Mark Chesnutt at Povlitzki's on 65, 12/16/11

Mark Chesnutt December 16, 2011 Povlitzki's on 65

Several songs into a hits-heavy and lengthy set at Spring Lake Park's Povlitzki's on 65 Friday night, Mark Chesnutt played a tune that pretty much summarized the night's show, and his own musical career: a lament that might resonate for traditional country music fans called "Somebody Save the Honky Tonks."

The song, which exalts the neon lights, cheap beers, hard wood floors, and quarter jukeboxes of these beyond-the-county-line Western swing-dancing shacks, was the first track off his 2004 album, Savin' the Honky Tonk, which - no surprise - didn't perform as well in this era of glossy pop country as did some of his '90s releases, a decade that was somewhat friendlier to a style of country that knew its roots.

Mark Chesnutt at Povlitzki's on 65, 12/16/11

It's a shame the album - and the song - didn't perform a little better, for they could have become an anthem for the lost honky tonks of our nation. Gilleys in Texas has moved on from its dusty, bull-riding country roots, and set up shop as a pair of slick nightclubs in urban Dallas and Las Vegas. In the same vein, Toby Keith's new chain of "honky tonks" seem as likely to play Jay-Z and serve Jag-bombs as play Willie Nelson and serve Budweiser. And where the Bakersfield night once shined with neon lights, today the famous Rainbow Gardens club is an event center that hosts pelota tournaments for the town's sizable Basque population; Tex's Barrel House is a massive strip club, part of the trashy Deja Vu franchise; and renowned honky tonks the Blackboard and Lucky Spot are both just empty lots.

Mark Chesnutt at Povlitzki's on 65, 12/16/11
Mark Chesnutt at Povlitzki's on 65, 12/16/11

Bless Mark Chesnutt for keepin' on with this traditional style of music and for playing venues like Povlitzki's, which is as near to a traditional honky tonk as it seems you can find around here, short of driving south, way south, to the Broken Spoke in Austin - that's Austin, Texas, not Austin, Minnesota - or one of the many dance halls of southeast Texas, where Chesnutt was born. Povlitzki's, located about as far north as you can go on Central Avenue before you hit Blaine, has the appearance of a place that hasn't felt need to update or remodel since the days your grandparents ate dinner there. It's got great sightlines, a sound system that's just loud enough when you're up front but allows for conversation back at the bar, a nicely-sized dance floor for couples-dancing right up front (that folks actually use), and broiled chicken in pizza warmers. Oh, and really, really great exterior neon lights beckoning you in the first place to this roadside throwback. All it's missing is sawdust on the floor, but I realize it's not a "country club" all seven nights of the week.

With his well-polished backing band and rich vocals that curled just right, Chesnutt seemed at home on this stage, and seemed comfortable performing in a venue where folks who got up, got up to dance, the rest content to just sit and enjoy the music from one of the many small round tables that occupy the space. His set covered the gamut of his career, from his 90s hits like "Brother Jukebox" and "Blame It on Texas", to songs off his recent album of covers, the Pete Anderson-produced gem Outlaw.

"Somebody Save the Honky Tonks" - Mark Chesnutt (Disclaimer: this video is from a 2005 awards show performance, and as such is a little...tame compared to his real live show.)

Critic's bias: Renewed Mark Chesnutt fan after Friday night. Judging from the size of the clubs he's playing - small - I can tell the guy's doing something right. I hope he thinks so, too. The crowd: Danced. Not always well, but they danced. Give 'em a break - they don't have any real honky tonks around here where they can finesse their technique. Set list: Had it in my phone, and then my phone done crashed. From memory, in no particular order, and missing many, many songs: Too Cold at Home/Brother Jukebox/Blame It on Texas/Old Flames Have New Names/I'll Think of Something/Bubba Shot the Jukebox/It Sure Is Monday/Goin' Through the Big D/Gonna Get a Life/It Wouldn't Hurt to Have Wings/Rollin' With the Flow/Please Come Home for Christmas/The One I Loved Back Then (I think he played this?)/Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound/Freedom to Stay

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