Many Happy Returns

Can a person ever have too much of a good thing? Like most of familiar phrases in our lexicon, that thought comes from Shakespeare, through the lips of feisty, sensual Rosalind in As You Like It. She’s talking about getting married, and her happy ending comes easily to mind as I write this A) because the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s performance of the play last summer at Centennial Park was so good and B) because it’s Valentine’s Day. I’m full of love for my sweetheart and wife of 11 years and our daughter, whom we first met on Feb. 14, exactly four years ago. So for us, and I hope for you, it’s a day of many happy returns. And this week’s post V-Day, post Mardi Gras edition of Roots is a week of happy returns. All four artists have made one or two appearances on MCR in the past, and they’re all worth catching up with.

Greensky Bluegrass last visited us at our Spring Barn Dance in 2014, but when they told us they were routing through Nashvegas on their way to Louisville we jumped on the chance to have them back. The Kalamazoo, MI five-piece bluegrass/newgrass champions left us twirling and sweating that evening, but we remained in suspense about the then unreleased album called If Sorrows Swim. Now that it’s out, we can hear how it carries them even farther into realms of conceptual brilliance and original songcraft. The Bluegrass Situation deemed it “worthy of repeated and thoughtful listening sessions” and Relix called it “an intense, 12-track ride of ragged harmonies, infectious melodies and mesmerizing picking.”

The band formed around the friendship of guitarist Dave Bruzza and banjoist Michael Arlen Bont in the early 2000s. They showed a lot of wisdom in that they while they weren’t looking to hew closely to bluegrass tradition, they did bring old-school respect to their growth and development, rolling out their experiment slowly and deliberately. Adding dobro player Anders Beck completed their Colorado-grass feel. Their picking (notably Bont’s impeccably timed banjo) is top flight. The songs are uplifting. Greensky has climbed up to the top of the acoustic music mountain where they jam nightly and ecstatically with the Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain String Band and Leftover Salmon. We’re proud to call them friends and MCR Alums.

Two time MCR band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ arrives with a surprise. While guitarist Sadler Vaden travels with Americana star Jason Isbell, this feller named Warner E. Hodges is sitting in. That means, dear music fans, that we will be featuring a fusion of two of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever shred the kudzu circuit. Warner was and is the sky-splitting, whirling dervish guitarist with Jason and the Scorchers, legends of Music City. DNC came along a bit after JATS with a sound that could maybe be said to have a little more pop and folk and a little less twang. They’re the most famous and respected band from the era and geography of R.E.M. that never got super famous. A new documentary called Scarred But Smarter takes its title from the group’s first album. What I’ve seen of it on line is vivid and funny and a testament to rock and roll survivalism. An Ink19 review said this about the film and its subject: “From their formation and release of their first album on tiny Atlanta label 688 Records, to arena-filling major label MTV fodder with Fly Me Courageous and then back to the indies, DNC has learned to adapt and prosper (on their own level) while still maintaining their striving sense of musical curiosity and personal grit.” We got to see the band’s founder Kevn Kinney do a solo songwriter folk set on our stage just a couple of months ago. But it’s a whole different deal having the full band striding the stage, and we can’t wait.

Still more of a good thing comes from Asheville North Carolina’s roots/country band The Honeycutters. They first joined us in August 2010 and then came back in October 2012, delivering a performance we were proud to include in our first season on American Public Television. Vocalist Amanda Platt has a voice that’s complex, sweet and aching. Even more potently she writes songs that folks are citing as up there with the best of the field like Mary Gauthier and Lucinda Williams. The group was named best Americana band in the Smoky Mountain region by the cultural beacon Mountain Xpress three years running. So it’s been nothing but growth and climbing since we last visited, and that’s what you want to see.

Rounding out our déjà vu menu is awesome, easy on the ears Andrew Duhon, troubadour of New Orleans. What’s he doing in our place on Ash Wednesday? Will he have a hangover? We’ll have to ask. No questions at all however about his way with a song. He’s an honest storyteller. He loves ink on paper as you’ll see if you check out his unique approach to blogging. He’s a gentleman who kindly requests your attention for a few minutes, and we know from experience that such attention is richly rewarded.

So for this night of cycles and renewals, do us a favor and take on the challenge of introducing a friend to our show for the first time. If you’re reading this in advance, bring somebody out who’s never experienced MCR in Liberty Hall before. If it’s the night of the show, text a friend in another city or post an update letting folks know about the webcast. Because we’ve found that once folks and fans get a feel for what it’s like to be with us on Wednesday nights, they tend to come back.

Craig H.

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