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Crosby dishes on his first concert with Jackson Browne

Last night at the United Center in Chicago, the Jackson Browne band opened the very first big time rock and roll indoor arena show to be held since the onset of the pandemic. Ace Sonoma-based sideman Jason Crosby was onstage with the band, playing piano, violin and adding harmony vocals.

Crosby is a member of a large contingent of West Coast folks aiming to stake claim in the hearts and minds of music lovers in the heartland. He is part of a nine-piece band, and a large crew (which includes a COVID protocol team), all traveling together in support of Browne’s new album, “Downhill From Everywhere.”

Browne has been a popular artist since his first album, “Jackson Browne,” was released way back in 1972. Songs from that seminal album, a sweet mix from his four-decade-long catalog, and a few new ones, are included in his 2021 tour set list.

Recently, a series of rehearsals took place over a two-week period, held in a nondescript warehouse in a semi-industrial area of Los Angeles, where Crosby met his future band mates, and busmates, for the first time. Crosby is the newest member of the band, and as such, felt a slight case of the jitters when he arrived at the first practice session

Crosby said, via telephone from his Sonoma home, “It was great to finally meet the guys. They are all really wonderful people. They made me feel really welcome and comfortable from the first day… that was huge.”

He added, “It was pretty awesome, what an experience. This process has been a year and a half in the making.”

Crosby was selected to join the band in February 2020, but COVID cut off those plans before they even loaded the gear.

He discusses being the new guy in the ensemble. “He’s got guys who have been on the road with him for 30 or 40 years. Bassist Bob Glaub has been with Jackson since the late ‘70s,” he said.

Crosby informally met with Browne in Browne’s studio a few times during the late spring and early summer, going over songs and his solo parts. The recent gathering of the whole band was exciting for Crosby.

“The crew had been there many hours, readying the rehearsal space. We walked in and began to tune our instruments. Soon, Jackson walked in and started strumming ‘The Pretender’ on his guitar. Fritz (drummer Mauricio “Fritz” Lewak) just counted it off, and away we went.”

The songs that Crosby had learned during the informal meetings with Browne were all played, as well as many others. Crosby explained, “We played a lot of songs that were not on my list. I had only been working with Jackson, and we built a list of songs he thought we might do. Over the two weeks, we played 30 or so songs. In some cases, they were tunes that I had heard before, and in some cases there were tunes where I was just flying by the seat.”

Browne, known throughout the biz as a musical perfectionist, seemed pleased with his new hired gun. Crosby said, “I felt good about it. It was great that Jackson trusted me.”

Playing with a legend like Jackson Browne and performing songs from his extensive and excellent catalog is a big challenge, but one Crosby welcomes. When asked about which songs are some of his favorites at this point, Crosby said diplomatically, “I can’t pick just one. I am just learning the songs. I am digging down deep and seeing some of the patterns in his writing style. And I really love his hits, like ‘Running on Empty,’ ‘The Pretender, ‘Take it Easy. And ‘Doctor My Eyes,’ which I don’t even play on…but after rehearsal, I would keep my in-ears on, go outside and just kind of relax. I love that song.”

He also mentioned Browne’s new songs. Crosby commented, “All of the new ones are really great. ‘Little Soon to Say’ is a beautiful, beautiful song. And ‘Minutes From Downtown,’ I can’t get that one out of my head.”

During the interview, Crosby summed up his next few days. “I fly out the 27th, final rehearsal 28th. First show is next Thursday. Shit!” he said with an excited smile audible in his voice.

Stories told by musicians on the road in buses are always interesting. This tour has a new twist. “I think this first leg we’re just on the bus. Five weeks on the bus.”

Then there’s COVID.

Browne tested positive for COVID very early in the pandemic, learning firsthand of the seriousness of the situation, so he is taking no chances. He has established a COVID protocol team to ensure the safety of his crew while on the road. “I still haven’t received the final COVID protocols. We did meet with the COVID officer (of the tour). We are being put in a bubble not unlike an NBA team. We’ll be tested very regularly while we are out. We are allowed to have guests, but protocol does not allow me to go out into the audience.”

Of his experiences so far, Crosby said, “It’s been thrilling.”

Check back for more about Crosby’s road trip after he completes the first leg.

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