A barn in the country. Twinkly lights and little trees. What more could you want for a Christmas show? It was not a snowy night (in fact it was mercifully mild). But in every other respect, the scene at the Loveless was Currier & Ives in a headlock by Norman Rockwell. All for our final show of the season, a friendly two hours co-hosted by country duo Joey & Rory.
Hit songwriter and tall overall-wearing, brush-cut sporting Rory Feek and his pure-voiced bride Joey ride the line nicely between main-line country music and its rootsy bluegrassy side. Their stuff can sound like The Whites or like a great 1970s radio track. And indeed they opened their set with the swaying “It’s Christmas Time” and Merle Haggard’s 1973 classic “If We Make It Through December,” which played like a tribute to and prayer for the many folks who’ve had hard times this year.
The evening’s conceit was that we were in Joey & Rory’s farmhouse living room, sharing songs and stories. And every now and then there’d be a knock at the door and a friend would set a spell and play some tunes. First up was hit songwriter Wynn Varble, who hit us with “Waiting On A Woman,” his recent char-topper for Brad Paisley, and “I’d Be Jolly Too,” in which the singer realizes the implications of Santa’s ability to search his giant database for two important cross-referenced variables: “girls” and “naughty.”
Rory penned the recent No. 1 hit “A Little More Country,” so he did that one before he and Joey delivered their biggest hit as artists, the fun “Cheater Cheater,” with a Christmas twist, as the tramp in the song became a “ho ho ho.” Then after another knock at the door, young Erin Enderlin offered up a couple of songs and left us wanting a bunch more. Her voice is pure and her sense of song is just top notch, as we heard in “Last Call,” a little masterpiece that became a hit single and video for the great Lee Ann Womack. Then we heard from Painted Desert, the most mod act of the night, featuring Rory’s daughter Heidi and pal Austin Manuel. Their stuff fit nicely with the indie folk movement, reminding me a bit of the everybodyfields. The final solo turn of the night went to the blazingly talented Val Storey, who stepped from backup vocalist role to the front of the stage for a luscious rendition of “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” a gospel gem I learned about years ago via the Cox Family. Storey has the kind of pure country voice that elevates such songs into the highest realms of American art. She really put the kiss on the night.
But of course, it’s never over ‘til the fat lady sings, and in our case the fat lady is the assembled cast of musicians and Jim Lauderdale known as the Loveless Jam. The evening’s choice was “Blue Christmas,” done as our beautiful talent coordinator Ms. Laurie said, “slow and bluesy, not A-Woo-A-Hoo Elvisy.” Then some of us repaired to the Brewhouse down the road for the increasingly popular and fun post-show Volunteer String Band show. We just didn’t want to let the night or the season end.
I think it’s safe to say none of us will forget 2011. Music City Roots turned two years old and, it seems to me, cemented its reputation as Nashville’s finest regular authentic music experience and discovery platform. We have a great deal to be thankful as we prepare to flip the calendar. Just take this season: We opened with a special show as part of the Americana Music Association conference featuring the fiery old-time of The Wilders and the soulful songwriting of Grayson Capps and V-Roys Mic Harrison and Scott Miller. Oh yeah, that’s also when I got to play a kazoo solo on stage. We had our spark plugs cleaned by the Defibulators, soared on the voice of Vance Gilbert (while laughing at his stories), sampled indie-folk’s finest with a Ten out of Tenn night and feted the great Tom T. Hall. We freaked out at the power of Malcolm Holcombe and we discovered exciting new lineups for favorite bands Barefoot and Rockin’ Acoustic Circus. We celebrated a fantastic Thanksgiving with good friends 18 South, Shawn Camp, Mike Farris and the McCrary Sisters.
We have so much to be thankful for as this year ends. At a personal level, my wife and I brought a new daughter into our family and it’s been a miracle. As a team, we got up to show #99 with plans for a blowout show #100 as we return in January 2012. We’re going to push out to new radio stations and new platforms in the coming year and try to take our community of music-loving, music-making Music City folk and, well, foment a roots music revolution all over the world. Is that asking too much?