When we created Music City Roots more than six years ago, the vision was a trusted weekly showcase for great roots music in a comfortable venue that built on the legacy of Nashville. Modeled after vintage live radio broadcasts, we planned to use the internet to reach the world and invite musicians from around the world to come visit us.
Little did I suspect that we would embark on our own global adventures. But co-creator Todd has led us in this direction, and it’s been a wonderful, welcome surprise that’s enriched our show and my own knowledge of folk music. In 2013 we packed up our gear and staged our show at the Tamworth Country Music Festival 400 km north of Sydney, Australia. Then last year, we were extremely excited to be invited to join the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. Our time there was joyful and revelatory, and our show at the Empire Music Hall was a dream. We enjoyed intimate performances by Chip Taylor, Gareth Dunlop, Jim Lauderdale and the legendary Donovan. The electrical connection between artists and audience was one of the move vivid I’ve ever felt.
So we’re going back! Panarts and United Airlines made it possible for us to return, and we’ll be streaming this special show from the Empire on Friday, March 6 at 1:30 pm central time on our web site. As for talent, Colin Magee and the festival have worked with us to design a lineup we think skims the cream from the already creamy Northern Irish scene. As with our lineups of artists on our regular Liberty Hall shows in Tennessee, they know their traditions and their roots, but they use heritage less as a roadmap and more like a springboard to new heights.
In Cara Dillon, we’re honored and excited to welcome one of the brightest stars in Celtic music. As I listened to her luxurious recordings from 2001 on, I couldn’t help but think of Alison Krauss, who created a new stream of American folk and bluegrass with her unique voice and her ecumenical taste and vision. Cara Dillon’s instrument has a similar crystalline quality, a translucence that’s enhanced with enthralling curls and turns plus a penetrating ache and emotion. The talent was clear to all from the start. Cara won a major national singing prize at 14 years old, and her debut album, made on the cheap and independently, won raves and awards. It truly is a graceful work that puts a new spin on tradition with shiny musical touches. Since then, Dillon has been a leading light and a point of national pride, singing for example at the opening ceremonies of the Ryder Cup (a big, big deal for you non golf fans) and as part of a high prestige UK audiophile showcase. Her 2009 project Hill of Thieves took the BBC2 Album of the Year prize. Indeed this kind of thing just seems to happen to her all the time. She finds a sweet spot by mingling traditional Irish instrumentation with technology (she even has a remix dance hit) and contemporary songs with the world-renowned Irish songbook. It’ll fun to interview her and fun for you to watch me try not to swoon as I do so.
There aren’t whistles or ancient ballads as far as I can discern on Foy Vance’s recordings. He’s a contemporary songwriter who goes straight for the veins and bones. He’s got a manly, elegantly raspy voice loaded with soul and color. He stirred up excitement with his debut album in 2007. Several EPs followed as he extended his reach in the UK and US. The wait for the follow up album Joy Of Nothing was worth it. What a complex and succulent recording it is. And hey, he pulled in Bonnie Raitt (for whom he’d opened a tour) for a brilliant harmony vocal. Now he tours with the super popular Ed Sheeran (who was apparently inspired coming to Foy’s concerts as a young guy) and he was signed to the record label home of Phoenix and Mumford & Sons.
Paul Tully may be newer news however. Truly an emerging artist, he’s been tapped by the organizers of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival for a coveted slot amid the contingent heading to Music City for its annual March run of shows. A bit laid back and romantic, he’s got a love of big melodies and personal stories. He told blogger Aoife White that his chief influences and inspirations have been Ryan Adams, Glen Hansard and Damien Rice. “If you can (be) honest about yourself and your life and try and write songs about that people can relate to it,” he said. “If people can relate to something it’s happy days, if they can’t relate I don’t think there’s much point.” He’s got a long road ahead to prove his theory.
What can I say about Jim Lauderdale? I can’t emphasize enough what a great influence and figure he’s been in the US for Americana music. Jim’s a flexible enough and prolific enough songwriter (scarily so) that he’s been able to land big fat hits on radio, giving him the freedom to make country and bluegrass on his own terms. Moreover, he’s a beacon and mentor to young songwriters. I fell for him right along with his first solo album in the early 90s and I’ve been a fan ever since. Working with him on Roots has been a surreal honor. He’s never made a bad album. His collaborative LP with Buddy Miller a couple years ago is a historic document as far as I’m concerned. We love him and while he only does a featured full set on our show a couple times a year, it could be a lot more and we’d never get bored.
So please join us online for this inspiring event. Again, that’s Friday March 6 at 1:30 pm central time, though we’ll start the stream a bit earlier than that so you can see the Empire filling up with excited fans. We couldn’t be looking forward to it more. Tradition is inherited, but sometimes you have to make up new ones, and this feels like the real thing.