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Live music review: Joshua Irwin at the Cellar in Fort Worth

Joshua Irwin

Oct. 22, The Cellar

2916 W. Berry St., Fort Worth


Posted 11:38am on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010

On Friday night, I took advantage of the multiroom, multitiered layout of the Cellar on Berry Street and slipped in the back door on street level. This allowed me to avoid the crowds in the bar downstairs, who were cheering the Rangers to victory.

As proud as I am of the Rangers (God really did hear those prayers I made in the bleachers of Arlington Stadium in the 1970s), I was there to hear Joshua Irwin.

Irwin has been kind of a fixture around Funkytown for a while. I've seen him on stage with Josh Weathers; when work is slow, you can find him busking downtown. In fact, on the way to the show Friday, Irwin played an impromptu gig on the bus, wowing the passengers and the driver.

Irwin took the stage in lived-in jeans, a Taylor guitar and a fedora low over his eyes. The 30-year-old Fort Worth native had a big red beard and an even bigger smile on his face as he belted out song after song with a perfect, clear voice and energetic guitar work. At one juncture, another musician in the audience said loudly, "If I were that good, I wouldn't need a band either" -- and he had a point.

Yet Irwin shrugs off this kind of praise. "I grew up in church," he told me, "and it wasn't about me. It still ain't about me. I'm a conduit for infinite possibility. We all are. When I'm up playing music, if you don't like it, you don't have to say anything about it. If you wanna give me constructive criticism, I'm open to that."

He added, "If you do like it, thank you, but at the same time, I'm just performing a service. Because we need music, and without music, I don't know where we'd be."

The crowd at the Cellar clearly appreciated that service, as more and more people climbed the stairs from the bar to watch Irwin perform. The entire city may have been enraptured as the Rangers cruised to victory, but he managed to distract a few dozen citizens.

All but three of the songs were originals. He covered Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, by Woody Guthrie; Kansas City, by Leiber & Stoller; and the flat-out best version of Bob Dylan's Tangled Up in Blue I have ever heard (and, yes, that includes the Blood on the Tracks version by Dylan himself).

Irwin's original songs are almost conversational tales about life and living, in the classic American folk tradition of Guthrie and Dylan. Irwin's personal favorite is called Play On, which he wrote after the funeral of a close friend.

"It was inspired by a friend of mine who was a mentor and who passed," Irwin told me. "At his funeral, it was read in his eulogy that one of his favorite sayings was 'We play on.' I remember him saying it, too. Whatever goes on in life, we play on.""

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