True to the title of our theme song by bluegrass dobro master Rob Ickes, Music City Roots was in fact “Born In A Barn.” And the psychological research literature tells us that 87% of roots music fans complete the word association “Barn” with “Dance,”* so it was pretty clear from the outset that at some point we’d have to pull back the chairs and throw down on the floor. The first MCR Barn Dance took place May 16, 2012 with Carolyn Martin’s Western swing ensemble and the Hogslop String Band playing fiddles and banjers. That was a magical night, and every dance show since has mingled sweat and swing with Southern charm. The Factory floor of spacious Liberty Hall feels more like a classic American sock hop than a barn dance, but the name and identity endures. And this year we offer another splendid four-band lineup.
We have six compelling reasons to be excited about Nashville’s waggishly named 50 Shades of Hay, because that’s how many boss musicians are in this local super-group. We’ve been a champion of Rory Hoffman since we met him, because he’s the most extraordinary all-around player we’ve ever encountered – a master on the keys, horns and strings. Also versatile and high capacity are MCR alums Paul Kramer, Eamon McLoughlin and Aaron Till, suggesting as many as three fine fiddles fiddling at once. Veteran David Spicher holds down the double bass lines while his sweetheart Wendy Newcomer fronts the band on vocals. She’s a wonderful traditionally minded country singer and media star and her appearance on MCR is overdue. The band made its mark with a debut album out this spring in digital form, but they’ll offer pure analog country swing on our stage.
Our square dance squad has the astonishingly baroque name Uncle Shuffalo and his Haint Hollow Hootenanny. What’s simpler to get your head around is their incredible track record winning old time string band prizes from Uncle Dave Macon Days to the Great Southern Fiddlers Convention. Banjo man Keith Williams is the elder “Uncle,” but it’s fiddler Austin Derryberry who leads the septet’s youthful brigade. This set will feature a dance caller so you can’t say you didn’t know what to do.
We brought the Music City Doughboys out to our dance two years ago and we were impressed by their tight musicianship as well. Here’s what I noted then: “All are top-notch road and session guys, so the fiddles and singing of Billy McClaran and Brandon Godman were immaculate. The guitar solos and comping by James Mitchell was envy-making for myself and all others who aspire to play jazz. And they brought along pedal steel wonder Danny Muhammad to complete the melodic magic.”
That 2014 dance closed with the toe-tripping acoustic swirl of Greensky Bluegrass, and this year our nightcappers will be a band on the same basic trajectory. Fast-rising Missoula, Montana quintet The Lil’ Smokies have played all the cool kid festivals and run with the likes of the Infamous Stringdusters and the Sam Bush Band. In 2015 they reached a peak, so to speak, by winning the Telluride Band Competition. They seem intent on pushing themselves to be both freewheeling and tight in the mode of the classic bluegrass band. This will be a welcome Roots debut with a strong possibility of a mosh pit.
So bring fine footwear and an ear for variety. We’ll stock up on thirst quenchers. Whether dancing or just listening, we know this one will move you.
* A complete and utter fabrication but it feels about right.