Blog

group shot 9.20.17 RIGHT ONE.jpg

How was your AmericanaFest 2017? I’ve scarcely opened my laptop for days so it feels good to sit here on a lovely Sunday morning basking in the afterglow of a stellar week of music and camaraderie. Most impressive was seeing the united Roots crews – radio and show – work together to pull off an audacious and inspirational series of shows and a fabulous party in challenging circumstances. I will have much more to say about all this on WMOT.org early this week, but for now let me just congratulate our team on setting up a tent village and block party that presented 23 artists over three days, and that’s not counting other shows at The Basement, Family Wash, Wired In and more. The music was finely chosen and well presented with great sound and lighting. We were live on the radio more than...

more
group shot 9.14.17.jpg

On or about September 1, the morning air got cooler and fresher. And we heard, over the horizon, the approaching thundering hooves of the Americana Music Association Festival and Conference. AmericanaFest, our annual rite of Fall and musical family reunion, is set to be the biggest ever with nearly 300 artists performing across about 50 indoor and outdoor venues around Music City, from the funky American Legion Hall in far East Nashville to the Ryman Auditorium to the clubs in the Gulch. And speaking of centrally located, I am delighted to remind you, or to inform you if you didn’t get our recent news blast, that the Music City Roots AmericanaFest edition will not require a drive to Franklin this year.

Working with Yee Haw Brewing Co., WMOT Roots Radio,...

more
group shot 8.23.17 RIGHT ONE.jpg

Each of the bluegrass instruments has a particular story that connects the world with America. The banjo might be the most weighty, arriving from Africa as a direct result of the slave trade. The double bass came from the royal parlors of Europe’s baroque period. The mandolin is perhaps the most unusual. It’s derived from the lute and has been used by troubadours, chamber groups, full-on mandolin orchestras and, most pivotally for our story today, Bill Monroe. The mandolin found its way into American folk music in the 20s and 30s because there were so many of them in circulation after a popular wave of mandolin bands in the US at the turn of the century. They made a cutting, high counterpoint to other string instruments and the human voice. With Bill Monroe and the birth of bluegrass,...

more
charlie worsham blog pic.jpeg

Before Nashville, I’d never lived in a place where part of the regular conversation and social/cultural goings on was to figure out the essence of that place and to take active steps to get closer to its heart and soul. There was never a big emphasis on what does it mean to be from Chicago or Washington DC or Durham, NC, three of my other home bases. There is such a conversation about New Orleans and Austin. Music cities are like this. But I wonder if there’s any place more probative of its place-ness than Nashville. What I know is that it’s a healthy conversation to have and one that we are good at cultivating. When we partner with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as we did this Wednesday, our city’s essence comes into tighter focus. We’re elevated in our attention and...

more
group shot 8.16.17.jpg

Time’s funny. One minute, the 1970s feel like the recent past represented by pop culture talismans like John Travolta striding along with his paint can to “Staying Alive” and the original Star Wars. Then suddenly, the 70s are a fascinating historic era ripe for scholarship and museum displays. One is tempted to feel old. But more fun than that is to re-visit and re-consider the era of my childhood to discover the cultural and musical tides that were too sub-surface and interesting to make the hit parade then or the oldies stations now. What happened in Nashville around 1970? The answer proves so provocative and wonderful that it became a long-running and popular special exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame And Museum.

This week, MCR partners with the...

more
jam blog pic 8.9.17.jpeg

One geeky little game I play is to look for words that mean something good when they’re in one form and something bad in another, like the noun defeat means you lost, but the verb to defeat means you won. And if you “sell out” it means you might have licensed your badass indie rock song to Pampers for a commercial, but “a sell out” is a full house, the best you can hope for in show biz. And this week, we did it! We sold out without selling out. About 700 people were on hand in Liberty Hall to feel the groove of Seth Walker, the smart piano pop of Ele Ivory, the nutbag fusion of bluegrass and Top 40 that is The Cleverlys and finally, the fingers-a-flying guitar virtuosity of Tommy Emmanuel.

more
group shot 8.9.17.jpg

When Tommy Emmanuel played Music City Roots a little over a year ago, it was a major moment for us, a gripping set by an artist that we’d sought for a long time because he represents the pinnacle of a particular strain of roots music, specifically blues-based fingerstyle acoustic guitar. The Australian-turned-Nashvillian is a bona fide global star – a wizard of not only the six strings, but of stagecraft and performing. Many who are otherwise indifferent to virtuoso instrumental music become putty in Tommy Emmanuel’s hands at his live shows.

I had another coveted encounter with Tommy this spring when I interviewed him for my WMOT show The String and just about the first thing I asked...

more
jam 8.2.17 blog pic.jpeg

Family ties are part of the fabric of American roots music. How often have we read (and for Pete’s sake how often have I written) that Artist X “came from a musical family”? The connection among siblings and the passing of ideas across generations might be the central reason this music sustains, and that in turn sustains us. Wednesday night offered up heart lifting performances by a first son of bluegrass and a first brother of Americana soul, plus a delightful country newcomer and a set by our own soul brother Jim Lauderdale.

more
group shot 8.2.17.jpg

I wrote at WMOT this week about a new business school in Nashville that aims to train well-rounded music industry playas, from how to manage a tour to engineering a record. There’s no shortcut to any of that but there is one essential trick as recommended by a great engineer friend of mine who says it’s all about knowing your benchmarks. If you think earbuds sound good, you’ll never produce good sound. But if you want to know what a great recording of a band sounds like – if you’re searching for a fresh new standard for audio mastery – spend time with Jim Lauderdale’s new London Southern album. Recorded at Goldtop Studio in London with...

more
jam blog pic.jpeg

As I grew old and experienced enough to realize that in the wider world around me men had been strutting around for centuries acting like the superior gender, entitled as if by divine right to every possible advantage from “I get to be President” to “make me a sandwich,” I began to feel it must be some kind of cosmic joke subsumed under a grand conspiracy. From my point of view, just observationally and objectively speaking over my 50 years, in the vital human capacities of fortitude, patience, compassion, wisdom and just getting s&!% done without drama, women leave men gasping for air by the side of the road. Don’t get me wrong, my brethren include exceptional people and brilliant achievers. But as the old saying goes, women (when given the chance) match the best of us step for...

more
group shot 7.26.17.jpg

One of the things I love about the Formula One racing I follow is the heavy British tilt of the television commentary, because the guys are full of expressions we’re not used to hearing. One nice expression of when a driver, team and car are really working well is to say they’re “on song.” This week at Roots, we’re presenting four women who as writers and vocalists are all on song. Their variety and their stories suggest that the larger ecosystem of independent music, for all the lamenting that goes on out there, is also humming along - perhaps not Formula One fast and wealthy, but clicking on all cylinders just the same. These are mostly new artists to me (and all new to the show), so this will be a night of discovery. I’ll offer what I’ve learned about these women in show performance...

more
the jerry douglas band blog pic.jpeg

There was a festival atmosphere in Liberty Hall on Wednesday night and not just because the crowd was large and loud (though that helped). There was also that ineffable flow and unspoken dialogue among the four bands, softly conveying the spirit of roots music in all its complimentary forms. The timeless but mysteriously innovative folk/gospel flavor of Birds of Chicago gave way to the pure mountain-tinged songwriting of Jill Andrews. The bluegrass second half paired young and hungry Billy Strings with one of his heroes, the sixtysomething but unaware of it Jerry Douglas. His band came with a jazz/grass/rock fusion mode that tickled my every musical nerve ending. Keep on the grass? Good luck with that.

more
group shot 7.19.17.jpg

Bluegrass music and I had to work to find each other. Though I grew up in North Carolina, I did so in a classical music household with enough good indie music on the radio to keep me preoccupied until college. I knew naught of the high lonesome. Then, in Chicago of all places, a couple of cassette tapes and some thread-following from a Grateful Dead habit led me into a torrid love affair in the bluegrass promised land. I say bluegrass met me halfway because of the far-reaching, sophisticated vision and variety of the guys we know now as the Telluride House Band, especially Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas. Their albums with Tony Rice, Mark O’Connor, Stuart Duncan and others brought together everything I loved then and love now about music, from compositional intelligence to...

more
jam 7.12.17 blog.jpeg

Like a meal in four courses that compliment but don’t overlap, Wednesday’s Roots delivered exquisite versions of four stages of country music evolution. From the sturdy and often elegant string band sound of Tim O’Brien we hyped things up a bit to a (drumless) electric honky tonk vibe with Greg Garing. Chelle Rose, East Tennessee’s answer to Townes Van Zandt, delivered literate, narrative-heavy songs with drums and measures of grungy power. And while less twangy or bluesy than the rest of the flight, Allen Thompson showed us the chemistry that results from a band of friends singing well-crafted songs that march along in classic Americana fashion. It was the first show of a blazing July, but it was a wry heat.

more
group shot 7.11.17 right one.jpg

The order of a piano keyboard is easy to discern: half steps up and down in a single row, 88 notes wide. A guitar or banjo neck has no less design, but the steps connecting the tones and rows of octaves take more than intuition to understand. But the human voice and human condition? Well you can forget about diagramming that or connecting its dots and lines. We are infinite, and it’s the artist’s job to plum those depths and present something we can grasp and count on and touch and feel. It’s so crazy that it shouldn’t work. But it does, especially in the hands of artists like the ones I’m looking at here in our Summer 2017 opening show. This is a rarified group of roots musicians, each with his or her specific touch and life experience. Artists like these are why I remain utterly...

more
group shot 6.21.17.jpg

Little known fact here, but Wednesday June 21 is Make Music Day. Of course we like to think of every day that way, but this event, launched in France 35 years ago and bolstered now in the US by the folks behind the NAMM instrument trade shows, is a global celebration that invites everyone who can and is inclined to perform in public. The official language captures it: “Every kind of musician — young and old, amateur and professional, of every musical persuasion — pours onto streets, parks, plazas, and porches to share their music with friends, neighbors, and strangers.” Naturally, Nashville gets in on the action in a big way, thanks to the organizing efforts of Matt Fox and Alan Fey. Find...

more
jam blog pic 6.14.17.jpg

One’s affection for music shifts over the years I think from a rapturous, new-romance phase as a young person to a kind of gratitude and spiritual solace in the second half of life. Now, I only turned 51 on this week’s Flag Day show day so hey, maybe I’m not halfway home yet, but I respect probabilities so, you know… For years I’ve mostly regarded my birthday as a sobering semi-event; I can think of several times each year I’m more inclined to happy dancing. But a lot of nice love and friendship does flow one’s way in the social media era, and one needs to be mindful of blessings at times like this, and I have many. That said, music is my anchor and my scripture, and while every week at Roots is a joy, this week’s hearty blues and passionate songwriting felt especially cathartic.

more
group shot 6.14.17 right one.jpg

I had hoped to be writing prose in praise of Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson at this point, but as we all know, some things are more important than music. So I begin this week by sending our team’s thoughts and prayers out to the rock and roll matriarch instead. Wendell Goodman, Jackson’s husband since 1961 and long time right hand man road manager, passed away unexpectedly in late May, just hours after she’d played gigs in Nashville and Birmingham. She’s thus in the midst of one of life’s most difficult trials and adjustments. We wish Wanda and her family well.

That said, we’ve got another senior roots music star on our lineup, along with a celebrated Rounder Records songwriter and a couple of acts that stepped up to the call when we needed to make some late breaking...

more
rhonda and daryle blog pic.jpg

Nashville is en fuego. The city’s filling up for the CMA Music Festival. The airport and highways are busily channeling music freaks out to Manchester for Bonnaroo. And everybody is flipping out about the Nashville Predators who will play for the Stanley Cup on Sunday night at home on Lower Broadway. It’s bigger, wilder, louder and richer than I ever imagined the city would be when I moved here twenty years ago. And it’s amazing. There’s just a glow and a wonder for most people, and if you want to avoid the whooping bridal parties on pedal taverns, there are plenty of places to hang out with good folks and good music that have nothing to do with that noise. Such as Music City Roots. On this week’s show, quite a few people found their way to the Factory for a bracing night of mostly...

more
Group Shot 6.7.17.jpg

I recently got to work up a story for WMOT about songwriter Jon Byrd’s final shows at Charlie Bob’s, a Dickerson Pike diner in Nashville that’s being torn down, and my emphasis was on the special beauty of country music at “human scale,” when the singer is just a few feet from the audience and there’s a palpable connection that elevates the emotion and the stories. Country music is a chemical fusion of that ethos with sounds and genre signifiers that bond us with each other and with the past. The blue notes and the sonorous and plaintive voice, the twang and yearning of steel guitars are all signals to the heart and mind that all is well, that you’re in familiar territory, if not home. This week’s Roots looks stellar all...

more
roadkill ghost choir blog pic.jpg

We love a crowd that hoots and hollers and we had a live one this week at the Factory. Part of the energy came from locals out to cheer their hometown bar band heroes the Natchez Tracers. And more came from overseas groups, one from Nashville’s sister city in Germany and one especially cheerful gang from Australia. That suits us perfectly. Pick locally and dream globally is our motto. Well, it’s not actually but it sounds good. Not only did the night have a particular chemistry, matching a solo fingerpicker with three very different bands, it featured a tent revival miracle wherein Jeff Austin found his lost voice.

more
group shot 5.31.17.jpg

Back when I worked at The Tennessean with Peter Cooper (who hosts this week’s show by the way), I learned that he and I had diverging views on the whole jam band thing. Once he asked me about Phish: “does the good lyric fairy ever visit them?” As if I was prepared to or would ever argue that “Fluffhead” is in the same literary category as “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Well no, it’s not and I wouldn’t. We just generally and temperamentally tap in to different aspects of music. He’s a song guy (as proven by the many excellent examples he’s written) and I’m a sound guy, wired for rhythm, dynamics, counterpoint, dissonance and other musical delights well before I think about the cerebral magic of a great story or message. Americana in general is more song-oriented and ambivalent about the...

more
john nemeth blog pic.jpg

There have been multiple accounts of what Mipso means, including a Japanese phrase that suggests something familiar but with a hint of strangeness. That sure fits with not only their music but much of the progressive roots we seek out. And it could cover well the insightful music of this week’s MCR, which kicked off with the stellar North Carolina band bearing that weird name and cruised through country, Memphis blues and a classic Nashville songwriting duo.

more
group shot 5.24.17.jpg

Wednesday night’s gathering of the Roots clan will be an opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of Cowboy Jack Clement, the kindly and eccentric genius songwriter and producer who passed away in 2013. One of our guests, the songwriting entrepreneur Matt Urmy, was a great friend and protégé of Jack and arrives with an album Jack produced before his studio burned up in a bad fire. For a while, we explored the idea of a night formally paying tribute to Cowboy Jack but the right mix didn’t come together. That said, looking at this week’s lineup, with its variety and individuality, I feel sure Cowboy would have loved this week’s show. And I’m sure you will too.

The full story of Urmy’s new Out Of The Ashes album is quite something, the stuff of song....

more
jam blog 5.17.17.jpg

One way to spend an ideal night is to hop around to four music venues seeing one great band at each place, but really how often does that work out? Better to get one Music City Roots ticket and have four great bands parade by you, ending up with the grand marshal himself, a showman who leaves it all in the street. Wednesday 5.17 certainly kept the attention of one and all, as the route wended from Colorado newgrass to romantic folk to country rock and whatever it is David Mayfield does.

more
group shot 5.17.17.jpg

As far as I know there’s only one figure in the contemporary roots music community who can pick “Blackberry Blossom” like a boss and also do a tumbling run that ends in a cheerleader split (not at the same time, but I wouldn’t put it past him). If David Mayfield came into your mind just now then you get an Americana cookie, because that’s who I was thinking about! It’s been too long since we saw and heard from the bearded weirdo, but he brings his always explosive sense of entertainment to the Factory this week along with a great roots rock band, a mod folky couple and a quintet from Colorado that split the bluegrass atom. Let’s take them in order of appearance.

more
jam pic blog.jpg

We know a classic when we see one, hear one, feel one. Forgive me for sounding like a Cadillac ad voice over or something, but seriously, sometimes there’s just an ineffable sense that something beautiful and meaningful is unfolding. And while we can’t pull that off every single week, we try to put the pieces in place for a chemical reaction. And this week it happened. There was combustion and satisfaction. We ranged across the country and across roots music terrain with acoustic grand master Tony Furtado from Portland, OR, Texas-raised songwriter Curtis McMurtry, Colorado polyethnic joyride Gipsy Moon and veteran John Jorgenson’s remarkable bluegrass band.

more
group SHOT 5.10.17.jpg

One of my most diverting surprises along my life’s journey into roots music and bluegrass was discovering the sub cult within Americana that loves the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. It was revelatory to know that decades before Doc Watson and Jimi Hendrix there was a guitar player as fiery and finessed as the three fingered Frenchman, who revolutionized his instrument before dying at the tragically young age of 43. The music had its own remarkable vocabulary and vibe, and more courageous bluegrass pickers and fiddlers love jamming on its repertoire, such as “Minor Swing” and “Swing 42.” One of the most notable contemporary practitioners of the spiky, speedy sound is playing our show this week, and while he’s bringing his bluegrass band to Roots, John Jorgenson is never far from the...

more
Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.20.42 AM.png

“Turn On Your Love Light” is a fascinating song that’s been all over the world of music since it was written by Joe Scott and recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1961. The Grateful Dead made it a core of its repertoire and played on it for 45 minutes at Woodstock. It was a staple of Van Morrison’s first band and was part of what helped Them (the band was actually called Them) get signed. It’s been covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Seger, Tom Jones, Conway Twitty and The Blues Brothers. What a variety show. And it will forever be marked as the song that the great Col. Bruce Hampton was jamming on when he collapsed and died on May 1, 2017. Our final band this week, Great American Taxi, had direct connections to and huge admiration for Col. Bruce, and we have been remembering this musical...

more

great american taxi promo pic.png

So did y’all catch that news about the Fyre Festival? As good people, we try not to indulge in schadenfreude, but sometimes man, wow, it’s hard. In short, a rap celebrity and a dudebro with a track record of over-selling and under-delivering promised a glamour-packed, celebrity-stoked par-TAY on a remote island and promoted it by paying other celebrities to post on Instagram about it. It was a fiasco, not because the whole premise was culturally bankrupt and morally suspect (which it was), but because they didn’t PLAN. You have to plan, folks. For example, on the same weekend, two other festivals – much bigger ones – came off without a hitch. Merlefest in North Carolina and JazzFest in New Orleans actually served up authentic music, genuine community, good food and good times for fans...

more
jam pic 4.26.17.png

It’s not as easy to go to Merlefest as it used to be in my footloose, sleeping-on-the-ground-is-fine days. So it’s wonderful to annually have a mini-Merlefest of our own at Music City Roots. The sampling of Merle-bound artists always refreshes and always seems to spotlight the very best of progressive traditional music. This week’s heavily attended show was no exception.

more
Merlefest V: Revenge of the Pickers

In our spare time, we’ve been studying show business, just in case there are any tips or tricks that could make Music City Roots an even bigger blockbuster than it already is. And we’ve learned something. Were you aware that in Hollywood, they have what one might call a “formula” where popular movies are made and released AGAIN and AGAIN with a slightly new title every year or two, forever? Wow, this is clever! They barely have to do any new creative work and the fans come back, year in year out. I must say I was surprised to learn of this scheme. So simple! So effective!

We’re about to release the fifth edition of our franchise celebrating Merlefest, the Western North Carolina mega-festival, not because it’s good box office (though it tends to be) but because Merlefest speaks to...

more
4M4B9835-Edit-1024x645.jpg

Review by guest host and interview guy Jon Weisberger

Historians can and do debate the circumstances under which rock and roll was born, but there’s no debating the fact that modern-day rockers who capture the excitement of that initial blast are rootsy as all get-out, nor that said beginning was propelled by a mix that included plenty of blues and hillbilly progenitors. This week’s show covered a couple of bases with Sunny Sweeney’s nothing-but brand of country and Bella Hardy’s evocative British folk, then took a turn into the front porch blues shouting of Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band before landing in Blackfoot Gypsies’ primal rock and roll. Lineages notwithstanding, it was roots everywhere you looked.

more
sunny.jpg

In a recent episode of the WMOT/Roots Radio/Bluegrass Situation show and podcast Hangin’ and Sangin’ (Sun. at 6:30 am and Tues. at 9 pm), country artist Sunny Sweeney tells host Kelly McCartney that she’s been on a ten year quest toward full control over and full understanding of her method, her art and her message. At least that’s my interpretation of her remarks about self-starting as an indie Texas musician, getting signed to a major Nashville label and pivoting back to an indie posture (via Thirty Tigers) where she’s in charge. In that episode, Sweeney talks about her “introspective” new project called Trophy, telling us that “there are songs and subject matter on there that I have not and would not have talked about until now.”

Sunny’s courageous personal...

more
Review: Holcombe, Cash and more!

A special charismatic energy always attends the arrival of La Terza Classe, the old time string band quintet from Naples Italy. I’ve rarely seen people who seem so glad to be alive, on the road, playing music. And they were just part of a gathering tribe of visitors on a rapturously gorgeous spring evening this week. Beloved Nashville bass player Dave Roe and drummer Rick Lonow were on hand. Friendly Mike Webb was in the green room too. My good Tulsa-based friend Jared Tyler was in town to play and sing with Malcolm Holcombe. And I even had my own family on hand to supplement my Roots family, with my wife and daughter accompanying relatives from Texas. So the stage was set for a warm and sunny show at the end of a warm and sunny day.

more
MMM-1.jpg

We all know about one-hit-wonders, but let’s think instead about a related phenomenon in popular music in which artists with a complex personality and a deep catalog of creativity become welded in mainstream awareness to a single song, a greatest hit. The citizen music fan may take one of three roads: 1) You have my attention so I’ll dive deep and take in the scope of your career. 2) I don’t like your hit so the rest of your music must sound be boring, so see ya later. And 3) I’ll hear your song on the radio forever and never think about anything else you might have done.

Most of America kind of lolls along acting like complacent Threes, but that’s a whole other issue. Instead, as we consider this week’s fabulous and diverse lineup at Roots, I want to talk about my own belated,...

more
17_04_12-carousel.png

The recent passing of Leonard Cohen filled the air with reflections and impressions of a great artist with an unconventional gravel-strewn voice, a chiaroscuro worldview, a profound sense of romance and a poet’s fierce command of language. As I reviewed the catalog and history of Malcolm Holcombe to preview this week’s show, I was struck that many of the phrases and praises directed at Cohen could apply to this bard from Buncombe County, NC. They are both utterly original songwriters who seem to have been called to their jobs by a need to reconcile the incalculable and process the contradictions of the human condition. Malcolm returns to Roots this week with yet another superb album from his second act as a musician, a revival that’s been more focused and less fraught than his first....

more
Jam.1.18.17-1024x474.jpg

I got to meet country singer and songwriter Cody Jinks on Wednesday, and I am pleased to report that, as his album title asserts, he is Not The Devil. While his merch is full of flaming skulls and his web site depicts him as the black-bearded former death metal artist turned honky tonker that he is, the man himself is an open, smiling and considerate guy. He hung out after the show greeting and meeting with his fans and taking pictures as long as any artist I can remember. At the same time, he had a fire behind his eyes and about a million miles under his rings and tattoos, and our on stage conversation felt far too short. It was just one highlight of a flavorful night of music. Somebody must have brought some salt. And indeed it wasn’t just Old Salt Union who did so. Peter Case showed...

more
17_03_29-carousel.png

The great American composer Charles Ives said something remarkably prescient some time before he died in 1954: “The future of music may not lie entirely with music itself but rather in the way it encourages and extends, rather than limits, the aspirations and ideas of the people, in the way it makes itself a part with the finer things that humanity does and dreams of.” This is, I’d emphasize, before blues, soul, folk and gospel became the enabling sound track of the Civil Rights Movement. Before hip-hop gave voice to a marginalized swath of American life. Before the less pivotal but still culturally invigorating Americana renaissance of song and non-commercialized, communal connection. At this precarious time, when people we’ve entrusted to protect our core institutions are instead...

more
DSC_6694-1024x684.jpg

It’s a big country, this America, and Americana music is concomitantly enriched by its host nation’s geography and diversity. That was on display Wednesday night as Roots hosted artists from New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Washington. Strings were stretched, along with rules and genre boundaries. There’s no point in reaching for a fancy way to say it. This one was a delight and the crowd seemed to agree, what with all the frequent standing and applauding.

more
LonelyHeart-banner-768x259.jpg

You may know that I’m kind of obsessed with string metaphors. I have a 10-year-old (poorly maintained) blog called String Theory and a live show by the same name. My Sunday talk show on WMOT just had to be called The String because it just wouldn’t let me call it anything else. From the cosmic theory that all matter is made of subatomic vibrating strings to the ties that bind us and the threads that run through history, I can’t find anything that’s not part of a string. And of course our American music cosmos wouldn’t be what it is without a whole lot of taught parallel wires on acoustic instruments. You might say it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that string.

With The Lonely Heartstring Band, we’ll be experiencing one of the most dynamic and important young groups...

more

There’s a new eatery in The Factory at Franklin that’s offering what is, for Williamson County, a slightly exotic new pre-show dinner option. Funk Seoul Brother has a hip hop esthetic and a Korean/Japanese menu with poke (PO-kay), the rice bowl featuring raw fish. My tuna and seaweed this week was zesty and contrasty and a tiny offering to the gods of global cultural exchange. With the right taking illiberal positions against pluralism and the left taking illiberal positions against what it calls “cultural appropriation,” I’m up for anything that affirms the values of dialogue and, well, cultural appropriation, because without that, we’d not have the grand American music legacy. Melting pots make a lot of sound, and we aim to be there with microphones. Which brings me to 7 pm on...

more
1000.jpg

17_03_22-carousel.png

It is a sad week in American music as we must say a final farewell to the brilliant, complicated and world-changing artist Chuck Berry, who died on Saturday at age 90. The rock and roll pioneer had a bridge-building vision that allowed him to fuse rhythm and blues and pop into a movement that had potency beyond music. It give young generations a voice in culture and lay the roadbed toward Civil Rights. Yet beyond even that, the immortality of Chuck Berry will be in his songwriting. It’s a well so deep that Bob Dylan called him Shakespeare. Take a song like “Memphis,” which has more story packed in 165 words than should be possible, with a man pouring his heart out to a nonplussed phone operator as he seeks his Marie with every clue he can come up with. And there’s the twist where we...

more

Some artists who write instrumental tunes claim that naming them is difficult. I don’t know. I’m always coming up with weird phrases that seem to have no other purpose on Earth other than to be a jazz or fiddle tune, some of which are named with surreal panache. Consider two of the tunes April Verch played in her show-opening set of Canada-inspired traditional music: “Spider Bit The Baby” and “Joke On The Puppy.” One has to wonder what circumstances way back wherever in time led somebody to affix those words to those churning bundles of notes and rhythms. In my mystery lies stories of our own making. That’s what’s fun about instrumental music in general; we can bring a lot of ourselves to a tune’s meaning when the singer isn’t telling us what to think. Even so, on this balmy March 1...

more
17_03_01-carousel.png

Everything about Spring is early this year from the flowers on the trees to the warm temperatures to our own show’s Spring Break. Welcome friends, earlier than ususal, to our final Winter show of the year. Setting aside that gnawing climate change anxiety, let us meditate on the roots and branches across Middle Tennessee that are waking up and spreading their tendrils into new dirt and new sky. I think this show has that kind of feeling. In one early March evening, we’ll hear exceptional contemporary takes on: funky 1970s soul, Canadian folk music, romantic indie-pop and Fillmore-heyday rock and roll. There are worthy notes and news to pass on about all four of our guests this week so I’ll go in show order.

