In some ways, Jerry Douglas is the reason I moved to Nashville. Not that he personally invited me or anything, but you’ll see what I mean.
During my post-college years when I really jumped down the roots music rabbit hole, there were scores of important artists and musicians living and passed who made the journey rich and rewarding. But as much as I loved the bedrock tradition and the singing/songwriting troubadours that made up most of the Americana landscape (even if we weren’t calling it that yet), I grew up as an instrumentalist with a deep love of jazz and classical music that informed how I listened to folk music. There at the center of the swirling, diverse bluegrass universe was a cadre of musicians who brought together everything I’d ever appreciated about instrumental music. They were scrawling new ideas on old blueprints and making something impeccably modern out of beautiful old archetypes. Most of them were the guys who made up the short-lived but hugely influential band Strength In Numbers and the so-called Telluride All Stars. Bela Fleck was the wizard of the banjo. Sam Bush was the mullah of the mandolin. And there were others. But something about Jerry Douglas and the sound of his icy, clear, soulful dobro cut through like nothing else.
The more I learned, the more I heard Jerry’s solo albums and support work for so many great artists, the more I understood why some people call Douglas their favorite musician alive. Not many folks pioneer a whole new direction for an instrument, and yet he did so making a fairly exotic instrument totally relatable. It’s also wickedly hard, so one knows what a master of technique Jerry is, but at the same time he’s also got this great sense of how to fill space, when to relax and when to shred. His tone? Well, it’s unmistakable and impeccable. So back in the 1990s when I got hip to the fact that Jerry and his newgrass friends basically all lived in Nashville and played around town, it put this town on my mental map in a whole new way. I did move here, and one of the first shows I saw was a Jerry Douglas CD release performance. It was a record store event, so it was right up close and personal. And thus was I forever spoiled.
Anyway, forgive my gushing. There is of course much more to our second show of the Lightning 100 era. The terrific singer Joe Diffie has burrowed into his own musical life story and revived the bluegrass skills that launched him into the country music business back in Oklahoma. His new Rounder Records bluegrass album Homecoming is superb, and coming to back him up on some of those songs is the impressive Rounder band New Found Road, who played the show a few weeks ago. We also celebrate the return of Roots all-star Mike Farris and his rocking soul band the Cumberland Saints. Of course the McCrary Sisters will be there holding down the holy harmonies, but they’ll also be doing a set of their own music, which is really exciting for us. And in the Vietti slot, we’ve got the Volunteer String Band, a staple of the Lower Broadway scene that blends good old Tennessee music with abundant wit.
I’ll also be taking a bit of personal initiative and announcing that this evening’s performance will be dedicated to the memory of Daniel Pearl as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days, an annual October-long celebration of the life and legacy of the violin-playing Wall St. Journal reporter who was murdered by terrorists. As former violin player and journalist, Pearl’s story means a lot to me, and this is nothing more than a gesture that puts our show in the company of performers around the world on behalf of understanding and musical connection.
It’ll be a great one. Slide on out.