Kickin' hippies' asses and raisin' hell

They don't call it the Grand Opera House for nothing. And it's just as beautiful inside. BY DENNIS FORNEY
October 6, 2011

Thursday afternoon, October 6

Went to a Jerry Jeff Walker concert at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington last Sunday night.  Been so tired all week from staying up until 1 in the morning that it's taken this long to get around to writing a few lines.

Jerry Jeff played beautiful music with his first-class band and two-thirds of the way through was joined on stage by master guitarist and Wilmington resident David Bromberg.  Walker is known most widely for his melodic Mr. Bojangles and raucous Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother.  (That's the end of the refrain in the headline.) Bromberg played with Walker for a number of years which explains the comfort the two of them displayed on the stage together.

Walker is a balladeer and troubadour.  His songs tell stories in poetically lyrical fashion accompanied by entrancing melodies. As I listened, I was put in mind of Jimmy Buffet's songs.  During an intermission, I ran across David Myers of Rehoboth in the Grand's upstairs hallway.  I mentioned the Walker influence I heard in Buffet's music.  David said he had heard that Walker and Buffet played together on different occasions.  "From what I hear Jerry Jeff introduced Jimmy to Key West.  They drove there together at one point a few decades back."

At 70-plus, Walker sat on a black, tufted-leather piano stool as he played his concert.  It's said that he likes to play small venues - mostly bars - and in the past was not above knocking down whiskey and beer during his concerts and having a good time.  At the Grand, he allowed as how he had given up drinking a few years ago.  Instead, between songs, he wet his whistle with O'Doul's.

After the concert, Market Street in downtown Wilmington was quiet beneath the colorful lights fantasizing the Grand's ornate facade. In the next couple of decades, when more residences take over the upper stories of some of the downtown buildings, there will be enough of a population to bring that section of town back to life during the day, during the night and on weekends - even when Jerry Jeff isn't in town.