"We've had a rough couple of days," Kevin Pakulis said, summing up the complex web of emotions his audience pushed through to join him on Sunday evening. "Everybody takes tragedy differently. Let's take a moment of silence to think about all beings that suffer, and the causes of suffering."
A pool ball caromed and clicked in the background to break the silence, and then Pakulis began to play a poignant guitar instrumental, "Trusted," that seemed to articulate a glimmer of hope within brokenness and despair.
The tribute behind him, Pakulis started anew with, "Happy New Year, everybody! It's gonna be a good one."
What followed were two sets of songs, including many from his recent release, Shadesville, and from an acoustic duo album recorded with his onstage partner, blues bassist Larry Lee Lerma.
Pakulis' best songs capture the details and emotions of small moments in the lives of folks you might meet in bars around our town—like the Border Patrol officer wearing a starched uniform in "Land of Plenty," or the genial family pot farmer in "Uncle Harlan," or the man of simple means and pleasures in the classic "Yeah Yeah Yeah," or someone who could be that same guy on the road in "Dying by the Moment."
Occasionally, Pakulis tells stories between songs, too. On Sunday, he was warming up for a reservations-only, one-man show of stories and songs at 6 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 16, at Triangle L Ranch in Oracle.
Pakulis and Lerma reminded us repeatedly of the best of us—the talent, hard work, beauty and capacity for joy that are overshadowed in times of crisis. Lerma's fingers appear to move as fast as he thinks, and his ideas are all but endless. Pakulis' own songs stood comfortably next to those by giants of the singer/songwriter genre, like Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," and Mickey Newbury's "Why You Been Gone So Long." The whole room celebrated—in spite of itself—the extreme chops the pair played off of each other in an unforgettable performance of the Blind Willie McTell classic "Statesboro Blues."
"The whole world is watching," Pakulis said, "and we have to send out a message of love."