Opening for a legendary band when you are a relative unknown can be something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you are likely to be able to perform in front of significantly more people than you otherwise might have the opportunity to do, but on the other hand, the audience in attendance is likely very anxious to see the headliner and wants you to quit the stage at your earliest convenience so that the main act can get going. In this situation, the measure of whether an opening act has been successful lies in whether the opening act can convince the audience that their music is worth the delay for the main event.
This is the hurdle/opportunity that is presented to JD and the Straight Shot as they open for the Eagles on their North American tour. The hurdle was demonstrated by the young woman sitting to my right who, half a song into the opening set, asked her friend, “Who is this group?” Her question was met with a shrug. JD and the Straight Shot are, stylistically, an appropriate opening act for the Eagles as they present a pleasant form of Americana, complete with banjo, upright bass, and story-within-the-song that typifies much of the United States’ homegrown music. Lyrically, the songs were clever and the arrangements good. JD, the bands front-man, is the noted businessman and owner of the New York Knicks, James Dolan. While Mr. Dolan has limitations as a musician, several factors overcome this to the point where the audience can simply sit back and enjoy the music.
First, Mr. Dolan is smart enough to surround himself with impressive talent, particularly in the forms of Marc Copely and Erin Slaver, whose work on guitar, fiddle and vocals impressed this listener and the audience in general. Singling out Copely and Slaver should not suggest that Byron House (bass), Shawn Pelton (drums) or Carolyn Johnson (guitar) were not also exceptional—they were. The bands strength, in fact, was shown primarily in their ensemble, not unlike the legends for whom they opened.
Second, the music played by JD and the Straight Shot emphasized the band strengths by focusing on ensemble play and enjoyable storytelling. Songs such as “Redemption Train” and “Better Find a Church” also play to Mr. Dolan’s strengths, which is a natural, and relaxed approach to music that promotes a comfortable audience experience where the songs sound familiar, even if they haven’t been heard before.
Finally, it was apparent that the entire band was having a very good time performing. The broad smiles seen on the faces of the band members were infectious and it wasn’t long before the audience stopped talking amongst themselves and just sat back and enjoyed the 10 song set. By the time the band started their closing number, a cover of Three Dog Night’s “Shambala”, the audience had been won over. And the young woman on my right? The last thing I heard her say about the band was the exclamation to her friend, “Y’know, these guys are good!” to an enthused, affirmative nod.