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Crowded Country 6.7.17

Nashville is en fuego. The city’s filling up for the CMA Music Festival. The airport and highways are busily channeling music freaks out to Manchester for Bonnaroo. And everybody is flipping out about the Nashville Predators who will play for the Stanley Cup on Sunday night at home on Lower Broadway. It’s bigger, wilder, louder and richer than I ever imagined the city would be when I moved here twenty years ago. And it’s amazing. There’s just a glow and a wonder for most people, and if you want to avoid the whooping bridal parties on pedal taverns, there are plenty of places to hang out with good folks and good music that have nothing to do with that noise. Such as Music City Roots. On this week’s show, quite a few people found their way to the Factory for a bracing night of mostly solid country and bluegrass, with a stellar bluegrass-inspired musician from another country.

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That gentleman was Beppe Gambetta, whose been serving up his unique, airy and worldly flatpicking style on US soil for a couple of decades. I was thrilled to help him get on this week’s show and he set up the night magically as a (mostly) solo performer. On opener “Acadian Dream” he skated around the guitar neck with rolling strings and shades of Celtic, Appalachian and Mediterranean melodies. He sang in Italian. He played against a loop pedal (charmingly named Gino) on a wickedly fast “Chipmunk.” And he invited David Grier and Pat Flynn to the stage for a trio on his reimagined version of “Church Street Blues.” Plus he was super charming and funny. Ciao Beppe.

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The wonderful Wooks dove right into hearty bluegrass with “White Lines & Neon Signs” showing nimbleness and musicality in all aspects. The quintet reminded me of what I love about the Infamous Stringdusters: funky backbeats, strong songs and intent band interplay. “Little Circles” opened with a flowing figure pairing mandolin and clawhammer banjo. Bass player Roddy Puckett sang lead on just a gorgeous, stately “Dear Prudence.”

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Next up, Jon Byrd surprised me a bit with the volume and tempo of his electric country combo. Still mellow and smiling, Byrd was his easy going self. But the songs and the sound had extra honky tonk energy. What I love is that like Willie, Jon plays a nylon string acoustic but with proper amplification so it’s right there in the mix with Milan Miller’s electric guitar and Eddie Lange’s (amazing) pedal steel. The artist’s dry wit came through on “If Texas Is So Great (What Are You Doing Here?)”. And closer “I Get Lost” was just gorgeous and sturdy like some long lost George Strait number. Oh, sweet western shirt as well. And thanks for the many kind words about the show, Mr. Byrd. The feeling’s mutual.

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It got even honkier and tonkier as a huge band (8 pieces) joined Daryle Singletary and Rhonda Vincent for a set of serious country laments. I just love “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds” from the duo of George Jones and Melba Montgomery. And more George, but with Tammy this time, on a cover of “Golden Ring.” Conway and Loretta were represented by “After The Fire Is Gone.” But Daryle reported that his favorite song on the album is the original piece by Rhonda herself, the album’s title cut, “American Grandstand,” which indeed sounded plucked from the hit parade of country music in the 60s. The voices were impeccable, the emotion tangible.

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