Okay everybody. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths in and out. Find your center. Maybe now I know why Jim Lauderdale snuck off for a couple weeks of intensive Tai Chi in China this month. It’s been a hyperkinetic year, with outrages legitimate and fabricated. The news has been a blizzard of the inexplicable and the depressing and nobody’s got enough time but everybody’s got a half-baked opinion and a digital megaphone to shout it at you. So this year I’m particularly worn out and ready for something calm and bright.
Of course, we fortunate Roots-heads get our respite from the troubles of the world every Wednesday night. It’s my preferred form of alternative medicine. This week’s season-closing, year-ending Christmas show touched a lot of magic pressure points. The fantastic kids of the Music City Strings played sparkling walk-in music for us. We got cathartic laughs and smiles out of our first two acts, a farmer and a pirate. A jazz band reminded us how much we love great instrumentalists and the enlightenment of swing. Julie Lee soothed our souls with her inimitable voice. It was the long deep exhale we all needed, and after I file this report on our show and Fall 2014 season, I’ll happily turn off the computer and digital onslaught for a while.
A good holiday party needs mirth, and that came by the tractor and boat load from Farmer Jason and Pirate Tom Mason. In a world of Americana that can be too self-aware and cool, these are two guys who toss out inhibitions and inhabit their wild and wily characters to the hilt. Jason had tinsel on his red cowboy hat and red Chuck Taylors to go with his overalls. “Eat Your Fruitcake” was a rocker with a message. That message? Eat You Fruitcake and the world will be a better place, presumably because there will then be less fruitcake. He sang about a punk rock skunk and he did a full-on and lusty “Jingle Bells” with all known verses. Then Tom Mason took the stage with his pirate band, looking great and filling the hall with ale-house fiddle and pounding drums. They had some hearty lusty takes on Christmas, as in “Deck the Deck,” and they snuck “O Come Emmanuel” in to the album title track “World Ablaze” as if to say that despite the all too true title, everything just might be all right. And proving they’re gentle pirates, the final number somehow led to a sweet audience sing-along of “Silent Night.”
Into that becalmed atmosphere came The Gypsy Hombres, flashing fire from their fingers. So romantic and civilized, this style of music feels like a staple of the holidays for me. Peter Hyrka dazzled on the violin, by turns sweeping and lush or staccato and punchy. I’ve written a lot this year about Rory Hoffman, because his multi-instrumental skills are so consummate. He plays guitar horizontally in his lap and keyboard vertically on accordion, and those are just the superficial ways he’s a different kind of musician. Jeff Henderson kept things anchored with his bass, offering some great bowed parts and solos to boot. As they took on holiday favorites like “Let It Snow” and “Blue Christmas” I was amazed by how nimbly and how often the band shifts gears, from minor to major key, from foreboding to sweet. Their arrangements are difficult and dazzling. They earned a standing ovation without singing a word.
And that led up to Julie Lee and the Baby Daddies, who came right out of the gate with a warm, atmospheric sound so rich and complex it was hard to identify which musicians it was coming from. But that’s what you get with Jason Goforth on effects-enhanced harmonica and Kenny Vaughan on guitar. “Winter” was that first glorious tune. Then they kicked into a twangier, sprightlier mood with “Time Enough.” Our old favorite “Beautiful Night” felt great, sweeping along with grace, and the set-closing “Go Tell It On The Mountain” let everyone join voices in loud, proud communion.
So now under our belt are two seasons at Liberty Hall. Moving the show was definitely our top story and top task of the year, and believe me we feel very much at home at our end of the hall in The Factory. The space has solidity but not too much formality. The sound is fantastic. We are still getting to know our neighbors in Franklin and helping them to get to know us. But we’ve had some splendid shows that promise a bright future. You’ll have your own favorites, but mine include the innovative groove-grass of Front Country, the blue yodel of country breakout Taylor Brashears, the slicing electric blues of Selwyn Birchwood, acerbic social commentary and catchy verses from James McMurtry, New Orleans soul from Tommy Malone, true-life country songcraft by Angaleena Presley, father and son guitar fireworks from Pat and Jamie McLaughlin, Thanksgiving wonders from John Cowan and Mike Farris and of course the recent visit by the emotionally transparent Doug Seegers.
And there was so much more. Our team really packs it in and I’m so grateful for their efforts. And all of us are grateful to the artists who cooperate with sound check and fill out annoying paperwork to make sure we can webcast and share their music to the utmost degree. We’re deeply appreciate our sponsors and partners who throw in together to preserve the vital, rewarding parts of our music culture that get stiff-armed by the entertainment industry. Our goals in 2015 are to get on more radio stations around the nation and support Franklin TN in its efforts to raise its international profile as a nexus of great American music. Our second season on American Public Television debuts in February. So there’s a lot to look forward to. See you in the new year.