On TV, the Buffalo Bills were once again getting trounced by the Patriots. Down at First Niagara Center, goalie Ryan Miller was leading the Sabres to a dramatic win over the Washington Capitals.
But for folk music fans, the best show Sunday night in Buffalo was at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, where Mississippi-born singer Steve Forbert delivered a spellbinding performance.
It was just Forbert, his guitar, his harmonica and his wonderful songs – 21 of them packed into an hour and 40 minutes before a standing-room-only audience in Buffalo’s great little music club.
He thanked people for coming out to see him on a winter night when both the Bills and Sabres were playing, and promised not to do any songs about the Patriots.
It was a poignant, intimate performance with many heartfelt songs and also many laughs. Forbert has a scratchy, quirky voice, but it serves his music well, and he puts his heart and soul into every song.
He started with a snippet of the 1960s classic “Abraham, Martin & John,” which quickly segued into his sweet ballad “It’s Been a Long Time.” He then moved into some jauntier numbers, his right foot stomping out the beat and his fingers flying over the frets of his acoustic guitar.
Five songs into the set, he sang the hilarious “Stolen Identity,” about a poor fellow whose stolen credit cards are financing the fast life of a thief who is traveling all over the United States.
“Ain’t no telling where I’m gonna be, because of late, there are two of me,” Forbert sang. “I hope to meet myself someday. I mean the man whose bills I pay. … Someone’s having too much fun for free, with my stolen identity.”
He dedicated the song to “the Target Corporation.”
“That’s a true story for somebody. Just glad it’s not me,” Forbert told the audience.
Then, Forbert continued the fun with one of Elvis Presley’s cheesier and lesser-known gems, “Tiger Man.”
After another of his pretty songs, “Goin’ Down To Laurel,” he lit into a funny number about breaking up with a woman named Jessica, getting the audience to join in on the chorus.
“All I need to do is find someone just like you,” Forbert sang.
Another special moment was “Wild as the Wind,” Forbert’s tribute to his late friend Rick Danko of the Band, who died after years of drug problems in 1999.
“I have a knack for writing tribute songs for people who will never know about them,” Forbert quipped.
He later continued the tribute with a funky version of the Band’s “Ophelia.”
Other highlights included his best-known (and only hit) song, “Romeo’s Tune,” the bouncy “Ya Ya (Next to Me)” and the witty and sarcastic “Oil Song,” a nasty indictment of the oil industry and its careless ways.
“It’s oil, oil, oil,” Forbert sang with a distinct bite in his voice. “Get it for free. Come down to the shoreline, where the water used to be.”
There was a time – back in the late 1970s, when music industry moguls were trying to market him as the “next Bob Dylan” – when Forbert was overhyped and overrated.
These days, at age 59, he’s underhyped and underrated, a talented troubadour who plays most of his shows in little clubs that hold a couple of hundred people.
If you get the chance to see him in that kind of intimate setting – or any kind of setting – jump on it. The man is a treasure.