The road makes sense to Steve Earle. He's spent time there as a traveling musician, and he has been drawn to the romance of escape since his first comical attempts at riding the rails of Texas at age 13. "I don't believe in cruise control," the singer-songwriter declared Tuesday at the Knitting Factory, reading from a poem that name-dropped Jack Kerouac and celebrated old-school driving skills.
Earle was there to headline the fourth day of the club's Beat Fest, an appreciation of the lasting cultural impact of the writers and artists of the Beat Generation. The night also included veteran rock rebel Simon Stokes, who painted vivid, demented imagery with the help of a six-man band led by guitarist Wayne Kramer. And Wanda Coleman offered intense readings of several poems dedicated to "all those who still have the spirit of the rebel angels."
Stokes and Coleman have an obvious connection with the Beat legacy. But it was Earle who underlined the impact of that history with unlikely force. For more than two hours he stood alone on stage, mingling his best songs with tales of personal misadventure before joyfully reading an excerpt from Kerouac's "On the Road" during his encore.