This week is an auspicious time for an visit from fiddler/singer/dancer...

more

Even with all of the cool country music fashion we’ve seen over the years, Jim Lauderdale’s Manuel suits included, nobody has ever made me drop my jaw and exclaim out loud like Ward Hayden’s Tex-Mex suit of flowers and jewels on Wednesday night. It was black with tightly embroidered vines and blooms and just covered like a mirror ball with rhinestones. He wore it well and led Girls Guns and Glory in a set that easily justified the audacious accouterments. It was one quarter of a night that delivered half bluegrass and half rocking country and 100% well written songs.

more
17_02_22-carousel.png

The theme of Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, where I’m filing this dispatch, was “Forbidden Folk: Celebrating Activism in Art,” and heaven knows our community, our whole national community, is mobilizing like we’ve not seen in decades. I’ve heard many shades of anthems, declarations, pleas and protests, but it’s not been as confrontational as some might imagine. The overwhelming impulse is not to sing at but to sing with, and a few artists have told me they’re more interested in using music to build bridges and heal ruptures in a polarized land than to express anger or frustration. A large gathering took to the roof of the hotel to sing “We Shall Overcome,” yet an all-star group of artists concluded an episode of...

more
BD1A3163-Edit-Edit-1024x671.jpg

I don’t often lead these reports with our Nashville Jam, but sometimes our show-closing, all-hands feature goes exceptionally well. And this week it felt like some cathartic starburst that brought together all of the energies and chemistries of the nights four acts. And that is exactly what it’s supposed to do under ideal circumstances. The song was “Why You Been Gone So Long?” from the pen of Mickey Newbury. A lot of us bluegrass heads glommed on to the song as recorded by Tony Rice. But my research says it was first recorded by the long forgotten Johnny Darrell in 1969 with a dank electric guitar twang and a twisty beat. And that’s the beat that Jim Lauderdale (who was back after a few weeks of being gone so long – why?) set up as Nikki Lane, Michaela Anne, Paul McDonald and Parker...

more

We in Americana-land are always going on about authenticity and its many meanings and implications. Not that we insist that singers of country music come from the country, but we do basically expect that an artist is figuratively coming from someplace that’s true to themselves and not putting on a costume or show-biz affectations that beg the entire world to click their “like” button and make them rich. Many Americana artists share a kind of street-clothes simplicity in their stagecraft that scans as authenticity. But one also has to be ready to enjoy those rarer Americana artists who take on a big persona and dashes of rock and roll fashion and attitude. Aaron Lee Tasjan’s glam mirror suit comes to mind. And so does this week’s featured artist...

more

Later this month (2/23), the series SUN Records premieres on CMT, with music supervision by friend of the show and friend of hillbilly music Chuck Mead. We’ve been thrilled to follow Chuck’s journey on this unexpectedly large gig. Years ago he was hired to keep the music real in the then off-Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet. It grew into a global award winning phenomenon. This week we got to hear Chuck perform his own music again for the first time in a while, and he was part of our own quartet of Nashville artists. Worth a million? Who’s to say. What’s fair to notice, I think, is that for ten bucks, it was a very good deal.

more
17_02_8-carousel.png

One of the more enlightening and enlivening ways to start your week is dropping by Tommy Womack’s web world for his “Monday Morning Cup of Coffee” video series. It’s cathartic indeed to sip the black nectar along with our roots rock hero and join the emphatic “Ahhhhhhh” that follows.

This week, Tommy previewed the impending visit of his legendary rock band Government Cheese to Roots with some droll asides and some reminiscences about their glory days on the road: “We used to carry table lamps around with us and tape them to the top of our amplifiers to give the stage a sort of living room feel, but...

more

We at Roots probably have you conditioned by now so that when we say “bluegrass” you know we mean the whole range, from roots to branches. Our all-bluegrass shows generally include a Greensky or a Sam Bush Band, because one of the greatest things about the field is its freedom. It’s one of the ultimate artist-driven, innovation-friendly genres and we’ll always celebrate that. But this week was different – a turn toward bluegrass fundamentalism if you will. It was all trad. No rad. And boy was it excellent.

more
17_02_1-carousel.png

As January turns to February, many people slide into the mid-winter blues. But a hale and hearty group of American music fans and music makers take up banjos against their sea of troubles and head to Nashville for mid-winter bluegrass instead. The gathering has a grand name – the Society For The Preservation of Bluegrass in America – and a weird acronym, SPBGMA, pronounced SPIG-ma. But if you’ve ever visited the ballrooms and halls and suites of the Airport Sheraton in Nashville during the event, you know what a high-energy, high-joy place and conference it is. So while we didn’t set out to design a SPBGMA show per se, the confluence of bluegrass bands in town this week made an all-bluegrass lineup almost inevitable and, as Bill...

more

Soul is that staggeringly overused but somehow necessary word in music writing, and don’t even get me started on “soulful.” Yes, I’ve used it. Yes, it’s a crutch. And yes, it is real. We heard it in a couple of bands this week that I think are going to be lighting up your concert calendars for years to come. This week, with tons to do, I’m leaning less on text and more on the photos of guest photographer and Roots social media sister Jacqueline Justice.

more
Cicada-Rhythm-Promo-pic-e1481437493224-1024x695.jpg

Every now and then in this journal I am prompted to remark on and refresh my own appreciation for music’s capacity to surprise and thereby achieve something insanely rarified and special in this journey we call life. As we age, we are subject to repetitions of everything until, despite ourselves, we grow inured. Even in our delightfully diverse field of roots/Americana music, the nuances that distinguish one rad/trad band from another can be subtle indeed. We who adore this music can appreciate the abundant quality and integrity out there without necessarily feeling that rush of utter novelty and distinctiveness. But then, it happens. A song begins with the same old instruments but an arresting jolt. The feeling may not even be entirely pleasurable, but inexplicably...

more
NashJazzOrchSlide-1024x572.jpg

TICKETS TO SEE THE NASHVILLE JAZZ ORCHESTRA WITH DARRELL SCOTT, ELIZABETH COOK, JOHN COWAN AND THE MCCRARY SISTERS ARE ON SALE NOW AT THIS LINK.

Our executive producer John is a music man through and through. I’ve seen this son of the Motor City, a long time rock and blues guitarist himself, swoon with emotion over everything from Chinese zither to old time fiddling. He also loves jazz. So to explain what’s up I quote him:

...

more
Carousel-1.18-1024x576.jpg

From upper left: Jesse Kramer, Cody Jinks, Colin Hay, Old Salt Union, Peter Case.

What do a Scottish-born Australian pop rock star of the 1980s and a bearded former thrash metal singer who now plays hard country music have in common? Just about nothing, except that both are scheduled to play Music City Roots this week, and we take a lot of pride in that diversity. Colin Hay, veteran of Men At Work and now an acclaimed songwriter/solo artist, and Cody Jinks, a rising star of Americana twang, will make for that ideal textural contrast that makes everything taste and sound better. Plus three other bands on a rare five-artist night promise a show with a full house, a lot of energy and memories you’ll carry through this year. It would be hard to top last week’s season opener...

more
Greyhounds_PressPhoto1-1024x485.jpg

When C. Montgomery Burns, the evil plutocrat and environmental despoiler of Springfield says it on The Simpsons, he taps his fingertips together and smiles malevolently as he contemplates his victims running for their lives. When we release the hounds in a new year and season of Music City Roots, it’s with giddy excitement of a much funkier and more loving nature. Because it heralds the return of Greyhounds, the Austin ensemble that remains among my top five MCR discoveries of all time. I was so jazzed by their January 2015 performance that a few nights later I drove 20 miles out to Leiper’s Fork in frigid weather to see them again. They contribute to a splendid opening night lineup that also includes a fascinating France-based Englishman, a splendid “brother” band with no brothers and...

more
AAA-Final-Jam-1024x705.jpg

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...

more
16_12_14-carousel.png

Our fabulous photographer Shelly Swanger was on site all day capturing images from the remarkable lineup at Mountain Tough, which raised $500,000 for the victims of the Gatlinburg fires. Here’s a sampling from the day.

more
AA_Salute_Rorey-1024x762.jpg

zacBrown-1024x579.jpg

The culture and people of East Tennessee are never far from our minds at Music City Roots, because the region is such a hotbed of traditional American music. That ground produced legends, of course, including Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins. But we know it as the home and/or origin of artists moving us today: Blue Highway, Bill & The Bells, Ed Snodderly and Trey Hensley to name a few. So the devastation of the Gatlinburg fires left scars on us too. And it was bad, folks. Thousands of structures, most of them homes, burned to the ground and downtown was severely impacted, as you can see from this chilling interactive map.

This week we were invited in to an effort to help. So on...

more
16_12_7-carousel.png

We’ve lost a heart-breaking congregation of musical greats in 2016 but I’d not want some of the big rock and roll memorials to overshadow the passing of the amazing Jean Shepard, who died in late September at the age of 82. Many artists earn the “pioneer” label in one way or other, but I don’t see how one could face wider, denser uncharted territory than being a solo female hard country singer in 1952. Only Kitty Wells’ success broke the path before Shepard, and nobody in the business thought that women would ever have long lucrative careers as solo singers. Jean became of course a grand lady of the Grand Ole Opry and one of the coolest figures in American culture, a brassy and independent woman whose laments against a steel guitar inspired Loretta and Tammy and all who came...

more
11.30.16-Cover-1024x577.jpg

11.30.16-Banner-1024x576.jpg

How’s everybody feeling? Lazy? Full? Temporarily and blissfully anesthetized by turkey tryptophan and wine? Well you deserve it. It’s been a long year. If you are part of our tribe, as I suspect you may be, your holiday feast came with four hearty helpings of great music at our Thanksgiving Eve show. Since then it’s been all quiet on the home front. And having a little extra time to reflect on the artists from last and next Wednesday has been fabulous. I wish I could give all of them more attention here, but as always, these dispatches are designed to merely start your journey. Follow the links. Listen to these remarkable musicians. Replay MCR on demand. And mostly, come join us for our final three weeks of the year. We’re offering so much for so little you’d think it must be...

more
16_11_23-carousel.png

11.16.16-Jam-1024x695.jpg

11.16.16-Art-1024x576.jpg

Two music cities that could scarcely be more different in tone, history, climate, architecture or sound will shape Music City Roots this week. But that’s what’s grand about America and Americana. Boston is the epitome of the old Eastern fine arts, and it has a decades old bluegrass scene as well. Improbably, those spirits have come together through the music academies there – Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory – where pickers have gathered to learn the wily inner ways of music theory and produced a magical body of bands and work. Meanwhile, Austin is the Texas-sized Mecca for any just about any form of organic music built around guitars and songs. Mexican food’s better than Boston too. It never occurred to me before that these great cities rhymed. Somebody should...

more
11.9.16-Pic-1024x571.jpg

16_11_09-carousel-1.png

Do you share my cellular-level love for the round, chiming sound of undistorted electric guitars, especially those of the Rickenbacker and Fender Telecaster species? It’s the bright light that seems to explode out of the speakers at the opening of The Byrds doing “Turn, Turn, Turn” or R.E.M. kicking off “Don’t Go Back To Rockville.” It’s a sound that made its way from Buddy Holly to Britain and the Beatles and back to the U.S., ultimately to be recognized as a key part of a sparkling sub-genre called power pop, wherepretty guitar meshes with sunny vocal harmonies and hot beats. That’s all over-simplified, but if you wanted to know the deep story, ask our guest this week Bill Lloyd, because he’s been designated...

more

The Honeycutters return to MCR this Wednesday. Photo by Scarlati.

I was raised on National Public Radio. From the time I was in middle school, All Things Considered played quietly on the kitchen counter while dinner was being prepared. Almost as soon as I was driving I was having “driveway moments,” when some narrative story was too compelling to stop in the middle. Later on I worked for NPR as a freelance producer and reporter, and I’ve always valued both local and national public radio for its calm, reasonable tone and fact-driven reporting in a world going media mad all around it. Now we at MCR are involved in the life of an NPR network station in WMOT, and that’s exciting, opening up new avenues for distribution and hopefully some street cred among public radio listeners...

more
10.26.16-Jam-1024x505.jpg

16_10_29-carousel.png

When we last saw the String Wizard John McEuen on our stage, the Christmas season was underway and Liberty Hall glowed with sweetness and light. The great multi-instrumentalist and entertainer was living two mega anniversaries – his own 70th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his world-changing Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. His colleague Jeff Hanna sang “Mr. Bojangles” and made us cry. McEuen himself played spitfire banjo on classics like “Dismal Swamp” and danced around the guitar on tricky numbers like “Walking The Strings.” He curated and conjured a night of collaboration among a bunch of venerable and venerated roots musicians. It was the ideal way to close out the year 2015.

Now it’s late in 2016,...

more
16-10_12-carousel.png

My journalist wife and I have conversations and inside jokes about hyperbole and language inflation. We lament that “awesome” has gone from being a rarely used superlative reserved for cosmically consequential things to just another adjective worthy of yummy pizza. And she laughs at me sometimes when I come home from Roots proclaiming that I’d just seen the best show of my life. Which can’t always be true I guess, so, guilty as charged. This is what I got to thinking about when I started processing this week’s MCR lineup. My headline is ironic. But the thought crossed my mind when I saw this ultra-deluxe, five-artist lineup blending righteous original jazz singing, a bluegrass star, a cerebral country songwriter and two flavors of Latin music. These are all artists who are...

more
2016-10-12-bone-1024x410.jpg

16.10.5-Jam-1024x424.jpg

I just finished my friend Tamara Saviano’s heartfelt and fascinating new biography of Guy Clark, the lion of literate Texas/Nashville songwriting of the past 50 years. We’re still grieving the passing of Guy, who died in May. He was remembered and honored at a gala show at the Ryman in August. And he came up at this week’s Roots show. Noel McKay of High Plains Jamboree spoke in our interview about the life-changing impact of knowing and writing with Guy, whom he met after opening a show for him and Townes Van Zandt in the 1990s. It struck me during Zach Schmidt’s set that we had an entire lineup...

more
ClaireLynch.jpg

I might not be “Living In Raleigh Now” as the Chatham County Line anthem says, but I sure feel at home here in the capital of NC, just a few miles from my home town and amid the biggest bluegrass swirl of the year. World of Bluegrass is coming off beautifully with hundreds of shows, emerging bands and frequent sightings of the icons who made us fall in love with this music. It was especially thrilling to see Music City Roots alums Sierra Hull and Becky Buller shatter the grass ceiling to become the first women to win instrumentalist of the year prizes on mandolin and fiddle respectively. The event concluded with its vast street fair and two days of luxurious lineups in Red Hat Amphitheater.

So how could it be more appropriate that our first show following the World of Bluegrass...

more
9.22.16_Jam-e1474823867515-1024x445.jpg

Join Roots Radio LIVE for our Red Carpet Coverage of the Americana Music Awards. Listen on 89.5, or watch the livestream with NPR at http://musiccityroots.com/npr/ . We are live starting at 4pm with red carpet coverage and will roll into the awards at 6:30

more
16-09-21-carousel.png

Rootsapalooza is upon us. This week marks the return of the AmericanaFest (the 17th if you’re counting) followed immediately by World of Bluegrass in Raleigh and if you are particularly jet set, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass affair in San Francisco. For those who love the down-home, hand-picked and far-reaching visions of folk and country music in their myriad 21st century forms, there is no holier or more hellbent time of year. It’s nice that round one is right here in Nashville, where so many of us have our own beds, though they will get used less than usual in the days and nights to come.

You’ve perhaps seen the buildup and checked out the schedule for the showcases and special events running Tuesday to Sunday all over Music City. (Definitely get the Americana app; it’s more...

more
9.14.16-BLOGPIC-1024x505.jpg

That radio countdown never sounded so sweet. Not since our first night on WSM in October 2009 did the top of the show – with its shot of Rob Ickes dobro and our emcee’s stentorian voice proclaiming us on the air from the Edge of Music City – have so much electricity for me. Yes, I know we send a video feed of MCR out over the internet across much greater distances than the footprint of an FM signal. But in my opinion, radio will always be the most refined and exciting and substantial medium – the one that matches technology and content in the most timeless and spiritual way.

I mean, think about it. The voices and instrumental sounds of Nashville’s finest musician and distinguished visiting talent went into microphones on stage, imprinting their nuances and truth onto a current of...

more
16-09-14-carousel.png

It’s safe to say we’ve never had a seasonal break like the last three weeks. It feels like an age ago that we wrapped up Summer and broke the news about our new programming partnership with MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment and the birth of the new WMOT/Roots Radio 89.5. It is truly hard to find words to convey the emotion, the fulfillment and the work behind this, the biggest development in the history of Music City Roots. At a time when we so often are lamenting the loss or end or death of this cool thing or that in our over-cranked world, here we get to be part of a new source of culture and community. It’s a time none of us will ever forget – a huge privilege and responsibility.

Our show this Wednesday night is...

more
8.24.16-Pano-1024x726.jpg

Typically when I submit these journal entries after an episode of Music City Roots, the only news I have to break is who sang what and maybe something Jim said, wacky and impetuous guy that he is. But today dear friends, we have world-rocking news – news that’s just made the actual newspaper!

As I post this, we’re sending a press release to the world announcing a new programming partnership between Music City Roots and WMOT, the 100,000 watt public radio station owned and operated by Middle Tennessee State University. We’ve been contracted by the College of Media and Entertainment to provide programming and people necessary to take WMOT into a new era as the area’s only full-time Americana radio station. It’ll be known, starting a week from today, as WMOT/Roots Radio 89.5...

more
16-08-24-carousel.png

When I started covering music full time in 2000 for the local newspaper, the part of the beat that I found most challenging was Christian pop. It was huge and growing – a parallel world of record labels, publishers and touring that had its own culture and clearly a lot of talent. But I had to work extra hard to mind what I knew was a bias in my view of the genre. I have trouble with music that starts with a way of thinking and emerges in a way that’s closed off to interpretation. The effusiveness and surrender of gospel music has always moved me. Whereas a lot of the Christian pop in its heyday struck me as an agenda set to verses and choruses, with a sound produced and packaged with such austere pleasantness that it lacked human impact – on my heart anyway.

It also became clear...

more
8.17.16-Jam-e1473654013648-1024x693.jpg

As the (inexplicably) controversial Dixie Chicks took the stage in downtown Nashville for the first time in years and as the campaign trail increasingly resembled a David Foster Wallace novel, a simple man with a simple musical plan took our stage in Franklin TN to play songs off his ironically titled album It’s All Politics. All I can say is thank heaven for Tim Carroll’s sense of humor, because if it was all politics, we’d all be on the train to Crazyville. I admit I’m a lifelong political junkie, but the momentous and absurd media machinations of T vs. C just melt away in the presence of Tim’s electric guitar (through a Vox amplifier), or the bluegrass of Blue Highway, or the varied beauty of The Pollies or Matt Andersen. It was, like all others at MCR, a night of...

more

We’re thrilled to welcome to the team our new in-house photographer Shelly Swanger. Here’s a bit from her website bio:

G...

more
16-08-17-carousel.png

I keep an obscure volume on the reference book shelf next to my desk called Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide and Directory, published in 1999 by David Goodwin. It’s a time capsule of where our music was at the end of the century and the dawn of the Americana chart, so it’s fun to browse. Instead of asking ‘where are they now’ it’s an exercise in ‘where were they then?’ And there on page 56 is Tim Carroll, categorized as “Rig Rock” and “Insurgent Country” and introduced as a former member of New York band The Blue Chieftains. We learn that by then some of his most indelible songs (“A Good Cry” “After The Hurricane” “Girl That’s Hip”) were already written and being admired and covered by others....

more
8.10.16-Jam-1024x756.jpg

The contrasts between two of this week’s leading men couldn’t have been more striking. One, a 19-year-old African American with Choctaw blood who performs down home parade music in a big blue feathered suit. The other, a lanky 55-year-old violinist/fiddler who’s spent much of the last two decades on the finest concert stages with symphony orchestras. Such is the beautiful breadth of music, and the 8.10.16 edition of MCR made me especially grateful that we get to reach so widely and put such textures side by side. And it was a show in two halves – the first emphasizing the song and the voice, the second, the ensemble and the groove.

Adam Stockdale, the English songwriter who performs under the moniker Albatross, has a 19th century vibe about him. Flowing locks, cook moustache and...

more
16-08-10carousel.png

Most of my roots and bluegrass music epiphanies came in the 1980s and 90s so it was inevitable that Mark O’Connor would keep popping up on my radar screen and my then-new, fancy pants CD player. He was far and away the field’s top fiddler (though the term doesn’t do justice to his scope and complete musicianship as we’ll see). I tuned into TNN’s incredible show American Music Shop and there was O’Connor as music director. Every other country album I picked up seemed to have O’Connor in the studio band (Kathy Mattea, Randy Travis, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart and on and on). And he was integral to my Rosetta Stone of American instrumental music – the 1989 Telluride Sessions by supergroup Strength In Numbers. (It’s too big a deal to go into here. Look it up and let it...

more
08.03.16-Blogpic-1024x700.jpg

I’ll remember this week’s show for two standout things, I suspect. First is hearing Jim Lauderdale get back to deep country music with a shockingly great band playing unreleased songs. Second, it was the first Roots where our teen daughter came out with me A) of her own free will and B) to help out and learn how we do things. She beeped in patrons at the box office and got a ‘staff’ tag on her chair. I’m not sure who felt cooler about that, her or me.

Unlike some recent nights, our roster of artists grouped stylistically in a relatively tight band of country rock and straight-up Americana, though not without distinctions and individual visions. Elise Davis opened the show with mid-tempo marches and confessional, melancholy stories about the quest for love. We learned in the...

more
16-08-03-carousel.png

Every week I rifle through the catalog and web histories of our upcoming Roots guest artists looking for connections, themes or trends that might help all of us better prepare for the music ahead. Sometimes it’s something historical or regional or genre-based, but this week it’s just a hilarious and frankly meaningless coincidence. The same week that we’re welcoming back the Melbourne Madman Henry Wagons, our own Jim Lauderdale – who’s playing a full set as a leader – got the news that in September he’ll be receiving the Americana Music Association’s Wagonmaster Award, a lifetime achievement honor named for the late great Porter Wagoner. So this week’s show is a bandwagon, and you’d better be on board.

Jim’s award...

more
6.27.16-Jam-1024x594.jpg

Compared to our long-time (and sadly former) house photographer Tony Scarlati or Nashville standouts like John Partipilo and Bill Steber, I’m an absolute hack behind a still camera. But I think I have a good eye, and frequently I see on the Roots stage a fleeting moment or a juxtaposition that I wish I could freeze in time. This week I got that flash looking down the row of four instruments wielded by The Revelers as the Louisiana band pumped away on their swamp pop mélange. There was a 1950s archtop Gibson guitar, a buffed-by-time alto saxophone, an old wooden fiddle and a hand-made button accordion with an almost Native American pattern decorating its bellows. This timeless picture-that-might-have-been bore witness to the hand-made quality of the music we try to present every week....

more
jul-20-16-33-1024x620.jpg

I’m calling for the invention of a new English word, because, folks, we’re rapidly using them up and we need more. The word is potenza. It’ll mean a personal quality that mingles potential with charisma. As in: “That young actress really has potenza; watch out for her!” Our new word is inspired of course by Sarah Potenza, powerhouse singer and friend of the show who stepped up as guest host at this week’s Roots and who knocked it out of the park. Great opening song. Great stage banter. And an inspired Tom Petty cover for the Nashville Jam. She helped tie together a night of extravagantly diverse music.

It felt good to start close to the ground, as George D. Hay used to say, with old-time fiddling by Matt Brown and guitar by Greg Reish. Both know the foundational music so...

more
Jeff_White.jpg

Good teams have stars but great teams have deep benches, and that’s one of the factors that’s made Nashville such an awesome place to follow music. Music City cultivates and celebrates the sidemen and sidewomen who stand near, behind and beside the visible stars. They’re often just silhouettes in the aurora, but to those in the know, they’re making the magic possible and often magical. One of the premiere examples is playing Roots this week and I could not be more excited. Because Jeff White is an outstanding singer, picker and songwriter, and he’s out with his first solo album since the 90s. Besides, we’ve needed a hearty blast of pure bluegrass lately, and he’s going to bring it.

The thumbnail profile of White is that...

more
7.20.16-collage-1024x576.jpg

One of the virtues of Music City Roots that we regularly hear and talk about is its discovery factor. Come for one artist you know and experience a nice sampling of artists you don’t, and you’re almost sure to go home as a fan of something new. That may be the case for you as you look over this week’s lineup, and I am completely comfortable admitting it’s the case for me. Other than our friend Greg Reish’s old time string band that’s opening the night, I’m in pure reporter mode. Here’s what my notebook says after several days of listening and reading: We’ve got a sensational young soul/rock band that’s DIYed its way to a thrilling sound, a red-bearded, red-dirt country songwriter, a raspy emotional pop rocker and a self-made YouTube star who can really belt. Let’s just research them...

more
07.13.17-Col-1024x732.jpg

What a thrill. I got to sit down before Roots this week for a formal interview with the great Col. Bruce Hampton, that amazing paradox of an artist who’s still leading badass bands at age 69. He’s a musical space captain who never did drugs and a former military guy who led probably the singular hippie music revolution of the 1990s. We talked about Frank Zappa and the Allman Brothers and how the H.O.R.D.E. Tours ushered in the jam band era. And the musician and artist that is The Colonel kept circling back to the point, which is the essence, which is the way, which is, as he said “capturing the moment.” That’s the point, if we’re open enough to get it.

