Sara Hickman is a hugger. After performing for more than two hours with Don Henry and Jon Vezner, she leaped from the stage and embraced anyone who seemed even remotely receptive. Hickman was the wide-eyed and grinning extrovert (unusual for a Pisces?) to Vezner’s sublimely deadpan humorist and Henry’s funky, self-deprecating and lovable everyman.
With armloads of Grammys between them, the trio of veteran singer-songwriters gave a master class in performance in the round. They played seamlessly off of eachother – even though this was their first show together, ever – trading oneliners, inside jokes, and earnest support.
After the first song from each artist, Henry and Vezner performed “No Plan B” from their catalog as the duo The Don Juans. The song had a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young vibe, the two so in sync that they seemed to be one. Later in the show, another Don Juans song featured the two on ukuleles in a gorgeous interplay of harmonies that seemed quite like a transcendent sound sculpture.
Henry featured an 18-year-old song “All Kinds of Kinds,” recently recorded by Miranda Lambert, while Vezner performed his mesmerizing “All Roads to the River,” recorded by both Janis Ian and John Mellencamp.
Hickman’s “Kayaking,” like most of her songs, was playfully whimsical with an in-your-face honesty about what women really want from men. Hickman positively shined with her openness, humor and fertile wordplay. She has some serious songwriting street cred, with artists as varied as Rhett Miller, Marcia Ball, Robert Earl Keen and Willie Nelson covering her songs.
For the intro to “Simply,” she talked about approaching Willie Nelson on his bus and asking him if he would cover the song for a compilation whose proceeds would benefit the Theatre Action Project, an Austin, TX, non-profit that brings art, music and theatre to Central Texas schools. On the bus, Margaritas were present as was second-hand smoke, with Willie finally agreeing to record the song. The resulting album was The Best of Times, Texas artists performing the music of Sara Hickman. Henry accompanied on ukulele in a spot-on mimicry of Willie’s old guitar for one of the most touching and emotional moments of the night.
Other highlights were Vezner’s “Starstruck” on piano reminiscent of Randy Newman, and the Don Juans “Dixie Summer Clothes” written by Henry as an ode to his beloved South, with heart-meltingly beautiful chord progressions. Henry then went straight to the heart with a tragic ballad to Martin Luther King, Jr, in “Beautiful Fool.” Hickman’s terrific “The Trouble with Boxes” from Shine (2014) was an anthem for all artistic people who feel they don’t fit in.
While not at all flashy or theatrical, the three are consummate pros who are great at what they do. The heart of the show came on Hickman’s lyric from “Sister and Sam” about her elderly aunts: “We try hard to remember what we grow up to forget.” The best songwriters are the ones who remember what most of us grow up to forget, keeping memories alive with heartfelt words and gorgeous melodies.