I spent part of this morning working on a press release about recent doings at Music City Roots and the launch of our Fall 2012 season. And holy smokes, there’s a lot going on. Symbolically, we can point with pride (and some degree of disbelief) to the fact that next Wednesday marks the show’s third birthday. Longevity is everything in radio broadcasting, and just being able to say we’re still here is a victory. More than that, though, I told a reporter this morning that I thought we’ve filled a void in Music City and become an important platform to acknowledge excellence in Americana music, Nashville’s highest quality and most artisanal musical export. I truly believe it. Furthermore, our fall calendar has been full of great side events like webcasting the IBMA Awards and producing a really fun live webcast from the “oriental rug” before the Americana Honors & Awards with Chuck Mead.
But enough hype. We have a season to launch, and per usual, we’re doing so with a benefit for our partners at The Nature Conservancy. All our artists earn big green karma points for donating their performance to the Tennessee chapter of the world’s biggest and most down to earth conservation organization. We have a stellar lineup, but I feel compelled to dwell a bit on our show’s opener, not only because it could earn me the appreciation of five lovely women but because I’ve had a few profoundly wonderful listening experiences lately with Della Mae.
One was at the Americana Music Association’s Friday night showcase lineup at the Station Inn. I played emcee that night, but that wasn’t nearly as fun as being in the audience for Della Mae’s set. On display was an intimately connected band with gifts in every department. Vocally, they’re stunning, with harmonies that start in bluegrass but that sparkle with unexpected colors. Lead singer Celia Woodsmith is the picture of the Irish Boston lass with flaming tresses and apple cheeks, and she can pin you to the wall with bluesy power or seduce you with a dreamy alto. Her colleagues can pick alongside any band at their age and experience level, with champion fiddler Kimber Ludiker, sparky mandolin from Jenni Lyn Gardner and lacy, incisive flatpicking from Courtney Hartman. And then there are lovely song choices, from within and without. When they picked up my friend Sarah Siskind’s “Pine Tree” and made it their own, I swooned.
My first encounter with Della Mae was even cooler. I got a video gig, and the mission was to head out to the illustrious, scenic and historic Cash Cabin in Hendersonville where Della Mae was recording its label debut album for Rounder Records, with master guitarist and musical mastermind Bryan Sutton in the producer’s chair. I rolled up there with my Roots Krewe and before long I was looking through a camera literally surrounded by the band. They began to play with groove and flow. Then Celia kicked into a bright song whose title I do not know (I expect it will be on their 2013 Rounder album). Then, the harmonies began, and Whoa Nellie. Chill bumps. Weepy eyes. Blurry vision. Couldn’t focus. Bathed in pure acoustic awesomeness. I’m reliving it now. Can’t…write…
Ahem. We did some interviews that day too, and that’s where I learned that Kimber started the band about four years ago up in Boston. They had a few lineup changes but two were especially auspicious. In one, Kimber set out to recruit Celia for a full time gig even though Celia, a blues and rock singer had recently “quit” music to go to school. “AS long as it’s a hobby” said Celia. “Oh YEAH,” said Kimber, completely snowing her. But now that it’s a sealed deal, one could hardly imagine any other singer. The final piece in the puzzle was bass player Shelby Means, whom we saw on our stage not long ago blazing away on the doghouse with the David Mayfield Parade. This is a lineup to be reckoned with and a sound that’s lush and modern but still rock solid bluegrass – and truthfully I can’t think of another all-female grass band on the national level in decades. So I think Della Mae will stand out and earn a lot of respect for themselves and for bluegrass in the coming months and years.
The Roots booking team has searched out four other exceptional bands and performers for you as well. Marley’s Ghost is a venerable roots and country/rock band from the West Coast (I’m still not clear if it’s Bay Area or Seattle area, but we’ll find out!). They’ve made music for 25 years and a few years ago when Cowboy Jack Clement heard them here in Nashville he approached them with compliments (“You’ve got a lot of bang,” he said.) Cowboy produced their last two albums, including a recording of Shawn Camp’s “My Love Will Not Change” that kicks ass. And the new CD Jubilee is stocked with rootsy friends/guests like Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Who else? Man this is fun. Carolina Story has our East Nashville friends all excited. They’re a couple who fell in love musically and literally at the same time and they’ve been cooing with each other for nearly five years. Their sound truly is lovely with an ancient toned edge. The Johnny Possum Band sounds like the Marley’s Ghost of New Zealand, only younger. Eclectic but rooted in the old time, they’ve won tons of praise down under and they’re making regular visits to the US. And we’ll also hear the straightforward, honest songs of Tom Yarbrough, a longtime Nashville denizen whom I’ve yet to experience.
This all anticipates an exciting Fall season with acts local, national and legendary. More to come on all that. When you arrive at the barn or see us on the web, you’ll notice upgrades to our set, lights and TV picture. A super-cool production is in the works behind the scenes. RootsRadio.com is on the web, shuffling a lineup of 700 hand-picked songs from our three years on the air. It’s an exciting time. Come on out. The first show is going to have a lot of bang.
*Bluegrass insiders will recognize the allusion to an Osborne Brothers classic and a favorite of parking lot pickers called “Big Spike Hammer” and indeed the ladies have chosen the Twitter handle @heyheydellamae. However, our lawyers wish it to be known that Della Mae do not know any hammer swingers by the name of Big Bill Johnson, nor have they mistreated any man in a manner that would incline him to “get even some day.”