Visits home are never long enough.
One year and six days after the release of his major label debut, Leon Bridges returned to where it all began, performing just a few steps away from where he recorded the Grammy-nominated record in the heat of a Texas summer, inside a stifling warehouse a stone’s throw from downtown.
The feeling in the air Wednesday night, in the courtyard of Shipping & Receiving, the Near Southside bar that has become, frankly, a nerve center for the local music scene (and its owner, Eddie Vanston, a guardian angel for the creative class) was one of eager anticipation.
This night was Bridges’ first ticketed headlining show in his adopted hometown since the release of Coming Home. Tickets for this gig disappeared just as quickly as those for his last appearance, at Scat Jazz Lounge a year ago. (Proceeds from Wednesday’s show benefited the Texas Council on Family Violence.)
The occasion for this intimate performance was a screening of the mini-documentary This Is Home, directed by Danny Clinch, and tracing Bridges’ head-snapping ascent from Del Frisco’s dishwasher to music’s next big thing.
The screening, held under the twinkling lights of Shipping & Receiving’s patio, was greeted with plenty of hearty cheers, as glimpses of downtown Fort Worth, Magnolia Motor Lounge and the very building in which we all stood flickered across the screen.
Shortly after 10 p.m., the 26-year-old Bridges — after an amusing introduction by Sam Anderson, one of many who helped Bridges along the way — took to the cozy Shipping stage, dapper in a cool white shirt and crisp fedora.
Family (his mother, Lisa Sawyer, watched from the VIP section) and friends (Ed Bass turned out, as did Jake Paleschic, Josh Block, Austin Jenkins and Chris Vivion, the three minds behind Niles City Sound, where Bridges cut Coming Home) looked on as the audience, bursting with pride, roared its approval.
The set was swift — just nine songs in 35 minutes — but Bridges, whose presentational skills have sharpened considerably since his last showcase here, made the most of it. (“Tonight is going to be one of the best shows you’ve ever seen, as I try to remember how to play my guitar and sing my songs,” he joked.)
The night had the air of a casual backyard gathering, a likely unusual sensation for a man more accustomed to festival stages and theaters these days.
It was, in many ways, a return to what Bridges was doing long before the rest of the world took notice. Singing sweetly and directly, his sentiments connected with the crowd that swayed and sang and danced and cheered.
After opening the set alone, Bridges was joined by Brittni Jessie and Jeff Dazey to run through songs from Coming Home. They included Smooth Sailing, Better Man, the title track and River, the evening’s emotional high point.
To stand among those Bridges credited with helping him achieve success — “I wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for y’all and the friends who helped me along the way,” he said — and to hear them sing his lyrics back to him, as the lights of downtown Fort Worth glowed behind him, was deeply moving.
This visit back to his old stomping grounds, where Bridges is steadily working on his much-anticipated follow-up album, was all too brief, seemingly over before it began. (He was to perform Friday night at WinStar World Casino.)
“I miss people being right up in my face,” Bridges says at one point in Clinch’s documentary.
For a time Wednesday night, he got to experience that again, a visceral closeness and an almost-palpable connection with the people and the city that helped make him who he has become.
The night was, in nearly every sense of the phrase, a true Coming Home.