Toward the end of a warm and adventurous set by Lyle Lovett’s acoustic band on Huizenga Plaza Sunday night, as his longtime cellist John Hagen offered poignant encouragement to the strings during a solo, a dog barked.
The crowd laughed, and Lovett smiled. But that the dog could be heard at all was frustrating.
“Yeah, I think they pulled the plug on us back there,” Lovett said with a smile afterward. Apparently the sound police decided a 9 p.m. curfew meant a 9 p.m. curfew for the inaugural Lauderdale Live music festival in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
The speakers went silent during Hagen's solo, which was followed by one last, almost-audible chorus from Lovett. The band left the stage with an appreciative wave, but chants for an encore came to a halt when the lights quickly came on.
For collectors of the ironic, let the record show that the festival closer, featuring Lovett and a dog on vocals, was a ballad from his eponymous 1986 debut album, a song called “You Can’t Resist It.”
Unfortunately, plenty of folks were able to resist the undeniable charms of Lovett and band on a clear, if humid Sunday night.
One of Fort Lauderdale’s finest felt comfortable in guess-timating the crowd at “under 750, including the people on the [Andrews Avenue] bridge.” They were clumped in a space stretching from the stage (a large build-out in front of the plaza’s small amphitheater) to the Museum of Art (Las Olas Boulevard was closed) that could have handled four times that.
There was some buzz earlier in the weekend that attendance would be diminished by Art Basel, which has ramped up its music offerings considerably. But for those unwilling to navigate the RSVP-only hubris of even the “free” shows at Art Basel, a Lauderdale Live lineup on Sunday that included Holly Williams, Jason Isbell, Shovels & Rope, the Indigo Girls and Lovett offered a perfect antidote.
Lovett was backed by his excellent acoustic band – cellist Hagen, Luke Bulla on fiddle, Keith Sewell on guitar and mandolin, drummer Russ Kunkel and Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison) on stand-up bass – in black suits that exuded Southern, raised-right charm.
In a 75-minute set Lovett offered up his hits to an enthusiastic crowd (there was a little dancing in the grass) that was not shy about shouting out requests – “Thank you for being so prepared,” he said at one point – but the standout moments of the evening came on more obscure tracks, including “L.A. County” and “Give Back My Heart,” from his second album, 1987’s “Pontiac”; “If I Were the Man You Wanted,” from 1986’s “Lyle Lovett”; and “I Will Rise Up/Ain't No More Cane" from 2007’s “It’s Not Big It’s Large.”
After the show, organizers were giving away the beautifully designed inaugural Lauderdale Live posters that some people (eh-hem, me) paid $20 for the previous night.
“We had a lot left over, and we didn’t want to throw them out,” a woman said.
Saturday night’s headliner, Huey Lewis and the News, capped a day that included performances by Robert Randolph and the Family Band, “American Idol” winner Lee DeWyze, Mat Kearney and others, with an eerily effective set that opened with “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” Lewis looked great and sounded great as he ripped through all the favorites that have been stuck in your brain forever.
Unfortunately, his audience may have been half what Lovett’s was.
Friday night’s VIP opening party was at Esplanade Park, where three yachts were anchored for wine and cocktail tastings and unplugged performances by DeWyze, Kearney and some of the down-bill talent for a well-heeled crowd forced to leave their shoes on the dock.
The bend in the New River just east of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts looked especially inviting Friday night, with holiday lights strung on the Esplanade and Symphony condos. Standing on the top deck of the “True North,” serving glasses of his namesake winery’s enticingly spicy mostly-Malbec red (“It’s an upside-down Bordeaux blend”), young Lorenzo Trefethen was suitably impressed on his first visit to the city.
“This is just beautiful,” he said, looking around. This from someone who lives on a wine estate in the Napa Valley.
Later, festival promoter Don Donahue (who said he spent an hour talking music with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler) sounded a cautionary note about his weekend competition at Art Basel, acknowledging that it likely would be taken into consideration next year.
Reiterating the business plan he had described earlier in the week, Donahue said, “It’s not about what we do in Year 1 [of Lauderdale Live]. We have longer-term goals.”