The stage at Joe’s Pub was bare, except for three mic stands. As the lights dimmed, a nearly full house adjusted their seats to prepare for something special: 90 minutes of country music. Wait. Country music… in New York City? At Joe’s Pub nightclub? This isn’t something that happens every day of the week. Is there a market for country music in New York’s nightclub and cabaret scene? Judging by the crowd at Joe’s Pub on August 31st, there is. Or maybe there is just a market for Ty Herndon because this writer has been anxiously awaiting the chance to see the country star live, for several weeks, and apparently so have a lot of other people. Finally, happily, the announcer came over the loudspeaker with a warm welcome for Grammy award nominee Ty Herndon.
An unassuming and handsome man stepped through the curtain and up onto the stage. Dressed simply in blue jeans and a henley, he walked to the center mic stand and stood. He looked at the mic stand. He looked at us. He looked at the mic stand. He looked at us. He pointed to the mic stand. There was no microphone. He looked at the other two mic stands onstage. There were no microphones. Bemusedly, he said “We’ll do that all over again!” and darted offstage, at which point a tech sheepishly ran out with three mics and set them up while a laughing crowd applauded. The Joe’s Pub announcer, again, gave a warm welcome to Grammy award nominee Ty Hendon.
And the show was on.
In a gutsy move some singers would avoid, Herndon started the evening acapella, his two guitarists joining him after a couple of minutes, filling Joe’s Pubwith a classic country singing voice, bold, resonant, the kind of voice that makes you smile, but you really want to cry, such is the emotional trip it takes you on. Out of the gate, he had his audience right where they wanted to be: gazing lovingly at this man who has, for years, moved them with his acts of musical marvel. Looking around the room, all night long, a club full of urban cowboys, middle-aged good-old-boys, Ladies both Southern and Northern, gay men and new fans could be seen either beaming at the charmer or singing along (not mouthing away, singing right out loud), happy, content, satisfied. It was a sight to behold, one that bears witness to the fact that Ty Herndon has still got it.
Mr. Herndon is a funny dude. Laidback and unpretentious, he has nothing to hide, so he opted for humble honesty throughout the night, confessing he had, for days, been in bed with a high fever but, desperate to not miss his Joe’s Pubgig, he chose to perform anyway – and that high fever touched not a note in his head, for Herndon was in prime voice, even stopping once or twice to say he could do that better, and then he DID do it better (once, after three glorious tries). The man’s range is astonishing and the power with which he howls high notes for periods of time that would make a wolf nervous is positively eye-popping. Whether singing the songs that made him famous (and always thanking the fans for making it number one, two or five on the charts), tunes from his new cd “Got it Covered”, or the ones that paid off (“This song bought me a barn”) Mr. Herndon gave his all to the appreciative crowd that had no qualms about getting their phones out to record this special moment in time.
When not engaged in the acts of singing or wrestling with his mic stand, the seemingly shy but contrarily playful Herndon talked lovingly about his Grandmother (“If Jesus ain’t in it, don’t do it”), about being on Star Search with (SS winner) Sam Harris, about the time his mother chimed in from the other room about a song he passed on singing (“You’re an idiot!”) and about the experience of finally coming out of the closet five years ago. Very at home with the crowd, this true troubadour showed genuine appreciation for the audience, confessing he had always wanted to play Joe’s Pub, admitting “I was just hoping people would show up”. Owning up to being a “silly man” who loves to have fun, Herndon poked fun of his fame by referring to himself using the names of other country stars and joking about which of his friends’ hit records kept his singles from reaching number one on the charts.
And he dances, too – wow, the moves on this guy.
Ty Herndon is so free with his physicality, dancing about the stage with pure joy that makes you feel joyful too, that this writer wondered if he were this buoyant before coming out, or if this freedom of movement is something that showed up after he had broken free of the chains, to live in the light. Whatever the cause of this terpsichorean bliss, every bit of Ty Herndon‘s happiness spilled off of the stage and into the arena where fans willingly succumbed to his charms, and those of his special surprise guest, Kristin Chenoweth, who gifted us with a stunning version of “Desperado” as an adoring Herndon stood by, watching, pride and love gleaming from his eyes. It turns out, Herndon shared with us, that Ms. Chenoweth is going with his phenomenal guitarist, Josh Bryant, (his other brilliant guitarist, it turns out, is his cd producer Erik Halbig) — proving that which show business people have, long, known: making art with family is where the good stuff comes from.
Among the songs Herndon sang were “Loved Too Much”, “A Man Holding On”, “I Have to Surrender”, “Living in a Moment” and “Hands of a Working Man” but the biggest two highlights (in an evening of many) were when he hilariously applied “I Want My Goodbye Back” to his coming out and his subsequent divorce, and when he sang his hit song “What Mattered Most” using pronouns he was not able to use when he first released it in 1995. It was, surely, difficult to become the first major male country singer to be openly gay, but the experience has obviously informed Mr. Herndon’s work because the person we saw at Joe’s Pub is living his best life, as an artist, as a role model, as a man; and that man who has wanted to play Joe’s Pub for a long time but was worried people might not show up should consider coming back to NYC and Joe’s Pub, and often, because it is very clear that people will show up again and again, their hearts filled with love and devotion for an artist who not only earned it but deserves it.