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Nashville's acclaimed roots and Americana variety show

Broadcast live Wednesday nights at 7 CT.

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Wednesday night’s gathering of the Roots clan will be an opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of Cowboy Jack Clement, the kindly and eccentric genius songwriter and producer who passed away in 2013. One of our guests, the songwriting entrepreneur Matt Urmy, was a great friend and protégé of Jack and arrives with an album Jack produced before his studio burned up in a bad fire. For a while, we explored the idea of a night formally paying tribute to Cowboy Jack but the right mix didn’t come together. That said, looking at this week’s lineup, with its variety and individuality, I feel sure Cowboy would have loved this week’s show. And I’m sure you will too.

The full story of Urmy’s new Out Of The Ashes album is quite something, the stuff of song. Matt made a strong debut album of country music back around 2010 as the first artist to record in the renovated Quonset Hut, the original studio on Music Row, a sacred space that sat in mothballs for years before being revived by Belmont University. Not long after that, the multi-faceted Urmy got very...

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As far as I know there’s only one figure in the contemporary roots music community who can pick “Blackberry Blossom” like a boss and also do a tumbling run that ends in a cheerleader split (not at the same time, but I wouldn’t put it past him). If David Mayfield came into your mind just now then you get an Americana cookie, because that’s who I was thinking about! It’s been too long since we saw and heard from the bearded weirdo, but he brings his always explosive sense of entertainment to the Factory this week along with a great roots rock band, a mod folky couple and a quintet from Colorado that split the bluegrass atom. Let’s take them in order of appearance.

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We know a classic when we see one, hear one, feel one. Forgive me for sounding like a Cadillac ad voice over or something, but seriously, sometimes there’s just an ineffable sense that something beautiful and meaningful is unfolding. And while we can’t pull that off every single week, we try to put the pieces in place for a chemical reaction. And this week it happened. There was combustion and satisfaction. We ranged across the country and across roots music terrain with acoustic grand master Tony Furtado from Portland, OR, Texas-raised songwriter Curtis McMurtry, Colorado polyethnic joyride Gipsy Moon and veteran John Jorgenson’s remarkable bluegrass band.

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One of my most diverting surprises along my life’s journey into roots music and bluegrass was discovering the sub cult within Americana that loves the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. It was revelatory to know that decades before Doc Watson and Jimi Hendrix there was a guitar player as fiery and finessed as the three fingered Frenchman, who revolutionized his instrument before dying at the tragically young age of 43. The music had its own remarkable vocabulary and vibe, and more courageous bluegrass pickers and fiddlers love jamming on its repertoire, such as “Minor Swing” and “Swing 42.” One of the most notable contemporary practitioners of the spiky, speedy sound is playing our show this week, and while he’s bringing his bluegrass band to Roots, John Jorgenson is never far from the shadow of Django. We’ve also got a band called Gipsy Moon so, thinking about Wednesday night put me in a mood manouche.

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“Turn On Your Love Light” is a fascinating song that’s been all over the world of music since it was written by Joe Scott and recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1961. The Grateful Dead made it a core of its repertoire and played on it for 45 minutes at Woodstock. It was a staple of Van Morrison’s first band and was part of what helped Them (the band was actually called Them) get signed. It’s been covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Seger, Tom Jones, Conway Twitty and The Blues Brothers. What a variety show. And it will forever be marked as the song that the great Col. Bruce Hampton was jamming on when he collapsed and died on May 1, 2017. Our final band this week, Great American Taxi, had direct connections to and huge admiration for Col. Bruce, and we have been remembering this musical innovators and risk-taker and guru all week. So “Love Light” became our weekly jam. And hopefully, in these blurry, foggy times, words to live by.

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So did y’all catch that news about the Fyre Festival? As good people, we try not to indulge in schadenfreude, but sometimes man, wow, it’s hard. In short, a rap celebrity and a dudebro with a track record of over-selling and under-delivering promised a glamour-packed, celebrity-stoked par-TAY on a remote island and promoted it by paying other celebrities to post on Instagram about it. It was a fiasco, not because the whole premise was culturally bankrupt and morally suspect (which it was), but because they didn’t PLAN. You have to plan, folks. For example, on the same weekend, two other festivals – much bigger ones – came off without a hitch. Merlefest in North Carolina and JazzFest in New Orleans actually served up authentic music, genuine community, good food and good times for fans who don’t need to feel like they’re winning on a reality show and who aren’t measuring their lives in bikini access and Twitter followers. So for this week anyway, it’s Real Culture: 2. Celebri-crap Culture: 0. Well done, roots music.

MCR had to do a bit of extra...

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It’s not as easy to go to Merlefest as it used to be in my footloose, sleeping-on-the-ground-is-fine days. So it’s wonderful to annually have a mini-Merlefest of our own at Music City Roots. The sampling of Merle-bound artists always refreshes and always seems to spotlight the very best of progressive traditional music. This week’s heavily attended show was no exception.

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Merlefest V: Revenge of the Pickers

In our spare time, we’ve been studying show business, just in case there are any tips or tricks that could make Music City Roots an even bigger blockbuster than it already is. And we’ve learned something. Were you aware that in Hollywood, they have what one might call a “formula” where popular movies are made and released AGAIN and AGAIN with a slightly new title every year or two, forever? Wow, this is clever! They barely have to do any new creative work and the fans come back, year in year out. I must say I was surprised to learn of this scheme. So simple! So effective!

We’re about to release the fifth edition of our franchise celebrating Merlefest, the Western North Carolina mega-festival, not because it’s good box office (though it tends to be) but because Merlefest speaks to so many things we cherish: top flight Americana talent, the Tennessee to North Carolina connection and the power of the eclectic outdoor music festival to gather the clans and raise new generations of music fans. Our Merlefest shows have produced breathtaking moments with Peter Rowan, Della Mae,...

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Review by guest host and interview guy Jon Weisberger

Historians can and do debate the circumstances under which rock and roll was born, but there’s no debating the fact that modern-day rockers who capture the excitement of that initial blast are rootsy as all get-out, nor that said beginning was propelled by a mix that included plenty of blues and hillbilly progenitors. This week’s show covered a couple of bases with Sunny Sweeney’s nothing-but brand of country and Bella Hardy’s evocative British folk, then took a turn into the front porch blues shouting of Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band before landing in Blackfoot Gypsies’ primal rock and roll. Lineages notwithstanding, it was roots everywhere you looked.

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