Strand Of Oaks is set to embark on a two-month, full-band tour of the U.S. To celebrate, we’re looking back at a special show that Tim Showalter played in December in MAGNET’s hometown of Philadelphia.
So much has changed since we all gathered together for Strand Of Oaks’ last annual Winter Classic in December 2019: so much death, so much political strife, so many friendships lost one way or another. And, as no one in attendance needed to mention, our beloved Boot & Saddle, home of Winter Classics I–V (reviews of IV and V), didn’t make it through the pandemic.
But at Johnny Brenda’s on Thursday night, for the first of two sold-out, back-to-back Winter Classic VI shows, familiar feelings flooded the room as Tim Showalter fully, earnestly, unreservedly embodied what it is to be kept alive by music long enough to create your own life-affirming, community-sustaining body of work.
Kicking off his set with “Jimi & Stan,” one of the best tracks from Strand Of Oaks’ excellent 2021 record In Heaven (MAGNET’s number-one album of the year), Showalter conjured a rosy view of the afterlife, guitar gods and adored pets having a blast together at shows in a place where a stupid pandemic could never shut down every venue because everyone is already dead and grateful.
In Heaven also yielded cosmic tunes like “Horses At Night,” “Sunbathers” and “Hurry,” as well as the lovely “Somewhere In Chicago” (Strand Of Oaks’ ode to John Prine) and “Easter” (dedicated to Showalter’s wife Sue, who made a brief appearance onstage later to be serenaded by a belated sing-along of “Happy Birthday”).
But it was “Galacticana” (the album’s first track and in some ways its beating heart) that made visible the connections we all yearn for, as audience members held signs proclaiming “TOGETHER” whenever Showalter sang the word.
Other highlights included “Sterling” (from Pope Killdragon), “Forever Chords” and “Weird Ways” (both from Eraserland) and a rendition of “JM” (my all-time favorite Strand Of Oaks song from my all-time favorite Strand Of Oaks album, Heal) that segued into “Cortez The Killer” (my all-time favorite Neil Young song). The more things change, the more we chase new ways of capturing those old, familiar feelings, whether or not we appreciated them back in the day.
Local performer Pat Finnerty, best known to some in the room as a guitarist in Strand Of Oaks’ current touring lineup, warmed up the crowd with a set that was as much stand-up comedy as music. Alternating between “good” music and “bad” music, Finnerty took shots at Kid Rock, Collective Soul and 3 Doors Down, while venerating the Beatles, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Gillian Welch.
Best was Finnerty’s version of “Jimi & Stan,” made complete by his Showalter costume—hat, wig, tee with the sleeves cut off. From my perch in the balcony, he looked more like the love child of Slash and Chris Cornell, but he sounded firmly at home in the Strand Of Oaks family.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich