Our new venue has led to a new pre-show routine. Perhaps you’ve visited our Roots Radio shop and studio just outside of Liberty Hall in the Factory. The team did a splendid job building it out and painting it a warm blue/gray. Kirkland’s donated some nice furnishings, and a few Scarlati photos hang on the walls. We have a massive radio desk built from a beautiful mix of regional hardwood. And that’s my new perch for two to three hours before show time, playing my favorite performances from the show’s past and talking into the void about the show to come. If step one on the Roots Radio journey was setting up a 24/7 stream and stocking it with great MCR tracks, this is step two: getting into the routine of being live on the “air” and rehearsing for the day when we can realize our dream of a full-service, all-Nashville-all-the-time radio station.
But the real gift in my short term is to have a place to do comfortable, longer-form interviews with our guest artists. I’ve posted new podcast style conversations so far with Dom Flemons, Alanna Royale and Bryan Sutton. This week I got to speak with Seth Walker, and I’ll be posting that soon. So as part of our show’s refresh, I get to find out how hard-working artists keep themselves refreshed. For Seth it was a move to New Orleans. For Roots guest this week Bryan Simpson it’s a new band with an aggressive, ambitious sound. In the case of show closer Andrew Peterson, the word came up in the commentary of a fan who said that he felt “refreshed” by Peterson’s uplifting and encouraging songs. Us too. It was a refreshing night.
Seth Walker found his classic swinging sound some years ago and he’s been refining it ever since, so as good as he was when we first met him, he’s deepened every aspect of his art. I hang on every word, every note, every shuffling, lazy beat. Opener “Easy Come, Easy Go” felt as natural and comforting as the wood grain of his antique Gibson arch-top guitar or the glorious sounding upright bass wielded by Josh Hoag. Drummer Jim Starboard offered brilliant background vocals along with spare, spot-on grooves. “Tomorrow” had a Latin/reggae vibe that evoked a napping guy peeking out from under his hat and uttering “mañana.” Walker’s fine and expressive guitar playing grew more aggressive and assertive toward the end of the set. I can’t get enough of this guy’s laid-back yet highly concentrated musicality.
Bands with the confidence to gather around a single microphone and mix their own vocals and instruments with sheer proximity and energy always evoke an extra measure of excitement and respect. They lean in, so we do too. And Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys brought something worth leaning in for. Opener “My Side of the Mountain” sparkled with lonesome dobro and harmony singing. The second half of the set were classical country and bluegrass hybrids made vivid by Lindsay Rilko’s burnished, fascinating voice. But the tune that really hooked me was “Hot Hands” with its syncopated tick-tock rhythm and dobro harmonics that felt like water drops in a swimming hole. Gorgeous, creative stuff this was.
Creative is also the word for the maelstrom of sound that issued forth from The Whistles & The Bells, the new project from former bluegrass guy Bryan Simpson. Don’t let his mandolin fool you. This is eclectic rock with just streaks of folk and country. Guitarist Adam Stockdale brought huge and delectable electric tones, while Matt Menefee wielded a light-saber banjo. In the five song set we heard riffy funk, bouncing 70s country and arty noise. Bryan sang feverishly and boldly (backed beautifully by Vesper and MCR friend Phoebe Cryar), and while it was hard to make out lyrics in the busy mix, the subject was largely his religious awakening. This subject matter can be an artistic minefield, but Simpson’s passion and the innovative musical palette put this project on a solid footing.
After that rush of complexity, Andrew Peterson’s songs felt easy on the ears and soul. His kind voice spells out every word and every word is a step on a ladder upward. The sentiments – “you are not alone” in the song of faith “Rest Easy” – and the messages of encouragement and pride to his son in “You’ll Find Your Way” are unassailable and profoundly human. He wrapped with his “love song to Nashville” called “Everybody’s Got A Song,” a rumination on the magic of living among creative, alive people.
We feel that every week. It’s refreshing.