Actor Jeff Bridges does singer Jeff Bridges effortlessly

Everybody wants to be a movie star but movie stars. They want to be singers. Country singers, often.

When Steve Martin played Britt with his Steep Canyon Rangers he was the second best banjo player in the band, a fact he alluded to in a mock-threatening remark to the lead banjo guy that he was "almost too good."

When Billy Bob Thornton came with his band, The Boxtops, he spent a good bit of the show sitting on the front of the stage schmoozing with the crowd.

Meryl Streep rips up "I'm Checking Out" at the end of "Postcards From the Edge," but is her version as good as Reba McEntire's? I don't know. Is acting part of what a singer does? Something about communication, and conviction?

Jeff Bridges brought his band, The Abiders, to the Britt hillside Wednesday night, part of a tour that's seeing the actor and his mates bring mid-sized venues around the nation honky-tonk, country blues, soft rock covers and just good music.

Turns out the band kicks butt, and Bridges does a respectable job handling the vocals and holding down the rhythm guitar side of the show.

But first, Jesse Bridges, Jeff's daughter, who recently turned 30, opened for her dad in her first show on her first tour ("I have finally found my calling!"), turning in a poised set of singer-songwriter-style tunes that mixed pop, folk and country sounds. Father and Daughter would later team up fronting Dad's band in a sweet take on Graham Nash's "Teach Your Children."

As Duane Jackson, The Big Lebowski, Preston Tucker, Bad Blake, Rooster Cogburn and many others, Bridges has for more than 40 years demonstrated the ability to slip convincingly into seemingly any role. But he actually got into music before acting, taking piano lessons and learning to play brother Beau's electric guitar as a kid. His eclectic taste would later surface in the Bill Evans-style piano jazz of "The Fabulous Baker Boys."

Bridges and the band kicked off the show with the infectious "Somebody Else" played as a 1950s-style rockabilly number. Think J.J. Cale meets Junior Parker via Sam Phillips. They followed that with Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells," guitarist Chris Pelonis moving to keyboard to echo Bridges' husky baritone.

If you're gonna do covers, at least do good covers. The Abiders covered Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Tom Waits, Greg Brown and The Byrds in addition to tunes from the film "Crazy Heart" (for which Bridges won the best actor Oscar) and Bridges' 2011 album "Jeff Bridges."

Bridges looked like he was enjoying himself mightily. He talked a bit between songs, referring at one point to the 1980 film "Heaven's Gate." The picture was one of the biggest flops of all time and a legendary career wrecker. But it brought Bridges together with singer-actor Kris Kristofferson and guitarist-producer T-Bone Burnett and led eventually to Bridges' involvement in the kind of Americana music that would come out years later in "Crazy Heart."

It's been said he sounds like Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Diamond, this guy, that guy. What he sounds more like is one of those ol' Texas songwriters who'd be at home at a guitar pull around Guy Clark's kitchen table with a bottle of whiskey.

No bull — music ranging from honky-tonk ("I Don't Know" from "Crazy Heart), to rootsy country blues (Greg Brown's "Blue Car") to the gospel growling of "Never Let Go" (from "American Heart").

"Mercy" was a slow number that saw Jesse join Jeff to harmonize. "Hold On You" (from "Crazy Heart") was a snaky excursion that found Jesse singing harmonies between Jeff and guitarist Chris Polonis all bathed in red light.

Creedence's down-homey "Lookin' Out My Back Door" was so bouncy is got a few people up dancing, but the ever vigilant Britt people pounced and put the kibosh on that.

When a reviewer's Cinderella coach arrived, Bridges and Co. were blasting through Stephen Bruton and Gary Nicholson's country-trouble song "Fallin' and Flyin' " (I was goin' where I shouldn't go / seein' who I shouldn't see / doin' what I shouldn't do / and bein' who I shouldn't be), and it seemed that the singer was goin' right where he should, doing what he should and being comfortable being himself.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at

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