The photo is hazy, a bit blurred on the edges, the way you might expect something to look an hour or two after a Merle Haggard concert.
Still, the image tells the tale true enough: There, on Midtown Tavern's well-worn stage, is Shooter Jennings playing guitar in a spontaneous moment of musical combustion witnessed by only a couple hundred lucky after-partiers.
Without the photographic evidence, some may not have believed the story. Because, just 15 or 30 minutes after the photo was taken, Jennings was out the door and gone, likely to never come back again.
"He said 'Thanks,' shook our hands and left," said Dave "Ocho" O'Connell, the ubiquitous Mankato musician who, on this particular night, was playing drums for The Station Wagons during an after-party to celebrate last week's Haggard performance at Riverfront Park. "And that was it."
With its close proximity to the outdoor musical destination that was recently ranked a top-five outdoor venue by respected Star Tribune columnist and music writer Chris Riemenschneider, Midtown Tavern plays frequent host to post-concert parties.
Ocho has played a few such parties (and his pop-rock three-piece The Full Setup is playing another on Friday after Everclear's performance at RibFest) — but he's never shared the stage with someone like Shooter.
"I don't know how he found out," Ocho said. "But during our first set break, (my bandmate) said, 'Shooter is here.' A few minutes later, one of his people asked us if we wanted to play with him."
And play they did — an extended cover of Bob Dylan's enigmatic "Isis," a song that Shooter claimed as one of his favorites in a 2009 interview with Entertainment Weekly. The tune was simple enough to learn on stage and Ocho said he and the Station Wagons mostly stayed out of the way anyway while Shooter and his bandmate stretched into a 15-minute rendition.