“Music goes in cycles,” said Trevor Silva backstage, he of the rose covered western shirt, the Salvador Dali-worthy handlebar ‘stache and the drum sticks that propelled the music of J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices on stage at Roots last night. Silva is on a mission to cycle back to classic country music, and as with a holy mission, travel is required – thousands of miles in a van with bass player Mike Brock and highly bearded J.P. himself, stirring the fire for country music that’s two-stepping (not boot-scooting), lonesome (not wholesome) and honky tonk (w/o badonkadonk). And in this, we support them.
It was a night when virtually every flavor of country music was represented with remarkably equal purity and finesse on our stage: bluegrass, old-time, honky-tonk, and even a little family gospel. And starting it all off, Gretchen Peters, fresh off her solo debut on the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday, delivered lyrical brilliance and single-mindedness that one rarely hears in the upper reaches of the FM dial. She opened with the title track of her new Hello Cruel World album, backed by husband/collaborator Barry Walsh on keys and David Henry on cello. Barry donned an accordion for “The Matador,” which is as complex and insightful picture of the human heart as you can hear. It had been too long a wait for getting the great Gretchen to perform on our stage, and it was everything we’d hoped for.It was a shame that J.P. Harris was in the Vietti slot (that’s Italian for “you don’t get an on-stage interview”) because I have to think he would have been compelling in the Griffin Tech Chat Room. His passion for traditional country music and disdain for the “flim-flam” on mainstream radio is at least as pronounced as Dale Watson’s, and he has the fire and zeal of youth to back it up. The recently transplanted Nashvillian sang “Two For The Road” over a hard shuffle, and “Badly Bent” featured some great picking from the lead guitar and pedal steel players. In all, a very satisfying scratch of the always nagging honky-tonk itch.
The Martin Family Circus filled our cute quotient for the entire season, but also delivered some slick vocal harmonies that fired up the crowd. The band was spawned by Paul Martin, full time Fabulous Superlative and wife Jamie, daughter of Oak Ridge Boy Duane Allen. Their two boys, the elder of the kids, traded leads on some Jackson Five and Toto covers, and then the younger kids – two adorable girls – gave their all on a mod gospel song. With just guitar and light percussion backing them up, it was a testimony to what kids can do musically when invited into the circle by supportive, talented parents.
Pert Near Sandstone’s reputation preceded them, so a lot of us were on the edge of our seats for this one. And they brought it – all the power and drive you want from an old-time band plus songwriting that made them contemporary. Locked-in fiddle and banjo became the heart of “Solid Gone,” in which the singer is not at all bereft at his loss. Banjo player Kevin Kniebel laid into some powerful and brazen vocals on “Paradise Hop” and really got the crowd invested. I also loved “Snake Charmer,” an original tune that reminded me of the Grateful Dead at their acoustic best. Topping off this display of musicality and passion was full time clogger/percussionist Andy Lambert. His in-time feet made for a great drum track and great theater.
And that set the stage for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, stylish stars of bluegrass. I’ve written about them a lot here, and their set offered no surprises – just drum-tight arrangements, rippling tempos and searing, soaring vocals. It’s all a fan of roots music could ask for. I especially love the song they just made a video of – “Country Store.” It’s a mod feeling track with a deep groove, but the lyrics are pure nostalgia of the nicest kind. They wrapped with the intense and streaking “Blue Train” and the Loveless Jam of “Salty Dog” put the final dash of seasoning on a great night.
With pure flavors, that’s all you need.