I almost never do this during a set, but last night I felt moved to hop up on the drum riser and snap a picture over the backs of the Hogslop String Band and toward a teeming dance floor beyond. And the image I got really struck me. A gauzy glow is studded with swags of dance hall twinkle bulbs. A banjo neck and a fiddle bow are trapped in light, and a smiling man in a white cowboy hat is cajoling the crowd through square dance moves. It’s a far cry from a Tony Scarlati photo, but I’ll always love it as a memory of a remarkable night. I tweeted it (natch) with something like ‘it feels like it’s 1929 in here,’ and that it did. The modern, mediated world was banished. With the side doors open and a clarifying breeze wafting into a Loveless Barn filled with music and laughter and swirling skirts, Music City Roots came unstuck in time.
Big blue ribbons go to our own AJ Trott for conceiving MCR’s first ever dance night and pulling off a varied lineup of danceable bands. The event overthrew Nashville’s dance-o-phobia and brought an entirely new and beautiful ambience to our show. It wouldn’t be as magic to do it this way every week, but I think we all came away believing that we’d birthed a new tradition. We don’t know when, but dance night will be back.
The show was book-ended with swing, and kicking things off was the delightful Christabel and the Jons, supplemented this time by Amanda Rose on clarinet and accordion and Leah Gardner on backing vocals. They opened with the wonderful Jean Shepard standard “Sweet Temptation” and it didn’t take long for a few pioneer dancers to test out our dance floor. We slid the pews into a nice large box with seating around the sides, and it seemed like that gave everyone the freedom to listen or boogie as they were so inclined. The opening band also scored approval for a harmony drenched take on Hank’s “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.”
Mod and hot-rod bluegrass was the one musical wild-card of our dance card, because the awesome band Monroeville doesn’t tend to attract the hippie-grass twirling set, and it’s a little hard to two-step to high lonesome. But after a few sharp self-penned numbers that featured their silken vocal blend, the fast-rising sextet whipped into Bill Monroe’s “Wheel Hoss.” Our pal the Tennessee Clogger appeared out of nowhere to buck dance madly and he was joined by a young lady in a gypsy skirt and bare feet. The band blazed and generated enough power that we could have sold some back to the grid.
Next was our square dance segment with the Hogslop String Band, a shambling crew of rustics hipsters that brought along not one but two callers. They gave a sort of pre-mission briefing to a bunch of eager cloggers at the set break, and then the band tore into full-bore old-time that cast the evening’s spell. I joined in on this one, because I’m much more comfortable dancing if somebody is hollering at me about what to do next. The band jammed through tunes with titles like “Ladies On The Steamboat” and “Hen Cackle” and they tacked on one or two well-deserved extras because folks were having so much fun.
I figured Bill Davis was going to really bring it last night because he’s been waiting his turn on stage for some time. So he threw himself a hell of a party, inviting a dozen other musicians to join him on stage, including Nashville hot-shots like guitarist Andy Reiss of The Time Jumpers. Bill’s songs and self-made arrangements are lush and a little quirky and decidedly him. I loved the instrumental motif and the grand Roy Orbison-ish vocals on “The Proposal” and his take on the difficult “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” was kind of fabulous. There was an early 60s Vegas orchestral thing about it. Bill wrapped with one of his trademark covers, the widely covered “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.” It’s a melody that Bill was born to sing.
That paved the way for the elegant and swinging Carolyn Martin. Her band is a ridiculous amalgamation of talent, including steel man Tommy Hannum, fiddler Billy Contreras and all around musical wizard Rory Hoffman, who last night played clarinet, accordion and sundry instruments. Carolyn told me in an interview that back in the Texas dance halls, bands would bail on a tune if the dance floor didn’t fill up in the first 30 seconds, and happily that wasn’t an issue last night. Stylish couples spun and caught each other with grace. And Carolyn sang with fire and flair on songs like “Skillet Blues” and the easy going “Tennessee Local.” A huge pleasant surprise was hearing her cover “Wine,” a song it took me a second to place before remembering it was written by our sometimes host Peter Cooper. A song well worth covering for sure. We let Carolyn play a long time. Nobody wanted it to end. Jim Lauderdale led one of the biggest gatherings of musicians we’ve ever seen on the old Western Swing standard “Take Me Back To Tulsa,” which I always thought would be a good Loveless Jam for its two-chords and the truth ease.
The whole night took us back a little, but it also maybe helped us realize that the good old days are actually right now.