Pokey LaFarge bringing acclaimed storyteller sounds to George’s

Pokey LaFarge is a musician. He is a storyteller. He is a feeler of feelings. He is a narrator of the messy, unkempt American experience. And if you believe the experts at NPR, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rolling Stone and dozens of other mainstream publications with full-time music critics, LaFarge is a do-not-miss performer.

The old-timey Americana singer-songwriter brings his newly expanded band (louder, more powerful than ever) and his much-lauded new music to Fayetteville’s George’s Majestic Lounge on Saturday, Sept. 16. Tickets to the show, presented by Fayetteville Roots Fest, are $20 and are available online. Lost John trio opens. Doors open at 6 pm; show starts at 8. Ages 18+.

If you’ve never heard a LaFarge performance or album, be prepared for a trip back in time – in a musical sense, at least. His mix of jazz, swing, ragtime, and super-classic country comes across beautifully, both live and on his new album, “Manic Revelations.” LaFarge is a storyteller first and foremost, and he uses each of these styles to perfection to get his messages across.

And so, with a storyteller’s background and backbone, the St. Louis resident was ready for the evening when a sociological tinderbox caught fire. Mere minutes from his front door, night after night, social unrest in Ferguson and, indeed, much of the St. Louis area, caused everyone in America to stop and wonder which side they were on. 

In the face of this upheaval, LaFarge took to his studio and began writing. That’s how artists deal with uncertainty: they bleed on paper until the pain subsides. Soon, he found that one song led to the next. He couldn’t put it down. One “manic revelation” led to another, he said later. In the thrall of it all, an album started to appear in front of him.

“The manic revelation is the state where artists create,” says LaFarge. “I got to the point in writing these songs where I felt like a house on fire that just kept burning.

“I’ve always felt that the live shows were the best representation of our music. Only now do I feel that I’ve made a better record than the live performance.”

This is the rare album where the style of music recedes, as the foreground swells with evidence of the artist’s observations of pain, joy, confusion. This one is where his artistic character shines. And where we see that artistic blood on the page, unvarnished and raw. 

“A lot of things haven’t gone my way,” he says. “I’ve haven’t become successful in spite of the things I had to overcome; rather, I’ve become successful because of what I had to overcome. It’s all made me better. And now there’s no going back.”

True to this statement, there are no lookback songs on his new release. The album is all about looking outward, looking forward – and fans have never seen LaFarge’s observational craft in a more stark relief. This hasn’t happened by chance. Artists who write from real-life experience have no choice but to change themselves if they want to progress their art. With this in mind, LaFarge has been hard at work pushing out the corners on himself.

It appears to be paying off in spades. LaFarge and his bigger band (he’s added drums and a few more instruments) recently finished a successful European tour, which also included a widely viewed TV appearance. And critics all across the country have been fueling the fire with great reviews of the new album.

“He may evoke old sounds, but all his songs are about the present, and that means ‘Manic Revelations’ isn’t a stylistic exercise: it’s compelling commentary,” Allmusic.com wrote recently.

“In his finest work – such as the salient balladry of ‘Bad Dreams’ and ‘Silent Movie’ – LaFarge confronts roiling uncertainty and chaos, to great effect,” Uncut says.

And the Los Angeles Times wrote: “LaFarge backs it all up with the joyful noise he and his bandmates bring to all 10 tracks.”