Wednesday night, our Summer season opener and a show I’d anticipated for as many reasons as we had artists, captured many...

more
16-07-13-carousel.png

Summer is languid in the South, encouraging slower motion and softer sounds. It’s the season of the blues and cold sweet tea and the refuge of air conditioning. And this week’s return to the stage after a two-week break features a bit of all that – while building toward a fourth-quarter climax that might come off like a fever dream. On hand will be the sublime voices of Erin Rae and the Honey Dewdrops, plus the vital country picking and singing of the Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley duo. And we’ll welcome back the maestro of Southern jam band surrealism, Col. Bruce Hampton. I’m as excited about any one as all the others.

I’d almost given up my vigil trying to get the Honey Dewdrops on the show, but here they come,...

more
bob_20goldstone.jpg

Some of the best people from Music City’s most musical sectors gathered on Saturday afternoon to remember and celebrate Bob Goldstone, the beloved record man who crashed on his bike last week and died in surgery on July 3 at age 67. The stories and testimony and hugs helped, to be sure, but this is a hard loss for our community and our Roots family. Bob was a respected 40-year veteran of record retail. Over a long and energetic career, he ran record stores out West and sales for cool record labels in the East. When I first met Bob he was running community events and in-store shows for Tower Records on West End Ave., when that was Nashville’s top gathering place for musical searchers and geeks. Bob chose and presented the talent with enthusiasm and knowledge, and he really did get the...

more
6.24.16-Mont_Pic_2-1024x624.jpg

On Friday, the same day we enjoyed our return visit road show at Monteagle Assembly on the Cumberland Plateau, I had a remarkable experience just 6 miles down the road at The University of The South. The William Ralston Listening Room on the second floor of the campus library has a fascinating story and inspired leadership; its mission is to expose young people to serious music and provoke musical epiphanies. The space, a million dollar investment custom-built around a shockingly great sound system, took me as far into the music as I’ve ever been. A small group listened to Tammy Wynette, J.S. Bach, Oliver Nelson, Sarah Jarosz and more with goosebumps. It’s a sweet stereo, but it’s more than great gear; it’s a shrine to musical truth and beauty.

Listening experiences like that...

more
Monteagle-1024x522.jpg

We’ve been lucky at Roots to be able to take the show on the road from time to time, including trips to far flung corners of the world in Australia and Northern Ireland. But no away game came with more charm or surprises than last summer’s season-closing sojourn up to the Monteagle Assembly on the Cumberland Plateau near Sewanee. Super close (90 minutes) yet so far away, the Assembly proved to be an enriching environment, both cultural and natural.

For those who don’t know, the Assembly is a 100-plus-year-old summer gathering place for families rooted in community, faith and learning. It’s like a long summer camp for whole Tennessee clans, who live on site in lovely old Southern homes and who take in nature and nurture in the form of hikes and classes and workshops. A very cool...

more
DancePosterMCR-1024x605.jpg

True to the title of our theme song by bluegrass dobro master Rob Ickes, Music City Roots was in fact “Born In A Barn.” And the psychological research literature tells us that 87% of roots music fans complete the word association “Barn” with “Dance,”* so it was pretty clear from the outset that at some point we’d have to pull back the chairs and throw down on the floor. The first MCR Barn Dance took place May 16, 2012 with Carolyn Martin’s Western swing ensemble and the Hogslop String Band playing fiddles and banjers. That was a magical night, and every dance show since has mingled sweat and swing with Southern charm. The Factory floor of spacious Liberty Hall feels more like a classic American sock hop than a barn dance, but the name and identity endures. And this year we offer...

more
6.15.16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

I didn’t see it coming, all this emotion and fulfillment. As I approached my 50th birthday on Tuesday, the best I could imagine was some good times with friends and family, with side servings of anxiety and cake. But it’s been even more rewarding and surprising than that. We’ve seen our daughter blossom, and we attended Todd Mayo and Emma Reid’s wedding on Saturday, so I got to be with my family and my amazing Roots family in one big happy occasion. These families within families make the world a more civilized and beautiful place, and it was a multi-layered reminder of how fortunate I am.

All this was capped off with a fantastic show on Wednesday that concluded right in my musical wheelhouse, with one of the greatest solo guitarists on Earth. And a fine show took place on the...

more
TommyEmmanuel-1024x627.jpg

On one hand, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel is certifiably one-of-a-kind. On the other, he’s so prolific and busy and simultaneously everywhere that he seems to have been duplicated a time or two in some Australian genomic experiment. He’s been zipping around Canada lately. Before that he played Knoxville, a town he loves for its ties to his hero and late colleague Chet Atkins. Tommy picked on Duane Allman’s Les Paul gold top down in Macon, Georgia, and he was at the Ryman last month playing the big Bob Dylan Birthday Fest. Zooming out a bit, he’s released seven albums since 2010, many of them packed with original instrumentals.

When Tommy writes an instrumental, it’s no tossed-off thing. His melodies have sturdy...

more
6.8.16-Jam-1024x512-1.jpg

It’s not easy to tell because they’re usually covered by blackout curtains, but Liberty Hall in The Factory has big windows in its sloped roof. The musicians and crew were joking before this week’s Divas of Roots Music show that we’d have to take out extra insurance on the roof because it was likely to get blown off by the accumulated vocal power of our historically talented lineup. It was just as easy to think about how in a week that one famous American woman delivered a solid blow to one of our last glass ceilings in politics, we might be in danger of shattering our glass ceiling. As it happened, the windows and roof held, but not so our hearts. One of the wonders of music is that the right song at the right time and in the right way can leave us emotionally shattered but still...

more
BillBellesCover-300x300.png

A move we’ve talked about on and off for years is finally coming to pass. On June 17, Music City Roots will release our first ever live album from our stage, featuring the delightful and skillful January 27, 2016 performance by fast-rising East Tennessee band Bill & The Belles. The 7-song EP features American standards and a feeling that harkens back to the Big Bang of country music and the original Carter Family. The digital only album will be released to all major music platforms, including iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

My review of the set at the time included the following:

...

more
16-06-08-carousel.png

That tricky, backhanded word diva comes from Latin, meaning divine or like a goddess. And like the Southern bless her heart, the word’s implications depend on context and inflection. It can refer to a grand and gracious opera star or an arrogant prima donna who thrives on making everyone else around her feel inadequate. Neither sense applies however to this week’s exciting Divas Of Roots Music show. Roots ain’t opera. And I’ve met insufferably bossy female roots music singers exactly, uh, zero times. So revel in the irony and enjoy a night of vocal virtuosity that welcomes back some old friends and debuts some MCR newcomers, including one of the most remarkable women in the history of rock and soul music.

The night’s powerhouse concept began with our friend Sarah Potenza. She’s...

more
6.1.16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

Clans are a Scottish phenomenon and concept that made it to America by way of the Ulster Scotts, and the word in Gaelic actually means “children” or “offspring.” So the Willis Clan nailed it with their name, because there were as many as 10 Willis kids on stage at once on Wednesday night making Celtic-tinged Americana. They played and danced with remarkable soul and skill, wrapping up a family-friendly night that felt clannish but not cliquish.

The Carter Brothers are part of the first clan of country music, with direct lineage to A.P. Carter, and it’s just such a wonderful thing that they dedicated their lives to perpetuating the musical legacy of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s an underlying Celtic dirge in their striding “Road To Roosky,” which opened the set. The tidy band...

more
blogpost pic.png

So did y’all catch that news about the Fyre Festival? As good people, we try not to indulge in schadenfreude, but sometimes man, wow, it’s hard. In short, a rap celebrity and a dudebro with a track record of over-selling and under-delivering promised a glamour-packed, celebrity-stoked par-TAY on a remote island and promoted it by paying other celebrities to post on Instagram about it. It was a fiasco, not because the whole premise was culturally bankrupt and morally suspect (which it was), but because they didn’t PLAN. You have to plan, folks. For example, on the same weekend, two other festivals – much bigger ones – came off without a hitch. Merlefest in North Carolina and JazzFest in New Orleans actually served up authentic music, genuine community, good food and good times for fans...

more
Town-Mountain-Image.jpg

You may know that a couple of years ago during World of Bluegrass in Raleigh I got a silhouette of my home state North Carolina tattooed on my left forearm. It was a gesture of pride in the place that birthed Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Edward R. Murrow and Jim Lauderdale, among other claims to fame. Well, lately I’ve been tempted to add a teardrop to the art on my arm out of sadness for some of the notorious and noxious nonsense being perpetrated by a state legislature that I’m certain doesn’t speak for or represent the hearts and minds of most Carolinians. So I needed some good news from the Old North State, and when it arrived, no surprise, it came in musical form. Asheville band Town Mountain, perhaps the finest hard core bluegrass band of its generation, dropped another album and...

more
Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 2.31.53 PM.png

It’s not as easy to go to Merlefest as it used to be in my footloose, sleeping-on-the-ground-is-fine days. So it’s wonderful to annually have a mini-Merlefest of our own at Music City Roots. The sampling of Merle-bound artists always refreshes and always seems to spotlight the very best of progressive traditional music. This week’s heavily attended show was no exception.

more
5-25-16-jam-1024x512.jpg

While it has a decidedly mixed track record as a political philosophy, there’s a lot to love about musical collectives. They tend to spring out of scenes and communities, which comports with roots music values. And the format – a core band with fluxing instrumentation – lets every show take on its own personality. If the personnel isn’t completely set in stone, everybody’s on their toes. This week’s Roots featured an explicit collective from Boston and Dave Eggar’s traveling circus-tra (we coined the term in pre-show conversation), which certainly has collectivist tendencies. And overall, this late Spring edition of MCR will I think hold up over the years as a highly collectible one.

As Jim Lauderdale was calling us to order with “Joy Joy Joy,” his song sung by Ralph...

more
16-05-25-carousel.png

We music scribes are writing about Dave Cobb a lot these days, but for good reason. The Geogia-raised musician moved from LA to Nashville in 2011 and quickly became the most admired and successful record producer in the city, steering projects that did brisk sales and topped the critics’ charts as well. MCR Alums who’ve been produced by Cobb include Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Honeyhoney, Christian Lopez, Lindi Ortega, Anderson East and Jamey Johnson. He’s old school in his approach, but helps today’s best artists achieve contemporary timelessness.

I bring Cobb up because this week’s MCR includes a sensational singer who arrives with a new lease on life and a new comeback album produced by the bearded guru....

more
05-18-16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

The week was dominated by the passing of the mighty Guy Clark, a painful farewell that we’ve seen coming for some time. It’s different than the loss of the world-famous Merle Haggard, because Guy was more of an intimate, an artist and man woven in to the fabric and family of Nashville. We knew him and saw him around like a neighbor, and those of us lucky enough to chronicle Music City in this era found chances to catch up with Guy and talk Texas or philosophy or his Zen approach to songwriting. I got to visit him regularly through the year of 2003 to report on him building two guitars, his other major pursuit besides music. It was the closest I’ll ever come to hanging out with Hemingway.

So the craftsman of “Like A Coat From The Cold” and “The Randall Knife” was much on our minds...

more
16-05-18-squareupdate.png

Life’s full of trade-offs, and one price we’ve paid as a society for the micro-targeted, ultra-personalized media world we now inhabit is the end of the galvanizing national TV event. It’s incredibly rare that any one cultural moment is seen live and simultaneously by most Americans. One of the biggest ever of course was The Beatles on Ed Sullivan February 9, 1964, when 73 million Americans watched at once. Pop culture took a quantum leap forward and kids started bands by the hundreds.

It’s reasonable to assume that Barry Tashian and his collegiate friends who formed The Remains were in that Ed Sullivan audience, and I’ll certainly ask him when he plays MCR with his wife Holly and their E-5 Band this week. Because he really lived and participated in the musical tidal wave that...

more
5-11-16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

You are aware, I hope, that it’s been a huge week for underdog lovers of the world in England. Scrappy, cinematic Leicester City beat preseason odds of 5,000-1 to win the coveted English Premiere League season title in soccer, a run that’s being called the biggest upset in the history of sports. The team is called The Foxes, and they’re looking clever indeed as they make the rounds with their gargantuan trophy. Well, roots music is our own scrappy underdog and while I’m unaware of anybody betting against us, this week produced a show that was surprising, rather British and definitely a winner.

Our mini-British Invasion began with the duo of...

more
16-05-11-carousel.png

There’s been a lot of loose talk about walls lately, and without getting too particular, I know I speak on behalf of an overwhelming majority of roots musicians when I say that Americana doesn’t do walls. In fact one of the most vital and attractive reasons to respect roots music is that it enabled America’s greatest historic reconciliation. I don’t think it’s stressed enough in school frankly that the civil rights movement wouldn’t have happened remotely like it did without music to draw people together. Culture led the way and policy followed. I bring this up because this week’s Roots is particularly global and cross-cultural, with two artists from the UK and our world music absorbing, wall-busting friends HuDost acting as an intermediary of sorts.

...

more
5.4.16.jam_-1024x512.jpg

16-05-04-carousel.png

When they write the history of roots and Americana music in the 21st century (or maybe when I write it, if somebody gives me funding) I think two broad themes will be front and center. One is the passing of the bluegrass/newgrass torch to a new generation of formally trained, deeply eclectic string bands, i.e. Punch Brothers. The other would have to be Americana’s reconciliation with and embrace of our soul and blues traditions. When I first started attending the Americana conference in 2001, I found common cause with people who felt the format was too white and too narrowly centered on honky tonk and country rock. If you’re going to build a tent for contemporary takes on American roots traditions, it better be big enough to shelter the blues and all that flowed from it. Fortunately,...

more
4.27.16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

woods-1024x424.jpg

It’s the season of road trips, including many people’s favorite Spring pilgrimage to Merlefest in the hills of Western North Carolina. It was my ritual for a decade, my bluegrass and Americana graduate school. I learned about not just the music and its greatest practitioners but about the culture behind the music, from its families of fans to its record labels and promoters. So it was a delight when a few years back Roots became a stop-in for key artists playing the festival on the Wednesday before its Thursday four-day kickoff. Funny enough, not many weeks ago our booking secret agents were telling me that they this year’s Merle-Eve lineup wasn’t coming together easily. Well, it seems their luck turned, and in a rush, four of the coolest bands in the land – all beloved veterans of MCR...

more
4-20-16-Jam.jpg

We have Merles much on our mind these days. Next week is our annual preview show featuring artists playing Merlefest (and boy you don’t want to miss it). And this week, with Jim back for his first show since the passing of Merle Haggard, he opened and closed the show with Merle Moments. His kick-off song was a deep country tribute to the Hag he co-wrote with Kostas. His closing Nashville Jam was that famous working man tribute that reminded us what gamers and strivers and workers these musicians are. You don’t get as good as this and build career without toil and sacrifice, and while our artists were all over the newbie-to-veteran spectrum, they all have their heads down and undiminished perseverance and ambitions.

Opener Walter Trout has been working longest, from his days with...

more
Mountain-Heart-Correct-1024x566.jpg

The concept of a “band” goes way, way back. The Norsemen used the word to mean tying things or people together, and its reference to a group of musicians can be found in the middle 1600s. And here, all these years later, it’s still what we form when we want to make music together. It’s no coincidence that the same word applies to the thing married people wear on their finger to symbolize their bond (same derivation). Bands are like multi-party marriages and molecules. They can be held strongly together or blast violently apart.

Bands make personnel changes all the time, and it’s good sport to debate whose attritions or additions are incidental and whose completely change the very premise of the group (Journey without Steve Perry? Please…). Bluegrass people,...

more
4-13-16_Jam.jpg

How does an episode of Roots featuring sublime songwriters, an old-time string band and 80s country leave me waking up the next day thinking about Dug, the talking dog from the 2009 movie Up? Well let’s just say that I already had the gift/curse of being a non-linear thinker, and then there’s the whole internet, infinite scroll, low-attention span thing that’s been reshaping my easily distractible mind for a decade. Then at the show, there was this musician wearing a red cap and overalls who introduced himself as Squirrel. And I love squirrels and the word squirrel. And Dug the dog’s recurring gag where he’d suddenly lose his mental thread and shout “Squirrel!” has become a catchphrase I use to this day among friends when we laugh at ourselves for being unfocused and attracted...

more
Wine-Women-and-song-Correct-Image-1024x471.jpg

We’ve had an early Spring here in Music City, with nary a frost to bruise the jonquils nor storms to strip the cherry blossoms. I have a coating of pollen in my raspy throat but it’s a small price to pay for all this beauty. Baseball is underway. The Masters brought sweet Southern ritual to the airwaves this weekend. And we’ve had two weeks of this balmy air to pause to recharge and take care of housekeeping stuff that gets neglected during the busy season. When we gather on Wednesday at the Factory for our Spring opener, we’ll have a bouquet of musical stylists to share, starting with three of loveliest blossoms in Americana music.

The songwriter/artists who comprise Wine, Women & Song have all played Roots...

more
3.23.16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

Italians with harmonicas. Memphians with ukuleles. Chicagoans with dreadlocks. We’re up for anything that swings at Roots, and this week we experienced all that and more, including an audience that came with open minds and big ears. This was one of those weeks where I showed up as curious as anyone, having researched the artists to the best of my ability but with no prior experience and no clear sense of how they’d fit together. But they were wonderful and more than fitting.

Friend of the show Larry Nager recommended his friends in the Memphis Ukulele Band for a set and we’re glad he did. They sat in a row at the front of the stage – four men of various ages with ukes of various styles and colors plus a young woman in the middle with a tambourine. Her name is Kyndle McMahan, and...

more
16-03-23-carousel.png

I never thought much of the melody, but that Christmas hymn penned by John Jacob Niles called “I Wonder As I Wander” always struck me as a worthy sentiment; we should all wander and wonder a lot. Later I learned of J.R.R. Tolkein’s quote that “Not all those who wander are lost,” and I related to that as well. (It’s also a favorite of Chris Thile, who took it as an album title.) The word wander does seem to imply aimlessness, but I’m trying to raise my kid to see wandering and exploring as essential to a learned life. It’s curiosity in action, whether via hike, urban perambulation, road trip or daydreaming. One of our bands this week at Roots put Wander into its name. Another came into our world entirely because they wandered far from home, seeking something unnamable and finding...

more
3-15-16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

We’ve been having the kind of lovely days that used to inspire Chicago Cub great Ernie Banks to enthusiastically say “Let’s Play Two!” And even though it’s still only Spring Training for baseball, we had a rare MCR double header this week that encompassed our reasons for being as completely as any short stretch of time in our show’s history. Because while it starts with the artists on the stage, it’s always about something more. With a Tuesday partnership show with the Berklee College of Music and then Wednesday night’s Sister Cities show with songwriters from Belfast, we did our best to reach out of town and around the world with belief in music and community. Here’s a brief recap.

Tuesday’s show was bound to sell out...

more
16-03-16-carousel.png

A week ago, our crew emerged from a 7-hour flight from Belfast feeling satisfied and happy to be home after our third annual engagement of Music City Roots at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival’s gorgeous Empire Music Hall. Each of these visits has deepened our understanding of the Scots-Irish connections to America and reminded us of the fundamental truth that our music is their music – that the country and bluegrass music we cherish and present each week wouldn’t exist without this place and its ancient, carefully nurtured song traditions.

This week at our Wednesday night, pre Saint Patrick’s Day show, we present the flipside of our Empire show, when the festival’s organizers send a half dozen Irish artists our way to perform at several Nashville venues and engage with...

more
03-09-16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

When the MCR team flew back from chilly drizzly Ireland on Monday evening, the pilot surprised us by saying the temperature on the ground was 70 degrees, and we landed in a different Nashville than the one we left. Tulip trees were blooming. We could open windows and doors, and even when it rained it smelled and felt good. Then Peter Cooper kicked off this week’s MCR with his delightful, hope renewing song “Opening Day,” and everything seemed to be coming up roses. The music that followed reaffirmed our reasons for optimism and good cheer.

The duo of Kacy & Clayton became my night’s big surprise. They’d promised unadorned folk music informed by their Canadian upbringing, and they more than delivered. Clayton’s acoustic guitar rolled with a heavy thumb and intricate...

more
16-03-15-carousel.png

Some years ago my friend Travis Book, bass player and singer in the Infamous Stringdusters, pressed a point on me like it was an insider investment tip. The future of acoustic Americana and new bluegrass, he said, is brewing in Boston. Mostly at Berklee College of Music, he said, where a bunch of brilliant young talents were being honed with a fusion of traditional musical education and boundary-crossing vision and license. I already knew that several innovative musicians I admired deeply, including fiddler Casey Driessen and banjo player Chris Pandolfi (also a Stringduster), had attended Berklee. And they spoke highly of the program and of the world and jazz influences they were able to assimilate there.

Then in late 2008, Berklee President Roger Brown gave the keynote address...

more
lindi_Ortega-1024x603.jpg

There are little indicators of cool and good judgment – perhaps the flourishes of a distinctive wardrobe or an eyebrow arched just so at just the right time. And there are more profound and permanent facts, and in our world one of those is having hooked up with producer Dave Cobb before he exploded into public consciousness via his now high profile work with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. Lindi Ortega was on that train, working with the East Nashville musical guru not long after he (and she) moved to Nashville. They made Ortega’s 2013 Tin Star album, a spacious, tone-rich beauty that sealed Ortega’s place as a brilliant country classicist. She’s part of a lineup this week at Roots featuring way out wonder women...

more
Belfast-Musicians-1024x617.jpg

A happy scene from our last visit to Belfast. The show previewed here is a special edition of Music City Roots, which will stream live on our website on Friday, March 4 at 1 pm from the Empire Theater.

In their new book Wayfaring Strangers, radio host Fiona Ritchie and historian Doug Orr tell the story of how music came from Scotland and Ireland to America on a “carrying stream.” They write that “The Scots-Irish brought their fiddles and jaw harps, adopting the lap dulcimer and, of course, carrying their cache of beloved songs. Old ballads and fiddle tunes were adapted...

more
2.24.16-jam-1024x512.jpg

On the eve of our third trip to N. Ireland to explore the influence of the Ulster Scots on American folk music, the roots of our roots we like to say, this week’s Music City Roots offered its own object lesson. We could have presented the second half of this show in the middle of a Belfast intersection and it would have made total sense. Now, would the average Belfast passer-by expect a program juxtaposing Brazilian jazz with sardonic honky tonk with Celtic-infused Americana with contemporary bluegrass? Perhaps not. But it takes a real music lover to embrace our sometimes deliciously disjointed eclecticism. And we trust, dear reader, that you are one of those listeners and that if you were in Liberty Hall or online with us on Feb. 24 that you had as fine a time as we...

more
16-02-24-carousel.png

My musical radar has been pointing over the horizon lately. Our musical Golden Age stretches around the world and it’s important to take that journey from time to time. I’ve been hearing and chasing tips on amazing artists from Europe and Africa, including mystical French electronica artist St. Germain (thanks to our photographer Tony Scarlati), Ethiopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke and West African guitar master Lionel Loueke. The Roots team is about to embark on our third journey to N. Ireland for the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. And this week’s Music City Roots...

more
2.17.16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

The highlight of my otherwise uneventful drive down I-65 to Roots each week is passing the WSM broadcast tower at Concord Road. This iconic 1932 construction is so symbolic of Nashville’s rise as Music City that I spent tons of time studying its history and put it on the cover of my book. It’s also beautiful – a stretched out, four sided diamond of iron balanced on its tip, held up by carefully engineered cables that are almost invisible in the sundown light. Every week I see the tower against a different sky, sometimes azure blue and sometimes rippling with golden hour light against puffy clouds. This week it was a streaky watercolor wash of mellow pink and blue. It makes me think of our...

more
Gillian-Welch-cropped.jpg

We sent this news release out this week of an exciting special show!

Berklee Will Present American Master Awards at Music City Roots

Roots music stars T Bone Burnett and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

will receive honors on live webcast March 15, 2016.

Berklee, the Boston-based, globally respected music college, will present American Master Awards to legendary record producer, songwriter and recording artist T Bone Burnett, as well as the acclaimed roots duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on a special Tuesday night edition of Music City Roots, the variety weekly music broadcast from the Factory in Franklin, TN. The show, set for March 15, 2016, will feature performances by outstanding Berklee alumni Sierra Hull (’11), Liz...

more
2.10.16-Pic-1024x538-1.jpg

With more than 85 Top 10 singles to his credit, 60+ million spins of his songs and a spot in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Jeffrey Steele can do whatever he wants. He could ride a personal hovercraft to every Kenny Chesney beach party or throw models-only soirees in the owner’s suite at every Taylor Swift stadium concert. But what does he do? He writes clever, bone-hard country songs that would have been smash hits in decades past and gathers together nine of his top drawer musician friends to breathe life into them. And then, to our immeasurable pleasure and honor, he brings said ensemble to a little stage like ours in Nashville’s backyard. And I could say a similar thing about Robben Ford. He’s not a household name, but in the world of classy theaters, performing...

more
Robben-Ford-II-by-Piper-Ferguson-HR-1024x553.jpg

Robben Ford would seem to be Guitar Town’s Guest Of Honor at the moment. The multi-faceted, California-based singer/songwriter and guitar virtuoso has been playing residency shows at the High Watt. He did a sold out clinic at World Music Nashville. And he sat down with keyboardist/professor Jen Gunderman for an in-depth interview at the Blair School of Music. Wow. We can only hope this has stirred up insane amounts of interest in his show-closing set at Music City Roots this week. I have the highest of hopes. Because Ford, a dynamic blues and jazz visionary since the 1970s, was named among the top 100 guitarists of the 20th century by Musician magazine. And he’s one fourth of a superb mid winter lineup.

I’ll have more...

more
2.3.16-JamPic-1024x512.jpg

Fire up the blues with enough drive and railroad locomotion and you’ve got boogie woogie, a musical feeling that’s joyful and danceable and flexible enough to wrap around pure country, jumping jazz or rock ‘n’ roll. Rockabilly music is 90% boogie woogie and so was our show this week, a show celebrating Sun Records and the magical ears and monumental work ethic of the late great Sam Phillips. A week after we offered one of our most diverse shows ever, this Wednesday night’s lineup, produced in partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, made for one of the most thematically and musically cohesive bills in our history. I wasn’t surprised by the intensity, beauty and truthfulness of the performances. These...

more
19_MEDIA_Sam_Phillips-1024x589.jpg

Photo courtesy of Phillips family and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

In Peter Guralnick’s long awaited new biography of Sam Phillips, one dominant theme is Sam’s uncompromising, idealistic vision and his tenacity in the face of setbacks. I’m struck by how his ethos echoes that of the guys who created and run Music City Roots. The music and musician always come first, and the holy grail is not perfection; it’s about authentic voices and emotional connection. It’s not about hitting commercial home runs whatever it takes; it’s about keeping the enterprise alive and trying to achieve a chain reaction of genuine art and plausible commerce.

