When this adventure we call Music City Roots got underway, the show had a different proposed name at a different proposed venue, and only a tiny team of four or five people even knew about the scheme and dream to create a new broadcast showcase for Nashville’s Americana scene. Now we have a small army of crew, sound experts, ticket takers, bar tenders, camera people and what have you. It’s an awesome, hard-working gang, and even as we’ve become a larger family, the family feeling has grown stronger. Last Wednesday night, MCR wrapped up Season Eight, marking two full years on the air, with a rowdy sing-along and all eyes on the future.
It was one of those over-stocked nights of talent mingling returning vets with first-timers. The Brooklyn country rock quintet Yarn kicked us off with “Annie,” a nice mid-tempo tune that roiled up into a jamming solo on a tiny electric guitar/mandolin hybrid. I was hoping their “When The Summer Ends” was going to be an anthem for our waning season, but it turned out to be a pretty dark tale of drunks and whores and n’er-do-wells, and it didn’t really remind us of US. But it was cool, as is leader Blake Christiana’s earthy voice and Rod Hohl’s guitar. I decided that Blake sounds like young Steve Earle and that Rod looks like young Steve Earle, so together, they project a bit of that 80s/90s alt country credibility scare that Earle used to talk about.
I love nights when total newcomers blow us away, and that’s what Jubal’s Kin accomplished. This wee trio looked too young to be out so late or playing their instruments so well, but they’ve accumulated some real wisdom and poise in their short life as a band. Maybe that’s because the core team of Gailanne and Roger Amundsen are brother and sister and have a life of chemistry together. These Florida based artists glowed on opener “Boy Blue” and then shocked us with passion and freshness with their take on “Working On A Building,” with Gailanne on fiddle and strong vocals and her bro backing her with a bit of hillbilly beatboxing. It was a Roots Moment to be sure.
Upping the forceful folk factor was Spirit Family Reunion, making their second appearance on Roots. I can just imagine this New York band shuttled back in time to Washington Square in 1960, when their working-man anthems and boisterous style would have gone over well. Their song “The Night Replaced The Day” earned a mid-set standing ovation for its energy and sincerity. And the whole set was an infectious good time.
Sara Hickman offered a complete counterpoint, taking the stage solo and singing songs in a more refined, lyric-centric manner. She’s been winning over audiences with her heart and voice for a long time now, and there were life-long fans in the crowd. So it wasn’t a surprise when she had everyone on her side. “Simply” was a love song that lived up to its spare, pure title. “Last Man In The Water” was a moving rumination on heroism. It was really rewarding to have this Texas star in the barn.
I hope Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing were okay with my description of their duo Hymn For Her as a “hillbilly White Stripes,” because I think it fits and I’ll probably use it again. Their sound and vibe is raw and smoking, half electric and half acoustic, with some unknowable mixture of sincerity and irony. Lucy’s droning electrified cigar box guitar is a signature, and we all marveled at Wayne’s ability to play drums with his feet, guitar with his hands and harmonica with his mouth all at once.
And what better benediction for a great night and a great season than Will Hoge. So local yet such a star. So rocking but so earthy as well. He took off at full altitude with “When I Get My Wings,” a Memphis-inspired song of life-long longing that’s become the first single off his new Number Seven album. The energy and passion continued right through his radio anthem/MCR theme song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” Hoge exudes such centered professionalism even as he rocks your face off, it’s quite something to see. So glad he’s part of the Nashville family and I think that Number Seven may be an album that reaches the national audience even more than his prior records.
While guest host Peter Cooper and the assembled gang jammed rowdily their way through Hank’s “Lost Highway,” including a double decker mandolin solo by one member of Spirit Family Reunion seated on the shoulders of another, it was easy to think about the remarkable season past. We got connected to the newgrass virtuosity of Milk Drive, the stage-shaking soul of the Bo-Keys, Ryan Cavanaugh’s banjo jazz and Tara Nevins’s Louisiana old-time. We were beguiled by Angela Easterling and Lera Lynn, had our strings unwound on Guitar Night with Guthrie Trapp and many others, basked in bluegrass at an IBMA Awards Nominations show featuring Doyle Lawson, IIIrd Tyme Out, Sierra Hull and Josh Williams and we reveled in the deep twang and hillbilly magnificence of Marty Stuart, Connie Smith and Kenny Vaughan. It was full of themes and dreams, hot nights and cool artists. Oh, and the video boys outdid themselves fully tricking out the video van, which made summer runs to the National Folk Festival and Bristol Rhythm & Roots. I don’t know how it can get better than this, but I’m also completely confident that it will.
See you in two weeks for our second birthday and the opening of the Fall 2011 season.