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Squirrel!

How does an episode of Roots featuring sublime songwriters, an old-time string band and 80s country leave me waking up the next day thinking about Dug, the talking dog from the 2009 movie Up? Well let’s just say that I already had the gift/curse of being a non-linear thinker, and then there’s the whole internet, infinite scroll, low-attention span thing that’s been reshaping my easily distractible mind for a decade. Then at the show, there was this musician wearing a red cap and overalls who introduced himself as Squirrel. And I love squirrels and the word squirrel. And Dug the dog’s recurring gag where he’d suddenly lose his mental thread and shout “Squirrel!” has become a catchphrase I use to this day among friends when we laugh at ourselves for being unfocused and attracted by the newest shiny object or headline. And then man, this week’s show kept us on our toes because the music changed radically four times in a row, and we had a guest host who was learning the ropes and we had to work out a jam, which is usually Jim’s thing. So I was running around more than usual and hardly took any notes.

Wait, where was I?

That guest host was the great Keb’ Mo’ who kind of happened to be in the right place at just the right time. He’s such a graceful and cool presence and it was special to have the famous Franklin resident introduce the artists on our live in Franklin show.

The first act he introduced with that mellifluous baritone of his was Dustbowl Revival, a band that interfaces the horn section and song styling of Stax Records soul music with the acoustic shimmer and drive of old time/bluegrass. The marriage is personified by the duo lead singers – Liz Beebe and Zach Lupetin – who take turns and fuse voices depending on the moment. The midnight soul of “Busted” brought in Beebe’s nimble voice plus some excellent jazz-invested horn passages. I loved the quick pace and sharp songwriting of “Without You.” And the band wrapped with its trademark exuberance and the sentiment “I don’t drink any more, but then again I don’t drink any less.” Well played, booze fighters.

Turns out (big surprise, I know!) that Squirrel was in the Glade City Rounders, the night’s ministers of old time hillbilly music. He played banjo and “sang” with a squall and holler that made Leroy Troy sound like Bobby Darin. With his red walrus whiskers and bug eyes, Squirrel was merely the most colorful of a colorful and skilled band that opened up with a fiery “Grey Eagle” and never let up. They swung the blues on “Frankie & Johnny” and showed off great songwriting skills as well, as on “Shave Em Dry,” about old record diving. It was old time with all the right values – entertainment, timing and animal spirits.

From the Department of Non Sequiturs came our next transition to the silky smooth crooning of 80s country star T.G. Sheppard. He sang about lovin’ the lovely ladies and goin’ to heaven in some metaphorical senses of the word. It was cool hearing about his early friendship with Elvis and the boosts he got from the King and from folks like Waylon Jennings prodding him to do country music. A buttoned up band and old school professionalism pervaded the set.

Our final performance was like having three headliners in one, as Wine Women & Song brought the intimate immediacy of Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss to the stage for a seated acoustic set of classic songs. Suzy opened with “Outbound Plane,” with that liberating melody that grabbed my attention 25 years ago. Matraca led on “You And Tequila” and Gretchen led on “To Say Goodbye,” but it was more than just taking turns; the trio has worked these up into complete arranged musical experiences. And it’s not just their own stellar work; they’ve assemble a “Wild Horses” that I’d rather hear forever in lieu of the Stones version. Cuz it’s purtier. The songs were magnificent. The women are the pinnacle of their profession. The wine was not an afterthought. It occurred to me during one of their gorgeous three part harmony passages that if anybody asks me for a one-word description of their sound, from now on I’ll go with “lush.” Ladies, feel free to use that as an album title.

So thanks again to Keb’ Mo’ for his gracious hosting. Looks like Jim’s back next week when we welcome a reconfigured and re-energized Mountain Heart back to the show. I’m sure I’ll be able to keep my mind on that.

Craig H.

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