This week Roots partners with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and author Guralnick in celebration of his book...

more
Chester-1024x683.jpg

Hey MCR Audience, you absolutely astound me and make us all proud. You impressed Chester Thompson too. After his set, the drummer seemed really wide-eyed and fulfilled and he told me he was knocked out by how responsive the crowd was to his contemporary jazz trio. And I agree, you were. Show me another show where this is possible – attracting a crowd with the name of a very hot rock and roll band and then placing before them a spread of wildly different music, including vintage East Tennessee country crooning, deep honky tonk and a piano trio, and having it all work. You guys applauded at all the right moments and whooped and shouted support during Chester’s drum solos. Through time, so-called opening acts that were a bit different or a bit unknown have endured indifference and even...

more
16-01-27-carousel.png

Did you see that movie Whiplash? The one about the young jazz drummer who’s tormented by a sadistic music school teacher and bandleader? While I was excited to see jazz and drumming placed at the center of a major motion picture, I ended up really disliking it. It had no soul or warmth for the music and made serious drum study look like boot camp for merely playing fast. Musicality? Not so much. Just meanness, fear and speed. I bring you this movie reference from left field because this week we’re presenting a great jazz drummer (and rock and soul and funk drummer) who is all about the music and because we also have a famous and beloved new-era southern rock band that’s so musically different I have my own case of whiplash. But as you probably know, that’s our formula and it...

more
1-20-16-Jam-1024x512.jpg

Ah, the season of slushy ice and winter suspense is upon us. As I finalize this review on Friday morning it is truly snowing hard in Nashville, but Wednesday was one of those days that schools close over conditions that make the South a laughing stock from Cleveland to Calgary. Sub freezing precipitation is generally treated by our officials as a harbinger of the second coming. Never was the advice to “chill” so replete with double entendre. We at Roots never hesitated however. The show (rhymes with snow) will go on unless and until we’re surrounded by White Walkers. And while artist Daniel Hutchens and band nearly had to cancel due to a closed highway around Atlanta, they arrived at the venue in the late...

more

Here’s an early and important heads up for a special show coming the first week of February that you won’t want to miss. We’ve arranged the night in cooperation with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to celebrate the legacy of the great producer Sam Phillips. You may know that famed southern music chronicler Peter Guralnick has just published the definitive biography of Philips, the mercurial and prophet-like founder of SUN Records, discoverer of Elvis Presley and, as the book’s subtitle says, the man who invented rock ‘n’ roll.

Our very exciting lineup includes artists who were in someway touched or influenced by the Sam Phillips legacy. We will hear from blues master Bobby Rush, whose last appearance on Roots remains one of the very finest and most exciting sets we’ve...

more
ron_block.jpg

If George Harrison was “the quiet Beatle” then Ron Block is the quiet, uh, Union Stationer. As a member of Alison Krauss’s band since about 1992, Block has been the banjo roll that kept her music grounded in bluegrass while her voice and personal style constantly pulled everything skyward on angel wings. He’s played gorgeous acoustic guitar, written songs, sung harmony and been a vital part of the band’s mesmerizing sound. But he’s been subtle, stealthy and always supporting the music, not himself. Happily, he’s appearing this week as a featured artist on a bill that seems assembled out of household staples. Elizabeth Cook won’t make cornbread but she will render new material from an upcoming album. Matt The Electrician is a prolific folk singer who could wire your home were he to fall...

more
16-1-13-jam-1024x512.jpg

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the musical union is strong, as somebody said (more or less) this week. We know that generally, but every Wednesday night we get fresh affirmation in the form of four (or more) artists who bring that blend of mastery and humility that epitomizes the best in Americana. And this week, with a band called The Americans and some sisters whose talent is no secret, plus two brilliant acoustic deep roots ensembles, our leading indicators and consumer confidence numbers were through the roof.

It got started with J.P. Harris and Chance McCoy (a name Mark Twain might have invented), who sat down to perform but who lacked nothing in intensity. J.P. has an enormous voice worthy of the trucker songs he usually sings. Here, it was old mountain songs and...

more
The-Americans2.jpg

Film has been one of Americana music’s best friends over the years. Lacking widespread radio support, the music has reached millions on screens large and small in features (O Brother, Bonnie & Clyde) and documentaries. Buena Vista Social Club was an epiphany for me and many others. Bluegrass Country Soul is a time machine to one of the very first trend setting festivals in 1972. The recent...

more
16-1-6-Jam-1024x512.jpg

Who needs amplifiers? When the Nashville Jam got underway on Wednesday night after a fine show with an ode to that steel drivin’ man John Henry, there were, by my count, four acoustic guitars, three fiddles, two mandolins, one each of a banjo, bass and cello – and quite possibly a partridge in a pear tree on Keith Bilbrey’s side of the stage. On the show itself , we had a steel driving band, an impactful songwriter and a couple of strong string bands. Powerful stuff it was, but like my favorite kind of diplomacy, we export soft power.

We’ve become fond of earthy, eclectic bands such as the Ragbirds and Elephant Revival, and Taarka fits right in to that school of worldly newgrass. Their grooves and backbeats were delightfully layered and syncopated and their instrumental...

more
SteelDrivers-hero-1024x429.jpg

Welcome to 2016 and Happy New Year from Music City Roots!

We’ve rousted ourselves from holiday slumbers, indulgences and contemplations to face the year ahead with redoubled determination to promote great music and cultivate a world attuned to it. I don’t know if you think of it this way or not, but when I see nonsense, duplicity or paranoia spew forth from the world of politics and power (that is to say every dang day), I often think of folk and roots music as the Americana antidote – as a dose of humanity and the most widely accessible and excellent expression of what makes us real – blues, love, striving and self actualization. Out there it may be the Silly Season, but in our venue it’s time for a well-planned, talent-rich Winter Season. And to kick it off, our team has...

more
12-16-15-Jam-1024x512.jpg

In my show preview I compared John McEuen to Gandalf the wizard, but given the momentous events of this weekend, it might be more apt to think of him as Obi Wan Kenobi. For John McEuen is indeed a Jedi master of the banjo and guitar. I’ve seen him captivate 2,000 people by himself on stage at the Ryman Auditorium. Last night his old friend Bernie Leadon said in the chat room that McEuen on clawhammer banjo is so compelling he can levitate an X-Wing Fighter out of a swamp. Or words to that effect. McEuen has been, no doubt, a force, and his 70th birthday blowout at Roots was magnificent and moving. We had many stars, but no wars. And a lot of love flowed for a great musician who’s made the galaxy a better place.

The scene was set with sweet walk-in music from the Music City...

more
john-mceuen_hi-res_1-1024x623.jpg

Early this Fall, some of our team produced a television special from the Ryman Auditorium celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, an extravaganza with superstar guests from roots music including Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Jackson Browne. Some time during the run up to that show, it came up that NGDB co-founder John McEuen was about to have an anniversary of his own.

The String Wizard, has he’s been justifiably called, turns 70 this week, and on Wednesday night at our year-end holiday show, he’ll be our guest of honor and the curator of a night of incredible roots music talent. “I wanted to have a birthday party,” John told me. “I wanted to admit to myself that I was 70 and it was fine.”

I...

more
15-12-09-carousel.png

On Friday night I made my way to the Station Inn to see the wonderful duo 10 String Symphony play a CD release party. Christian Sedelmyer and Rachel Baiman are both alums of MCR in various bands, and they have honed something very deep and refined and original.

I bring this experience up because it stirred my passion for the kind of serious string music we’ll get to see on this week’s Roots. My first instrument was violin and my first “band” was a youth orchestra. Since then I’ve loved music made on strings bowed and plucked, and I try to encourage people to listen for the nuances of tone and timbre that are the hallmarks of individual style, which all of these artists have certainly cultivated. This stringy terrain is not only where American traditional and classical forms meet,...

more
15-12-2-Jam-1024x512.jpg

The Christmas trees were going up in the Factory as we arrived for show day this week, and the best part wasn’t the lights but the smell. The aroma of a Frazier Fir stimulates a trunk line to the brain’s center for pleasure, peace and nostalgia, at least in my case. May you have your own delightful associations and sensations in the days and nights ahead. Because one week after our annual Thanksgiving Eve show, it was clear as it could be that amid even more news of heartbreak and loss out there, light still shines and love still abides.

The first half of our Wednesday night show presented two young women who both came to Nashville to do the Belmont University music business program but who couldn’t sound or feel more different. Show opener Brooke Annabale was moody and...

more

Friends, this is an official MCR heads up, because we wanted to be sure you’re aware of the incredible lineup taking shape for our year-end show on Dec. 16. We were talking recently to John McEuen, founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a founding father of the Americana movement. He turns 70 years old this month, and we schemed and dreamed up a plan for him to celebrate with a bunch of his friends and musical influences on our stage.

It’s turning into a star-studded roots extravaganza. John Carter Cash will be on hand to perform and pick. Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas will join forces as they have for decades of epic progressive bluegrass. And speaking of bluegrass, we’ll hear the greatest female singer in the business Rhonda Vincent, plus legendary mandolinist Jesse...

more
Nash.jpg

When she visited Roots for the first time in 2012 at the Loveless Barn, the artist Leigh Nash told me on stage about moving to Music City when she was just 19 year old, having signed an exciting record deal in the Christian music world along with her musical partner Matt Slocum and their band Sixpence None The Richer. “We moved here and that same week our label shut its doors and closed down,” she said. “But we fell in love with the city and the people here. I’ve got friends that I consider family so it would be hard to leave even though I miss Texas.”

So on the obvious hand, things worked out pretty well for Sixpence with national crossover hits and a reputation as one of the deepest and craftiest bands in Christian pop. On the less obvious hand, Nash is from Texas!? Neither the...

more
MCR11-25.png

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and between the frenetic pace of Fall and our go-go culture, it’s important not to let this special holiday sneak up and fly by. While the commercial world obsesses over Christmas and the news feels like a fire hose of awful, we need more than ever to pause and recognize the grace of family, friends and the bonds made by our giving and our gratitude. I’m fortunate and grateful that my clan is again travelling in from North Carolina and West Virginia (and Goodlettsville) to gather round our table on Thursday. They will also be in the audience for this year’s T’giving Eve show, a night we cherish at Roots. It’s a tradition, yet this year we’ve shuffled things around and invited an all-new lineup to perform. Curated by our own Ms. Laurie, it’s a night...

more
15-11-18_Jam-1024x512.jpg

JimLuther-1024x649.jpg

A decade ago I’d have told you Jim Lauderdale was one of the finest country songwriters and artists in the world. From that awesome debut Planet of Love album through the 2000s, Jim’s vibe and feel and lyrical outlook helped build the shelter that country music (the genre) needed after “country” the radio format rendered it homeless. But through a series of rangy and interesting collaborations and adventuresome albums, Jim has widened his scope and contributed to many more American traditions, including psychedelic folk rock and soul music. Much of this evolution has happened during this time we’ve been working together at Roots and it’s been astonishing at times to watch up close as this exceptional...

more
15-11-11-JamPic-1024x512.jpg

Change is the only constant, and Fall always brings harbingers and metamorphoses. I arrived at the Factory on Wednesday to discover that the new vinyl record shop I’d heard about had opened right next door to our Roots Radio studio and venue. Welcome, LUNA Records to our very hip music and arts corridor. Then I learned that MCR was saying farewell to our longtime and loyal office manager Zack (he got a super-cool job) and added a new team member Daniel who is a media/marketing maven and a very kind and tall human. The biggest change of all though, and we’re sharing it here first, was that alas we were not on the FM airwaves. We are in the process of changing local radio partners. We’ve had to part ways with Hippie Radio due the...

more

Molly Tuttle is just one year out the Berklee College of Music but she has years of experience under her belt with her California family band and flatpicking contest wins as well. She’s a true triple threat and she sat down with Craig H. to talk about making her first solo album and confronting a promising future.

more
Dusters-1024x440.jpg

I’m pretty sure it was March of 2006 when I got a lucky break that took me to South By Southwest for work, and I vividly remember a daytime set by a very new band just signed to Sugar Hill Records with the fabulous name The Infamous Stringdusters. I knew a couple of the guys in the band from bluegrass circles, and I was carried away immediately by their fresh vision and slick musicianship. My message to them after that set was “if there’s anything I can do…” and it turned out there was. The guys graciously invited me to ride along with them during their second tour of the jamgrass friendly state of Colorado, and the result became a...

more
15-11-4-Jam-1024x512.jpg

Generally my early November review comes with a snarky sidebar about the CMA Awards, which shares our our Wednesday evening time slot. But this year, I’m nonplussed. I’m gobsmacked. Somewhere during our second hour, rhapsodic tweets started flooding in about the televised duet with Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake. So back home I FF’ed through some whatever whatever (pausing to check out and cheer for the wonderful “Girl Crush” which netted song and single of the year for Little Big Town and some awesome female writers) and I watched Mr. Memphis and bearded bearlike Mr. Nashville perform “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Drink You Away,” and yes, it was probably the best performance on a TV awards show I’ve ever seen. Commanding, expressive voices. A basically perfect performance by band...

more
Kevin-Gordon--1024x472.jpg

My title this week comes from our musical guest Kevin Gordon, quoted in a recent cover profile in the Nashville Scene. He’s telling super-journalist Geoffrey Himes about the visual artists whose work he collects and brokers as a sidelight to his music career. These southern painters and sculptors fall in the “outsider” category, and Gordon sees a purity of expression in their unschooled and guileless outpourings. They are, he believes, born artists who are unaware there might have ever been a...

more
orphan-brigade.jpg

The season of haints and all saints is upon us, and while I haven’t been much interested in costuming up for Halloween in decades, I do enjoy the people watching and the trickle down effect of having a daughter who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. I’ll join you in getting ready for the holiday at our October 28 show because whether by design or accident, there will be ghosts. Cool ghosts. Musical ghosts. Southern ghosts.

One of our acts is explicitly inspired by the supernatural. A group of leading Nashville musicians, including Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover and Farewell Drifter Joshua Britt, camped out at and sought the historic soul of The Octagon Hall, a famous and famously haunted antebellum mansion in Franklin, KY. Under the banner...

more
FrankMCR-1024x512.jpg

15-10-14-Carousel.png

The first weekend of October presented a wickedly hard choice for roots music fans, with four major festivals going on around the country, including the World of Bluegrass and the IBMA Awards. Our Roots team went east to Raleigh to film the awards for a web stream and an edited broadcast next year. I went west to the Bluegrass Situation’s annual festival and filed a report for our friends out there. It was stellar and I was glad to get a feeling for roots music in L.A., but the day-long affair was light on bluegrass music per se, and I definitely missed IBMA, an event I’ve been loving for 15 years. The aspect I missed most after the people was IBMA’s amazing forum for discovering...

more
10-7-15_Jam-1024x524.jpg

It’s that time of year when our Wednesday, 7 pm shows are likely to overlap with that most sacred of rituals, Major League Baseball playoff games. And yes during this week’s show, I was monitoring the Cubs versus Pirates one-game wildcard showdown, determining who survived to play the St. Louis Cardinals and have a shot at the World Series. As the son of a Chicago-raised Cubs fan and a lover of underdogs, this was too tense to ignore. But I can walk and chew gum at the same time. It was easy to be awestruck by Jake Arietta’s pitching performance while simultaneously appreciating in full the varied sounds and personalities coming across our stage. Ours was an evening of four innings, each with its own score.

The bluegrass around the Front Range in Colorado has a free and windy...

more
KY-Head-1024x462.jpg

Here’s a certain continuity we didn’t expect or plan. Last week we gathered some legendary purveyors of southern, country-inflected rock and roll to help out an excellent songwriter from Kentucky. This week we’re going to hear from some beloved purveyors of southern, country-inflected rock and roll who are themselves from Kentucky. They’re so intense about what they do and where they’re from that they’re called the Kentucky Headhunters. They snared a number two album and hits with a hearty, heavy sound that was not in style yet on country radio. Some then thought they were from the future, and maybe that future is now. Meanwhile, the rest of our night – our Fall Season opener by the way – is our usual wild and eclectic mix that includes sacred steel guitar power, Colorado bluegrass and...

more
tommyMCR-crop-1024x644.jpg

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...

more
tommywomack-1024x603.jpg

This week’s show preview comes from journalist and artist Peter Cooper, who knows the musicians involved better than anyone we know. It was his idea and his connections that pulled together this special benefit show for Tommy Womack. And he’ll be our musical host this Wednesday too. So I’m very glad to take a week off and hand the MCR blog over to my old pal and colleague Peter. – Craig H.

“I worry often,” Tommy Womack once sang. “I live in terror of what life may have in store.”

Tommy—who has long been among Nashville’s most inventive, idiosyncratic and essential roots musicians—was right to worry. In June, he was driving to a gig when, suddenly, he wasn’t driving anymore. Instead, he was being rushed by ambulance to a Kentucky hospital. The...

more
09-23-15-Jam-1024x512.jpg

“Nashville has my heart,” said Bex Chilcott aka Ruby Boots during her set this week at Roots. I think she spoke in some way for just about all the Australian artists who took the stage this week for our annual night of Down Under overdrive. Aussie Night features artists who have worked very hard and established enough bona fides in their home country to qualify for travel money and promotion from Sounds Australia. And the end of their 10,000 mile journey is Music City, for good reason. Others have come before, from Keith Urban to that sweet O’Shea couple, establishing careers. This is the place where you can put a U.S. career together. And as Bex said, contemporary Nashville with its open-hearted community of creators, is very special. And we’re all about welcoming pilgrims, especially...

more
em002.jpg

australian-flag-large-1024x512.jpg

n the early 2000s when I was reporting about music for The Tennessean and everyone was scrambling to understand the onset of the digital music revolution, I helped organize a periodic conversation/coffee klatch among some of the Music Row thinkers and doers I most admired. One of the regulars was Jeff Walker, the ebullient Australian who founded publicity and promotions company AristoMedia in 1980. I was so impressed that he would take time out of a very full agenda to come talk speculatively and with no aim other than mutual understanding and insight. He was a fount of information, optimism and realism. Plus he had a huge heart.

When Jeff died suddenly in late August, Nashville lost one of its best friends and most energetic boosters. And so did Music City Roots....

more
RRIntDesk-1024x620.jpg

AmericanaFest has begun and that’s always an inspiring time to listen – to music of course but also to the stories and thoughts and updates of the performers who make our world turn. Two new Roots Radio Interviews went up on our Soundcloud today – one with mandolin master Mike Compton and one with the siblings Sean and Sara Watkins, leaders of the long-running Watkins Family Hour. I post the whole playlist of our interviews here and invite y’all to take a little time out to hear these artists’ stories and share this growing pool of conversations. More coming as the week unfolds.

more
JeffWalker.jpg

Music City Roots is proud to announce that our annual Aussie Night, coming up on Wednesday, Sept. 23, will be a benefit show dedicated to the memory and legacy of Jeff Walker, one of Nashville’s most beloved entrepreneurs and music promoters, who passed away on Aug. 24 at the age of 65. I’ll chat on stage with Jeff’s daughter Christy and son Jon. And as we enjoy hand-picked Australian talent, we’ll also be spreading the word about a new Jeff Walker Sister Cities Scholarship, which will fund artist exchanges between the U.S. and Australia. MCR will donate 100% of the show’s ticket revenue to the scholarship.

“Jeff was involved in the earliest days of Music City Roots,” says co-executive producer John Walker, no relation. “It was an AristoMedia press release that set off...

more
09.9.15Jam-1024x512.jpg

I caught the first half of Stephen Colbert’s first Late Show on Tuesday and finished it after arriving home from Roots on Wednesday night. Little did I know that on top of our fine night at The Factory, I was in for one of the most exciting media moments for Americana music since O Brother. Please see my personal blog for extended remarks on this, but let’s say if we feature the Nashville Jam, Late Night’s closing number (“Everyday People”) was a magnificent National Jam and one that foretold a major new platform for roots, jazz, soul and generally excellent American music. By bringing on New Orleans/New York musician Jon Batiste as band leader (and special opening-night guests like Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard, Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy), Colbert is placing trust...

more
MavericksNow-1024x587.png

The dictionary defines a maverick as “an unorthodox or independent-minded person” with synonyms including individualist, nonconformist, dissident and free spirit. Isn’t it kind of weird, in a nation built on the ethos of the individual and premised on free thought, that we even need a word for such people? I’ll bore you with my opinions on this in the realm of politics over beers if you like, but here I’d just like to observe that maverickism is pretty much a given in the realm of Americana music. It’s a format born of independent thought and nonconformism and it’s been giving shelter to maverick musicians for 15 years. The band that took the name The Mavericks was fortunate indeed, as it conjures just the right kind and degree of courageous uniqueness, not to mention a certain...

more
15-09-09-Carousel.png

I’m writing this from the road and an extravagantly happy occasion. My Mom and Dad have just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and a dozen family members have gathered in North Carolina to make a fuss over them and spend time together. They’re doing great, I’m thrilled to say. And I’m certainly reflecting on what a great gift I was given to have them as examples in life and marriage and so many other things.

One of those things, which actually does relate to the topic at hand, i.e. Music City Roots this Wednesday night, was early entrée into the world of classical music. I got violin lessons and youth orchestra and a lot of excellent concerts, plus big doses of Mozart and Schubert on the stereo at home. It’s not the typical story for somebody who now dreams of picking...

more

Besides being an astonishing technical talent and hugely energetic performer, ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro also turns out to be a charming, perceptive and passionate guy. Here Craig H. talks with him about the YouTube video that changed his life, his innovations on a traditional instrument and a jam session with Nashville’s Time Jumpers that sold him on Nashville.

more
9.2.15-Jam-1024x512.jpg

The night’s first good omen was arriving at The Factory and hearing a saxophone blowing outside. Leaning against the brick was a guy with a hat on his head, tattoos on his arms and an instrument, warming up and running arpeggios. Then I enter the backstage and I’m face to face with a burnished, well-used Sousaphone on a stand, with a trombone next to it. I took a picture. These – the dude outside and the instruments inside – belonged to the Dirty Bourbon River Show, the act from New Orleans that was waiting to close out our Wednesday night at Roots with their hurricane of wild spirit. It’s great to have things to look forward to.

It was a great show run-up all around. Time moved slowly. Kristi...

more
Aqua-3rd-L.jpg

Music City Roots has something in common with what I love about baseball, in that even though the big picture stays constant, every episode brings something new and surprising. Take this week. It’s Friday morning and I’m on the phone with master musician Jim Hoke, getting some background on his vintage suave band Aqua Velvet, our show-opening artist this Wednesday at Liberty Hall. Hoke created this small orchestra a decade ago with multi-instrumentalist Randy Leago to re-imagine standards and important tunes in fun, filmic ways. I’m especially interested in the wild harmonies Hoke discovers and adds to familiar songs, so that’s what I’m asking him about, on the phone.

Aqua Velvet “gives me a chance to stretch my chord muscles and put in chords that are associated with other kinds...

more
15-8-26-Jam-1024x512.jpg

Zonn.jpg

This week’s show will be epic for all of us and a bit personal for me. Last winter I got a call asking to help out with the press notes for an upcoming album by a musician I’ve long admired and a person I adore, Nashville fiddler, singer and songwriter Andrea Zonn. That led to a lovely lunch and catch up where I heard about her adventures on the road in James Taylor’s band and the latest on her son. He had a health scare some years ago that would test any mom’s faith, and it turned out that those events also became a catalyst for the new project we were talking about, including its title track “Rise.”

We’ve worked on this Wednesday’s show for a long time in tandem with Andrea and her manager/our friend Brian Smith so...

more

Phil Madeira has been a quiet accomplice to some of the finest roots music projects of the past decade. He’s been a band member for Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris. He’s also a prolific songwriter and producer who earned acclaim for his anthology Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. Phil talks with Craig about the snares of the Nashville Christian music industry and making music of faith with integrity and tradition.

more

Ronnie Reno, veteran of bluegrass and traditional country music, talks with Craig H about a 60-year career that spans his father’s time with Reno & Smiley through the Osborne Brothers, Merle Haggard and more.

more
08-19-15Jam-1024x512.jpg

15-08-19-Carousel.png

What do we mean when we say music has meaning? A song tells a story and makes us think and relate as a fellow human. Hymns uplift us and turbocharge our feelings of transcendence. Jam bands make musical space and time where we can share glances and high fives with total strangers and make connections while dancing to our own whims. Instrumental music is hardest to pin down; it evokes and suggests but never dictates. This is its greatest and most overlooked virtue. Listen to this week’s artists on Roots for a bit of all of this wide range of musical meaning. We’ve got a venerated folk singer, a soulful, improv-heavy folk rock band, a writer of sacred songs that speak to everyone and an instrumental duo built on guitar standard and steel. I’m personally looking forward to this one as one...

more
15-08-12-Jam-1024x512.jpg

2015-07-22-IBMA-show-graphic3-3-1024x768.png

I used up my legal ration of one “O Brother” headline per year in a recent Doobie Brothers review, but if I hadn’t, I’d have pulled it out for this week’s show – a brother heavy bluegrass spectacular with four exceptional, league-leading groups. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers is a band of brothers in spirit. Our soul sister Sierra Hull is back. And our final two acts of the evening represent genuine genetically generated gentlemen. The Travelin’ McCourys features brothers Rob and Ronnie on banjo and mandolin. And there’s nothing but truth in advertising in the name of two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year The Gibson Brothers. So because your correspondent is a snarky, world weary crusader for every kind of country but Bro-Country, I can only think to celebrate this week’s lineup...

more
08-5-15-Jam-1024x512.jpg

I love it when my evening at Roots begins with a comfortable sit-down interview with somebody who’s been around the musical block and who has wisdom to share. That happened Wednesday afternoon when I did a half hour on Roots Radio with musical guest Ronnie Reno. He’s a guy after our hearts with his loyalty to classic bluegrass, old school country and his track record of sharing them on stage, record, radio and TV screen. And yet he was also the kid who encouraged the Osborne Brothers to plug in their instruments and scale up their drum set, setting off a family feud in bluegrass that persists to this day. That kind of iconoclastic thinking helped frame this week’s show, with its traditional cowboy songs, its high lonesome grass, its songwriting and finally some blowtorch blues from a...

more
15-08-05-Carousel.png

Bluegrass Country Soul, one of my favorite music films, is a time capsule in celluloid if ever there was one. It whisks us back to the primordial days of bluegrass festivals and the grounds of Camp Springs, North Carolina in 1971. In living color, there’s a peach-fuzz young Tony Rice and Sam Bush. And there’s Jimmy Martin at the top of his powers. And the Osborne Brothers, so close you can almost touch Bobby’s mandolin, doing “Ruby” with fireball power. To Bobby’s right is brother Sonny with a hipster goatee and his right hand firing off 10-12 notes a second on the banjo. On the other side is a young fellow wearing an orange satin puffy shirt that would clear a room in 2015 but with a...

more
Jam-7-29-15-1024x512.jpg

Sarah Potenza quoted her always quotable musical pal and fashion consultant Elizabeth Cook on stage at Roots this week. “Let the fringe do the work,” she said as she talked about one aspect of her transition from coffee house singer to stage rocker and the interesting choices and challenges it brings. Sarah’s fringe was long and purple and flowy, like a jungle bird. Her friend and fellow performer Crystal Bowersox sported her fringe on brown leather pants. But there was nothing fringy about their performances or the overall sound of a mesmerizing parade of foundational Americana music in Liberty Hall on July 29. From a folk soul opening to a retro-soul funk-ass finish, it was an epic edition of the program featuring one of the best guest duo performances we’ve ever seen.

