Back in its growth-to-glory days, one of the things that distinguished WSM was its aggressive use of remote broadcasting. They’d set up microphones at events, planned and unplanned, all over Middle Tennessee and somehow get the signal back to the WSM mother-ship for live broadcast to the nation. Decades before digital or cellular anything, they beamed news and music from a moving passenger train. They broadcast the NBC Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry from a moving steamboat in the Cumberland River. And they sent journalists with back-pack radios up into Kentucky to cover the massive Ohio River Valley flood of 1937.
Now an epic flood has come to WSM. On Sunday night/Monday morning, the Cumberland burst its banks and swept across the Opryland complex, entirely submerging WSM’s offices and destroying production gear and computers of every sort. The studio is on slightly higher ground in the hotel, but hours after the guests were evacuated, marshals came to the studio and said emergency power was being cut off in five minutes. Chief engineer/hero Jason Cooper, with the help of Charlie Mattos, Chris Kulick and Joe Limardi, put the station on emergency weather broadcast while he oversaw the removal of key gear and the setting up of a new station at the old tower transmitter house in Brentwood, where they’re going to be for the foreseeable future.
Which brings us to Wednesday night and Music City Roots. The Loveless lost power for a few days but didn’t get flooded, despite major inundation all around it. With power back by Tuesday, the show was able to proceed. Our loose theme of the evening – the East Nashville music scene – felt incredibly appropriate, given the destructive flooding on the Cumberland’s East bank. And the show became a benefit for the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
I was blessed during the flood, but cursed last night. Like a lot of folks who did or did not make it to Roots, I got stuck in a whopping Highway 100 traffic jam. So I was listening at 7 pm when the show. . . .didn’t go on the air. Something wasn’t behaving. At last, while I figured out a crazy detour to get to the barn, I heard the show get started (a first for me come to think of it). And folks, if you listened on air, you surely said to yourself, ‘wow that sounds like it’s coming over a cell phone.’ Well, that’s actually pretty much true. With our usual T1 line out, our trusty engineers had to come up with a solution, low-fi as it was, to get the show on the air.
And for those who braved everything to get to the Loveless, there was indeed a great show awaiting. The Wrights were cool and harmonious, with a sound steeped in country music and leavened with love. Stephen Simmons was biting and melodic, with jangly overtones of REM and the Byrds. Kevin Gordon worked up a flood of sweat with his deeply Southern, impressively literate road-house rock and roll. And Elizabeth Cook dazzled with her huge smile, her affectionate twang and killer songs off her brand new album Welder.
I arrived so late that in catching up with folks and decompressing from the traffic I didn’t take notes. Forgive me if my interviews were spaced out sounding. Songs blurred together into a wash of lovely sound. It was an altogether different, but special kind of night. By the time all the musicians got together to sing a joyful Loveless Jam of “I’m Working On A Building,” I think everyone felt built up and ready to go forward.
At first it was too easy to be hung up on the things that weren’t going perfectly. But the music and the hospitality soothed the soul even more than usual. The spirit of the musicians was uplifting, not to mention the generosity of our guests, who brought groceries and cash in impressive numbers. And dear friend Myra, who has never missed a show, was there in her usual front-row perch even though she had her home all but destroyed last weekend. We can’t express enough how much we feel for those all around the state like her who are confronting a very uncertain future.
It was the most profound reminder yet that we do this because music is love and love is family and that’s what we are.