I first went to the Southgate House oh, about eight or nine years ago, when we happened to be in town, visiting, at the same time that a friend was doing a show there. Since I have this thing for Kentucky — it’s the South! right across the river! you can see the South from here! — we had to go.
Ritt Deitz has been putting on a good show for years. I can only vouch for the last eleven (years, that is, not shows), but if the tales he tells are anywhere near the truth, he’s been stealing limelight since he was young enough to think thick curly hair, a serious attitude, and rippin’ chords were too cool for school. (Got questions? See his teenage son, Wilder. That’s him on keyboards.) So when Ritt and his gang returned to the Southgate and we didn’t need the serendipity of a well-timed family visit to bring us to Cincy, well, we had to be there.
The show’s opener was one Justin Lynch. I can see I need to start taking notes — I can’t tell you the name of Justin’s band (which he left earlier this year) or the name of the place in Northern Kentucky (the South!) where he’s playing next weekend. (Turns out it’s here, and you can cath up with Justin and guess the name of his old band here.) But I can tell you he’s from Mt. Adams, sang a lovely song to his wife (who was celebrating her birthday that evening), and wrote a sweet tune called “The Backseat” about his family’s drives home from Sunday dinners with relatives when he was a kid. Not the kind of material I usually think will make for a good song — but for Justin it does. Justin is also a hoot to listen to between songs…he rambles his way through anecdotes that were probably jokes once, long ago, long before the punchlines wandered away in search of direction. He has a nervous energy that sits easily just on the hip side of nerdy — as a compliment to both, we noted that Justin reminds us of a particular local magazine editor of whom we are quite fond. If you see his name on a marquee somewhere (Justin’s, not the editor’s), stop in for a listen.
Ritt and his group — his two sons, two friends from Madison, and two previous bandmates who still live in Northern Kentucky (the South!) and showed up for special appearances here in Newport — were on tour for their new album, Upstream. Rock on creeks, rivers, and all things watery-hilly: Kentucky geography lends Ritt’s music a rhythm you can feel even after the music has stopped but you’re still looking out the window.
His family/percussion section — Mitchell on drums (and occasional harmonica), Wilder on keyboard (and occasional accordion and bongo) — ditched a day of school to make the weekend loop through Chicago, Louisville, and Newport, returning to Madison just before the PTA pledged to chase Ritt down. At the Chicago show, some guy came up afterwards to talk about the “little one” — that’s Mitch — “gittin’ it”. And git’ it he does, jammin’ away with his whole body, pounding out rhythms using elbows, forearms, and the palms of his hand, lookin’ sweet — SWEET! — but disinterested the whole time. The kid’s got drummin’ attitude in his genes. Wilder is taking his own performance to new heights, whalin’ on the ivories and adding harmony to his dad’s vocals. It’s a big leap from his first recorded performance, the solo “…and the pirate said ‘never mind,'” heard at the end of Hillbilly.
The Deitz trio were joined by long-time collaborator and stringed-instrument player Joe Meisel, fresh from his work in Ecuador, and by oh, crap, I really do need to take notes, by the guy behind Joe in the picture you just looked at, who Ritt described as “adding this cool celtic thing to our sound.” Jim Faris sat in a few tunes on stand-up base.
The best part of the show for me was seeing Wilder and Mitchell. Shannon held Wilder when he was one week old. I met the boys when Mitch was too young to crawl. And we took care of the two of them when their younger sister Ella was born. So now, well, it makes me all misty-eyed to see them coming into their own: full personalities, mondo talent, and awesome band-hair.
And the Southgate House? It’s still smoke-funky and cash-only in the upstairs bar, and the view across the river is now blocked by the Aquarium, but it still puts on a good show. We’ll try to get in TMBG in November.