Crystal,...

more
15-07-29-Carousel.png

Let’s talk about two women with powerhouse voices, moving personal stories and lightning-flash national exposure on big televised music competitions. One might assume (I sure did) that good friends Sarah Potenza and Crystal Bowersox met in the wake of their success on The Voice and American Idol respectively. But the truth is they go way back to their starving artist days.

“We used to wait tables at the same restaurant in Chicago,” Sarah told me this week. “We shared a band member! We’ve known each other for a long time. And when I got the phone call to audition for The Voice, she was the first person I called, because I wanted her...

more
StandingO-1024x500.jpg

15-07-22-Carousel.png

Every time we land a genuine American roots music master to play our show it’s a victory and a coup for us. Excitement ripples through our team. We see tickets sell in advance at a faster clip. I find it even easier than usual to research and rave about the upcoming lineup. Sometimes those masters are obvious to the general public because they’ve had breakthrough and crossover careers, like Emmylou Harris or Leon Russell. Others are not widely known beyond the Americana inner circle. And I think that’s where we are this week, twice over. It’s one of those things where you have to just get it. But if you get to the Factory, we’re sure you will.

One’s a home act, and one away. One’s a shockingly deep blues man with an all-star Nashville band. The other’s a duo from the top tiers of...

more
JAM-7.17.15-1024x512.jpg

We’ve always maintained a global outlook at MCR, and sometimes interesting and unexpected media or music folks from faraway places drop in on us to ask questions. Yesterday it was a four-person delegation from Korean Broadcasting System’s Radio 2, including producer Mi-Gyung Seo and her translator/interviewer Dan Kim. They asked if they could sit down and get an overview of what we do, and Dan turned out to be particularly well-informed about folk music and the paradoxes of perpetuating authentic folk culture in the modern world. We had a truly fascinating conversation, and part of the upshot for me was to recognize that however disadvantaged and patchy American roots music is in our culture, we in the USA should be grateful that we HAD a folk revival in the 50s and 60s and that it...

more
15-07-15-Carousel.png

I’m filing this dispatch from a road trip in the western part of North Carolina, my home state (Jim’s too). I’m doing bits of business and flying the flag for Music City Roots and hoping to build stronger bridges between Nashville and this musically rich part of the world. I visited Echo Mountain Recording, where MCR alums like the Steep Canyon Rangers and Amy Ray have made albums. I toured the MOOG synthesizer factory, where I was reminded that those seminal and seemingly non-rootsy beasts are in fact hand-made analog instruments, not unlike guitars and mandolins. I stopped by the Arden, NC home of...

more
MCRJam7815.jpg

ChetJamTS.jpg

MontShowHall-1024x472.jpg

fireworks4-1024x491.jpg

My title this week quotes the immortal words of the late, great Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, whose enthusiasm for his game was embodied in his famous catch phrase: “It’s a beautiful day for baseball. Let’s play two!” It is with that all-American brio that we approach our own summertime double-header, a post-July 4th fireworks show of explosive, multi-colored Americana. On Tuesday, July 7 we gather for a special edition MCR that welcomes guests and artists from this year’s annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention, where it’ll be guitars, guitars, guitars and stars. Then on Wednesday, July 8 we officially kick...

more
MCRJAM61715.jpg

It’s one thing to put on our live radio barn dance up against the Country Music Industrial Complex Flaming Truck Awards, which seems to happen several times a year. It’s quite another to be Nashville’s Wednesday night alternative to The Rolling Freaking Stones. Not only were the senior sultans of strut playing a vast outdoor concert at LP field, they’d proven their gentlemanly awesomeness by getting their pictures made around town and hanging out at the Mercy Lounge on Tuesday night while Nashville rockers played Stones covers in a tribute to the late Stones sax man Bobby Keys. Between that and front page news about major upgrades to the “It’s so old it’s cool again” Municipal Auditorium, it’s been a week when vintage is hip. As it always is. It would be shocking if there weren’t...

more
Monteagle.jpg

On June 26, Music City Roots will stage a special one-off edition of the show at the Monteagle Assembly. The event is open to the public. Following are the program notes for the evening.

I was introduced to the concept of the Chautauqua in the novel Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig many years ago. He posed it as a philosophical dialogue and meeting of the minds about serious matters of how we structure and value reality. But he also alluded to the rich 19th century Chautauqua phenomenon of multi-day camp meetings devoted to learning, lectures and spiritual renewal. Theodore Roosevelt is supposed to have called Chautauqua “the most American thing in America.”

It’s exciting to see the concept alive and well and living in Middle...

more
15-06-17-Carousel-1.png

It’s one thing when an acclaimed and revered artist comes to Roots and puts on a thrilling show, i.e. Alejandro Escovedo or Jimmy Webb. We know they’ll be great, and presto, they’re great. The more rarified and memorable encounters come when an artist’s facility far exceeds their familiarity. In other words, we love surprises. And this week we’re featuring two artists who arrived as strangers and left on the top of our hit parade of love.

If you polled our team, I’m certain that right up near the top of our Holy Smokes Moments would be the October 2013 visit by Davina & The Vagabonds. No doubt their website and online tunes suggested this was a tight band with a taste for vintage swing and tasteful...

more
LiveCheese-1024x573.jpg

Cheese.jpg

Government Cheese. Photo by Alan Messer.

Whenever you arrive in Nashville to settle down, you’ll meet people who’ll try to convince you that you got here a little too late. You think this is cool, they’ll say, too bad you just missed this or that golden age. For a mid-90s immigrant like myself, those stories often centered on Music City’s first substantial wave of rock and roll in the 1980s. It a little hard to believe. Before I arrived, I was like many Americans who saw Nashville, via TNN and the image of Opryland, as an ersatz Disney full of pink satin and big hair. It’s no surprise I guess that would inspire a punky rebellion, but alas I missed it. I never saw Jason and the Scorchers or the White Animals back in the day at the Exit/In or Springwater or...

more
MCR6315jam.jpg

Are you following #Tomatogate? The latest face palm from “country” radio came last week when powerful consultant Keith Hill told a trade paper that his data proved that if country stations play two songs by women in a row or more than 20% songs by women overall they’ll lose ratings. And in an agonizing metaphor that will become part of history, he said that if country music is a salad, the guys are the lettuce and the female artists are the “tomatoes.” We suspected that women in country were held back by a glass ceiling. Who knew it was the sneeze guard on a salad bar? The backlash has been intense and hilarious and...

more

Candi Staton, who played Roots on May 20, has had a remarkable career that’s carried her from Muscle Shoals in the 60s to the disco palaces of the 70s and a long fruitful run in Christian/gospel music. Here she talks with Music City Roots Interview Guy Craig Havighurst about her life in music.

more
ashley-1024x491.jpg

This week’s Roots features a woman who sings about the inspiration of God and a girl who sings with apparently God-inspired talent. It’s a compliment and contrast worthy of Roots, balancing the exuberance of youth with the wisdom of experience. I hope the gentlemen on our bill this week have fortitude and self-esteem, because as great as they are, I think the aura around the females will be very bright indeed.

Ashley Cleveland, our wily veteran and show-closing artist, makes her second appearance at MCR more than five years after her first, which was back in our WSM days at the Loveless Barn. Supported by her husband Kenny Greenberg on guitar plus a staggering Nashville rhythm section of Chad Cromwell (drums) and...

more
MCRDragon.jpg

Roots music has deep virtues, but surprise is probably not the first one that comes to mind. When I crave musical double takes and jaw-drops I head for jazz, modern classical and avant-garde rock, where the fun comes from not knowing where the ground is or which way is up. But roots music starts on the rock of tradition, so exceeding expectations is perhaps more challenging. Well friends, at this week’s MCR, all four artists went above and beyond in his and her own way. A cellist/bandleader brought a troupe of amazing dancers. A Northeastern folk singer picked Piedmont style guitar. A banjo rock band blew us away. And a veteran country star played hits for the sixty-hundredth time like he was a new artist. We regularly see passion, but passion plus self-invention is what we live for...

more
Judah-1024x364.jpg

The bittersweet night cap after last Wednesday’s show was the final episode of David Letterman’s Late Show, as the amazing, era-shaping comedian signed off after 33 years. Besides the deserved kudos for his innovative and brave approach to comedy and talk, there have been some great stories about Dave’s robust support for American roots music. More than twenty appearances by Emmylou Harris and championing Elizabeth Cook were just the tip of the iceberg. Many in our community got their first and sometimes only shot at national television thanks to Dave’s passion for great songwriting and musicianship – including bands he knew full well his fans would be hearing for the...

more
mcr52015jam.jpg

Candi-Staton-Life-Happens-1024x568.jpg

In the Fall of 2011 the Americana Music Association was set to give a lifetime achievement award to Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studio and architect of the Muscle Shoals success story. They could have called on any number of people to present the honor at the Ryman Auditorium, but in selecting Candi Staton, the AMA did her and the rest of us a great service. There were certainly some super fans of American soul in the house who knew Staton as an underappreciated gem. For me and many others, though she was a revelation, beaming with love and integrity. Performing with the amazing house band and the McCrary Sisters, she lit up the South’s greatest concert hall with a yearning and exquisite “Heart On A String.” I asked AMA boss Jed Hilly about it this week and he said it was one of his...

more
mcrjam51315.jpg

DoobiesCar-1024x486.jpg

We at Roots are not accustomed to being coy or keeping secrets. But we’ve had this mystery show for May 13 on the books for weeks, and y’all may have been mystified, miffed or just meh. But in any event, we broke the news last night that our Wednesday show will feature two extra-long sets by The Doobie Brothers, with special guests, plus an opening set by Jim Hurst, guitarist extraordinaire.

We have a little bit of a thing with the Bros. Doobie. As you may know if you’ve followed our adventures, John Cowan has been the band’s bass player and valued support vocalist for a couple of stretches of time, including recent years. And we are huge Cowan-heads, given that he’s one of kingpins of newgrass and one of the...

more
15-05-06-Barn-Dance-Carousel-1024x559.png

Moving from the Loveless Cafe to the Factory came with many upsides and a few things we miss, but one of the toughest peanuts to swallow was losing the barn that sheltered our annual Barn Dance. The Loveless let a little weather in, for good or for ill, and in May it was never ill. Light and air filled the room. People smiled and twirled. Some of our best memories of the show in general come from those nights. So can we have a Barn Dance in a Factory? Of course. Because the term has multiple meanings. As a radio genre, we are a Barn Dance, which is a live show with country music and a barn set. That goes back to the days when folks around the countryside would move their furniture, crank up the Grand Ole Opry on the AM radio set and frolic at home. You can do that but we’d much rather...

more
mcrjam42930.jpg

gretchen-peters-blackbirds-lg-1024x538.jpg

Last Autumn, Gretchen Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame with a moving speech by Rodney Crowell and alongside fellow greats John Anderson, Paul Craft and Tom Douglas. With iconic credits like “Independence Day,” “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” and “On A Bus To St. Cloud” gracing her resume, this induction was a shoe-in on par with Greg Maddux or Tim Duncan, athletes who share Gretchen’s understated excellence. But on a phone call this week, the songwriter said the event meant even more in the context of what was going on in her life and career at the same time, which is to say the gratifying growth of her stature as an artist. It’s the rare Nashville hit writer who releases nationally acclaimed...

more
Jam-4.22.15.jpg

We schemed up our special Merlefest show concept two years ago, and they’ve been superb, with stars like Sierra Hull and Peter Rowan included on the bills. We work with the organizers of Merlefest to identify bands and artists who are positioned to play Roots on Wednesday and then drive over to the Appalachian town of N. Wilkesboro NC where their Merlefest stages await.

I hope you’ve attended this wonderful event, but just in case this is news to you, Merlefest is among the nation’s leading music festivals, setting the gold standard for big-tent Americana/roots gatherings in the early 90s. I’ve written at length about this awesome gathering in the past, because I...

more
MCR415jam.jpg

Was it a weird coincidence or a sign? I left the Factory Wednesday night on proverbial cloud nine, with “Amazing Grace” (our Nashville Jam chosen by Billy Joe Shaver) echoing in my head. Then on the car stereo was RadioLab, with a story about a guy who suddenly loses his faith in God. But he loves “Amazing Grace” and he sings it twice in the piece. This song follows me around. But of course I’m not alone.

“Amazing Grace” confronts me with a mystery. By Tennessee standards (and Billy Joe Shaver’s certainly), I’m an unbeliever. I don’t “sing God’s praise” and I’m dubious about the concept of salvation. Yet “Amazing Grace” fills me with light, love and emotion every time. Joining my voice with others a cappella as we did at the end of the show in Liberty Hall, there’s truly no song...

more
15-04-15-Carousel.png

We say it all the time: “That’s the real deal.” We don’t object when an artist raised in one world slips on the skin of a borrowed identity, so long as they’re good at what they do. But something even deeper resonates when we encounter a great artist who is utterly of their lineage and seemingly unaware of the identity buffet that is the postmodern world. I’m not sure I’ve encountered anyone in Americana and country music more fully himself than 75-year-old Texan Billy Joe Shaver. On a night at Roots featuring several strong, resolute male songwriters, the alpha male is Shaver, with his chapped voice, wild history and simply astonishing songs.

I discovered Billy Joe about the same time and in the same place...

more
Jam-4.8.15.jpg

In this latest Roots Radio Interview, Craig H talks in-depth about the blues with rising star Jarekus Singleton and Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer. Bruce not only signed Jarekus to his legendary independent label, he’s produced and mentored this powerful, promising young guitar player, singer and songwriter. It’s a relationship that says all you need to know about how roots music legacies are made.

more
BlueHighway1_300RGB-1024x683.jpg

We’ve been having a great run of top quality bluegrass music on Roots, with Hot Rize and Doyle Lawson and Special Consensus. But talk of “great runs” in bluegrass withers in comparison to the epic journey of a band joining us this week for our Spring season opener.

Blue Highway performed its first show on New Year’s Eve in 1994, and now, more than 20 years later, the band still consists of the same five guys who took the stage on that occasion. In 1995, when they released a debut album called It’s A Long, Long Road, none of them I suspect saw it as a prophecy. But there you go. Such longevity as a full band is incredibly rare, but the chemistry in this quintet is particular.

Guitarist Tim Stafford seems...

more
Roots-1-1117-1024x384.jpg

By guest blogger Larry Nager. Photo by guest photographer Butch Worrell.

On any given Wednesday, Music City Roots is the Americana version of a classic radio barn dance – a variety of artists, some old, some new, some famous, some less well known. Like that show at the Ryman that you may have heard of, there’s a sense of family, of continuity, of traditions being passed on at the same time new sounds are created.

But those connections were never more clear than at our March 25 show at The Factory in Franklin. Five bands, featuring several dozen musicians from their 20s to their 70s teamed up to create a panoramic view of American music – Tennessee soul, Texas swing, Colorado bluegrass, Georgia rock and East Nashville singer-songwriter cool. Call it...

more

For me, a great concert lineup is like a great recipe, just the right balance of ingredients and tastes, sweet and sour, rich and spicy. And the really memorable shows, from nights at Bill Graham’s Fillmores to festivals like Merlefest and Bonnaroo, all have shared the secret of mixing it up, enhancing varied musical flavors, keeping that balance, that tension.

But I dare anyone anywhere to come up with a better, tastier, more eclectic lineup than we’ve got at Music City Roots this week.

First, we have two major American bands, reunited and back on the road.

From 1978-1998 Hot Rize was at the forefront of bluegrass music, with a soulful, tradition-based sound and innovative modern viewpoint. Before he became an Americana mainstay, mandolinist-fiddler Tim O’Brien...

more
BelNashWriters-300x160.jpg

L to R: Mark Graham, Allie Bradley, Paul Tully and Warren Attwell.

We’ve just announced a special addition to this week’s Music City Roots. As part of our exchange with the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival (and in synch with St. Patrick’s Day) four of Ireland’s finest musicians will appear in the round in the middle of this week’s show. We’ll take a break from our regular format to feature acoustic performances from Paul Tully, Mark Graham, Warren Atwell and Allie Bradley. They’ve all been hand-picked to represent Belfast in this annual visit between sister cities, now in its eleventh year.

Mark Graham is an eclectically minded artist from Lisburn, Northern Ireland who has also spent time in Australia and...

more

Bluegrass music is like alchemy in that it starts with such humble, all-natural ingredients and ends up with something surprisingly complex and beautiful. Materials: wood, wire, brass and bone. Subjects: home, love, God and trains. This week we’ll enjoy the entertainment of a couple of bands who explicitly embrace some of these components in their names. Plus two more artists who may not be bluegrass, but who seem skilled in the art of musical alchemy as well, weaving together influences, time periods and unexpected juxtapositions.

In its name, Wood & Wire directs your attention to the resonating bodies that make up their instruments, and in so doing they may obscure the varied influences and impressive schooling...

more

Our interview guy Craig H. has posted two new interviews in our Roots Radio Interview podcast series, featuring two recent MCR guest artists who amaze us for different reasons. Angaleena Presley is a fascinating songwriter raised on Kentucky’s famed Hillbilly Highway, just down the road from Loretta Lynn’s Butcher Holler. Her country music is deeply felt and written with craft and brave honesty. Craig talks with Angaleena about her debut solo album, the acclaimed American Middle Class.

more
15-02-25-Mashup-1-300x100.png

We know better than to complain about winter weather here in Tennessee, even though we do. One of our radio affiliate friends in North Dakota wrote me this week to say they were looking at base temperatures as low as -25 plus blustery winds. We know how bad Boston’s had it with snow that’s literally covered cars and homes. We’re deep in the siege of winter now, and we send our thoughts and prayers to listeners, fans, friends and musicians out there. Here in Nashville this morning, cold rain is falling on an inch or two of ice and snow, making a sloppy slurry of slush. It’s another day cooped up inside, and while we love our little cabin home on the hill, we’ve got cabin fever to beat the band.

So we were REALLY looking forward to doing our show last Wednesday, but as you may...

more
JarekusVelvet-300x100.jpg

Check this out. It’s Jarekus Singleton, shot from backstage last Wednesday night. Did you see this on our Twitter the other day? That’s where I first saw it, and it knocked me out. I had no idea who took it or how the wild effect was achieved. It sure didn’t seem like the work of our photo honcho Tony Scarlati. He likes them au natural and he may not even like this bit of conceptual tweaking. I haven’t asked him. I dig it. The more I looked the more I saw. It’s really well composed, with clear looks at all four band members. The drummer is in the sway of the music. The piano in the foreground with Jason D. Williams’s hat is brilliant. Then there’s the house lights above and my favorite touch, the little dude in the background at the merch table standing in his own pool of...

more
15-02-18-Mashup-300x100.png

Can a person ever have too much of a good thing? Like most of familiar phrases in our lexicon, that thought comes from Shakespeare, through the lips of feisty, sensual Rosalind in As You Like It. She’s talking about getting married, and her happy ending comes easily to mind as I write this A) because the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s performance of the play last summer at Centennial Park was so good and B) because it’s Valentine’s Day. I’m full of love for my sweetheart and wife of 11 years and our daughter, whom we first met on Feb. 14, exactly four years ago. So for us, and I hope for you, it’s a day of many happy returns. And this week’s post V-Day, post Mardi Gras edition of Roots is a week of happy returns. All four artists have made one or two appearances on MCR in...

more

carosel-for-feb-11-copy-300x100.jpg

If you’re reading this in our Factory home or in the Nashville area, you’re sitting at one corner of the Americana Music Triangle. Does that come as a surprise? If you haven’t heard about this yet, you will this Spring when it launches formally after a few years of behind the scenes work and development. This initiative, based right in our venue’s home town of Franklin, ties together states, cities and cultural institutions in a way meant to help the world discover the history and geography of American roots music. The triangle, anchored by Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans, spans the South, the cradle of all American popular music and the birthplace of one of the greatest cultural explosions in the history of humanity....

more

Dale_Watson_singer-300x100.jpg

A few recent events have once again thrown into sharp relief the gulf between country music the great American genre and “country music,” the lost radio format. Over in our world, Sturgill Simpson made the cover of the Nashville Scene as the winner of its annual critics’ poll for releasing the best country album of 2104. Then last week, the Academy of Country Music announced nominees for its annual extravaganza, setting up yet another televised celebration of celebrities with perfect teeth, hot muscles, stage moves and mostly dreadful songs.

I raise this well worn subject because I think we need to regularly remind ourselves that good music is at a disadvantage in the modern...

more
DSC_4730-300x100.jpg

Let us now praise good band names. From our Roots faves and friends, I’d give prizes to Humming House (sounds like a place you want to be), The Westbound Rangers (having their own theme song makes it even better), The Vespers (though it sounds quieter than the band itself) and New Country Rehab (perhaps my favorite in contemporary Americana music). Oh, and how can I forget Greyhounds, our recent guest ensemble that feels right without the obligatory “The”? This is a delicate, dicey and difficult task, as I’m sure many of you have experienced. We’ve all seen bands that kicked some ass on stage whose name made us shake our heads. Most of us have sat around, inebriated, combing the dictionary and brainstorming with our mates, wondering if our entire future hinges on getting the right...

more
15-01-28-Mashup1-300x100.png

Last week one of our dear older fans tapped me on the arm and complimented the show, including very specifically its gentle volume level. She was on to something. So far this winter, Roots has been acoustically easy. It’s been solo songwriters and banjo-driven folk. Western swing and classic country. Sure we’ve had guns-a-blazin’ bluegrass with Doyle Lawson and funky, twangy soul with Greyhounds. But so far no big amplifiers, muscular drummers or that essential, glorious American contribution to world music known as rock and roll.

But this is Music City, base for Jason and the Scorchers and Jack White, just as surely as it launched Hank Williams and Sturgill Simpson. Rock has roots. We’re selective and judicious in our indulgence in the loud and the heavy though. We love Drivin’...

more
mcr12115jam-300x100.jpg

15-01-21-mashup-square-300x100.png

One of the toughest (and greatest) challenges for a show like ours is balancing the new with the familiar. How often should we invite back favorite artists? Should there be a “cast” that defines the ethos of the show? We’ve never wanted to be Opry-like, with some artists appearing most weeks. But more or less without trying we’ve collected a group of Americana stalwarts who embody what we believe in, and any regular fan will recognize them: Sam Bush, Mike Farris, John Cowan, 18 South, etc. This week we’ve invited back two more – an enthralling songwriter/storyteller and an icon of traditional bluegrass music.

Chip Taylor proves that adage that people may not remember what you tell them but they remember how you make them...

more
DSC_9309-300x100.jpg

15-01-14-Mashup-300x100.png

I’ve been reading a lot lately about “disruption.” For the most part, optimists and utopians have celebrated the creative destruction of old power structures with democratizing technologies. But recently, more observers than ever are asking whether we’re losing more than we’re gaining, as middle-class culture jobs vanish, as record and book stores close and as speedy Twitter feeds compete in our heads for actual reading and thinking. It’s too much to get into here of course, but I can offer one takeaway: There is much baggage from our collective past that needs to change and some great virtues that we change at our peril, and can be extremely hard to tease them apart or tell which is which. Caution is recommended.

Music, however, is a space where disruption can be low-stakes but...

more

I bought a pair of overalls once and wore them out on just a couple of occasions. And look, I grew up near a golf course with a law professor dad, so I fully acknowledge this was a lark and a pose. But when in Rome, you know? And having seen how comfortable folks like Mike Bub and Leroy Troy look in their Tennessee Tuxedos, I had to give ‘em a try.

And see, here’s the funny thing that happened. I went to the Station Inn (where else?), and I don’t even remember the show specifically, but somehow I found myself behind the bar helping out

Ann Soyars, the dear, badass bluegrass den mother who just recently died...

more
15-01-07-Mashup-300x100.png

One of the coolest Christmas present we received in our family was my wife’s copy of Sean Brock’s gorgeous new cookbook Heritage. In case the name’s unfamiliar, Brock is the chef and mastermind behind Husk, the celebrated restaurant that opened first in Charleston, SC and then in Nashville in 2013. Our Husk, in a stately 1880s home on Rutledge Hill overlooking downtown, is an amazing dining experience, and Brock is regarded as one of America’s great culinary artists.

I bring this up here as I welcome you to a new year and a new MCR season because Brock’s philosophy of food is so very close to our show’s beliefs about music. You could almost swap the words throughout his opening essay. “Southern food has enough soul to transcend region,” he writes. Southern music has of...

more

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...

more
JulieLee-300x100.jpg

We on the team are frequently reminding each other of particular favorite performances from our five years of attempted alternative reality roots music broadcasting. And a precious few just keep coming back like super top hits that prove more undeniable and valuable with the passage of time. Near the very top is Julie Lee’s 2012 rendition of her song “Beautiful Night,” a swaying, exquisite mood setter that presents Julie’s crystalline voice on a pillow of white. It was part of that year’s East Nashville Christmas show supporting a great album that was (and still is) raising funds for health care support for the homeless. It was a beautiful night indeed, as have all of our year-end holiday special shows. Another one is...

more

doug-seegers-300x100.jpg

THhe preoccupation with authenticity in roots music is not just some trope. It’s not a game or a cliché that we writer types dwell on because we can’t think of anything else to talk about. It’s as close to the heart of what matters about folk music as redemption is to religion or improvement is to sports. Authenticity is the highest, best calling of the art form. But what does it mean?

That’s a big subject of course, but one test is to ask whether an artist would do it the same way for an audience of a thousand or of a million or of two. Would they do it with no expectation of return, simply because they had to? And when you’re listening, can you feel screens and filters and mediators, as with country radio? Or does it feel like a human being speaking in words and musical...

more
DSC_3556-300x100.jpg

14-12-03-mashup-square-300x100.png

In showbiz, the audience is known as the “house” and while showbiz people are always hoping for a full house, certain nights bring more gravitas and anticipation than others. As a team and a Roots family, we were certainly hoping for a good crowed for our first Thanksgiving Eve show in Liberty Hall. Would the magic of our late November homecoming tradition translate? Would command performances by John Cowan and Mike Farris have the same hearth glow?

