There are some things you just don’t ask a rancher, not even if he also happens to be one of the country’s most celebrated song stylists.
But there Lyle Lovett was two weeks ago on The Late Show with David Letterman, eager to discuss a summer tour with his famed Large Band that hits the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond on Thursday and perhaps give a plug to his recurring acting duties on the FX series The Bridge. But Letterman wanted to talk about the size of the Texas ranch built by Lovett’s grandfather in 1911 that still serves as the songwriter’s home today.
“I was always told not to ever answer those kinds of questions and certainly don’t ever ask them,” Lovett said. “Never ask anybody how big their place is, how many acres they have or how many cows they have.”
Never at a loss for a gracious phrase, even when ranch protocol is breached, Lovett smiled and replied that the acreage was simply “more than you could mow in one afternoon.”
Letterman politely conceded and countered with horse talk that brought Lovett to Lexington by way of a youtube clip of him astride his horse Smart and Shiney competing in the 2011 Ariat Reining Cup at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena – an event that came a mere seven months after Lovett and the Large Band closed the 2010 World Equestrian Games in the same venue.
“Dave’s producer told me before the show, ‘Dave wants to talk about horses and we found this this clip…’”
Of his acting exploits, Lovett is encouraged and excited. While he takes it as seriously as any other part of his very versatile work life, he views acting as a kind of extracurricular activity, one his musical career has helped place in proper perspective.
“I don’t pursue acting work the way actors do,” Lovett said. “But every now and then, somebody will ask for me. I’ve enjoyed every acting job I’ve ever done, just for the change of pace, the chance to eavesdrop on somebody else’s creative process, and to appreciate the differences.
“You know, we are 32 people on the road for this tour with the Large Band. That includes band, crew, everyone. But when I start feeling like that’s a lot, I think about what a day on a film set costs and how many people it takes just to make that work. It makes me appreciate just how flexible I am as a musician. I can work whenever I want. I can call my agent and say, ‘Let’s tour in two or three months’ and we can do that. Certainly with acting work, it’s not that way.”
Still, the most visible public profiles Lovett maintains are his roles as singer-songwriter and bandleader.
The former was bred out of a longstanding tradition of expert Texas songsmiths that fused folk-hearty narratives with expansive country and Americana soundscapes for a sound that was remarkably emotive, exact and human.
“I feel really lucky to have had that kind of direct access to great songwriters like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Willis Alan Ramsey and Steven Fromholz, and to be able to have heard Willie Nelson when he first came back to Texas after his days in Nashville. To be able to experience all that first hand really made me want to play guitar and write songs.”
Then there is the scope of that writing. Since his 1986 self-titled debut album, Lovett has fashioned songs of darkness (Baltimore) and grace (The Road to Ensenada), of desolation (Nobody Knows Me) and whimsy (Here I Am), and in one joyous instance – 1996’s That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas) – a song so overflowing with Lone Star pride that it was used in public service announcements for the Texas Travel and Tourism Board.
Of the many ensembles he has taken on the road over the decades, none has offered as complete a view of the vastness of Lovett’s songwriting as the Large Band – a part honky tonk troupe, part Western swing brigade and part jazz orchestra. This summer, the group sports 14 members. Among them is veteran soul songstress Francine Reed, who is touring with the Large Band tour for the first time in four years.
“What makes me fearless and confident going into a tour, what makes me look forward to just having a good time are the people I get to stand on the stage with,” Lovett said. “I look forward to every show, no matter if it’s hot outside and if there are mosquitos swarming around. The band makes me enjoy each show absolutely.”
Lyle Lovett and his Large Band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. Tickets are $34-$80. For tickets, call (859) 622-7469 or to go to http://ekucenter.com.