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Tommy’s Rock Opera – 8.30.15

We see a wide variety of instruments come and go across our stage. In recent weeks musicians have wielded sousaphone, accordion, congas, cello, trombone and at least a dozen more. Sometimes, though, all you need are bass, drums and electric guitars. And amps. Definitely amps. And thus it was this Wednesday at a jam-packed, electrically charged special edition of MCR, where the emphasis was on love, loyalty and rock and roll. Besides John Deaderick’s keyboard, which he played so well during the third set with DADDY, this night rang, crunched, thundered, soared and flailed exclusively with wire and wattage. It was righteous in its own right and extra meaningful because it was in a great cause – raising funds for the family of wounded roots rocker and Nashville mensch Tommy Womack.

It makes little sense to parse these performances in my usual granular way. As I’ve long said, rock and roll is like the musical atom. You can’t describe it without altering it. You can’t break it down without something blowing up. Either it rocks or it doth not rock, and this gang wrote the book on rock and roll Nashville style. Dan Baird, looking tip top in a top hat, lit the blowtorch with his quartet featuring Warner Hodges by diving straight into Dan’s biggest hit “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” from the Georgia Satellites days. Dan, 61 years young, sang defiantly and poignantly about aging in the music biz. And he segued from a Tommy Womack co-write into a rollicking “Proud Mary.”

Webb Wilder, in a fabulous paisley sport coat, said “This is The Factory. They make happiness here.” And then he took his place on the assembly line and did just that. The new stuff from the just-out Mississippi Moderne album felt great, especially “If It Ain’t Broke” with its slapping old-school R&B quality and nice duo descending guitar riff. Then what was first billed as Will Kimbrough and Friends became the full fledged DADDY with Lisa Oliver Gray singing and perfectly syncopated Paul Griffith on drums. Tommy himself left his family on the front row and took his place with this great band for performances of two of his most epic recitation ramble raps. “The Alpha Male And The Canine Mystery Blood” fed off itself and built from a stately pace to a forceful conclusion. There were huge standing ovations for Mr. Womack and for the collaborators with whom he’s been so very close. Their respect and affection for one another has always been obvious, and no more so than this evening.

Guest songs by Marshall Chapman and then Bill Lloyd offered fabulous bonus moments in a night full of moments. And those offerings set the stage for this rock opera’s fat lady, who sang like it was Wagner on steroids. Jason & The Scorchers go from zero to 100 faster than a Ferrari, and so it felt very sudden that this large room of smiling, slightly dazed looking Nashville music fanatics were enjoying the frenetic “Self Sabotage” and “Cappuccino Rosie.” Tommy came up to sing with Jason on their co-write “Going Nowhere,” which was the set’s most easy-going tune. Somebody on Twitter called “Broken Whiskey Glass” the national anthem, and it had that kind of grandeur.

They guys wrapped with a storm-front of sound on “I Can’t Help Myself,” but it was Jason’s words that best capped off the night. He talked about how in his home county in Illinois the farmers would come together and put rivalries aside to do a day of flash-mob farming when one of their own was laid out by illness or injury. He said he hadn’t seen that anywhere else except the musical community. “Musicians will come together for their friends,” he said. “I’m damn proud to be a musician.”

Musician Peter Cooper did a splendid, knowing job hosting the night. His take on Tommy Womack’s brilliantly reflective “Nice Day” made for a fine opening, and he kept a wild Nashville Jam between the guardrails as the assembled friends sang “Great Balls Of Fire.” With Warner, Will and Pat Buchanan on stage, there were multitudionous and magnificent guitar solos. Tommy was his usual magnanimous self. He took to Facebook to call the night the best of his life after his wedding and the birth of his son. That’s something to have been part of. Our hearts are as warm as a tube amplifier.

Craig H.

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