Well I’m very happy to report that not only was the house full, but so were our hearts and speakers. Four artists meshed together to craft a diverse and meaningful night of music and camaraderie. Then we enjoyed the sweet segue from Roots Wednesday to Thanksgiving Thursday, from “house” to home, from musical cornucopia to family...

more
14-11-26-Carousel--300x100.png

It’s a challenge, sitting here in a red and green, sparkle/twinkle themed Starbucks – to turn down the noise of Christmas and focus on the sweeter, subtler holiday at hand: Thanksgiving. Somewhere on the journey, I outgrew Christmas, and it outgrew me. Thanksgiving has been more my thing for years, because it’s food and family with little baggage. And I am indeed thankful for my family (and for food), and once again I anticipate a gathering of the clan. They’ll be at Roots on Wednesday night and then hanging around the house the next day, cooking, talking and eating. I hope you can look forward to something similar.

I never imagined I’d add a new Thanksgiving tradition to my life in my old age, but Music City Roots has made it so. As I’ve been noting over the five years we’ve...

more
MSRJam11-19-14lr1-300x100.jpg

I’ve been on a personal side trip lately into modern music, attending and listening to works that are far out by our show’s rootsy standards. I grew up with lots of classical music and jazz in my life and on my music stands, and I go through phases where I crave sonic adventure and weirdness. With three great concerts by contemporary ensembles or composers in the last two weeks, I’m on a roll, and my ears and brain have been all “whoa, hey, what’s that, wow” or something like that. Contrast that, dear readers, with this week’s Roots, which was a meat-and-potatoes, straight-shootin’, fastballs-down-the-middle kind of show. I don’t mean it was bland or boring by any means. Just archetypal Americana styles done well, with boldly sung soul and pop, sweet folk harmonies and some...

more
carosel-for-Nov-19-copy-300x100.png

I’ve been following roots music for a couple of decades. So I know something about a lot of artists, but I don’t know them all, and I never will. There’s just that much talent. It’s also true that our booking team is really on the ball and brings in great stuff. Put those together and it means that just about every week, I have some prior history and passion for at least one the artists the upcoming bill. I’ve never read the roster and seen artists who were entirely new to me. Until now. Nothing wrong with that. I do not need to be the world’s most comprehensive or knowledgeable music fan. But this challenge is sending me straight to ye olde internet to learn about our acts from scratch.

So I thought it might be fun in a behind the scenes kind of way to make this week’s column a...

more
McLs-300x100.jpg

Last year, the awesome spoken word artist Minton Sparks told us from the stage between pieces that “I just get a major kick out of parading my family’s business out in public, because my mother would have rather died than have that happen.” Yes, that’s the writer’s blessing and curse (especially Southern writers). If we’re going to tell truth, it’s also going to include the truth about those we love or loved once. On Wednesday night at Roots, we heard two of Nashville’s best female songwriters parade some of their family business in the most artful possible way. And, while they shared no secrets, we got to hear from a father-son duo that bodes well for the future of the Music City family.

My evening began with a most enjoyable half-hour Roots Radio interview with one of those...

more
carosel-copy-300x100.jpg

Nashville is nothing if not a crossroads, and in recent weeks we’ve had a run of fascinating and talented artists who by and large have hailed from places down those roads in every direction. This week, whether by happy accident or design, we’re staging a small Music City miracle of a show with vividly different and important artists who live and work right here in Nashville or Middle Tennessee.

We’re the global headquarters of songwriting, and we’ll have some of the best in Mary Gautier and Angaleena Presley. Pat McLaughlin has a great track record as a penman too, but when he performs the memories are usually made by his voice and power. Plus this week he brings his precociously talented son Jamie along for one of their increasingly frequent and popular duo gigs. And we’ll...

more
DSC_16691-300x100.jpg

From my late night scan on the DVR, the CMA Awards looked to be their usual tsunami swirl of sublime and ridiculous. It was lovely to see Kacey Musgraves sing with Loretta and win Single of the Year for her brave and original “Follow Your Arrow.” You can’t go wrong with George Strait and Vince Gill. Brad and Carrie were charming and funny. There is a person I should warn you about named Cole Swindell who seems to have done a home study course on hip-hop stagecraft and parlayed that into a country record deal. But it is what it is. I bring up the affair not to beat a dead horse but to point out a contrasting idea about music that may never be reconciled in our fine show biz town.

I realize that the CMA Awards are a televised show and a spectacle. But when every song is its own...

more
carosel-for-Nov-5-copy1-300x100.png

Last week’s show coincided with Game Seven of the World Series, which was unfortunate. Whereas this week’s national media conflict is frankly hilarious. The CMA Awards will be blasting the Bridgestone Arena and millions of American homes with well-financed, badly-realized party rap rock just about the time a young fellow named Trey Hensley steps on our stage to sing. I invite my readers to baste, like a Thanksgiving turkey, in the irony of this situation. The CMA will be in Nashville with stars, wildly expensive staging and an army of uncritical media. We’ll be in Liberty Hall on the Edge of Music City, broadcasting on Hippie Radio and the web, doing more than they will be to honor and nurture the past, present...

more
DSC_8064-300x100.jpg

The whole nation used to stop whatever it was doing to watch the World Series together. Sad to say that’s no longer true. Baseball is just another entertainment option among many in today’s hyper-stimulated USA. So when I saw that Music City Roots was going to start at the same moment as a much anticipated final showdown between the Royals and the Giants after a marvelous series and playoffs, I thought, “Shoot, that’s NOT very Americana.”

Shows must go on, to coin a phrase. But of course, we can time travel now, so I managed to record the game and get home from Wednesday night’s MCR without knowing the outcome. Not that I had a dog in the hunt. With my Braves long eliminated, I cherished the final days of baseball for the sake of a beautiful game beautifully played. Simple as...

more
carosel-300x100.jpg

I remember with uncharacteristic clarity the moment I heard first about James McMurtry. I was futzing around in a newly rented house in Durham, NC in the fall of 1989, listening to All Things Considered tell me that the son of novelist Larry McMurtry was a talented Texas songwriter. Then this world-weary but perceptive voice sang the lines “Hear the trucks on the highway / And the ticking of the clocks/ There’s a ghost of a moon in the afternoon / Bullet holes in the mailbox.”

Holy mackerel, I thought, I’ve got to hear more of that! So I got me hence to the old record store and bought Too Long In The Wasteland, McMurtry’s debut album. It became a staple. I learned and...

more
PurpleShoe-300x100.jpg

This week, the footwear told the story. Young bluesman Selwyn Birchwood wore purple patent leather shoes. Keelan Donovan sported stylish dress shoes to go with his narrow plaid tie, crisp white shirt and melodic acoustic pop. Taylor Brashears wore cowboy boots as a compliment to her Patsy Montana inspired western dress. While Whiskey Shivers went barefoot. What was consistent was that our feet out in the audience were set to tapping by everything we heard. This is how we walk the walk at Roots.

What a nice varied lineup on a night when we had a huge group of fans and folks in Liberty Hall for their first-ever MCR (I took a show of hands at 7:50 and was kind of intimidated). The pressure was on – first impressions and all that. But I have to think the newbies were impressed. They...

more
15-oct-slide-300x100.jpg

Nowadays we’re almost used to seeing cool Nashville talent on national television, but Taylor Brashears singing a blind audition on The Voice in recent weeks was particularly good for Music City’s mojo.

She hit the stage in a head-turning, hippie-in-Asia red frock and kicked into Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man.” If you don’t watch the show, four big-deal artist judges listen from chairs pointed away from the stage. If they spin around before the song is over, it’s an invitation for the singer to be on their team, to be coached through several rounds of competition to a final single winner. So as the pedal steel kicked off the song, the judges looked at one another with...

more
DSC_79311-1024x512.jpg

carousel_Preview-8oct2014-copy-300x100.jpg

I had the good fortune to attend the 2013 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, probably the most spiritually and geographically magnificent music gathering in the nation. And one of my fond memories is the annual band contest, held on a perfect blue sky day in June. I admit I went with a sentimental bias. I’d hoped to see The Barefoot Movement, a group I’d befriended, take the prize. But I was aware of their formidable competition in San Francisco’s Front Country.

California banjo master Bill Evans had tipped me to the talents of band co-founders Jacob Groopman and Melody Walker some time before, and when the group leaned in to the single mic and dove in with passion and clarity to their smartly modern...

more

I believe the word September derives from an old Latin root meaning “over-scheduled.” At least that’s how it feels. The autumnal rush began with AmericanaFest last week and continues next week with the IBMA bluegrass convention in Raleigh, NC. Your faithful correspondent has so far failed even to review our very successful Americana showcase, with its historic reunion by BR549 and its spiritual glow, courtesy of Ruthie Foster. But since we wrapped our Summer season this week, let me look back at these recent shows and our first quarter at our new Liberty Hall home in Franklin, TN.

more
carousel_Preview-24sep2014-copy-e1411376373273-300x100.jpg

One can debate about how old is “old” or whether it’s appropriate to say somebody is old even if they definitely are. But let’s be clear. Mac Wiseman is old. Eighty nine years old. Older than the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and even five months older than the Grand Ole Opry, which enthralled and inspired him growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia during the Depression.

What I won’t tolerate is the association of “old” with irrelevant or square or disposable, in life or in music. The voice of Mac Wiseman today, which we hear with breathy intimacy and focus on his new album Songs From My Mother’s Hand, is a history lesson, a psalm, a window on ourselves and an ennobling meditation on...

more
br549-300x100.jpg

I moved to Nashville in the fall of 1996 and on the Sunday that I drove here to close on my cute old East Nashville house, the New York Times Magazine ran a big feature about Music City’s renaissance (yep, even then). It was quite exciting to read it aloud to my traveling companion as we drove. My new neighborhood was said to be a hive of musical revivalism. Dead Reckoning Records was putting out quality, progressive music with deep roots. And Lower Broadway was humming, thanks to a renovated Ryman Auditorium and the nightly performances at Robert’s Western World by aclassic country band with the quirky name BR5-49.

The air was rife with possibilities and prophecies. A new Nashville was on the make and something was certain to happen to purge the bilge from corporate...

more
DSC_5664-300x100.jpg

There’s no single date or inventor one can point to, but right around 100 years ago a scientific breakthrough changed music more profoundly than the piano or Beethoven or Johnny Cash. The triode vacuum tube was the key that unlocked high fidelity recording, radio transmission and amplification. Amplifiers took on more shapes and sizes than one could ever catalog, and they’re a factor in any musical performance beyond the virgin state of instruments and audience in close proximity. Even most classical concerts these days use microphones and sound “reinforcement.”

It is vitally important – for young folks especially – to be exposed to music coming directly from instruments to their ears without electrical mediation of any kind, because it feels different and special. And because,...

more
MCR_carousel_Preview-3sep2014-copy-300x100.jpg

Bristol, the border-straddling town that’s half in Tennessee and half in Virginia, will forever be famous as the cradle of the country music business, thanks to some very famous and influential recording sessions in 1927. That event, which introduced the world to The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, The Stonemans and others is being celebrated these days in several ways. A new $11 million Birthplace of Country Music Museum just opened in Bristol. And a new album produced by bluegrass/country superman Carl Jackson features stars like Dolly Parton and Marty Stuart recording new...

more

Our new venue has led to a new pre-show routine. Perhaps you’ve visited our Roots Radio shop and studio just outside of Liberty Hall in the Factory. The team did a splendid job building it out and painting it a warm blue/gray. Kirkland’s donated some nice furnishings, and a few Scarlati photos hang on the walls. We have a massive radio desk built from a beautiful mix of regional hardwood. And that’s my new perch for two to three hours before show time, playing my favorite performances from the show’s past and talking into the void about the show to come. If step one on the Roots Radio journey was setting up a 24/7 stream and stocking it with great MCR tracks, this is step two: getting into the...

more

On last week’s Guitar Night show, bluegrass/acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton came out to showcase the music from his new Into My Own CD. His fifth album, it continues to refine his strengths while going deeper than he ever has with singing. Before the show, Bryan came by the Roots Radio studio to speak with Craig about the album and his other recent projects, including his historic work with the beloved band Hot Rize.

more

A Saturday night/Sunday morning dichotomy is oft cited as one reason why country and roots music so effectively captures the human condition. Artists from Hank Williams to Marty Stuart have been hailed for being reverent in one song and rascals in another. They sing of sin and its atonement. People are shown loving their families and their maker but straying into self-indulgence and self-destruction too. Because people are complex. And so is this week’s lineup at Roots, with artists who’ve embraced earthy soul and down-home fun as well as music as a vehicle to reach spiritual heights.

It’s been two full years since we got to feature and enjoy the music of Seth Walker on our stage, and that’s too long....

more
DSC_6329-e1409435673834-300x100.jpg

In between tunes, during his jaw-dropping set of masterful bluegrass guitar music, Bryan Sutton made a joke on stage this week about “Guitar Face,” the scrunchy, pouty, squinty guitar-gasm visage familiar across the guitar universe, from heavy metal shredders to acoustic bluegrass mashers. Guitar Face is mostly involuntary and delightfully embarrassing when caught by still photographers. Guitar Face seizes listeners as well as players. “None of us are immune to Guitar Face,” Bryan said to the crowd. Certainly anyone who there for our fourth annual Music City Roots Guitar Night came down with a case of Guitar Face – the chronic kind that left us just a little bit twisted for nearly three amazing hours.

Pat Flynn opened with a nod to Jimi Hendrix, somebody not closely associated...

more
Dom-Flemmons-300x100.jpg

Our new Roots Radio studio gives us more opportunity to visit with our guest artists, and this week our co-host Craig Havighurst brings back the Roots Radio Interviews. Stream or download these in-depth conversations. Enjoy.

Dom Flemons talks about re-igniting his solo career after eight incredibly successful years with the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

more

I’ve written in this space before about how the guitar changed my life and gave me an instrument I could make my own after getting started in a more traditional classical way as a kid. For a time I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the guitar, until I was introduced to the bluegrass styles of Tony Rice, Norman Blake and Doc Watson. I discovered there was a thing called flatpicking (though Doc called it a “straight pick”) and that the flimsy picks I’d used to that point were useless to bluegrass pickers, who obsessed over the thickness, feel and edge of their plectrums, which were often made of exotic materials and not trivially priced. This was the train I caught — passage to a lifelong relationship with Americana music.

So I’m excited that Guitar Night – our beloved...

more

Dear Coen Brothers, I have this great idea for your next movie. A six-piece itinerant Italian bluegrass/folk band is driving the ribbons of highway and endless skyways of America, in search of their heroes, living and dead. The van gets a flat tire and they’re forced over to the shoulder (many hand gestures). And as the band is rooting beneath the banjo cases and empty beef jerky wrappers for the spare tire, a man appears from nowhere. He’s wearing a Manuel western suit. He’s a man with flowing hair streaked with a color we’ll call “experience,” yet he radiates the vigor of youth. He seems ageless and wise and kindly. Soon the band is rolling on the road again with a working van and an invitation to play for an...

more

In the liner notes to his superb, hand-hewn new album Prospect Hill, self-described “American Songster” Dom Flemons proclaims 2014 the Year of the Folksinger. “There are so many elements coming together,” he wrote. “And that hunch, hope, feeling or dream are what guide this album for me. I was not sure if my proclamation would be warranted or just a foolish notion, but when Pete Seeger passed the night before we began recording, I knew that notion was a reality.”

Not long ago our friends at The Bluegrass Situation published a list of young artists who are carrying...

more
BalsamMCR-e1408131835611-300x100.jpg

When the bluegrass family gets together, the stories abound. Everything seems connected and relationships flow beneath the musical surface like the rivers they say are down there underground running through the Tennessee and Kentucky limestone. Jim Lauderdale’s first banjo teacher from North Carolina was on stage with Balsam Range, playing with more pure joy and gusto than just about anybody I’ve ever seen. Sam Bush Band guitarist Stephen Mougin is producing a record for Becky Buller, so he sang and picked with her as the newly minted nominee for Songwriter of the Year fronted her band in the second set. We live for these kind of connections and IBMA night brings them out by the boxcar.

Somebody asked me this week how our annual collaboration with the...

more
august-13th-300x100.png

Perhaps you followed the drama that surrounded the International Bluegrass Music Association moving its annual World Of Bluegrass convention from Nashville to Raleigh, NC last year. The group, which supports the art and business of bluegrass worldwide, wrestled with declining attendance and many complicated pros and cons of Nashville. We were courted by officials from Raleigh who proved beyond a doubt that they wanted World of Bluegrass to be part of their Fall calendar and culture. And long story short, we made a very tough decision to head to a new city and it went better than any of us dared to hope. Even the IBMA Awards show was a hit, despite the painful sacrifice of moving out of the Ryman Auditorium.

This is...

more
DSC_7318-300x100.png

In a large room with an attentive audience, it takes a special kind of assurance and purpose to stand alone on stage and make music, even with six strings and a voice. But how about four strings and a bow? The violin/fiddle has been renowned for centuries as a vocal, emotional instrument. But that doesn’t make it easy. So we were all struck this Wednesday when Michael Cleveland’s ensemble retreated from the stage at the mid point of the set and left the fiddler/bandleader by himself to play the traditional tune “Jack O’ Diamonds.”

It’s not a blazing show-off piece like the popular “Orange Blossom Special,” which Cleveland can smoke by the way. Instead the tune has a mineral simple melody in three quarter time. With flowing double notes, Cleveland defined the theme. Then he...

more
MichaelC-300x100.jpg

Most of the band leaders who play Roots and who ply the highways and byways of the Americana scene are singer/songwriters who may or may not have extra flair as an instrumentalist. But Michael Cleveland is so powerful and so seductive on his fiddle that he’s got enough firepower to lead Flamekeeper as a picker first. The extremely talented Josh Richards does most of the lead singing in the band and on its new album On Down The Line. But it’s Cleveland’s beacon-like passion for hard-edged, traditional bluegrass music that makes Flamekeeper a must-see act.

One week after a night dedicated to the legacy of Nashville soul, R&B and gospel, we return to our regularly scheduled eclectic Americana, including...

more
nighttrain-300x100.jpg

The world knows Nashville because of people like Alan Jackson and Taylor Swift. Nashville knows itself because of people like Michael Gray.

He’s a curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum who’s helped us put this week’s special show together. We’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of a truly revelatory and game-changing exhibit called Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970. It occupied a huge portion of the museum for well over a year, spawning numerous events, performances and even career revivals. The exhibit’s CD companion anthology won the Grammy Award for best historic compilation. This was all in large part Michael Gray’s brainchild, but you’d only know it from his expertise on the subject and his enthusiasm for it –...

more

It’s impossible to imagine – even for the historians and curators who researched the Night Train To Nashville exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – the accumulated experience of the artists who graced our stage Wednesday night. Between them were hundreds and hundreds of life years full of roads, crowds, hotels, shacks, joints, clubs, drinks, dalliances, disappointments and delights. We basked in the company and the artistry of more than a dozen senior performers whose lives could each be a novel, full of muscles and scars, families and friendships, ecstasy and discrimination. We hear a lot of young artists on Roots who enjoy the optimism and advantages of living in a wired, comfortable world. But the Night Train epic show this week was a study in seasoned...

more
characters-300x100.png

What do y’all think at this point about Twitter? I used to fear it. I spent a few years squinting at it with perplexed befuddlement. Then I gradually got more interested and involved, and today I’m kind of in awe that it exists. Contrary to certain cynics, it’s NOT people telling you what they had for breakfast, unless you follow boring breakfast people. For me, it’s more like the news tickers of a bygone age, chirping out headlines in a steady stream. I bring up the little blue bird because it seemed to me that this week’s show lit up our Twitter world even more than most. Not that we’re in Lady Gaga territory or anything, but it was a particularly fun night to follow the 140-character fireworks. The artists were involved. They had many fans with something to say. Maybe it was the...

more

As a staff music writer for The Tennessean in the early 2000s, I got a crash course in the Music City system, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Quite a few publicists could not understand why I did not share their conviction that Shania Twain and Garth Brooks were the most important things ever to happen to country music and worthy of endless coverage and admiration. I was admonished by Toby Keith’s manager for whispering to a colleague while Mr. Keith was speaking to the press backstage at a CMT awards show.

Pomposity and pretention also felt baked in to so many of the records that muscled themselves to the top of the charts and awards shows. The producers had thousands of knobs to turn, so they turned them. Radio seemed to love steroid-enhanced volume, so...

more
the-range-blog.png

When we music nerds talk about vocalists having range, we mean they can sing from way down low to way up high, with a lot of notes in between. But sometimes Music City Roots shows a different kind of vocal range, like this Wednesday night’s show, in the astonishing diversity of ways humans can emit and emote with word and note. Amy LaVere was restrained and silky. Rachael Davis was brassy and swaggering. Nicole Atkins was fiery and haunting. And Mike Farris brought his usual blistering, belting voice, as well as the soaring soul of his beautiful harmony singers. Sometimes in Americana music, regular Joe and Jolene vocal skills get a pass if the songs and overall effect add up to something great. On this night at Roots though it was a...

more
amy_lavere.png

Memphis-based artist and songwriter Amy LaVere did something rare and special on the occasion of her latest album release this spring. Instead of hiring a hack like me to interpret her thoughts and artistic process in what the industry misleadingly calls a “bio,” she wrote a candid first-person account that fits the definition of a more elevated medium – the liner note.

LaVere, who makes her MCR debut on this week’s show, has been a bewitching mystery for years, at least to me. She writes and sings about dangerous and damaged characters, some of whom may or may not be herself. She plays the upright bass with muscle and precision, and she sings with silky, spooky intimacy, like Blossom Dearie with a switchblade. She can...

more
MCR-Opening-Night-Pan.png

I didn’t hear him say it first hand, but two trusted sources tell me that was Rodney Crowell’s verdict on our new home. It sings back to you. That’s a beautiful way to put it. And a little mysterious too, because it’s not as if Liberty Hall rings or echoes. It has a sound-settling quality, which one acoustic test likened to the Bluegrass Underground cave. But I suspect Mr. Crowell, one of our distinguished guest artists on our opening night at The Factory At Franklin, had something more abstract in mind. Something intangible and close to the heart of music making.

I sure felt it. Not only was the amplified sound superb (yay, team!), that same attentive and fascinated audience that’s been part of our show’s family and magic for years was on hand, taking everything in. Pin-drop...

more
factory-preview.png

I remember how nervous I was on October 14, 2009. All the planning and scripting was over and we – a small band of eager music lovers – went live with a new show on a historic radio station (WSM-AM) with a new concept. I’d done a few interviews in front of audiences, but never with the pressure of a formal broadcast. And I was gonna sit down with Emmylou Harris for heaven’s sake. Nothing was routine. We were all just feeling our way and acting on instinct.

That night, we launched a collective adventure. We put forth the proposition that roots music is something valuable and spirit-enlarging and important to our community – in Music City and nationally. And now here we are preparing to recapitulate that opening night at a fine new venue called Liberty Hall in a cool,...

more
jamfinal.jpg

chapters-2-300x100.png

Is there a word for something that feels like an ending that’s really not? What’s the emotion that attends change or that feeling when a chapter in a really great novel closes and the next one awaits? It’s hard to put your finger on because of a paradox in human nature. We crave stability and the affirmation of the familiar. And yet we’re no longer living in small farming villages in Mesopotamia, so obviously we’re more restless than complacent.

I’ll have to fall back on the old expression “mixed emotions” to describe how we are approaching Wednesday, June 18, our last regular show at the Loveless Barn after almost five years of weekly productions there. We are certainly excited about our new venue, the grandly named Liberty Hall inside the Factory At Franklin (we’ve shifted...

more

As most of you know, we at Music City Roots are about to say farewell to our beloved Loveless Cafe Barn. We have just two more shows before we take our seasonal break and transition over to a new venue at Liberty Hall in the Factory At Franklin. Obviously this is bittersweet, as moves tend to be. But please understand that we’ll be welcome back at the Loveless for special shows in the future, and that will included a tradition we’ve come to cherish – the annual MCR Barn Dance. Because you can’t have a barn dance without a barn.

Such resonance and romance in those two simple words. The Barn Dance has been a staple of folk life and one of the main ways music found its social place in America. Then it became the term in broadcasting behind the genre of shows that cultivated the...

more

Gumbo is the most overworked metaphor in music commentary, but only because it’s so spot on. That mystical stew (the contemplation of which has made me furiously hungry) is European, African, Caribbean and Native American in its origins. It’s high-rent and down-home. It’s got one name but as many recipes as there are people who make it. And all that is beautifully true of roots music as well. And so waking up after this Wednesday night’s show, with artists and influences from the Carolinas, Texas, Nashville, Louisiana, the ATL and the U.K. – a night with banjos on both ends, with crying steel and the tightest horn section I can remember on our stage – it’s gumbo I was dreaming of.

Our booking team was clever in balancing the roots fusion of Barry Waldrep, the closer, with that of...

more

“I welcome other people and their musicianship,” says Barry Waldrep in the making-of documentary DVD inside his new jam-fest of an album, Smoke From The Kitchen. It’s an understated comment on the spirit of these latest sessions, but having gotten to know Barry as we have at Roots, it’s clearly a philosophy that’s guided him through a fascinating career. He’s an instigator, innovator and collaborator. He may not be a big star but he’s on the all-star team. Barry returns this week for his fourth band-leading set at Roots, yet it’ll the fourth different band. With some this might be a sign of instability; with Barry it’s an extension of his curiosity and inclusive spirit.

Barry and MCR first came together in 2011 when he came up from his Atlanta base with the young folks...

more

How cool it was to see pictures of Chuck Berry at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last weekend, where they honored the 87-year-old icon with a bobblehead doll. He looked great, in person and in plastic, and unlike some other senior celebrities, it was easy to tell the difference. Also recently, Berry was named a winner of the Polaris Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of music. The citation notes among other things that Berry “turned the electric guitar into the main instrument of rock music. Every riff and solo played by rock guitarists over the last 60 years contains DNA that can be traced right back to Chuck Berry.”

So how could one not think about Chuck Berry as Wednesday night’s Roots revved toward the finish line? Tim Carroll spiked up his clever songs with proud punchy...

more

Thousands of us have come to Nashville as pilgrims who stayed, and I often wonder how our perceptions and experiences get shaped by the year we arrived. Especially: who became our favorite bands/artists that spoke to us about our new Nashville? I moved here in 1996 – just before the transformative East Nashville tornado. The musical buzz at that time was about the burgeoning alt-country scene, led by BR549 downtown and distinctive songwriters like Phil Lee at the late, great Radio Café. And in nosing around that world, the name Tim Carroll emerged. He was suspended between country and punk rock and he was fantastic. Still is.

