I was never more proud to be part of Music City Roots or more fulfilled in our mission of making fellowship and living culture around great music than I was late Wednesday night as our show wound to a close. The stars aligned on a clear, cool Spring evening, and tidings of history swirled around the Barn. Every artist conveyed the loose comfort and focused passion that epitomizes Americana at its best.
I make it a mental habit to be especially alert this time of year. Every passing Spring, with its ephemeral cycles – the daffodils, the tulip trees, the cherry blossoms and the magisterial opening of the dogwoods (where we are just now) – is more precious to me as I tick off my years. I don’t just spend more time outside. I try to take lots of pictures with all five senses and really feel the movement of the light and air and color. Spring in the South is my favorite song.
It was a mashup of two Music City Roots favorites - The Celtic sounds of our annual St. Patrick’s show meeting the fretboard fireworks of Guitar Night.
And luckily for me, the finale of MCR’s winter season coincided with Craig Havighurst and family’s annual trip to China. So I was called up - not from the minors, but from my subterranean gig as host/MC/interview guy for “Bluegrass Underground” at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville (bluegrassunderground.com).
Our East Nashville friends Doug and Telisha Williams showcased their relatively new Americana trio The Wild Ponies this week at Roots and in doing so offered some food for thought. I loved their song “Things That Used To Shine,” which plumbs the appreciating value of once-bright and new objects that have lost their superficial luster, like leather boots and favorite records and a grandfather’s eyes. Then Doug sang lead on a true-story song about a short-track stock car driver from the early 1960s.
A great storyteller can make you care about characters you’d overlook or dismiss or disdain in your daily rounds. A great songwriter conjures that empathy and sets it to a smoking groove and a tasty melody. We witnessed this play out magnificently on Wednesday night as Oklahoma artist Parker Millsap delivered a clinic in precocious, literary truth-telling. It was a superb (and surprisingly cohesive) night all around, with four flavors of manly country rock. But Millsap’s “Truck Stop Gospel” was for me the night’s branding iron moment.
My headline is lifted from a song that the Gibson Brothers made the title track of their current album, as well as the final tune of their stylish set at Roots this week. Brother Eric wrote it (helping him earn Song and Songwriter of the Year awards from the IBMA). Brother Leigh told the backstory on our stage: A picker friend spent time jamming on old fiddle/banjo tunes with an elderly musician from the mountains. He asked the old man what “old-time” music was called back in, you know, old times? The reply: “Well son, they called it music.” And there’s your hook.
I may have to go to the video for confirmation. But I believe Jason D. Williams was wearing pink toenail polish on Wednesday night at Roots. While The Barefoot Movement padded on stage with their toes intentionally exposed and I was sitting with Jason D. on stage waiting for our interview to start, he got one of those non-ignorable itches deep inside one of his fantastic, two-tone cowboy boots. So there in the chat room he stripped his foot down and took care of the irritation before our cue for the interview. The boot was back on before I could do the back half of my double take.
Not to just talk about the weather, but it’s kind of the defining reality right now isn’t it? Thick ice is taking down trees and power lines to our south and our East Coast friends are enduring their umpteenth snowstorm of the year. It’s not been so cold so consistently in Nashville in the 16 years I’ve lived here. And we’re all beyond sick of it. No doubt the brief chattering of sleet here yesterday afternoon and the frozen crap-tastrophy just over the horizon kept a few of our friends and supporters home last night.
A fun and fascinating video made the rounds a few years ago that pairs some nutty footage from a music festival with voice-over insights from CD Baby founder and music thinker Derek Sivers. A shirtless guy starts dancing like a lone loon on a grassy hillside. Soon he’s joined by a second guy, who is welcomed into a new, two-man dancing tribe. Then more people join. And within a minute, a huge crowd is dancing together.
The night before Roots this week I attended the induction ceremonies at Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame. In a music world with too many awards and honors, this place truly have a purpose: to honor players, including famous artists who are also excellent musicians and little-known side-men and side-women who make records sing behind the singer.