Kelsey Kopecky, one of the two main singers in the Kopecky Family Band (and the only Kopecky by the way), is one of the more endearing people we’ve ever met backstage at Roots. When I first said hello, she was writing up set lists in purple marker – the kind that sit on the floor by musicians’ feet – and that’s pretty much par for the course. But I noticed a few minutes later that she’d gone an extra mile. Kelsey had written cheerful little notes to her bandmates and left them underfoot between the stairs to the stage and the microphones in front. “SMILE KOPECKY FAMILY You Are Loved!!” the first one said. I’d never seen that before!
Smiles proved easy for everyone on stage and in the Loveless Barn during that first set, as the Kopecky Family Band brought their quirky, smart, elegant and surprising music to our stage. Opener “Howling” had a pleasantly anthemic, almost U2-ish throb. “Birds” is one of their oft-admired songs, wrapped around a melodic figure for glockenspiel and whistling by co-front singer and electric guitarist Gabe Simon. Their textural adventures never ceased, with cello prominent in “Angry Eyes,” a pretty dirge that doubled time and rocked out. This Nashville sextet – hip but not aloof, whimsical but not gimmicky – deserves the acclaim that’s followed them around the nation, and we wish them luck as they play their first Bonnaroo next weekend and beyond.
Don Gallardo then served up rock solid Americana in the vein of Greg Trooper and other songwriters with big dreams and small hats. In an easy voice he sang warnings of forgetting your home and taking time for granted. All good words set to fine tunes. The same could be said for Jim Avett, whose seniority allowed him to wear a bigger hat. He’s a character this Mr. Avett, and it was a treat to hear a bit about his life, which has been rich in work, family and music. In conversation before the show he dropped the malapropism that is the title of this post. I was like, “What? Did he just say ‘affectionado?’” And yes he did, so I now have a new word for one who just loves the hell out of something like we all love music. Jim sang one cover, Jim Reeves’s “Welcome To My World” and four of his own songs that showed his love of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. He sang for all those guys who write songs for entirely personal reasons, without expectation of exposing them beyond the local tavern. It was so fine to hear those songs go out on a broadcast.
The Tillers, a Cincinnati string band, punched way above their weight. Can three guys with stringed instruments gathered around one microphone get a discerning Loveless crowd jumping to their feet and hollering? Do I love rhetorical questions? Besides the winning ensemble interplay and deep love of roots music, there’s some serious songwriting at work here. “George Street Beat” about Cincinnati’s lost blues avenue of the 1920s had a melody and structure worthy of a fine Broadway play, yet it sounded down home and swinging. And it pulsed with vivid pictures and characters.
The sound remained fiddle-driven but got bigger and showier with Scythian, a power-Celtic quartet that dipped into traditions from all over the place. With a little Cajun, a little Gypsy and a lot of passion and precision, they built a real set and ended with almost punk fury and speed. The triple fiddles in “Dance All Night” made a gorgeous sound and “Blair Athol” was a stage-shaking climax. Then it was up to our pal Webb Wilder to bring it home, and he did that with his rockabilly infused Southern rock. Webb played in power-trio configuration with only Jimmy Lester on drums and George Bradfute on bass, which let Wilder really go to town on his guitar, and that was a twangy pleasure. Webb offered a magnificent cover of Charlie Rich’s “Who Will The Next Fool Be” but my favorite tune I think was “Pretty Is As Pretty Does,” which reminded me of my favorite dBs albums from my North Carolina high school years, with its luscious power chords and Beatles-y harmonies.
And at last, the Loveless Jam dipped back into the endlessly nourishing Hank catalog for a rousing take on “Lost Highway.” It sounded like a bunch of affecionados up there.