If you'd never heard of Kris Kristofferson, you might have thought a street busker had accidentally walked on stage at the Gallo Center for the Arts last Sunday.
Dressed all in black, his shirttails untucked and hair and beard streaked with silver, Kristofferson came out with just a guitar, a harmonica and his songs. You half expected to see an open guitar case in front of him with a few crumpled dollar bills inside.
But then, then he started playing. What his gruff grumble of a voice lacked in range, it made up for in emotion. The 71-year-old singer, songwriter and sometimes movie star was less performer, more storyteller during his two-hour set.
The antithesis of today's slickly produced pop stars, Kristofferson's show was all about his lyrics. And the sold-out crowd was more than happy to listen in rapt attention to every word.
After running through his first two songs, Kristofferson paused to greet the crowd and take in his surroundings.
"This is some hall," he said.
Then he launched into "Me and Bobby McGee," the song he wrote that was made famous by Janis Joplin. At one point during the song, he changed the lyrics to acknowledge the late singer, saying: "Good enough for me, and Janis, and my Bobby McGee."
His songs, each little vignettes about life in all its various states, ranged from the deeply personal to the highly political. Kristofferson took several shots at the Bush administration and Iraq War. His most pointed barbs came from material on his new album, "This Old Road." His new song "In the News" features an opening lyric that makes reference to the Laci Peterson case.
After an hour of music, Kristofferson left for a 15-minute intermission and returned to the stage for another hour more.
His repertoire included songs from his more than 30-year catalog of hits, including "Help Me Make It Through the Night," "Lovin' Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," "Jody And The Kid" and, of course, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down."
The eager crowd cheered his songs and his sentiments. At one point, people even tried to clap along. Afterward, the singer joked with his fans.
"If you all are trying to clap along with me and we're not together, I want you to know it's not your fault," he said.
After a 30-song set, he left to a standing ovation, only to return for a three-song encore. The night ended, appropriately, with "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends."
Elsewhere around the Scene:
Hello, November; hello, lots to do. This week is brimming with entertainment options from comedy to music to movies and more. A sampling of what to do by date.
Tonight, catch late-night funnywoman host Chelsea Handler at 8 p.m. at the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton. Handler hosts the E! Entertainment Network talk show "Chelsea Lately." Tickets are $28.75. Call 337-4673. ...
Saturday, tap your toes to the old-time acoustic folk trio Faux Renwah. Show starts at 7 p.m. at Denair Gaslight Theater. Opening will be the Gaslight Revival Band. Tickets are $10. Call 664-9514. ...
Sunday, Christian rock fans can hear the good word as MercyMe brings its All That Is Within Me tour to town, also featuring Aaron Shust and Monk & Neagle. Show starts at 7 p.m. at Calvary Temple Worship Center in Modesto. Tickets are $27.50-$39.50. Call 877-840-0457. ...
Or, Sunday, if big band is more your thing, check out the Columbia College Jazz Series at the Magnolia School auditorium in Oakdale. The concert will feature the Columbia Big Band and well-known woodwind artists Paul Contos and Don Shelton. Show starts at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15. Call 848-7171. ...
Tuesday, get your rock on as Static-X returns to Modesto's Fat Cat Music House & Lounge. Opening for the nationally headlining hard-rock act will be Fate 45 and Seip. Mayhem starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 524-1400. ...
And finally, on Thursday, come to the "Cabaret" as the State Theatre continues its Theme Thursdays film series with the classic musical. The Academy Award-winning movie stars Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey. Decadent, 1931 Berlin attire is encouraged. Doors open at 6 p.m., film at 7 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $8. Call 527-4697.
Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.