by Jaime Lees
The whole of south city was watching the Late Show with David Letterman last night. We all wanted to witness Pokey LaFarge's network television debut. Viewing parties were held in countless living rooms around town, but the big watch party was hosted at the Royale.
It seems that our hometown star is no longer our little secret. Well, he hasn't really been our little secret for a while, actually. We all knew this was coming. Years of hard work and constant touring has paid off with increasing recognition for LaFarge and his crew of talented locals including Ryan Koenig, Joey Glynn and Adam Hoskins. We've watched LaFarge go from playing basements to playing the legendary Ryman Auditorium in the span of just a few years. In 2011, Jack White (of the White Stripes) figured out what was up and released a LaFarge single on his Third Man Records, followed by LaFarge's self-titled album. There was also a high-profile NPR performance and then there was the appearance on Jools Holland's New Year's Eve show. And now? David freakin' Letterman.
Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, friend of LaFarge and owner of the Royale on South Kingshighway, is always happy to support and celebrate the south city community that incubated LaFarge when he began his career here years go. (Yeah, technically, Pokey isn't from St. Louis by birth. But he's from here by heart, and that's what counts.)
Smith explains, "We went to the ball game about a week and a half ago and Pokey told me he was going to be on Letterman and that's kind of a big deal for everybody -- even for big stars, that's a big deal. I knew that a lot of people would want to watch it around their friends down on the south side, too, so I borrowed Bill Streeter's projector and hooked it up to the system so we could all watch it here. Pokey has a fine appreciation for history, people, our town and the way things work around here. Things are getting hammered around a lot. There's a certain level of cooperation that you have to get to in this town to get to an understanding. He's got it. He understands it. And it doesn't hurt that he's very hard-working and talented as well. It's a musicians' kind of city here. Despite the fact that we don't really recognize that it is, that's how we are recognized around the country and around the world. So, he gets it. And he's been able to take it to the next level. And it's kind of fun watching when a local boy does good."
Smith's hunch about the community wanting to come together for the viewing was spot on, and the Royale's courtyard was full by show time. It was a crowd of friendly faces last night, and they all came out to the event because they also wanted to watch a local boy do good. Together.
The courtyard was full of chatter during Letterman's other guests and interviews, but when it was Pokey time, the crowd went quiet and we all stared at the screen, excited and silent. This silence lasted about six seconds. At the very beginning of the performance, LaFarge leaned into the microphone and said "We're gonna take you back to St. Louis now." Cheers all around from the Royale crowd.
LaFarge and crew performed "Central Time," a song about living in the Midwest and loving it. The soundtrack couldn't have been more appropriate for the mood of the bar. We all swayed and sang along when LaFarge said "Sing with us now." Letterman's studio audience clapped for Hoskins' guitar solo, but it was barely audible over the sound of our own clapping.
David Letterman closed out his show by shaking hands with the band and saying, "That was wonderful. Fantastic. Great. I enjoyed that a great deal... Very nice... Phenomenal." He then offered to tour with the band, saying directly to Pokey, "You, me and the Diamond Dogs, buddy." (Biggest cheer of the night from the bar viewers.)
Continue to the next page to see the performance for yourself.
After the performance, there were high-fives and lots of smiles among the crowd. LaFarge fan Anne Williamson said, "I've been a huge fan of Pokey for years now. He's amazing. He just really connects with music and what it's all about. He just puts his own spin on it and he's so genuine. And just a super talented musician. And a nice guy!"
Fellow fan Kelly Wells also praised LaFarge's friendliness and relationship with the city. When asked why she went out to the viewing party last night, Wells said, "I came because Pokey's a friend of mine and also because he represents St. Louis so well to everywhere-- to really everywhere in the world. Like tonight, the first thing he does on Letterman is he gives a shout-out to St. Louis. It's huge for our city and he does a very good job of representing what this city is all about. And, yeah, he's a nice guy! Oh! And I also came here because the Royale makes a really good Sazerac."
So, just a little note to the world: Pokey is on loan. You can borrow him for a while but we want him back. He's ours. And we all do fine on Central Time.
Video of the performance below: