Beards and Bards

There’s no escaping or denying it. In Americana music, hair is in. Beards have become bear-like among the bard set. Whiskers are as common as whiskey. In recent months we’ve enjoyed the wagging beards of Apache Relay, The New Familiars, Cadillac Sky, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, etc. But last night was something, man. It was a zoo. Allen Thompson’s beard was red and huge. Brian Wright’s was blond – and huge. Kevin Steele’s was more angular and trimmed. Frank Solivan and Ricky Davis were in goatees, but facial hair they had. As far as fur, it was five acts for five. Micol Davis, Ricky’s wife, was the only lady on the stage, and seemingly only Jim, Keith and I shaved for the event, just so the radio audience and our moms know.

As imbalanced as the gender thing was, the musical equilibrium was all there. And the always special vibe was made specialer by the soft April evening, the season-opening celebration of the Nature Conservancy and the flow of the music, from grassy to folky to deep fried.

Frank Solivan is a food enthusiast, so let’s call his set the appetizer course. His band Dirty Kitchen is a precise and efficient quartet that really sets of his commanding voice and impressive mandolin chops. They’ve worked up a wonderful cover in the old John Stewart song “July You’re A Woman” – a tune that really showcases the band’s thought-through harmony and arrangement skills. And their close “Runaway Ramp” is a speedy bluegrass tale of a trucker in trouble.

Next, Brian Wright showed the singer/songwriter aptitude that got him signed to Sugar Hill Records. He’s got a gentle but authoritative voice with that perfect touch of melancholy, and he’s deep into storytelling, as Texans tend to be. I enjoyed “Falls County,” about a family fending after a father is sent to prison. Lots of vivid detail, and something Wright said on stage suggested it was drawn from life. His life? Don’t know. But it’s impressive when any writer makes you think it might as well be.

I’m giving the set of the night award (which I just totally made up) to Ricky and Micol Davis, collectively known as Blue Mother Tupelo. The took a mere three-song allotment and made the most of it, supported by some stellar drumming and Micol’s syncopated tambourine skills. At one point in “Give It Away,” I was surprised to realize that they were only using voices and percussion to make all that music. It was amazing, and then when Ricky’s droning slide guitar and the bass player kicked back in, it was amazing-er. Love those guys and their snaky, shaky-shaky grooves.

From country blues to alt-country to country rock we went, with the Allen Thompson Band offering some sweet original songs and the Mojo Gurus closing out the night with some banging twang. I especially enjoyed Thompson, who has dialed into a sound that could only really fall under the Americana category, with its acoustic/electric fusion and its bright melodic songcraft. “Forgive Me” was a quick hard shuffling blues about sinnin’, featuring some nice Telecaster styling from Clint Mayne. “Tell It To Me” had a bolder, indie-folk-rock sort of attitude and a big multi-voice chorus. Then Florida boys the Mojo Gurus brought extra doses of volume, grind and Dixie attitude to the show closing set. “Let’s Get Lit,” they implored, and some folks may have complied. We can’t be sure.

So good to be back for Season Seven of Music City Roots. And so good to welcome Whole Foods and Nissan to our family of supporters. We’re planning new ways to bring great music to you the people and support careers like the ones we heard from last night. See you next week, maybe with a beard.

Craig H

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