It was a great weekend for gay events in Washington with country icon Loretta Lynn playing a jam-packed 9:30 Club Saturday night and the world premiere of gay flick “Into the Lion’s Den” at Reel Affirmations Sunday at the Lisner.
Lynn concerts these days are always kind of a roll of the dice — the legendary country hitmaker, 76, has often struggled in recent years to remember lyrics and even, at times, to get on stage unaided. But catch her on a good night — and luckily Saturday was a good night — and she’s still a powerhouse with strong vocals, great recall and generous dollops of her trademark wit. Unlike her near-peer Dolly Parton, Lynn’s shows feel totally free, spontaneous and uncanned. Her stage banter and crowd interplay are so natural and unvarnished, she manages to project an in-the-moment vibe few live singers can match. Her vocals are also 100 percent live.
There was no set list — she and her band, the Coal Miners (featuring son Ernie), just have a bounty of hits at the ready and she repeatedly asks the crowd what they want to hear. If the proceedings get too freewheeling or derailed, the band will simply start something or suggest a favorite. If there’s anything lacking, it’s a cut or two from her last proper album, the Grammy-winning “Van Lear Rose.” Most singers are all too eager to hawk their latest release. Lynn falls to the other extreme and fails to mention it at all, a shame since it provided her with a mainstream relevance she’d lacked for eons. At the least, the hilarious hootenanny “Story Of My Life” would make a great concert song.
This was only Lynn’s second show after taking six months off for knee replacement surgery. Reports of Friday night’s show in Pennsylvania were dicey with her losing her voice after barely 45 minutes on stage. Thankfully she sounded great Saturday night and plowed through a generous, nearly 90-minute set without a hint of croakiness. See below for Lynn’s full set. Neo-rockabilly delights Southern Culture on the Skids gave a stellar opening set. It was a retro-doused evening all around which left me feeling I’d been sucked back in time to a ’50s-era honkytonk. Lynn’s audience wasn’t quite as gay as Parton’s summer show at Wolf Trap but tons of gay men were there rubbing shoulders peacefully with the straights.
Then Sunday night saw the world premiere of one of the Reel Affirmations highlights, “Into the Lion’s Den” at the Lisner Auditorium. All the principle cast members were on hand and answered questions after the 9 p.m. screening.
The film itself, which tells the story of three gay men on a cross-country road trip who encounter sexual hijinks and danger at a backwoodsy straight bar, is a B movie for sure. It’s the kind of thing you just sort of enjoy for what it is and expect little else. A few plot turns, like one of the leads yukking it up for hours with a hotel check-in clerk, are painfully contrived, but the movie also features several genuinely suspenseful and nerve-jangling moments. Gay writer/actor Jesse Archer carries the film with a kind of grown-up-and-gay Dennis the Menace-type schtick that coalesces nicely with his real-life personality. He flew in from Australia to attend.
Loretta’s set list:
1. Here For a Good Time (Ernie)
2. Slow Hand (Ernie)
3. One of These Nights (the Lynns)
4. Tulsa Time (the Lynns)
5. They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy Anymore (Loretta)
6. You’re Looking at Country (Loretta)
7. When the Tingle Becomes a Chill (Loretta)
8. I Wanna Be Free (Loretta)
9. Here I Am Again (Loretta)
10. I’m a Honky Tonk Girl (Loretta)
11. You Ain’t Woman Enough (Loretta)
12. One’s On the Way/The Pill (Loretta)
13. Blue Kentucky Girl (Loretta)
14. Fist City (Loretta)
15. Patsy Cline medley: She’s Got You/Walkin’ After Midnight/I Fall to Pieces (Loretta)
16. Crazy (Loretta)
* band intros
17. Nobody But Me (Bart)
18. Love’s Gonna Live Here Again (Bart)
19. Lead Me On (Loretta and Bart)
20. Your Squaw is on the Warpath (Loretta)
21. Dear Uncle Sam (Loretta)
22. Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (Loretta)
23. Feelins’ (Loretta and Ernie)
24. Hole in the World (The Coal Miners)
24. Man of Constant Sorrow (The Coal Miners)
25. Gospel medley: Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven/Who Says God is Dead/Where No One Stands Alone (Loretta)
26. Coal Miner’s Daughter (Loretta)