Tim has a great song about the pilgrimage that begins “I first came to Nashville with my heart full of hope. In a little while I started feeling like a...

more

There’s beauty in symmetry and balance in a nice bell curve. Bear with my inner geek for a second. Scientists call it a “normal distribution” when they plot, for example, the numbers of people at each weight level and the graph comes out looking like a bell. And that was the unique shape of this distinctive Wednesday evening at Roots, when we flowed from a solo act to a four-piece to a five-piece and then neatly back to four and to one. It had an order that belied Jim Lauderdale’s wackiness. It had harmony.You can’t ask for a better invoker of the muse than David Wilcox. He’s a high priest of the singer/songwriter arts, which is so much more than crafting nice tunes and playing tasty guitar. It’s about the mood, and Wilcox conjures one, playing evocative riffs during his set-up stories...

more

A running theme of this chronicle is my everlasting amazement that even after hearing so much great music over several decades, new artists and bands can still flip me over as if I was a teenager discovering this whole big bag of cats for the first time. It’s one of life’s miracles that no matter how many sound waves have been instigated by however many groups in however many moods, there remain infinite possibilities for making unique statements.

I certainly got that buzz last year when New Country Rehab visited us for the first time. It was a “where has this band been all my life” moment, for a bunch of reasons. Four simple puzzle pieces – acoustic bass, drums, guitar and fiddle – fit together with economy and...

more

As big a nerd as I am for instrumental music, I acknowledge that the human voice is the “instrument” that moves most of the people most of the time. A great singer gets inside the blood stream, the nervous system and the memory. Sometimes it’s a deeply familiar voice, tweaking our craving for comfort and affirmation. Sometimes it’s a novel sound, snapping you to attention and taking you on a ride. We were privileged to enjoy both experiences on Wednesday night at Roots, with a show that was kissed at the beginning and end by beautiful women with voices that lifted off like silver wings. They caught the light and carried us away.

Maybe she was born with it and likely she picked up some of it at music college, but Liz Longley has control. Her purity of tone and pitch is...

more

One of my go-to beers these days, a delicious IPA from Georgia’s Sweetwater Brewing featuring a leaping trout on the label, has a slogan: “Don’t Float The Mainstream.” That sounds in tune with my philosophy, but the word is tricky isn’t it? Early on I grew suspicious of industrial-scale mainstream culture, where pop stars, bestsellers and blockbusters accumulate fortunes in a feedback loop of money, marketing and familiarity. And “mainstream” country music is a case study in how a myopic focus on scale and numbers can create an ecosystem where musical values shrivel; it’s everything we at Roots don’t want to be.

On the other hand, mainstream appeal and quality are not mutually exclusive, if I may state the...

more

The word kept popping up in my notes. Wednesday was a gentle Spring evening full of gentle grooves. Oh, there was plenty of energy and surprise, but Deer Tick and Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ it was not. If your idea of a great night out is classy music in a classy setting like Tanglewood, this was a superb night to be at Roots. And when Colin O’Brien and his all-star string band channeled John Hartford, my headline for the week revealed itself. My blood pressure and heart rate were a few clicks lower when I went home than when I arrived.

The smoothness of Kellin Watson set the tone. With a sharp three piece band plus two stellar harmony singers, Watson opened with a breezy, jazz-speckled song called “What’s The Difference.” She lets her vocal lines take just a few liberties with her strong...

more

Tyler Grant and his band Grant Farm play a lot of hippie fests and jam band congregations, and the same was true in his former life as guitar star during five years with the Drew Emmitt Band and the Emmitt/Nershi bluegrass outfit. But don’t let the twirly-swirly nature of his most supportive audience lead you to believe that Grant is some self-indulgent noodle bar of a guitarist. He’s one of the most highly decorated contest acoustic flatpicking guitarists in the nation, and before that he earned a degree from the California Institute of the Arts in guitar performance. Dude has credentials, and his band will cap off our 200th episode of Roots on Wednesday.

I revisited an interview I did with Tylerfor Acoustic Guitar...

more

“This is definitely the best big band barn gig I’ve ever played,” said swaggering singer Jim Bianco, with little fear of being contradicted. Definitely the best we’ve ever seen too. At this point, Jim was most of the way through an audacious set. There were ten other guys on stage – schooled jazz musicians (including six horns) in formal black. Jim, in a vested suit with pink tie sang like Tony Bennett-meets-Leonard Cohen and tossed glitter confetti in the air. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It was a night of style and symmetry. Bookended by awesome Amys and balanced among country, soul, jazz and pop, the 199th edition of MCR at the LC was a humdinger.

It’s always a joy to see an artist circle back to play Roots for a second or third time and to feel the growth that’s taken...

more

With all respect to the talented guys on this week’s show (and I’ll talk about them in a second) Wednesday night is shaping up to be a little bit Lilith Fair. We’ll hear from a trio of sisters and a pair of Amys, one of whom is an Indigo Girl. The other is an empowered indie artist who quit a job to give her music its best chance at getting out to the people. There won’t be go go girls, but there will be girls on the go.Amy Ray, the brunette half of the Indigo Girls, has a track record of making solo music, but where her early statements showed her edgy and punky side, her new Goodnight Tender is a stellar country/roots album. She says she’d been filing songs away for years that didn’t fit her famous duo with Emily...

more

The world lost the great Doc Watson almost two years ago. It was a solemn day for me because he was a hero at so many levels. He was my all-time favorite North Carolinian – a guy who’d made the rustic mountain side of my home state look pure and righteous and deep in the eyes of a world too quick to harbor hillbilly stereotypes. He was, in my opinion, the single greatest musician to be widely known and associated with folk music from the 60s revival through the new millennium, and that matters because Doc was a powerful ambassador, whose guitar skills, voice and wide ranging repertoire kept the music kept growing for half a century.

Doc lived a long and fulfilling life. Not so his only son Merle, a superb artist himself, who died in an accident in 1985. The tragedy robbed Doc of...

more

I was never more proud to be part of Music City Roots or more fulfilled in our mission of making fellowship and living culture around great music than I was late Wednesday night as our show wound to a close. The stars aligned on a clear, cool Spring evening, and tidings of history swirled around the Barn. Every artist conveyed the loose comfort and focused passion that epitomizes Americana at its best. You can’t touch every tone and style of roots music in one show, but between the twenty-something freshness of Lilly Hiatt in our opening slot to the earned wisdom and command of Percy Wiggins fronting the Bo-Keys at night’s end, with an historic reunion in the middle, there was a completeness to this show that’s hard to contrive. Certainly our partnership on this show with the Oxford...

more

In his introduction to the amazing 50-song compilation CD in the current Oxford American special music issue, curator Rick Clark wrote that “few (states) can match Tennessee’s deep roots in the blues and jazz, gospel, soul and R&B, rockabilly, rock & roll, and country – or its tremendous concentration of historic record labels and music industry visionaries.”

I’d personally remove the ‘few’ and declare Tennessee the single most influential state in the history of American popular music. It’s been home to an extra-large share of iconic artists, but its century of achievements in the music industry seal the deal. Tennessee boasts not one but two major hubs of recording and genre-building. Memphis is where the blues were codified, where rock and roll was born and where soul...

more

I make it a mental habit to be especially alert this time of year. Every passing Spring, with its ephemeral cycles – the daffodils, the tulip trees, the cherry blossoms and the magisterial opening of the dogwoods (where we are just now) – is more precious to me as I tick off my years. I don’t just spend more time outside. I try to take lots of pictures with all five senses and really feel the movement of the light and air and color. Spring in the South is my favorite song.

This week at Roots, with its Nature Conservancy fund-raiser and our first truly balmy and beautiful night of 2014, my nerve endings were more a-tingle than ever. Because not only was it one of those crisp and fragrant evenings on the edge of Music City, it was the first show of our last season at the Loveless...

more

The foundations of my musical tastes and world-view were shaped in my home town of Durham, North Carolina, so I’m a softie for bands from what we Tarheels call “The Triangle” (Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill), and it’s no surprise that bluegrass music got in my bloodstream. This week, as we open our Spring 2014 Season (yay!) Roots welcomes back a fantastic band that’s become The Triangle’s most notable force in bluegrass and acoustic music since the Red Clay Ramblers decades ago. They’ve surprised and excited me with each successive album, proving they’re as dedicated to a creative journey as they are to the integrity of the tradition that first inspired them.

I’m talking about Chatham County Line, a quartet...

more

When I arrived at the barn on Wednesday afternoon, it was sunny and seventy-something degrees. As I left for home, the stars were out and it was growing cold. It reminded me of how the balmy days darken into chilly nights in the high country of Wilkes County, North Carolina. I recalled nights bundled up in front of the Watson stage at MerleFest, with lights splashing the trees and music flooding out and up into theAppalachian sky.

I had that specialbuzz as the show wrapped up as well – a contact high from a festival I’ve attended more than a dozen times, even if I can’t make it this year. Our second partnership show featuring artists on their way to play MerleFest was more than even I expected, with a perfect flow and a special glow.

We opened with soul and energy as Josh...

more

It was a mashup of two Music City Roots favorites – The Celtic sounds of our annual St. Patrick’s show meeting the fretboard fireworks of Guitar Night.

And luckily for me, the finale of MCR’s winter season coincided with Craig Havighurst and family’s annual trip to China. So I was called up – not from the minors, but from my subterranean gig as host/MC/interview guy for “Bluegrass Underground” at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville (bluegrassunderground.com).

The night also marked the final local appearance of this year’s Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival contingent, led by the intrepid Colin McGee, who also hosted the MCR gang on their recent Northern Ireland pilgrimage. Colin’s Fab Four couldn’t have provided a better cross-section of songwriters plying their craft in...

more

Our East Nashville friends Doug and Telisha Williams showcased their relatively new Americana trio The Wild Ponies this week at Roots and in doing so offered some food for thought. I loved their song “Things That Used To Shine,” which plumbs the appreciating value of once-bright and new objects that have lost their superficial luster, like leather boots and favorite records and a grandfather’s eyes. Then Doug sang lead on a true-story song about a short-track stock car driver from the early 1960s. And that got me thinking about things that used be less shiny than they are today but worse off for the change, like NASCAR and country music. The cars shine. The singers’ teeth shine. The singers’ cars shine, as does their money. But all for meh? Why did forces bigger than us seize control...

more

By now you know about our exciting trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland to stage a special Roots as part of the tenth annual Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. But did you know that it’s a two way street? Nashville sends contingents of troubadours to our sister city in Ulster, and then they send musicians our way a few weeks after that. Having been treated so well, it’s only hospitable that we’d play host to a gang of Ireland’s finest. Four of our featured artists on Wednesday March 19 – two days after St. Patrick’s Day – are official delegates of the festival. Our show-closing act has been called Ireland’s greatest folk guitarist, and we’ll enjoy a bonus cross-continental...

more

The last time Rhonda Vincent played Roots, it was on her run of duo shows with the mighty-voiced legend Gene Watson. It was great. Soaring and blue. Deeply country. But it did leave me craving a set of her audaciously clear and powerful bluegrass music. She is, after all, a seven-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and one of the most beloved artists in the world of classic bluegrass. But this Wednesday, after years of waiting, we’ll feature Rhonda and her band The Rage amid a diverse night at Roots. The season is winding down, but there’s nothing wound down about Vincent’s approach to roots music.

She was the quintessential family band kid, growing up in small town Missouri as a precocious singer...

more

A great storyteller can make you care about characters you’d overlook or dismiss or disdain in your daily rounds. A great songwriter conjures that empathy and sets it to a smoking groove and a tasty melody. We witnessed this play out magnificently on Wednesday night as Oklahoma artist Parker Millsap delivered a clinic in precocious, literary truth-telling. It was a superb (and surprisingly cohesive) night all around, with four flavors of manly country rock. But Millsap’s “Truck Stop Gospel” was for me the night’s branding iron moment. It’s about an audacious and eccentric trucker/preacher who paints a cross on the side of his rig “to remind the Devil that he ain’t so big and scary” (which Millsap rhymes sneakily with “Tucumcari”). Then the tune is evangelically catchy, as its rhythm...

more

My headline is lifted from a song that the Gibson Brothers made the title track of their current album, as well as the final tune of their stylish set at Roots this week. Brother Eric wrote it (helping him earn Song and Songwriter of the Year awards from the IBMA). Brother Leigh told the backstory on our stage: A picker friend spent time jamming on old fiddle/banjo tunes with an elderly musician from the mountains. He asked the old man what “old-time” music was called back in, you know, old times? The reply: “Well son, they called it music.” And there’s your hook.

The punch line plays off the vicissitudes of genre, which we music scribes use (and sometimes invent) with a blend of enthusiasm and caution. When I say that The Foghorn String Band played ideal and satisfying...

more

Texas and Oklahoma, which spoon together on the map like a couple of adorable brokeback cowboys, have contributed disproportionately and astoundingly to the growth and evolution of music. From Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills through George Strait to the hard-partying Red Dirt scene, something about those windswept landscapes spawned a strain of blue collar creativity and expressiveness that’s central to Americana. Two of our guests this week, Hayes Carll and Parker Millsap, are heirs to the strain of artful songwriting that’s given us Guy, Rodney, Billy Joe and more. I know you always hear how these greats of yore can’t ever be surpassed and that they just don’t write ‘em like they used to. But when you hear the work of Carll, a mid-career veteran and Millsap, a precocious youngster, you...

more

I may have to go to the video for confirmation. But I believe Jason D. Williams was wearing pink toenail polish on Wednesday night at Roots. While The Barefoot Movement padded on stage with their toes intentionally exposed and I was sitting with Jason D. on stage waiting for our interview to start, he got one of those non-ignorable itches deep inside one of his fantastic, two-tone cowboy boots. So there in the chat room he stripped his foot down and took care of the irritation before our cue for the interview. The boot was back on before I could do the back half of my double take. But did you see it? Pink toes? He’s a man of unplumbed depths and mysteries.

It was a night of happy feet all around with five distinct styles of country music delivered in all manner of sartorial...

more

Our foreign-born daughter’s seventh grade social studies class recently took its first pass at Tennessee history, and so my saintly wife spent hours helping her sort out Andrew Jackson from Andrew Johnson, and midwifing her first encounters with slavery and the Civil War. I interjected that she ought to also know that Tennessee is where Sam Phillips opened Sun Records and helped Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis invent rock and roll. Two females stared blankly at me, nonplussed. But that’s important isn’t it? I mean, is there a Tony-Winning musical about the Nullification Crisis? I didn’t think so.

Sun will shine some light on this week’s Roots as it happens. The show opens with Julie...

more

Not to just talk about the weather, but it’s kind of the defining reality right now isn’t it? Thick ice is taking down trees and power lines to our south and our East Coast friends are enduring their umpteenth snowstorm of the year. It’s not been so cold so consistently in Nashville in the 16 years I’ve lived here. And we’re all beyond sick of it. No doubt the brief chattering of sleet here yesterday afternoon and the frozen crap-tastrophy just over the horizon kept a few of our friends and supporters home last night. But when guest host Peter Cooper kicked off our show with his ode to hope and renewal “Opening Day,” its Spring breeze was musical encouragement to hang on a little longer. Pitchers and catchers are reporting for training camp this week.

And it was a warming night...

more

The 1980s and 90s were vibrant decades for the imperfectly named, blurry-edged genre of folk music and more specifically the poised, contemporary wing of it known as “singer-songwriter.” While pop and country binged their way through the end of the CD/MTV era and shoved a lot of bad music down America’s throat, a parallel musical universe took shape where a large, attentive audience followed a roster of burgeoning and emerging artists rooted in literate lyrics, attentive musicianship and an empathic relationship with an audience they could see and feel. While Garth flew over his fans and blasted them with floodlights, America’s songwriters sat in footlights and engaged their audience in something much more like a dialogue. And we got to know the enriching, luxurious and intelligent...

more

A fun and fascinating video made the rounds a few years ago that pairs some nutty footage from a music festival with voice-over insights from CD Baby founder and music thinker Derek Sivers. A shirtless guy starts dancing like a lone loon on a grassy hillside. Soon he’s joined by a second guy, who is welcomed into a new, two-man dancing tribe. Then more people join. And within a minute, a huge crowd is dancing together. Sivers built a TED talk around this video, pointing out the vital role of the first follower, whose courage to join the first guy “turns a lone nut into a leader.” This, he says, is how movements truly begin.

Well dang if exactly that didn’t happen at Roots on Wednesday night. During the final song by funky soul band Space Capone, propitiously titled “I Just Wanna...

more

As soon as I heard that voice singing Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” with its aerodynamic, rising melody I was in a familiar and contented place. It’s track two among twelve on Lucky, the new all-Haggard Suzy Bogguss album, and I’m not sure why I started listening there. Perhaps I felt that this was going to be a perfect A&R match of singer and song. I can say this: If you were searching for a poetic, two-word description of Suzy Bogguss as a vocalist, I’d say ‘silver wings’ is pretty apt. She has a glow and an uplifting quality that’s instantly recognizable. Her early albums were part of my country music education, and even in a late 80s field crowded with authentic talent, her voice stood out for its sweetness and light. I’ve loved her as an artist ever since and I’m...

more

The night before Roots this week I attended the induction ceremonies at Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame. In a music world with too many awards and honors, this place truly have a purpose: to honor players, including famous artists who are also excellent musicians and little-known side-men and side-women who make records sing behind the singer. On Tuesday night for example, Neil Young himself came to pay tribute to and induct his late friend Ben Keith, the steel guitarist whose swelling silver wash made albums like Harvest so magical. Rhythm guitarist Velma Smith, the only woman working in the studios of Nashville in the 1960s, was also inducted, along with more familiar folks like Barbara Mandrell and Peter Frampton.

These musicians are in the latter miles of their journeys....

more

Music Row has often been called a “campus” for its walkable intimacy and collegial atmosphere. But in modern times, it’s more literally true, thanks to the influence of Belmont University. Belmont itself overlooks the Row from its southern terminus. And then there are outposts along the way. Belmont’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business moved into the old Sony/Columbia building on 16th Ave., where new generations are schooled in the arts of recording, songwriting and publishing. It includes a renovated and revived Quonset Hut studio, where Owen and Harold Bradley established the first music business in 1958 in what was then a residential neighborhood. And over on 17th Ave. is Belmont’s amazing Ocean Way Studio...

more

If you want to put up a building you have to dig to bedrock. If you want to bury a body, a not uncommon contemplation in bluegrass, you dig a hole in the cold, cold ground. And if you want to expose the roots of something, ditto. Bring a spade. We dig for information. We dig deep when we commit to getting something right. And when we love something, in a hip kind of way, we dig it. Seems like all of the above applied to our night at the Loveless Barn this week, as our show dug through the layers of roots music, from the busy and stylish to the earthy and simple.

In opening the show with Seryn, the audacious and anthemic folk rock group out of Denton, Texas, we trusted you, dear listeners, to need no easing into the evening. They appeared and sang “Disappear” at full thrust. The...

more

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the grand opening ceremony of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC, where it was wall to wall banjos and bluegrass. The various events and the museum itself celebrate a musician whose career should be taught in every school because he’s an icon of American ingenuity, like Henry Ford or Mark Twain. I mean don’t even get me started on Earl. So much more than the world’s greatest banjo player, he was an innovator who sought change and challenge. He helped invent bluegrass with Bill Monroe, refined and popularized it with Lester Flatt and then ushered in a newgrass revolution with his sons in the Earl Scruggs Revue. He’s most museum-worthy.

I invoke Earl...

more

What’s the first song you ever performed in public? I can ask that semi-rhetorically, knowing that a good number among you in the Roots nation have taken a stage or two, whether at the open mic level or as a full blown career. It’s a real memory-buster because it feels like something one ought to remember – a threshold moment of bravery and personal expression. I think mine was “New River Train,” the bluegrass standard that I’d learned off of a Tony Rice/Norman Blake album. Now Amos Lee does remember the first song he performed for people, and let’s just say it was somewhat more ambitious, magisterial and profound than my nice little five-note folk song. And we know this because Mr. Lee chose that song – Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” – as his encore to close a stunning Music...

more

I’m a music journalist (whatever that means these days), but for me, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott go far deeper than the many pieces I’ve written about each since the late 90s. Music changes lives, and these two artists certainly changed mine. At one point they were just guys I never thought I’d meet whose records I bought and loved. But I wound up taking chances and making moves, most fatefully to Nashville, under their influence. And then I did wind up knowing them and drawing deeper insights about music from them than I’d ever contemplated. So when they play as a duo opening this Wednesday night’s show – a blockbuster featuring some MCR favorites and one of the biggest stars in roots/soul – there will...

more

To be a fan of Roots, you’d best be a musical all-terrain vehicle. That doesn’t mean you should plan on loving every artist. But in general, you’ll want to be ready and excited to see what’s over that hill or down that rutted road. And you know how those Range Rover ads always make that particular vehicle look totally at home in some lost back-country but inside it feels kind of posh and civilized? Our season-opening night at the barn this week felt like that to me, especially since it began and ended with Rangers.

“We’re The Westbound Rangers!” sang the first of them, at the top of their lungs, proclaiming their band-of-brotherhood and filling up the radio waves with a band theme song that fits our old-time barn dance vibe. The Nashville quartet just continues to grow together,...

more

Every new year is a renewal and a chance to head in new directions. This year, for some reason, feels particularly auspicious. The holidays were warm and nourishing, just as they are supposed to be, and everywhere I go I feel like folks are full of ideas and energy. How to keep this torch lit? I’m resolving to consume less political news, because it’s the same old farce, less business news because it treats us like sheep and less “entertainment” news because it’s obsessed with celebrity nonentities. Let us, dear Roots community, bail on Buzzfeed, upend Upworthy and veto the viral. I’m not saying abandon Facebook and Twitter altogether (we’ll still be there heaven knows). But let’s all retune our BS meters, calm our twitchy clicker fingers and reclaim our precious TIME for the authentic...

more

At Christmas, nothing succeeds like excess, and our final show of the year took it over the river, through the woods and over the top. I walked in for Wednesday’s show and the stage was so bright I had to adjust my eyes. It was all the extra twinkly lights and white trash tinsel, strung with love by our ministress of vibe Laurie. And did Jim Lauderdale merely open the show with his guitar? No, our house band for the night Steelism backed him up, bringing “Holly And Her Mistletoe” to rarified honky-tonk heights. And our show, an ensemble holiday special put together with the help of Electric Western Records, was underway like a sleigh.

Steelism is two guys – guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and pedal steel mad genius Spencer Cullum Jr. But their band – last night three guys plus Jay...

more

From the East come musicians bearing gifts. That’s a pretty good basis for a season-closing, week-before-Christmas show, as we found out last year. That’s when we featured an ensemble cast from An East Nashville Christmas, which is still out there and still raising money for the homeless. This year, we’ve fallen in with another bunch of dynamos and cool kids who are crossing the river and making a pilgrimage to the Edge of Music City.

This week’s ensemble cast with house-band show is a co-production with Electric Western, the paradoxically named East Nashville record label and musical event company founded by artists and scene-makers Reno Bo and Jacob...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on December 12, 2013 – 18:38

It’s a line we hear frequently from Jim: “You never know what might happen at Music City Roots.” For a while I thought it was true enough, with a bit of P.T. Barnum hype mingled in. But in reflecting on our four-year journey so far and in interacting with our wonderful fans as part of our first fund-raiser (of which we shall speak no more!) and in experiencing a night like this Wednesday’s show, I realize how profoundly true Jim’s words are. When we launched Roots, we had no idea what the future held or if we’d get through the first few weeks without stumbling on ourselves. And on a micro-level, even with our fairly set formula and flow, something always happens to surprise, delight and move us. Never has that been more...

more

One day in about the year 2000 or 2001, I received a valuable invitation. More than that, it was an education and an initiation. A musically hip friend of mine from Chicago was heading to Memphis for a show at the kind of joint you’d have a hard time finding without an insider’s guidance. For one strange and magic night, some of the core artists of North Mississippi hill country blues were playing at an out-of-the-way bar called The Madison Flame. It was the first time I experienced the late great Otha Turner’s fife-and-drum ensemble, which paraded around the room with roiling snares and marching band bass drum. Raspy, rascally T-Model Ford (deceased this year sadly) played stopmy electric original songs like “Chicken...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on December 6, 2013 – 19:57

When I was a kid, they taught us in school about the instruments (do they even do that anymore?), and they kind of passed them off as ALL the instruments. Once you knew about your strings, winds and your English horn and your tympani, you were good to go. But I can’t tell you how often we encounter completely novel, foreign or unusual instruments at Music City Roots. The band Poor Old Shine recently came by with an antique hand-pumped organ at the core of its sound. Our Aussie pal Dobe Newton recently wielded a bottle-cap-encrusted “lagerphone.” And this Wednesday, I did a double take as I realized that Bryan Owings, the great drummer who accompanied lead-off artist Minton Sparks, had constructed a hi-hat out of plywood...

more

They sound like entries in a Boy Scout Survival Manual, but actually Deep Dark Woods and Deer Tick are two of the more sought-after bands in roots rock, and they’re heading for the Edge of Music City to play Roots this week. Add Tristen, beloved, darkly sparkling pop songstress, and we’re looking at a sublime and sophisticated bill that feels like midnight at Bonnaroo more than our usual back porch fare. Plus, all three have superb new album releases to share with you. Then we’ll throw in some Southern literary flair with the spoken word magic of...

more

Dear Friends of Music City Roots,

We are excitedly preparing for our annual Thanksgiving eve show with its cast of outstanding and familiar artists who have become part of a real tradition for us. More on that in a moment, but first a word about how traditions like ours become possible.

We have been on the air now for four years, and it has been an incredible adventure and privilege to curate a nationally-recognized showcase for artists of integrity and mastery who are working in or passing through today’s Nashville. We’ve heard folks we admire say we’re doing a good job and that Roots is an asset to Music City and to the new independent music business. Jerry Douglas (our hero) said we’re tapping the spirit of the early days of the Grand Ole Opry. Mayor Karl Dean has called...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on November 21, 2013 – 16:48

The Loveless Jam, a beloved feature of Music City Roots since its inception, has impelled me over the years to dance, sing along, shake a tambourine and – a few times – shake my head in disbelief. But not until Wednesday night’s show did it bring a tear to my eye. Ballads are not generally good material for an all-hands-on-deck sing-alongs or show-closers. So I was surprised and kind of perversely impressed when it became clear that Jim Lauderdale and the musicians were thinking about cooking up “You Don’t Know Me,” the title track of the recent Plowboy Records Eddy Arnold tribute album that we were celebrating, to be the night’s grand finale. It was tense. Should they or shouldn’t they? There’s no chorus. It’s slow and...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on November 18, 2013 – 04:30

Not to be too cosmic about it, but our wildly diverse Wednesday night show got me thinking again about Jim Lauderdale’s yin-yang suit. Jim’s an expert at Tai Chi you know, and the key symbol of Tai Chi’s affiliated Taoist faith is the yin-yang, an expression of the universe’s interwoven opposites. The idea is that black and white (or male and female or up and down) don’t exist on their own. One bids the other into being and each contains the essence of the other. And for me, a show as good and rewarding as this week’s, one that mingled seeming opposites (folk music with hip-hop and hip-hop with classical) suggests that we at Roots are following a pure path – what the Taoists call “The Way.”

