As the story goes, Chelsea Williams was busking on the streets of Santa Monica when her would-be record agent spotted her and was impressed by what they heard. Next thing you know, she was working on the same label that legendary roots rockers Poco now call home. The latter has been turning out the hits in the music biz for 50 years straight while the former is, comparatively, brand new. Yet, when the two musical forces converged on Nov. 9 at Tucson’s own Fox Theatre, they stood as equals.
Make no mistake, either–busking is a tough business. It was impressive enough hearing from Williams’ own engaging firsthand account when she cued the previously clueless audience in on her colorful history. Yet, when you really think about it, to make a living at street performing means that you are amongst the very top of your class. Wherein thousands of individuals spread across the streets of California and New York on a near historical basis to show goers-by what they’ve got, that she managed to keep herself head and shoulders above that crowd is impressive in itself.
The orchestral magic that she and her producer, Ross Garrison, brought to the Tucson stage that night speaks for itself. Performing largely from off of her debut record, Boomerang, Williams wowed the Old Pueblo audience with her varied yet cohesive pop-rock sensibilities as she navigated a sea of exceedingly impressive original tunes. She accompanied herself on a loop pedal to produce layered melodies and harmonies that kept the audience engaged. Even between sets, she kept things personable and sweet, navigating audience reception and good ol’ tuning sessions like a seasoned pro.
She even joined Poco for a few numbers that night. Most notably, Rusty Young invited her on stage to collaborate on a performance of the Poco classic, “Rose of Cimarron”. While the band has seen itself synthesize its roster time and time again into a current iteration in which he stars as its only original member, they still manage to retain the same respectable legacy that they’ve been toting for five decades strong.
Better yet, Poco still knows how to surprise its audiences. At shows like this, you can always expect bands to bring out the legendary hits. They kept “Crazy Love” pretty close to its original arrangement, and it was at its sweetest with that decision in mind. Yet, they really wowed us with their cajun-inspired new take on the 80s pop hit, “Heart of the Night”, which evolved into a minutes-long jam featuring accordion, piano, and electric guitar. They also came together on a few of Rusty’s new original tunes, which stand up nicely beside his older work with Poco.
Their encore was suitably more blazing than you’d expect a bunch of old-school soft rockers to settle into, but they kept things in-pocket while jamming away off the cuff of “Keep On Tryin'” like it was nobody’s business. This writer can’t speak for everyone present at their show that night, but I know very well that I came out of there thoroughly pleased with a spectacle I was honored to witness.