I saw Kris Kristofferson at Belly Up on Sunday Night

I saw Kris Kristofferson at Belly Up in San Diego on Sunday night. I bought my ticket the day they announced the pre-sale. I figure like anyone who likes 60s and 70s country, I’m a Kristofferson fan whether I own his records or not. I’ve got a whole album of Willie doing Kristofferson songs after all. Another strange in-road to knowing Kristofferson is that in grade school sometime, I read a biography of him and was totally impressed. Rhodes scholar, joined the army, worked as a pilot, moved to Nashville, became a successful singer and songwriter, became an actor — the guy has led a storied life. When the opportunity arises to see one of the Highwaymen, you take it.

When I bought the ticket, I didn’t even know it was a solo acoustic show. I read a bit about his tour last week and I was excited at the prospect of seeing Kris and a guitar. And that’s what it was. No opener, no band. Just the man and his guitar (and harmonica). There’s something so easy and natural about that kind of show. I love the experience of seeing a great songwriter just show off his songs as naked as they were when he created them.

Kristofferson isn’t an instrumentalist either. So he played the songs with no flourishes. It was just his roughly-strummed or picked guitar, his gravelly voice and his charm.

As he ended one song, he said, “When Roger Miller cut this song, he did a scat at the end that was funnier than the song. But I’m not Roger Miller so I’ll just quit.” During “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” when a female fan shouted a reply after every line, Kristofferson ended with the ad lib “help me make it through tonight.” About 3 or 4 songs into the set he said, “I see the message on the teleprompter but I can’t believe I forgot to play that song.” Then he corrected, “I can believe I forgot to play that song” before asking “Did I play ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ yet?”

I’ve been unduly fortunate to see the legends this year in incredible venues — finally seeing Merle Haggard, seeing Willie Nelson in a beautiful old theater, a small club, and in a modern symphony hall. Seeing Kris Kristofferson in a bar about 5 feet from the stage was an amazing experience and I appreciated every minute.

When he played “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (the man wrote “Sunday Morning Coming Down”!), I was sure that was the end of the set. But he played a few more and when he was done with his set and the audience shouts and applause rose up, you could see he was touched. He said usually he’d walk offstage and come back to play a few more but tonight he wouldn’t leave. He played a few more and everyone could feel how special this was. The audience was giving to Kris and he was giving right back. When he finally ended his set, he remained on the stage and shook hands and signed autographs. It was an incredibly generous show and I’m grateful I got to see it.