Artist: Shun Ng (opener), Garry Tallent (headliner)
Venue: Acorn Theater, Three Oaks, MI
Mileage: 470

When I saw that Garry Tallent, longtime bass player for the E Street Band, was putting out a solo album (“Break Time,” released last year) I – like most people – didn’t know quite what to expect. I knew that he was a big rockabilly fan, though, and a longtime Nashville denizen with a lot of experience producing other folks’ albums. Turns out, the album was a great listen, upbeat and a lot of fun.

Tallent had intended to tour behind the album last year, but then the leader of that other band he’s in decided to tour – and a great tour it was, too! – so the solo thing got postponed until this year. I thought about catching opening night in Edwardsville, IL – just this side of St. Louis – but then realized that Three Oaks, MI was only about 30 miles from my mom’s. So that date made a lot more sense for me.

I talked my friend Deb from Chicago into making the trip (it was about a 90-minute drive for her, not bad at all) and we met up at Staymaker, the restaurant attached to Journeyman Distillery, conveniently right next door to the venue. She had an individual pizza that looked really good, but which she said hadn’t been super quick to arrive – since I was running late, I figured a bison burger would be quicker. It was, and it was quite tasty. I didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink because I figured I’d have a beer at the show and given that I’d be driving back to Mom’s over some dark back roads afterwards, I wanted to limit my imbibing. But, the drink menu at Staymaker was appealing! Definitely a restaurant I wouldn’t mind going back to, with a friendly, casual atmosphere.

Acorn Theater signThe Acorn Theater is very small (I think someone said it seats 250 – it certainly couldn’t have been more than that) but really nice, with tables down front and theater-style seating behind those. I don’t think there could have been a bad sightline in the house. The stage looked nice too – the room was clearly designed as a theater, not just an empty room that someone had plopped a stage into like some tiny theaters. Deb and I grabbed a table in the second row, behind a table that had someone’s jacket on one of the chairs – as it turned out, nobody ever actually sat at that table, so we had a totally unobstructed view of the stage. Sweet! (Neither of us is tall, so we always expect some super tall person – like, oh, 5 foot 4 – to sit down in front of us and block our view.) The Acorn also has a bar with a small but nicely-chosen selection of drinks as well as a few simple snacks like popcorn. I forget what kind of blonde ale I had, something local, but it was tasty. Even the restrooms were really nice (the ladies’ room, at least; I can’t speak for the other one).

Shun Ng playing guitar and singing
Shun Ng

I’d checked out a couple of online videos to see what to expect from Shun Ng, the opener. But that didn’t prepare me for how much he knocked my socks off. His set was very short, only four songs, but covered a little blues, a little beatboxing vocals, a little jazzy guitar playing, and even a one-man vocal/guitar version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The crowd was totally won over. I bought his CD after the show and am looking forward to hearing him again sometime. Fantastic guitar player, very nice vocals, great onstage charisma. I love seeing my favorite musicians perform, but sometimes I think it’s even more fun to see someone completely new who shows up and blows you away.

As for Garry Tallent’s show – well, I expected to enjoy it, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent the money and made the trip. (That’s the difference between what I do on this blog and what a professional music critic does, of course – I only go to shows I expect to enjoy!) But my expectations were honestly exceeded by a huge degree. His band was fantastic (seven in all, including Garry – not playing bass as he does in E Street, just guitar and vocals), the songs included most everything from “Break Time” and some fun covers, and the small crowd (the Acorn wasn’t sold out) was loudly enthusiastic. It was one of those shows where everybody walks out afterwards with a huge grin. SO MUCH FUN. Probably my favorite song of the evening was “Charlene,” which got more garage-rock-y than on the album and at times threatened to break into a little bit of “She’s the One” with its Bo Diddley beat. For more details on the show itself you can read my review over on Blogness on the Edge of Town.

Garry Tallent and me as he autographs my "Break Time" CD

After the show, Garry and Shun and some of the band members were readily available by the merch table (which was staffed by Garry’s lovely wife) for autographs, photos, etc. I got my Shun Ng CD autographed and got to chat with him for a minute (what a sweet guy!), and bought a “Break Time” CD even though I already had it on vinyl and MP3 just so I could get that signed as well. Like everyone I’ve ever met who’s a member of or closely associated with the E Street Band, Garry was super nice and very appreciative of his fans. And like the fans, he had a big ol’ grin on his face – who knew he’d enjoy being a frontman so much? He seems to be having a blast on this tour, and why not? What a cool thing to be able to have the fun of playing arenas and stadiums with thousands of screaming fans and then, in the off-season, to have the fun of putting together a freewheeling rock & roll show that’s really “up close and personal” for the fans. Two very different experiences, and I love ’em all. Er, both.

All in all just a wonderful evening of absolutely excellent music by thoroughly likeable musicians in a really sweet venue – you can’t ask for much more than that!

Venue Tips: 

  • There’s free parking on the street right in front of the venue. If you don’t get there in time, there’s a big parking lot about half a block away that’s also free. So low-stress!
  • Really, everything about the venue is lovely. Friendly staff, good food next door, and so on. I’ll definitely be back sometime. If you’re within driving distance, it’s worth checking their schedule to see if they might be hosting someone you’d enjoy.
  • Note, it’s an easy enough drive from Chicago, but don’t forget that Michigan is on Eastern time, so you lose an hour going (and gain it back on your way home).
  • It wasn’t until a good couple hours after leaving the venue that I realized: it’s the ACORN Theater, in Three OAKS. Doh!

Next up: Indigo Girls, for about the billionth time.