Otis Gibbs at the Crystal Theatre — Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
A Singer, a Songwriter, a Storyteller
I’m silly enough to believe that I’m the world’s foremost authority on what an Otis Gibbs record should sound like. I tend to enjoy stripped down arrangements that highlight the song and the vocal.
With his full beard streaked grey and his horn-rimmed eyeglasses, Otis Gibbs might be mistaken for one-time Nashville resident Steve Earle, had the latter not grown tired of the big city and moved back to Texas, leaving Nashville to Gibbs. [Sidenote: Gibbs originally hails from Wanamaker, Indiana.] Nonetheless, the comparison stands: with lyrics about the downtrodden, the misfits, and the victims of injustice, his songs get compared to Earle’s, as well as to those of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Billy Bragg, and Bruce Springsteen. The title to his 1st release, 49th and Melancholy, give a clue: the songs are earthy, intimate, bittersweet, and yearning; the imagery vivid and the attitude uncompromising. He often sings about social or political issues, lending further credence to the comparisons.
Gibbs made his Woody Guthrie Folk Festival debut in July, appearing on the Crystal Theatre stage at midday to a nearly full house. A noted raconteur, Gibbs sprinkled the set with pithy stories between songs, evoking no small amount of laughter and the occassional approving nod.
Gibbs hosts a podcast, Thanks for Giving a Damn, in which he converses with musical acquaintances. Recent episodes have featured record producer Grant Showbiz (The Smiths, Billy Bragg), harmonica player Delbert McClinton, and singer-songwriter Tim Easton, who also made his festival debut this year.