I think we all remember last year’s pre Thanksgiving show as one of the most transcendent nights we’ve had at Music City Roots. The troika of John Cowan, Shawn Camp and 18 South just hit all the right vibes and reached a spiritual place that sent us all into the holidays feeling close, loved and optimistic. So at the risk of repeating ourselves, we figured why mess with success? We tried to pull together the same combo for this year’s Thanksgiving show, and everyone agreed!
So that means I’ve written about these amazing cats before, but here’s a quick refresher. Cowan was a key member of New Grass Revival who showed up for a bass playing job and who wound up getting that and the lead vocalist slot, because he can sing like the spawn of a Metropolitan Opera star and a Mississippi blues legend. He’ll be sending his band out at Roots with a swan song because he’s about to go on extended tour with the Doobie Brothers. 18 South is that rambling shambling ensemble of deep South rootsy goodness that pairs lead singers Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander up in front of the dangdest band you ever heard – the guitar shredding of Guthrie Trapp and the churchy keys of Jimi Wallace among them. When they sing “Late Night Ramble” it makes you want to take off your shoes, pass the moonshine jar and start a marathon session of boogie. And on the country side of things (and we don’t mean that certain association that just had that whatchacallit awards show with the fireworks and the Kid Rock and etc.) we’ve got Shawn Camp, one of the blazing stars of Americana and a hit songwriter to boot. He can pick, write and sing like few others and if this were 1968 he’d be striding around the charts with Roger Miller and Merle Haggard. He’s our modern day real deal country singing star. We’re rounding out the night with local favorites Ballhog! (it’s a basketball thing), who for a decade have fearlessly been fusing bluegrass, folk, brass band and rock and roll in establishments of rhythmic repute around town and around the South. They’re as much fun as their name.
So that’s the lineup. But more important is the spirit, and for us that’s one of undying gratitude that we’re able to tap into and present all the inspiring talent that lives and breathes and works and creates in and around our wonderful Music City. I get this feeling that washes through me when music is right and real and explosively emotional that I can’t get any other place, and it’s never just sourced from the stage. It’s a sense of dialogue between the artist and the audience. I can feel us hearing it together. I can see it in everyone’s faces. In my life I’ve gotten that feeling at the gospel tent at New Orleans Jazz Fest, in the old time stage at Merlefest, below the mountains of Telluride and a few other special places. But I get it at Music City Roots all the time. Got it last week as the very new talent Ben Cameron shared his expansive and beautiful songs with a joyful audience. It sounds selfish almost, but I think really that it’s important because it actually gets me outside myself and binds me together with everyone in earshot. It’s warm and enveloping, usually accompanied by a tear or two and lots of goosebumps. And I know I speak for all of us on the show when I say to the artists who’ve joined us and given us that feeling the only words that suffice: Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.