The View From On High

The morning after last week’s season closing Roots show, I flew to Denver and jumped in a rented Nissan Altima (sponsor love!). My destination was the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, arguably the most rarified roots music event of the year. It’s certainly the most beautiful, and the lineup (stocked with MCR alums by the way) was tailored for the 40th anniversary of this epic, unparalleled fest. I filed blog dispatches while there for our friends at The Bluegrass Situation, and next week I’ll post a long recap of and love letter to Telluride, because my two visits there have been so meaningful and spiritual.

The long weekend at 8,000 feet also gave me a chance to reflect from on high on our Spring 2013 season – our deepening community, including our new radio partner Hippie 94.5 FM, our miraculous sequence of perfect weather Wednesdays and the stellar performances on the Loveless stage. We heard the Howlin’ Brothers on the eve of a big breakout summer. We saw The Allen Thompson Band take it to the next level with a hip-shaking, show-closing set. The Merlefest special was a mind blower, with a best-ever set by Pokey LaFarge, a return charm offensive from Della Mae and old school bluegrass with Peter Rowan. We had our first ever Jazz Night, with an all-local bill that could have played any big city in the world and then our second annual Barn Dance, with five bands that threw down in five ways. Texas bands Seryn and Sons of Fathers delivered awe-inspiring vocal passion and harmony. While we saw some of the most promising emerging Nashville acts in Little Bandit, Buffalo Clover, Andrew Combs and Los Colognes. Aoife O’Donovan gets my vote for vocal performance of the season, though you are free to draw your own conclusions.

All of this led up the night of June 19, when we assembled an international cast to entertain the people, and yes, ourselves. And one doesn’t get more entertaining than Marshall Chapman. With a white towel around her neck and a black acoustic guitar she resembled a prizefighter as she took the stage. Then she hit us with three songs from her new and much acclaimed album Blaze of Glory. The title track blends memoir (seeing Elvis as a little girl) with resilience in the face of a life lived on the edge. “I Don’t Want Nobody” was a witty, winking song of devotion. And she ended with that timeless Tim Krekel co-write “I Love Everybody” which sets a pretty high bar for benevolence, but it’s nice to dream.

I’ve said it before, but I’m an easy mark for bands that A) have an accordion and B) have a theme song. The Amigos Band delivered on both counts, not to mention energy, humor and rapturous vocals. Like a border-town Riders In The Sky, this color coordinated acoustic combo of guitar, bass, accordion and saxophone matched their musicianship with theatrical flair. They did a totally convincing bluegrass tempo version of “Hey Joe” and their closer “Young At Heart” had a Stanley Brothers yearning in the three-part vocals, and a sax solo that sounded like Michael Brecker on Saturday Night Live. The whole entertaining enchilada earned the boys a standing ovation. And with that the Amigos rode into the sunset.

Songs of the Fall is the Biblically loaded name for the new duo featuring Cia Cherryholmes (she of the former family bluegrass phenomenon) and Stetson Adkisson, a mega-tall and bearded country singer from Colorado. They’re married and show it in their on-stage simpatico and synergy. Cia’s fondness for minor key, Celtic-influenced melodies revealed itself through the six-song set, starting with “Talk About Suffering,” which was not the old folk/gospel classic but an original about the Devil. Yeah! “Wondrous Love” was in fact the familiar traditional song, and they made it rich with shape-note style harmonies in a cappella fashion. Stetson showed his warm baritone leading a country waltz called “Waves,” and they ended with a minor key banjo-driven roller.

Then on to the international portion of our program, starting with one of Canada’s most celebrated folk singers. And by folk singer (at least one of my useful definitions) I mean a guy who can delicately fingerpick on a guitar or banjo while telling stories extemporaneously with wit and charm. My brain won’t do those two things at once, thus ruling me out of folk singer status. But Old Man Luedecke does it like a master. And he’s not old at all. He’s a young dad of three who makes lovely albums, attracts high-level collaborators and who puts on an engaging show with smart songs that would appeal to fans of Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Paxton or Ian Tyson, a hero of Luedecke’s. There were sweet songs with rich lines. I loved “I Quite My Job” and “A&W Song,” an old-timey tune about first-world problems, like bad debit cards.

From Canada to Sweden we went, as we closed the night with bluegrass band G2. These guys show the extra dedication it takes to master bluegrass far from its home turf, and their sound is in tune with modernists like the Infamous Stringdusters and Frank Solivan. Tobias Stromberg plays hot-shot dobro, and Jens Koch keeps things moving on banjo. Their original songs are strong, and they can manhandle a classic, as they proved by ending the set at high speed on “Shenandoah Valley Breakdown.” Then Jim kept the bluegrass out front by leading the artists in a Loveless Jam version of Jimmy Martin’s awesome “Sunny Side of the Mountain,” which featured a sweet accordion solo by Amigo Sam Reider as well as ripping banjo/vocal work from Cia. It was the best possible send off for a guy who was in fact heading for sunny mountains.

We’ll see you all back at the barn and on the airwaves July 11.

Craig H.

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