Americana, Deep and Wide

Typically when I submit these journal entries after an episode of Music City Roots, the only news I have to break is who sang what and maybe something Jim said, wacky and impetuous guy that he is. But today dear friends, we have world-rocking news – news that’s just made the actual newspaper!

As I post this, we’re sending a press release to the world announcing a new programming partnership between Music City Roots and WMOT, the 100,000 watt public radio station owned and operated by Middle Tennessee State University. We’ve been contracted by the College of Media and Entertainment to provide programming and people necessary to take WMOT into a new era as the area’s only full-time Americana radio station. It’ll be known, starting a week from today, as WMOT/Roots Radio 89.5 FM.

From the official release: “The new WMOT will showcase and celebrate the past, present and future of American roots music with a focus on Nashville’s unparalleled track record of artistry and songwriting, while also highlighting regional and stylistic “roots and branches” from around the country and across the world…The station’s playlist will include thousands of songs from the past, plus a strong rotation of current, vital Americana music. The station will seek to span genres and generations, in defiance of standard radio industry demographic micro-targeting.”

So as we wrapped up our Summer season this week with songwriters from California, a guitar master from Australia and mega-band Jars of Clay, we couldn’t help but look forward to returning on Sept. 14 when the show will be live on the airwaves again, surrounded by complimentary programming round the clock. This is truly incredible and a great validation for all that we’ve built over the last seven years. The idea came from Ken Paulson, Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment and one of the biggest music fans we know. We all think history will validate his belief that Americana is Nashville’s great musical legacy and strongest musical suit, and that the city and region will value its quality and integrity for years to come.

Case in point, Wednesday night’s show. Jim was back after some travels and he got us laughing from the get go. Our first guest artist probably wonders if Mercury is in retrograde because hours before hitting our stage (for the first time in five years!) Geoff Achison got slammed with laryngitis and had about a half a voice. But with Geoff, his guitar does more than half the talking, and that was in primo shape. His power trio set up slippery and funky situations and Achison played his solid body electric with colorful harmonies, jazz fusion ideas and melodic slide. Next came Nashville’s Violet Delancey, whose look evokes the late 19th century and whose sound evokes 70s country and Laurel Canyon. Opener “Sing The Night Away” was uptempo with swelling steel. “Lost Along The Way” was sweet and flowing. For an artist whose album is titled “Back To The Sea,” she leaves a gentle wake.

The lens focused even more tightly on songcraft when Willy Tea Taylor came to the stage, seated with a tenor guitar next to his duo partner, guitarist Jeff Mooneyham. The tone and use of language here was very much in the vein of Woody Guthrie and Guy Clark – crystal imagery and comfortably faded verses. “California” was especially translucent, with its dust and sweat and the problem of water. It made an interesting precursor to the semi-sacred set by Jars of Clay, who arrayed themselves across the front of the stage as a foursome. Acoustic guitars of Steve Mason and Matt Odmark flanked Dan Haseltine on percussion and vocal and Charlie Lowel on keys. There were as many as four voice at once surging in a remarkably folky set. “Inland” had a chanting and stomping quality. Julie Miller’s “All My Tears” was a treat because it’s such a great song done by these guys with such affection. They even told the story of picking up on it at length. And though they’ve been playing their big hit “Flood” for 20 years, it was fresh and energetic. Their set and an encore produced a widespread standing oveation.

It was a short Summer season but a fine one with appearances by Blue Highway, Jeff White, Mark O’Connor and Col. Bruce Hampton. Our break will be devoted to learning the ins and outs of our new radio station and its technology. We’re working out new routines for news, guest DJs, live remotes in the community and so much more. It’s a new era, right on the eve of the Americana Music Association’s convention. The station has a new motto and never did we believe it more: Americana, Deep and Wide. Maybe I should add Now and Forever.

Craig H.

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