The Spring 2011 season of Music City Roots comes to a close this week with a lineup that shows off as well as any we’ve had our belief in variety and quality. We have a full set in store from our super-host Jim Lauderdale. We’ll also be featuring one of Americana’s new starlets, a glowing female singer-songwriter, an acclaimed Canadian folk trio and a Nashville string band with loads of humor and harmony. I just have a very good feeling about all of this, but I want to point you to two artists who for me are evidence of why Americana music is so healthy and exciting these days.
I’ve had Sarah Jarosz on my mind a lot lately because I recently did an NPR story about the making of her second album, Follow Me Down, which debuted in May. The bluegrass and traditional communities – especially the musicians – have been buzzing about her since she was just 11 or 12 years old and making people do double takes with her mature voice and prodigious multi-instrumental picking. She earned her way on to the side stages of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival before she was a teenager, and ever since it’s been up, up, up for this Texas-born 20-year-old. The reason lies in her mystical presence – the same kind of glow that made Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss stars at early ages. Her producer Gary Paczosa told me the story of hearing her for the first time as he was leaving the festival grounds on a hot afternoon in Telluride. He had to turn himself around and walk back to the stage because of this VOICE. Before long he was collaborating with her and making some of the most remarkable music going and cultivating recordings with the likes of Darrell Scott, Shawn Colvin and the Punch Brothers. I think her two albums on Sugar Hill – Follow Me Down and the previous Song Up In Her Head – are defining projects of 21st century American music, and her live show is mesmerizing.
Our other big gun this week is a voice and name very familiar to not only Roots fans but anybody who follows Americana music. He’s practically become the voice of the movement. Jim Lauderdale’s career began with love of and success in bluegrass music, and he thought that would be his path, but his songs became beloved by country music stars looking for hits. And he’s landed quite a few of those over a career that stretches back into the 1980s. In recent years, Jim has been a hyper-prolific recording artist who has found multiple grooves. As Jim has said, he loves that he can play the Grand Ole Opry one weekend, followed by a jam-band event and a bluegrass festival and find large numbers of fans at each. It speaks to the universal appeal of the rhinestone-flashing, tai-chi master from North Carolina. He’ll always be among our very favorites. So that’s why we’re ending our season with a performance by the fellow who’s introduced our guest artsits since the origins of Roots. He’ll be celebrating the release this Tuesday of Reason & Rhyme, his new album comprised of songs co-written with legendary lyricist Robert Hunter. It’s among Jim’s finest work, and we’ll be excited to listen to some of those tunes performed with his crack bluegrass band.
So it’s going to be a big night, and we have plenty else in store. The Westbound Rangers are a truly fun, big dash of vocal and string-band good times. Becky Schlegel is a serene and engaging songstress who rides the line between bluegrass and country, much like Lauderdale. And Tiller’s Folly will inject the evening with a dose of strong folk music by way of Vancouver Canada. They’ve been at it more than a decade because they are proven winners with audiences of all ages. So visit us one last time before Spring truly turns to Summer.