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John Hiatt Brings a Taste of Tennessee to the Coach House

Hiatt & The Combo play to a sold-out crowd at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

Fans of 60-year-old Nashville rock icon John Hiatt rocked out Friday as he performed with his band to a sold-out crowd at the .

Opening performer Kelly Fitzgerald echoed the sentiments of many of the concert-goers packing the San Juan Capistrano institution, calling Hiatt an "amazing musician."

Fitzgerald, a Boston native who now lives in Long Beach, primed the audience with acoustic tracks featuring a country twang.

Attired in a plaid shirt and a white fedora, Hiatt launched directly into his set after a quick reference to a previous O.C. performance: “It’s good to be back at the Coach House,” he said.

The crowed cheered enthusiastically as the American singer-songwriter and bandmates, collectively known as The Combo, revved up the first track of the night's set.

Hiatt played the Coach House three years ago. At previous performances, he has thanked Coach House owner Gary Folgner, of Dana Point, for the small club's dedication to providing affordable, quality live music.

Hiatt’s musical style—a funky fusion of '80s New Wave, blues and country—brought an eclectic crowd to the Coach House. 

During his performance, the accomplished musician told the audience he has never focused too much on the mechanics or theory of written music.

"There is a hell of a lot of songs you can write with just a G, D, and A chord,” he said. Those chords were what Hiatt used to write his first song, “Fade Away.”

About half way through the set list, Hiatt played “Perfectly Good Guitar,” one of his best-known tracks, originally recorded with members of the early '90s alternative rock groups School of Fish and Wire Train. 

Referenced in the track is the prospensity of some rock musicians, Jimi Hendrix among them, for smashing guitars, which Hiatt decrys as a foolish practice.

For his part, Hiatt ran through an arsenal of guitars Friday evening, including a white Fender Telecaster and multiple acoustics. 

Hiatt played several tracks from his newest album, Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, including "Down Around My Place," a direct response to the devastating Tennessee floods of 2010.

“[It] hits you hard how powerful nature can be when you’re in something like that,” Hiatt said.

The hit song “Cry Love,” with its mandolin intro, also drew a positive audience response.

“That's the way we like it in San Juan Capistrano,” Hiatt said as he wrapped up the evening with a two-song encore.

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