There’s a super-fan named Charles who comes to Music City Roots regularly who has this eccentric and endearing habit of carrying an hourglass – a big classic hourglass that looks like something in the window of an antique shop. At one level it’s ironic because we are a radio show without a so-called “hard clock.” We give the artists a target time, and we’re fine if they come up a few minutes short or long, and we end the show when it ends. Life, however, has its hard clocks, and at midnight (plus one second ) it’ll be 2017 whether we or you are ready for it or not. I know we’ve all had our heartbreaks and victories in the year past and most of us have some anxiety about the future, but personally, I continue to hold tight to art and the creative spirit as my rock. Because it’s eternal and comes from a place nobody can touch. It’s never let me down and I know it binds our community together like an energy field. We at Roots are so fortunate to kick off this new year imagining how to improve and grow on our partnership with WMOT and MTSU. What a vehicle for creativity that is.
But I must offer a few words about the year just past with its abundant music. Our year-end swan-song was a surprise event that came up with just two weeks’ notice. I hope you caught our day-long live stream from Gatlinburg, TN where MCR partnered with Ole Smoky Moonshine, Yee Haw Brewing and the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau to produce Mountain Tough, benefitting victims of the November wildfires. The event drew about 9,000 people in person and raised about $500,000. Dozens of musicians contributed to the music, from the famous to regional sons and daughters. The Zac Brown Band was the ostensible headliner, but a huge crowd was on hand for sets by Derek St. Holmes, Jason D. Williams and the Sam Bush Band.
We had weather that can only be described as miraculous, given the cold winds of the day before and the rain of the day after. Instead Mountain Tough required no toughness to be outdoors, with lovely clouds rolling across a blue sky and temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Also on stage, bringing a remarkable cross section of roots music, were: Chuck Mead, Jim Lauderdale, Randy Kohrs, The Secret Sisters, Scott Miller, Mo Pitney, Sarah Potenza, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, Firewater Junction, RB Morris, Carl Anderson, Bill Mize, Greg Reish and Chelle Rose. See photo highlights of the day by Shelly Swanger HERE. You can still donate to the Sevier County Community Fund to benefit fire victims HERE.
This marathon event came just days after our official season and year-ending show at the Factory in Franklin. The Kentucky Headhunters brought new songs from a new album and sounded no less feisty and committed than they did when they scored radio hits in the late 80s. They are eternal Southern rockers who know how to get the most out of classic solid body electric guitars. Hymn For Her swung through in their Airstream to rock our stage, with some twists. Wayne and Lucy’s daughter, who was just a babe when we first met her, is now old enough to sing “Sioux City Sue” with swing. And the duo offered a new 60s pop feeling with a song called “Milkweed” that I just flipped over. The Farmer & Adele brought classic country and western music to the stage with finesse and stagecraft. The Buckleys, a family band of all teens from Australia opened the night with brightness and innate talent.
Before I sign off for the year and set my mind to writing our preview for the Roots return on Jan. 11, I want to just offer up one more Best Of list (as if there weren’t enough) to mention what I thought were some of the most outstanding and memorable performances at MCR in 2016.
- In our first show of the year, Parker Millsap debuted (for us anyway) his song “Heaven Sent,” a prayer from a gay son to a preacher father and one of the most moving topical songs in recent memory.
- The Secret Sisters showed the definition of ‘sublime’ when they brought their tender vocal partnership to Liberty Hall on Jan. 13.
- Jan. 27 was the picture of Americana variety. Bill & The Belles showed vintage grace and their set became the first ever Music City Roots record release. The Chester Thompson Trio brought world-class jazz. And Blackberry Smoke wrapped the night with a masterful acoustic set.
- We honored SUN Records and Sam Phillips in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum with epic performances by Colin Linden, Shawn Camp & Billy Burnette, Luther Dickinson, Sleepy LaBeef and Bobby Rush.
- Our partnership show celebrating Berklee College of Music’s long running Nashville program brought Gillian Welch and David Rawlings to the show at last. Sierra Hull and Liz Longley were amazing. And Maureen Murphy delivered one of the greatest vocal performances in the show’s history.
- May 4 brought remarkable variety and quality with Liz Vice, the Bo-Keys from Memphis, bluegrass phenomenon Billy Strings and Austin showman Shinyribs. One of our A+ classics.
- Session Americana from Boston proved the unique magic that a collective of talent built around a bar residency can accomplish. That they were able to transfer it to the stage with a literal around-a-table format was astonishing.
- Sarah Potenza spearheaded a night of Divas of Americana with performances by herself, the McCrary Sisters, Christine “Bee Hive Queen” Ohlman and Bonnie Bramlett. Bramlett’s performance of “Superstar” to her old friend Leon Russell, on hand then and now deceased, was the most emotional moment in our show’s seven year history.
- Tommy Emmanuel on 6.15.16. No words could suffice.
- July 13 was another amazing variety-pak with Col. Bruce Hampton, Erin Rae, The Honey Dewdrops and the fiery string duo of Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley. One of my personal favorites of the year.
- Fiddle legend Mark O’Connor came by with his new family band during his amazing return to bluegrass, and the same night featured New Orleans brass band fun with Cha Wa. Fiddles and feathers flew.
- Our AmericanaFest show in Sept. was a folky affair capped off with a show-first appearance by the iconic Del McCoury Band.
- Oct. 12 looked like some special theme show with its world-class all-star lineup, but it was just a happy coincidence of schedules. Raul Malo came on stage solo to follow blockbuster sets by Davina & The Vagabonds, Paul Burch, Bryan Sutton and the San Rafael Band. Degree of difficulty: 10. He destroyed the place.
- And the final weeks of the year seemed to bring on a constellation of the new young starts of progressive bluegrass music, with sets by Joe K. Walsh, Kyle Tuttle, Jordan Tice and Chessboxer. The music is in great hands.
Time marches on. See you in 2017!