We all know the story. Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, a Detroit-born folk musician, releases two little-known albums in the 1970s. Without his knowledge, he becomes a star in South Africa — leading two filmmakers on a journey to find Rodriguez. Released in 2012 as the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, the film catapulted the now aging musician into stardom. Soon Rodriguez was playing Coachella, performing on Letterman — basically running the sudden-fame circuit.
Things have simmered down a bit now, but the 71-year-old musician is still going strong and sold out a seated Warfield theater for two nights this week at $60 a ticket, proving that the masses aren’t bored yet of Rodriguez’s rags-to-modest-riches story. And really we shouldn’t be — his music is excellent regardless of the backstory, a worthy addition to the 70s catalogue of inventive, poetic folk singers like Nick Drake.
On Tuesday night, Rodriguez ran through a career-spanning set. In high spirits despite needing assistance walking onstage (I heard some audience members mention that he is going blind?), the between-song banter was almost as much of a highlight as the songs themselves. After playing his wistful hit “I Wonder” — which has the great line “I wonder how many times you had sex / I wonder do you know who’ll be next” — Rodriguez smirked and told us that he “wonders, but doesn’t really want to know.” Upon finishing a moving rendition of “Sugar Man”, we got a little listen about drug use: “That song is descriptive not prescriptive. Stay smart, don’t start.” And throughout the show, Rodriguez continued to make jokes when people would yell out their love for him, joking that everyone was drunk. After one crowd member yelled again, he laughed and said, “drive safe people.”
Despite his age, Rodriguez kept up with his younger backing band and proved that when it comes to music, age is just a number. Sure, he didn’t dance but what folk singer does anyway? This was a performance about redemption and love, about sticking to your passion even when it doesn’t necessarily pan out the first go around. Take it from Rodriguez, good things come to those who wait.