Well Nashville topped out at just 94 degrees yesterday, so that was quite a relief from, you know, the HEAT of the previous few days. The barn was chillin’ though, as always. And even with a whole lot of people there. Man, it was exciting to see such a great turnout for our quarterly Nature Conservancy benefit and a promising young lineup. It was a perfect scenario for a season opening show. And thus did Music City Roots, Eighth Edition get underway.
I was excited about show-opener Milk Drive out of Austin because they’ve recently been on the lips of my newgrassy friends, and those know me will know how much I dig that progressive acoustic thing. It’s remarkable that fiddle master Stuart Duncan was in the house to play with our show-closer Andrew Peterson, because Stuart is one of the architects of this post-grass sound, with the Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas gang. Those fellows did a classic album of the genre called Drive, which may have inspired part of Milk Drive’s name. I have no idea about the lactation part of the equation.
Never mind. The band, like the weather, is hot. “Chabota” was a slick instrumental that let the quartet of guys show off their prize-winning chops. A song called “Back” was slower and swampier with a nice, hitchy 5/4 time signature. Brian Beken, the fiddler, did a great job with the vocals and when all three front guys sang together it was clear this band has more than just picking in its tool kit. They closed with “One For The Ark,” a gypsy jazz swinger with a groovy dissonant breakdown.
Our Vietti Chili slot is more-or-less dedicated to discovery of emerging artists, and I think it more than lived up to that promise yesterday. Young Sydni Perry, a fiddler and singer who’s toured and recorded with Patty Loveless, just slayed. With a cutting but luxurious voice, she could be a big deal in bluegrass in a short time. Her original “Bottom” was dark and precarious, and her cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” brought a classic pop song into the bluegrass/country arena. Very eager to hear Sydni again.
I thought I knew what to expect from Robby Hecht. But in bringing a wonderful 7-piece band, he showed me a new side – a guy who isn’t just a troubadour but who can command a big stage and deliver a big sound. His songs were all from his upcoming Last Of The Long Days album (September), and I’m especially fond of “Thirty” and “The Hard Way,” both with big flowing melodies and, given last night’s arrangements, a lush, layered warmth. Let’s hope this new project becomes Robby’s national breakout.
Up next was more of a cooperative than a band. Musicians who’ve just finished something very cool called The 1861 Project gave us vignettes and images of the Civil War, in commemoration of that great conflict’s 150th anniversary. Producers Thomm Jutz, a respected Nashville guitarist and producer, spearheaded the artistic side, and my old friend Paul Schatzkin developed the CD and website. And now they’ve got something for the stage that’s worthy of anybody’s attention. The songs are new, rooted in true stories of the day, and last night they were delivered by Jutz, Irene Kelly and others, with Schatzkin offering song introductions and context as the “greek chorus” though he didn’t bring his toga.
The show by this point had taken on a rather calm, introspective tone. No slammer-jammers to break the vibe. And that’s how we rounded out the night too, with the life-affirming songwriting of Andrew Peterson. Besides ringer Stuart Duncan he also brought along banjo great Ron Block, so the band sounded wonderful, and Peterson’s voice is this ultra-reassuring, wise-sounding instrument that gets to your heart. His song “Dancing In The Minefield” is a gorgeous composition about marriage and its powerful promise. “World Traveler” is about how much adventure and wonder lies under our noses at home.
To close things out, our buddy Jim Lauderdale pulled one from the Dead’s catalog for the Loveless Jam. I can’t believe we’ve never done “I Know You Rider” before. It was perfect, sending us home on a snappier, more rocking note. Before I go let me say thanks so much to Griffin Technology of Nashville for joining us as a new sponsor. They’re truly a great bunch of creative folks and it will be a pleasure working with them from my newly christened Griffin Tech Chat Room. We’re wired for a hot new season.