We’ve been lucky at Roots to be able to take the show on the road from time to time, including trips to far flung corners of the world in Australia and Northern Ireland. But no away game came with more charm or surprises than last summer’s season-closing sojourn up to the Monteagle Assembly on the Cumberland Plateau near Sewanee. Super close (90 minutes) yet so far away, the Assembly proved to be an enriching environment, both cultural and natural.
For those who don’t know, the Assembly is a 100-plus-year-old summer gathering place for families rooted in community, faith and learning. It’s like a long summer camp for whole Tennessee clans, who live on site in lovely old Southern homes and who take in nature and nurture in the form of hikes and classes and workshops. A very cool concept and it’s beautiful to boot.
So we all agreed we had to go back, and that’s what happens Friday June 24 in a special edition of MCR, which is free to the public and highly recommended (by me) on the basis of our strong lineup. It’s pure Americana with some fresh story lines and bands that we’ll be hearing and enjoying for years to come.
Annie Sellick is special to me, because when I was a new music reporter at The Tennessean in the early 2000s I felt a special obligation to seek out Nashville’s best jazz, which was abundant but hidden. And one name, face and voice that stood out was Annie. She was, I learned, a Nashville native who’d caught the jazz bug through the local scene and trained at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. And she turned out to be an effervescent spirit with her own sense of style and knockout lady dreadlocks. But most of all for our purposes at The Assembly, she is a fluid and delightful singer who pays homage to the late great Anita O’Day and other greats. She loves the standards and also seeks out contemporary songwriters who work in the jazz idiom. She sings in a variety of settings but this week’s might be the most charming among them: a duo with her deft and swinging guitarist husband Pat Bergeson. They’re anchor artists for a strain of Americana that’s too often neglected.
We have bonus reasons for being excited about Bill & The Belles besides the usual sonic criteria. They have clarity of vision and a feeling for first generation country music. But also, we recently announced that this East Tennessee trio (plus bass) is the first group to appear on our new Live at Music City Roots album series. Their set at the Factory, now on offer at all the digital outlets, was homespun and moving, with tight harmonies and a mix of original and classic material. “Bill” is leader Kris Truelsen, a young guy who’s dedicated himself to old time music in the Johnson City area. He plays guitar while Grace Van’t Hof plays banjo and Kalia Yeagle the fiddle. I’ve called them “a 78 RPM shellac record come to life.”
Wood & Wire brings an Austin, Texas flair to the Assembly stage with bluegrass and new acoustic music of the highest order. We fell for these guys a few years ago because they mingled Texas songwriting sensibility with a groovy and up to date take on mountain music. They get invited to all the swanky festivals blue and new, and they make excellent records too. The latest one is called The Coast, but I’m betting something new is in the works. And they have the most honest band name in acoustic music don’t they?
Our night will be hosted by a tall and talented gentleman named Scott Simontacchi, a favorite figure in our Nashville community for both his music and his photography. And his band Sheriff Scott & The Deputies will play a featured set. I really like their own bio description: “Combine these backgrounds: theatre arts, carpentry, photography, engineering, music business, poetry, magic tricks, opera, award winning fiddle, and the law. Safe in a cave, comfortable in a barn, and at ease in a museum, Sheriff Scott and the Deputies seek out unconventional venues: a sold out show at the Bluegrass Underground, a packed house at The Loveless Barn, and an intimate show at The International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.” Or a beautiful wooden hall in the green, green hills of Tennessee.
Last year we got zapped by a huge thunderstorm before show time but this year we expect the electricity to come only from the stage, and we expect crickets and owl sounds to mingle with the easy music. We look forward to assembling with you.