“Can I just say this is the coolest gig ever?”
David Grissom was right. The renowned Austin guitarist, who’s played with everyone from Joe Ely and John Mellencamp to the Allman Brothers and the Dixie Chicks, had a big smile on his face when he offered up that assessment of his guest turn with the Barton Hills Choir on Saturday afternoon, as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s second weekend.
Grissom followed first-weekend guest Charlie Sexton, who might have been a slightly better fit for the David Bowie tunes “Starman” and “Golden Years” that the kids from Barton Hills Elementary sang out loud and clear on the Austin Kiddie Limits stage both weekends. But Grissom’s roots-rock bona fides fit quite neatly into “I Know You Rider” and “They Love Each Other,” two nods to the Grateful Dead.
The former was folded into Woody Guthrie’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” which kicked off the 25-minute set as dozens of parents and other devoted Barton Hills Choir fans enjoyed a performance that has become one of ACL Fest’s most beloved traditions. Like last week, they closed with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” inviting all other kids in the crowd to join in for a rockin’ finale that the band — Grissom, bandleader Gavin Tabone, guitarist Don Cento, bassist Jason Brint and drummer Jake Perlman — drove home as the children walked off into the crowd to their proud parents.
One difference this week: A late addition to the set was a magnificent version of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Grissom took the lead vocal and sounded every bit the true Heartbreaker, with the children’s voices chiming in on the chorus as a joyful affirmation of the late Petty’s enduring music.
I go see the Barton Hills Choir every year, though as a non-parent, I don’t experience it the same way as those whose kids are performing. Still, it’s impossible not to love the spirit of these performances. One boy in this year’s choir is the son of a dear departed friend, and watching him onstage, I couldn’t help but think how happy his father would be. For a moment, it was like Brent was there with us in the crowd, smiling widely and taking it all in.