Strong Southern Stories

We Southerners take stories seriously. They’re our conversational currency, our living history. From Faulkner and Flannery to today’s bright writing stars like Nashville’s own Ann Patchett and Tony Earley, we celebrate those who celebrate life through words, just as we celebrate the regular raconteur.

So when I heard that our April 21 show (a benefit for our sponsor/partners at The Nature Conservancy) would feature Marshall Chapman, Minton Sparks and Tommy Womack, it felt meant to be. These fascinating artists live and work at the confluence of literature and music, and each has his or her own approach to digging truth and light out of the Southern landscape.

For Minton Sparks, the medium is theater, sort of. Over roughly a decade, she’s developed a one-woman show and released numerous albums that rank among the best spoken word performance art of our time. While she does not play or sing exactly, her work is always accompanied by a lone musician, and she’s worked with some of the best, from mando master Chris Thile to classic folk banjoist Abigail Washburn. Sparks illuminates music with her words, and vice versa. She also inhabits her characters, who spring to life before your eyes. It’s warm, piercing, funny, sad and truthful. You’ll be amazed.

Meanwhile, rock and roll is Marshall Chapman’s theater. She’s an amazing musician who also happens to be a gifted memoirist and essayist, and she has chronicled her unique life and worldview in the acclaimed book Goodbye Little Rock and Roller as well as in various magazines. (Another book is coming soon.) The main event, however, is her statuesque roots music, which vibrates with the ancient blues of her native South Carolina and tickles the mind with an understated intellectual flair. She’s been beloved of critics and serious Southern music fans for many years, and she’s done all kinds of remarkable, whimsical things like record a live album in the mid 1990s at the Tennessee State Women’s Prison. She will charm and challenge you at the same time.

And then there’s Tommy Womack, whose every written word makes my own writing seem lifeless and lame. His history in rock and roll is distinguished and important, having juke-jointed the South for years with his bands Government Cheese and the bis- quits, with MCR alum Will Kimbrough. And his book The Cheese Chronicles about the former ensemble is regarded as one of the best underground band memoirs ever. I’ve seen Womack light up a room with warm funny poignant and blow the windows out with fire-breathing rock intensity.

I’m quite sure that Barry and Holly Tashian tell good stories too. I don’t mean to leave them behind in our little weekly survey of what’s coming up. They’re a classic duo with one foot in bluegrass and the other in Everly Brothers-esque acoustic rock. They’ve written songs for Americana royalty. Barry toured with the freakin’ Beatles. And together the couple has released seven wonderful albums for the likes of Rounder Records. Add the Delta-inspired slide guitar artistry of David Jacob-Strain and you’re looking at an awesome night of music to go with your biscuits and beer. Besides that, all proceeds for this special evening go to the Nature Conservancy, our amazing partners who are looking out for the wild land of Tennessee and the nation.

Come join us, and you’ll have a story of your own to tell.

Craig H


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