Next Time You See a Busker, Be Nice

By Kate SadoffApril 6, 2024

Next Time You See a Busker, Be Nice
SIERRA FERRELL: SHOOT FOR THE MOON TOUR, The Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles, April 3, 2024.

While I don’t exactly know what a honky-tonk is, I’ve always wanted to attend one. This past Wednesday was the closest I’ve come: blue ostrich cowboy boots, tan and teal Ariat boots, red knee-high cowboy boots, and Frye Campus boots lined up along Hollywood Boulevard in anticipation of Sierra Ferrell, the roots musician who went on to turn the Fonda Theatre into the Grand Ole Opry for a night.

Sierra Hull opened, riling the crowd and proving that a mandolin can, in fact, be shredded. As transitory stagehands got to work between Sierras, old country classics like Red Foley’s “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy” filled the venue, setting the tone for Ferrell’s distinct shade of country music that’s part bluegrass, part folk, a little jazz, a little ragtime, and a hint of Latin. Her voice, which I was pleased to learn sounds exactly as it does on her records—almost as though it should be coming through a Victrola—binds these all together.

During the first song, “Give It Time,” Ferrell swung around the stage in a full skirt to the tune of her 1950s sound, clicking her heels and balancing a green cowboy hat on her head. The pace picked up with crowd favorite “Silver Dollar,” which begins, “I’m out here in all of the honky-tonks / I’m finding out all of my dos and don’ts,” and resolves, “All that I want is a place to surrender / All of the love I have inside of me.” Ferrell was somewhere in the middle of the song when a man dressed as a cow—complete with a prosthetic snout—pushed past me and made his way deeper into the crowd.

Yet as the set continued, I forgot about not only the cow but also any intrusive thoughts surrounding my wisdom teeth removal the next morning (I had ignored the “no alcohol the night before procedure” instructions in favor of a $20 plastic cup of Chardonnay and, up until that point, was having intermittent visions of bleeding out in a dental chair). As Ferrell mesmerized, anxiety was overtaken by a sense of yearning. I half-expected the crowd to part into pairs and begin two-stepping around the dance floor. When the mob remained relatively stagnant (albeit clapping and boot-tapping), I was reminded that this was Los Angeles in 2024, and people are like … guarded, or whatever.

Playing through new and old albums, Ferrell switched her guitar for a fiddle, picking up a train whistle and then a bird whistle. When she suddenly disappeared, a familiar figure made its way to center stage—my friend the cow, who promptly began gyrating, shaking his distended udders and ear tag at the audience and kicking his hooves up as he twerked. And then he, too, was gone and Ferrell returned in a new outfit, briefly solo, before calling up—was that John C. Reilly?

It was. The star of Step Brothers (2008) and Talladega Nights (2006) stood alongside the country performer, matching in black-and-red sparkling Western wear, to sing Hank Williams’s classic “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You).” “Next time you see a busker, be nice,” Reilly shouted before splitting, a nod to Ferrell’s past as a train-hopping busker.

Like Ferrell, I don’t know if the honky-tonk is the place where I can “surrender all of the love I have inside of me.” On the way out, I stumbled upon a couple of horny late-twentysomethings making out atop the bar. At the very least, I’m glad it’s the place for them.


Photo of Sierra Ferrell and John C. Reilly by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Kate Sadoff is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. More importantly, she makes smoothies at Erewhon Santa Monica.


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