If everybody supposedly stays off the roads when the weather forecasters cry “SLEET,” then who were all those people in the cars plodding along and keeping me from getting to the Loveless Barn last night? And if all those people were out in cars, then why didn’t more of them come see us? Yes, we suffered from the curse of the false weather alarm and clearly scores of people who would have otherwise enjoyed our Yuletide swing-fest stayed home and watched us on the inter-tube.
But no matter. The tree was twinkly, and the lit garlands in the barn made a true winter wonderland picture. We had what felt like a family gathering and the hearty, brave, attractive and noble audience members who did brave the sleet light rain were as excited and generous as an audience could be. And I experienced the magic of a Music City Roots transformation. I arrived a little cranky, I’m not ashamed to say, but within a few minutes of being with our gang and hearing our friends Nancy and Stephanie playing carols on dulcimer and fiddle from the stage in an unprecedented pre-show warmer upper, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I suppose the Blackstone American Pale Ale helped too.
‘Twas the music that really sealed a special night. After guest host Peter Cooper’s show-opening rendition of Jon Byrd’s “Silent Night,” we got to twinkling with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. In their hands, “Carol of the Bells” and “White Christmas” floated on the winter air and lifted everybody up there with them. They showed their classically trained chops with a bit of Nutcracker music and ended with a Celtic air by Nashville’s own John Mock called “Christmas at County Kerry.” Then they were off like reindeer to brighten up another holiday event downtown.
Tom Mason continued the instrumental vibe, laying down some alt-holiday classics with his guitar and groovy rhythm section. His “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was angular and syncopated. His “Angels We Have Heard On High” proved it could be a jazz tune (who knew?) and Mike Webb took a tasty piano solo. Then Webb donned his accordion for a New Orleans-inspired “Jolly Old St. Nick” that really got cooking when Tom Mason traded his slide guitar for a slide trombone and blew like somebody from the Bible, where they’re always blowing horns.
Our second hour featured two Jingle Belles. First was the bluegrass-based Americana of Valerie Smith, who rollicked along with the help of her quartet Liberty Pike. She’s a great singer who really burrows into her songs, and with the help of her regular duo partner Becky Buller, she really gets blue and expressive. Valerie mixed up some of her new grassy material with holiday songs and generally spread good spirits with her beaming smile and energy. What a pairing then for Christabel and the Jons, our retro swinging friends from Knoxville. Christa DiCicco and company did us the honor of releasing their new Christmas Album at the show, and it’s a great vibey alternative to the heavy schmaltz you can so easily find on the airwaves and in the Walmart record bins. C and the Js kept their whole set in the holiday way, including a sexy “Santa Baby” and a tropical take on “Christmas Island” complete with strumming ukulele.
Then Mr. Cooper led the chorus in a Loveless Jam of “Feliz Navidad” which pounds its message home with its Latin groove and sheer repetition. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. From the bottom of our hearts.