On Different Notes: Charlie Daniels brings his demons to Billings

Charlie Daniels in performance at the Alberta Bair Theater June 25 as part of the Wild West Soirée.
Charlie Daniels in performance at the Alberta Bair Theater June 25 as part of the Wild West Soirée.

Words Lewis Black can add profanity to: Unbelievable. Before. Whoville, among others. In his first performance in Montana, the comedian nearly filled the Alberta Bair Theater on June 24.

“Does anyone come visit you people?” Black exclaimed after he received a standing ovation from the exuberant crowd. “I’m really stunned. You’re more excited to see me than I ever have been to see myself.”

Black remarked he’d been trying to visit the west for a number of years, “and now I don’t know why,” he said, though winter was a factor. “The fact that you live here in the winter…maybe you ought to seek psychiatric help. I can guarantee you will never be terrorized. They’ll get halfway through South Dakota and kill themselves.”

The New Yorker warned the crowd before going further into his routine. “For those of you who don’t know me, or have never really seen my standup, to be honest, I’m kind of different. I’m not funny, but for some reason that escapes me people laugh.”

We were warned. Without flinching, he moved onto sensitive topics such as abortion, pointing to the shift in language (pro- and anti-abortion became “pro-life” or “pro-choice”) and the stalemate on the actual act.

“In my lifetime the best we’ve done is change the wording of our argument,” Black said. “We’re the only civilized country on planet earth that can’t decide when life begins. I don’t even know if I’m here.”

With a heavy emphasis on profanity, Black discussed his views on the current state of affairs in this country, saying people don’t need drugs; it’s already astoundingly surreal (American senators apologizing for taking money from belching oil companies and their oil disaster relief plans that reference the same dead guy, tax burdens on the 15 remaining members of the middle class, and drunk driving vs. pot smoking).

On legalizing marijuana, he said, “If you’re not going to tax people, and you’re not going to make s***, you have to legalize pot and have an old-fashioned bake sale.”

After Black’s barrage of profanity-wrapped intellect, the performance of southern self-proclaimed redneck Charlie Daniels the following night couldn’t have been further from such liberal ideals.

Wearing a belt buckle you could eat a meal on, Daniels stood in nearly the same spot at the Alberta Bair Theater and performed a set of country music containing some of the most pointedly conservative propaganda in current rotation.

When Daniels blew a cloud of dust from his fiddle into the air and yelled, “That’s how it’s done,” I wasn’t thinking what an amazing fiddle player he was, rather what an audacious, dangerous redneck he was. The bearded 71-year-old no doubt plays the meanest fiddle I’ve ever witnessed, but his views on citizens taking justice into their own hands and “pulling the trigger” was off-putting.

I haven’t spent much time with Daniels music; in fact I was largely unaware of him being anything but a country music icon. Made famous for his tale of hippie woes in “Uneasy Rider” from the early 1970s and his fiddle showpiece “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” from 1979, Daniels has produced some seemingly harmless works of novel fiction.

Somewhere in his mid career Daniels turned his lyrics from novel stories to soapboxes. He airs his grievances on everything from climate change to Darwinism to same sex marriage. The man preaches love of God and country, yet leaches his poisonous hostility toward America’s leaders and citizens while urging vigilante justice.

Pat McDonald, drummer for the Charlie Daniels Band, during the band’s performance at the Alberta Bair Theater.
Pat McDonald, drummer for the Charlie Daniels Band, during the band’s performance at the Alberta Bair Theater.

With matching cartoon Arab figures in crosshairs on his band’s double bass drums and a theme of “pull the trigger” for solutions to societal problems, it was difficult to enjoy Daniels’ musicianship. In the most irresponsible way his caricature and messaging only procreates fear, ignorance, and hatred toward other cultures.

He doesn’t think kindly of his own country’s residents, either, accusing the people of New Orleans of being victims of their own inaction following hurricane Katrina and stating he didn’t want “pansy politicians” watching his back. He speaks of personal responsibility but abandons such responsibility as a public figure to uphold civil discourse.

“They call me a redneck,” Daniels said. “I always thought it was a compliment.” Not so, sir. Rather, a provincial, yokel reactionary, a yahoo, hick, and/or hayseed, a sunburned political reactionary responsible for fear mongering that should stick to novelty.

Originally published in the Billings Outpost.

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