for this band. This was an excellent show in every way. I think that Fred and the Squirrels have found their Atlanta home... at least until they outgrow it.