There’s a rap on California cuisine you might be familiar with if you’re a foodie. The locally grown ingredients out there are so good and so fresh that all a chef has to do is arrange them nicely on a plate, without having to commit to much actual cooking. I think we all felt a little like that last night, as we presented locally-grown, super-fresh songwriters at peak ripeness with almost no sauce or garnish. True songs, written with immense craft and heart, sung straight can be as satisfying as anything in music. And there remains a big, appreciative audience in Music City for this wonderful art, as evidenced by the sold out Loveless Barn last night.
Our scripture for the night was Marshall Chapman’s book They Came To Nashville, a collection of 15 interviews with important and charismatic country music artists and songwriters. Marshall marshaled several of those artists to come to play our stage, and she and I had great fun collaborating on loose, funny interviews with Bobby Bare, Mary Gauthier, Rodney Crowell and Don Henry.
Marshall herself got us started with a song dedicated to her late friend Tim Krekel and the always inspiring “I Love Everybody” with harmonica great Mickey Raphael making his first of many guest appearances. Then she turned the stage over to our unannounced guest star Bobby Bare, who commands a stage with ease and gravitas. He gave us “Streets of Baltimore” and “Margie’s At The Lincoln Park Inn” (a Tom T. Hall classic) and “Four Strong Winds” from the pen of Ian Tyson. It was as good a warm-up as one could hope for.
The always profound Mary Gauthier delivered some of her most cherished songs: “Drag Queens in Limousines,” the title track to her first widely heard album flowed woozily into “I Drink.” Meanwhile her favorite support musician Tania Elizabeth elevated the performance further with superb voice, fiddle and amplified feet, including a shaker on her ankle. Mary had the barn spellbound as well with her epic masterpiece “Mercy Now.”
Don Henry captivated as well, but more with humor and wisdom than flesh-piercing intensity. His song “Singing Like A Bird” is gloriously melodious and nostalgic. While “Back On The Farm” was a great twist on the lost-my-girl theme, with spot-on background vocals by Bill Lloyd and a sharp guitar solo by Danny Flowers. That’s the kind of night it was: surprise after surprise and backstage camaraderie that was pure Music City.
As if Marshall The Tall hadn’t delivered already, our final act of the night was Rodney Crowell, a guy whose work succeeds at so many levels one loses count. It was a treat to talk to him with Marshall about his recent book Chinaberry Sidewalks, a memoir of his parents’ life and his boyhood that’s won rave reviews – not to mention their shared history as Nashville newcomers working at TGIFriday’s, of all places. And when it came time for that main event, Mr. Crowell strolled on stage cool as could be and strummed an ancient Gibson and mesmerized. He offered a new song co-written with Mary Karr, the writer who mentored him on his way to the memoir. And apparently he nudged her into songwriting to such an extent that they’ve written an album together for release this Fall. “Anything But Tame” it seemed to be called, and it was a tour de force from a couple of folks who love language and who know what to do with it. He closed with the divine and tender “Memories of Us,” which left us all feeling a little more in love and a little more inadequate as songwriters.
Somehow, the gang brought closure to this spellbinding night a Loveless Jam on “Elvira.” It wasn’t the most sublime song of the night, but it was definitely the best with an “Oom-Paa-Paa-Mow-Mow” singalong. No doubt in my mind. Thanks Marshall for a great evening. And thanks everyone for coming to Nashville and staying and making it the most creative city in the world.