I’ve been hearing about...

more

Before Florida Georgia Line (those were the days), before Garth and Shania, before Alabama or Olivia Newton John, there was pop country. There was pop country almost as soon as their was country. And while there’s a contingent of complainers from every crossover era, my belief is that pop country only got queasy making when the pop part of the equation got lame and juvenile. Before the ersatz Foreigner and Backstreet Boys, country borrowed from the grown-up, sophisticated music of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. That’s why Eddy Arnold’s journey from down-home rustic balladeer from West Tennessee to smooth-crooning, Crosby-loving global pop star is something to be admired and enjoyed. Eddy Arnold could not only sing beautifully, he was a communicator. He wrapped listeners in a kind of...

more

Last week at Guitar Night we saw how much was possible on six strings. This week we’ll raise the degree of difficulty and spotlight some innovators on the old four-string, the Devil’s Box, the G/D/A/E, as my colleague A.J. called it this week, perhaps because she loves acronyms. Call it a fiddle in the hands of show-opener April Verch or go with the more formal moniker embraced by our guest artists Black Violin, this miraculous instrument, animated by a horse hair bow of all things, beloved by our culture for 500 years, still explodes with possibilities in the hands (and chins) of inspired musicians.

April Verch and Black Violin have proven themselves...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on November 8, 2013 – 15:21

One of our most loyal Roots regulars approached me after the show Wednesday night and observed that even more than usual, I’d had a giant smile plastered on during pretty much the whole affair. Yes, guitars make me happy even when nobody’s playing them. But to have four brilliant artists making such a wide range of absorbing, original music on Nashville’s MVP of instruments was truly special. Guitar Night always is, and being up against the CMA Awards, where I knew guitars would be doing little besides eight-second warmed over Van Halen style solos amid songs about hot girls and trucks, made me feel like we were offering a bit of redemption for Music City on a rainy night in November.

It felt a little strange...

more

My journey into and through roots music has been influenced by hundreds of people and records and historic facts and happy accidents. But none comes close to my fascination with the guitar. Here I am, more than 30 years since I first noodled around on one borrowed from a friend to see what it could offer me, and I’m more inspired by its possibilities than ever. And no matter how many guitar players I learn about and admire, there’s always room for another one with a fresh sound and approach.

So given all that and given the guitar’s central role in Nashville’s music culture since the 50s, we at Roots take a night every year to celebrate this incredible instrument and the artists who wield it. This week is Guitar Night, and we’ve got another varied slate of pickers who’ll show off...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on November 1, 2013 – 15:14

We got the sad news this week that Lou Reed had died at age 71, but I’m sure not many people imagined that had much to do with bluegrass and Americana. After all it wasn’t Lou Reid of The Seldom Scene but Lou Reed the black leather knight of New York art punk. But inspired by the cathartic and anthemic version of “Sweet Jane” during the Loveless Jam at this week’s show, I did a little Googling and it turns out there’s a tiny slice of overlapping Venn diagram between the Velvet Underground and the bluegrass world. Ralph Stanley apparently covered “White Light, White Heat” for a Nick Cave project last year (old man gets around doesn’t he?). Greensky Bluegrass took on “Walk & Talk” at a New York City show recently. And...

more

Our show this week takes place on Halloween eve, but please don’t ask me to wear a costume. I don’t know why the idea is so foreign to my personality, and I have no trouble whatsoever with all y’all getting your Lady Gaga on and dressing up like pop culture characters and catch-phrases. It’s just not my thing. No, I’m more old school about Halloween – lighting bonfires and setting places at the table for the dead – that kind of thing. That gets me ready for All Saints’ Day when I watch a re-play of the 2009 Super Bowl and All Souls’ Day, when I listen to Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin records.

Our lineup this week isn’t scary, just scary good. It’s certainly soulful and a bit mysterious in its diversity. With jazz fusion on steel drums, mystical Texas songwriting, neo-classic...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on October 25, 2013 – 19:59

The ancient Greek poets and classical authors of epics used to “invoke the muse” at the beginning of their works. It was a kind of prayer, either vaguely secular and directed at the universe or more specifically at the original Muses, said to be the nine daughters of Zeus who mediated the creative spirit. I’m a humanist so I put huge faith in the innate inventive powers of people and their brains without divine assistance. But I’m open to the possibility that when we’re in the zone, we’re getting a bit of help from the cosmos and the spiritual beyond – at least a tailwind if not specific ideas.

You’ll notice that as a radio show, Music City Roots has a certain ritualistic opening, where Keith Bilbrey and Jim...

more

How weird is it that trees basically made music possible? I suppose we could have spent all of human history just singing, but in truth, music’s cornucopia of timbres was made possible by timber. Our planet just happened to be full of this renewable natural material we can carve, bend, plane and sand into boxes, pipes, drums and sounding boards that are predictable and stable enough to last many lifetimes. The boards used in some of Stradivari’s violins and cellos were already hundreds of years old when he shaped them into his masterpieces, meaning that spruce and maple trees that waved in the breeze during the Middle Ages can still sing today. And of course most of our music at Roots is made on guitars, fiddles, basses and banjos – instruments that just couldn’t exist without good old...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on October 19, 2013 – 03:02

Sometimes it’s hard to believe these things work out by coincidence. But booking is subject to many arbitrary forces, including tour routing, the sunspot cycle and the migratory patterns of Canadian geese. So on our first night back from break for our Nature Conservancy benefit/ Fall 2013 opener / fourth anniversary show, it was a bit déjà vu-ish to be visited by two brassy and curvaceous powerhouse lady singers, each with audacious tattoos, a taste for the retro and trumpet-plus-trombone horn sections. And yet Davina Sowers, jazz and blues chanteuse from the Twin Cities and Alanna Royale, neo-soul diva from Nashville, were utterly different as artists. And that’s the magic of it isn’t it? Americana is not amenable to...

more

As we roar into the Fall of 2013, we at Roots are easily reminded of how our year began – with a 7,000 mile journey to the palmy, balmy, parrot-rich environment of Tamworth, Australia, Nashville’s sister city below the equator. We made some great friends and had some musical discoveries and memories that will always stay with us. Our first overseas journey validated our belief that music truly does make community and communion across gulfs of distance and culture.

Our fling with Koala-Land pre-dates that trip. We’ve had a couple of Australia/Americana shows in the past, curated with the help of our pal Dobe Newton of legendary folk rock band The Bushwackers. Dobe shepherds flocks of Aussie musicians and...

more

One of the coolest things we hear a lot from audience members at the Loveless Barn is that often their favorite artist of the night – the one they bought the CD from – is one they’d not ever heard of when they arrived. In four or five songs, some of our emerging bands can change your day and point you in a new direction. And when we return from our two-week break to launch the mighty Fall 2013 Season with our quarterly fund-raiser show for The Nature Conservancy, there are likely to be such discoveries. We’ll be closing the night with a return visit from one of Nashville’s biggest breakout bands of the past year, while the rest of the show will feature four first-timers, each on an upward arc as they win over new fans and friends. It’s a celebration of revelation.

By now we sure...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on September 21, 2013 – 15:39

This missive comes to you from deep inside a vortex of good company and remarkable music. Perhaps you are or were there with me. Or perhaps you’re wishing you were here. Or you may have no idea what I’m talking about.

It’s the Americana Music Association annual conference and festival, now in full swing. If we were motorcycle freaks, it would be Sturgis. If we were sculptors of exotic, large flammable art, it’d be Burning Man. It’s truly a special event on my calendar, a working holiday that unites for about five days the professional and cultural people I feel most connected with and grateful to on Earth. They’re my colleagues (the classic word) and my tribe (the now word), and the tribe has gathered in...

more

NOTE: This week’s Music City Roots takes place THURSDAY night, Sept. 19, so we can participate in the Americana Music Honors & Awards on Wednesday night at the Ryman Auditorium. Full description is below.

If you have Wednesday night free though and want to see some stellar songwriters at the Loveless Barn, our friends and partners are hosting a magical, intimate evening of performances and home-cooked food. On the bill: Malcolm Holcombe, Sam Lewis and Sara Jean Kelly. Doors open at 6 pm and the show starts at 7. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FLYER FOR THE EVENT

In early 1998, my life took a happy turn when I decided what I needed to do was submit an...

more

Is there a finer virtue than optimism? On its own it’s a life force, but it also tends to drag a lot of other qualities along with it, from integrity to perseverance. If you ever met our company honchos Todd and John, you’d realize quickly that their optimism – a rare, distilled strain of the stuff – is the reason Music City Roots exists. They’ve bet on the growth of good music, the intelligence of the public and the support of a community. This is seemingly for no other reason than that’s how things ought to be, and unless somebody stands up for that, well, we’ll all become Taco Bell worker drones with implanted biometric consumer survey chips tracking us as we drive home to watch The Bachelorette on our DVRs.

Sorry, I digress. Optimism is on my mind because we’ve got a lot of...

more

Is there a finer virtue than optimism? On its own it’s a life force, but it also tends to drag a lot of other qualities along with it, from integrity to perseverance. If you ever met our company honchos Todd and John, you’d realize quickly that their optimism – a rare, distilled strain of the stuff – is the reason Music City Roots exists. They’ve bet on the growth of good music, the intelligence of the public and the support of a community. This is seemingly for no other reason than that’s how things ought to be, and unless somebody stands up for that, well, we’ll all become Taco Bell worker drones with implanted biometric consumer survey chips tracking us as we drive home to watch The Bachelorette on our DVRs.

Sorry, I digress. Optimism is on my mind because we’ve got a lot of...

more

America has invented and instigated many seminal beats and grooves over the musically magical past century, but one makes me want to dance above all others – like viscerally and right now. It’s the Louisiana-born backbeat of zydeco and its even rootsier forbear, Cajun music. On the surface, it’s the same dang two-and-four snare drum smack that’s in every kind of rock and roll and pop. But behind that is a zigga-zigga sixteenth note pattern that counterpoints the basic boom-chick, boom-chick. Done well, it’s weirdly rock steady and syncopated at the same time, a rhythm that loops and pulses. And lord when it comes off a the bandstands of the Louisiana prairie country or the Rock & Bowl in New Orleans, dancing is less something you do and more something that happens to you.

...

more

I noted in my preview post that the gas in our show’s tank, besides musical creativity, is community. Inspired by Virginian Scott Miller I called it Our Commonwealth, though if you’ll notice I stopped short of declaring us our own sovereign nation, tempting though that may be. And Wednesday night’s show validated my premise. We kept running into long lost friends. Country singer Jessica Stiles popped up across the chicken buffet. Amy Reitnouer, doyenne of the Bluegrass Situation surprised us with a drop-in, along with bass man/songwriter Jon Weisberger. Songwriter Jen Mize turned up, and we met her in AUSTRALIA. Social vixen Megan McNair returned to host the online LIvestream chat, to much digital rejoicing. And even our long-time monitor mixing man Andrew Dowling appeared as if out of...

more

To prepare for this week’s prospectus, I put Amy Speace’s most recent album How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat on through my best pair of headphones and tried my best not to multi-task while enjoying it again. Enjoying is a wimpy little word for it actually. The effect is more like a therapeutic conversation with a wise friend while reclining in a hot spring. Speace has one of the richest and loveliest voices in the singer/songwriter genre (partly explaining her discovery by and collaboration with the silken-voiced Judy Collins), and her songs are luxuriously smart. Amy Speace will be performing at Roots this week, and on a night of relatively new bands and artists, I have a feeling she’ll provide the veteran’s gravitas...

more

Holy cats. September? It’s September? I can’t really process that. We were just having our summer barn dance and our spring season opener. Try as we might to fight against it, time and life can be a blur. We at Roots mark our year in weekly cycles of Wednesdays: twenty nine shows so far in 2013 and so many memories among them. From Leon Russell’s historic set to Todd Snider’s surprise walk-on with Great American Taxi to the stunning debut of Luella and the Sun to discovery of inspiring out of town bands like The Oh Hellos and Seryn. Woven inseparably in to that are our relationships and our community – our weekly visits with our friends, supporters, believers, super-fans and alum musicians who come and make up our commonwealth.

I’m put in mind of that exceptional word by the band...

more

The thing that you have to keep in mind about comedy at Music City Roots is that really, it’s all about the music. Our friend songwriter, bandleader and emerging comic mastermind David Mayfield guest hosted for Jim this week, and I thought he was hilarious. We certainly hope you guys enjoyed this zanier than usual show. I tried my best to be an effective straight man. Otherwise I think my own jokes landed like dead fish. I wasn’t born with the funny so much. But I can tell you between the glowing smiles of guest artists Lulu Mae, the wide-open enthusiasm of Midday Farm Report, a bluegrass band playing heavy metal songs and Mayfield’s antics, this week’s show was a pile of smiles.

It began with Alabama songstress Hannah Aldridge, who surprised me a little with her dark rocking...

more

“Gonna make you feel like it’s 1962,” sang Tim Easton on the Loveless stage in the song “Little Doggie.” And not only did he achieve that on Wednesday night with his rockabilly-tinged set, the show hit quite a few notes that seemed to conjure up that bygone time. Did you know that Jimi Hendrix got out of the Army and moved to Nashville in 1962? That’s how he came to befriend our guest artist Nick Nixon, who served up blues that would have sounded quite smart back then. And our second act, the large and lustrous Magnolia Sons, channeled the spirit and sound of Motown from right around that time. It was a heady time 1962, with idealism high and rock and roll fully underway. The turmoil had not yet begun to stir. We’re thrilled when music takes us to more innocent and escapist times and...

more

Last winter, singer/songwriter Tim Easton posted to his web site an open letter to a young songwriter. Distilled to its takeaway points, it urged artists to read and listen voraciously, travel widely and “bring something new to the tradition of your craft.” That’s good advice for anybody, but in music that ethos can elevate a player into an artist. It leaves traces and signatures in one’s sound that can’t be learned, isolated or transferred. By taking his own advice, Easton’s art has been enlivening Americana music for fifteen years.

My excitement about Easton’s performance at Roots this week was already considerable because he’s been so consistently impressive since his 1998 debut, and his new album Not Cool (released the day before our show) improves on the track record. We...

more

There were a lot of warm fuzzies flying around the Barn on Wednesday. Creative people need (and deserve) affirmation, and there’s nothing like an award nomination announcement to amp up the supply. When Sam Bush and Jim Lauderdale read the lists of nominees for International Bluegrass Music Association Awards at our special late afternoon press event, word rippled out via posts and tweets and texts as dozens of worthy musicians and producers learned they were in the running for the crystal obelisk trophy. Quite a few nominees were right there with us at the Loveless, along with cheering teams of supporters and loved ones.

Most of those named on Wednesday won’t win of course, but this wasn’t the time for that cold fact. It was an annual celebration of the artists whose work...

more

I don’t suppose August is anybody’s favorite month, whether it’s blazing hot or damp and fetid, as it is this year here in Tennessee. But it does come with a few perks. Congress goes home where people yell at them. That’s nice. Baseball races get exciting and football gets started. And we at Roots get to throw one of our favorite happenings of the year, as we invite the bluegrass community out to the Loveless Barn for the announcements of who’s nominated to win IBMA Awards when they’re handed out on September 26 in Raleigh, NC. That special press conference, featuring Sam Bush and Jim Lauderdale, will go out over our webcast at 5 pm central time on Wednesday. Then at 7 we host our biggest bluegrass themed show of the year, with a simply stellar lineup of old friends and...

more

A new promo video for The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band begins with a clip of Roy Acuff singing the train song “Sunshine Special” on TV in the early 70s. And that’s deeply cool, because while Acuff is an icon in serious country music circles in Nashville, out in the world at large, he’s not nearly as well known as say Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. And that’s a pity, because Acuff’s open-throat, open-heart style was so unique and tied to the very origins of the music we call country.

The Jug Band is brazenly and joyfully indebted to the sound pioneered by Acuff and his Smoky...

more

Forgive us, but if truth be told, our team arrived at the Barn on Wednesday feeling a bit pleased with ourselves. We’d just gone public with the news that MCR is going to be on national television as a 13-episode series starting in September, and we were fielding nice messages of support from our friends and true believers. Thank you to all, by the way. We were also excited to see a robust crowd fill the Loveless on a stormy night. And it turned into a celebration held at high levels of energy, volume and physical conditioning. I say that because we’ve never had a band do pushups on stage as part of their set, but as Jim says, “you never know what might happen…” And what happened, more than almost any night I can remember, was a night at Roots built on a foundation of classic rock and...

more

The South has its sweet tea, magnolia blossoms and tiara-encrusted homecoming queens, but our special place wouldn’t be as deep or enduring without its ghosts, or as my good buddy William Faulkner called them, its “garrulous outraged baffled ghosts.” If you’ve ever spent time down below the equator of Mississippi or in the low country swamps around Charleston, SC, you’ve felt it. The Spanish moss seems to move on its own and untraceable echoes of sin and violence haunt the wind. When you’re “in the pines,” as the old song goes, “you shiver when the cold wind blows.” It’s part of our vital yin-yang existence; the dark that makes the light possible.

The Pine Hill Haints call what they make “Alabama ghost music,”...

more

Our audiences at Roots sometimes have the feeling of a coalition, temporarily uniting disparate fan groups of various artists on the roster. It’s a great system. Partisans of one band come out to see them and to experience the discovery that the rest of the night will inevitably bring. And rarely has it felt so much like that as this Wednesday night at the Loveless Barn. As I read the lineup at the open of the show, it was clear that each act had cells of loyalists on hand, in what was a sold-out crowd. How encouraging to feel those groups blur into a community consensus as the night went on. That doesn’t mean that my Mom-In-Law who came especially to see Claire Lynch came away LOVING Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes (and I don’t know either way yet), but the formula at Roots is...

more

This week I thought I was going be writing about John Jorgenson the world-traveling gypsy jazz guitarist who’s done as much to enlarge on the glorious tradition of Django Reinhardt style hot swing as anyone. But when I got the memo from our booking star chamber deep inside Cumberland Caverns, I learned John is actually bringing his new bluegrass band to the Barn on Wednesday evening. Which is terribly exciting, and I’ll fill you in on that shortly. But this also means we’ll be bookending the show with two exceptional and unusually creative artists who have made bluegrass their muse, at least some of the time.

Opening the show will be the divine...

more

Music grabs us when we’re young, and decisions (if they can be called that) to pursue it as a career are often made in the lusty heat of pre-adult enthusiasm. So I’ve long been deeply impressed by the mid-life, mid-career gamers working in their third or fourth decade of this capricious, crazy, dreamy field – the ones with a great attitude and a large reserve of that same lusty heat that propelled them. Neither old nor young, neither famous nor obscure, neither rich nor struggling, they validate everything that’s noble and important about songwriting, composing, performing and expressing one’s self in public. They’ve seen epochal shifts in their business and seen every style and sound and obscure artist splayed across YouTube in an all-you-can eat cultural buffet, and still they...

more

These days, in life as in sports, when the improbable and remarkable happens we can quite often go to the video tape. That’s what I decided I had to do for the February 2, 2011 performance at Roots by singer/songwriter Susan Werner. And sure enough, as I remembered, she delivered one of the most intelligent and well-rounded sets we’ve ever had by a solo performer. But this is in keeping with her national reputation. On guitar and piano she made a lot happen musically, and as a lyricist, she left us laughing and thinking about pompous religiosity, difficult choices and other topics. We’re pleased to say that Susan returns to the show this week, and she’ll be turning her attention to things that grow and the people who grow them.

The life, times and plight of the American farmer is...

more

It’s funny and sad that the first word association we in music world tend to have with “rehab” is the act of sobering up with professional help. Because it can also mean overhauling a house to make it more stylish and comfortable, a much more copasetic definition. So while some might assume that New Country Rehab out of Toronto must be one of those dissolute outfits with taco shaped cowboy hats and a boozy fan base, that’s not even close to right. Experiencing this innovative quartet on Wednesday evening at Roots, I was struck by their deep commitment to rehabbing country music itself with intelligence and respect. It was part of a great season-opening show that served up country music four ways.

New Country Rehab didn’t play first, but I start with them here because they were my...

more

When Peter Cooper and Eric Brace began singing together about six years ago, it was, Brace says, “a fun and friendship thing” with no plans for a formal duo. But Cooper was ratcheting up his songwriting after years of writing about said same craft for The Tennessean (something he still does), and after he toured overseas with Brace’s band Last Train Home, a partnership gelled. They cut an album that became part of the launch of Brace’s Red Beet Records called You Don’t Have To Like Them Both.

Five years later, the Brace/Cooper duo and Red Beet Records are firmly established as vital East Nashville musical things. They’ve earned the loyalty of taste-making BBC DJ Bob Harris and the affection of music...

more

The morning after last week’s season closing Roots show, I flew to Denver and jumped in a rented Nissan Altima (sponsor love!). My destination was the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, arguably the most rarified roots music event of the year. It’s certainly the most beautiful, and the lineup (stocked with MCR alums by the way) was tailored for the 40th anniversary of this epic, unparalleled fest. I filed blog dispatches while there for our friends at The Bluegrass Situation, and next week I’ll post a long recap of and love letter to Telluride, because my two visits there have been so meaningful and spiritual.

The long weekend at 8,000 feet also gave me a chance to reflect from on high on our Spring 2013 season – our deepening community, including our new radio partner Hippie 94.5 FM,...

more

Our pal Peter Cooper – Tennessean music columnist, songwriter and frequent guest host of Roots – has added a lot to our musical life and knowledge over the years. But even before he landed the job that would bring him to Music City, he expanded my brain about American music with his too-little-known 1997 book Hub City Music Makers. It’s a survey of the surprising musical legacy of his home town, Spartanburg, SC. Before getting Cooper’s version of things, I had no idea that Spartanburg had birthed Walter Hyatt, the Marshall Tucker Band, Hank Garland and Marshall Chapman. And there are many more. But it’s Marshall Chapman who concerns us this week.

“James Chapman was not intending to...

more

There are little signs we’re getting deep into a season. For example, I feel myself running out of musical adjectives. (I have a new supply delivered during every break.) And while I seriously adore the Loveless Cafe’s fried chicken and biscuits, this week I needed a change of pace. So about 5:00 I SNUCK off to the Mexican restaurant down the road thinking no one will ever miss me for 30 minutes. And I walk in and there’s our entire video and stage crew about to dig into tacos and enchiladas. Hah!

It was a night of laughter and twists all around. I didn’t know what to expect from three of our artists, and even the ones I was already fans of showed me something new. I got fired up for the show with a fun half-hour interview with guest artist Nora Jane Struthers that I’ll post as a...

more

The Sunday after our next show is Father’s Day. In our family, this one will be low-key, because our patriarch – my Dad – just celebrated his 80th birthday, and our whole clan got together to toast and wine and dine him. Dad, a gentleman and a scholar if ever there was one, has been bountifully influential in my life, stimulating my love of words and music. And now I’m a father myself, trying to instill curiosity and wonder in a bright kid. It’s a Dad, Dad, Dad world.

So how appropriate that our show closers this week will be Sons of Fathers, a Texas duo-plus-band that I’m just nuts about. I’ve wanted them on our show since I saw them at SXSW last year, where they moved me with their passionate and emotional...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on June 6, 2013 – 13:06

“You can change the name of an old song

Rearrange it and make it swing.”

That lyric, long a favorite of mine, comes from “Time Changes Everything” by Tommy Duncan of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. And since I first heard it in my twenties, I’ve thought it made a great little haiku-ish description of traditional music. Or a good metaphor for living well. Wednesday night at Roots, the line was sung by John England, leader of the Western Swingers, our show-opening band at the Loveless Barn and Dance Hall. It couldn’t have been a more magnificent ignition for our second annual Dance Night. The floor was full all night with one form of motion or another. Buck dancers mingled with two-steppers, and the Loveless Jam...

more

To dance is a wonderful – if complicated – thing. On one hand it’s nature’s physiological companion to music, a whimsical and perhaps evolutionarily important part of our operating system.

On the other hand, culture can condition it out of us. School dances are a source of emotional trauma for many, including your correspondent. People can grow up afraid to dance like they’re afraid of public speaking. Nashville itself has a kind of anesthetic effect on the dance gene, what with all the industry types who stand stiffly in the presence of swinging tunes, looking serious with arms folded. It’s not the most boogie-loving town I’ve ever lived in.

But folks, the Loveless is at the Edge of Music City, so those rules don’t apply. During some shows we get a little dance pit going...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on May 31, 2013 – 14:27

On the extremely rare occasion when we had not a single fiddle on stage all night, one of the best scene-setting songs over two-plus hours of music at the Loveless on Wednesday night was “Silver Fiddle” by Great American Taxi. It was about a mystical lady musician and the magic of an all night jam. And as the band filled the barn with its friendly mountain folk rock, I took in the flowing May air and reflected on these magic nights in the Spring when everything feels in balance, with stars above and a stage for exceptional talent below. We know the real thing when we feel it.

And there was Chip Taylor, opening a great set with his hit song “The Real Thing” and Aoife O’Donovan singing in a voice that could not be more...

more

A taxi takes you places, and America is a big place with myriad destinations. So Great American Taxi is an apt name for a band that feels like a ticket to ride. This always-moving and beloved band could pitch its tent and find an adoring, dancing crowd just about anywhere from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico. This week, we’re excited to say, they’ll be closing the show at our own Loveless Barn as part of a diverse and exciting lineup. So more on them in a moment.

One of my favorite singers of the past five years will also be with us and that’s the bell-toned roots and bluegrass artist Aoife O’Donovan. She’s been best known as the graceful lead vocalist for progressive string band Crooked Still out of Boston. But we’re lucky to be part of her long-hoped-for...

more

Submitted by admin on May 23, 2013 – 21:31

It looked for much of the day that we’d have a stormy night at the Loveless Barn, with all the muck and discouragement that entails, but the afternoon cleared up and by the 6 pm doors opening/chicken dinner it was nothing but golden hour light and birds chirping and breezes blowing through the wide open doors. And of course when you have a night of bluegrass and folk rock ahead of you, this is the kind of mood setter you’re looking for. With a bill heavy on emerging talent, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as usual, our savvy booking team enlarged my musical universe with some surprising new voices.

New Yorker Sara Syms hit the stage with a crackerjack four-piece Nashville band. Opener “The Devil Came Around” had the form and...

more

Where is bluegrass music going? The question comes up in my life and work more often than you could believe. But it’s important because for every hard-core traditionalist who thinks a bluegrass angel dies every time Yonder Mountain String Band takes the stage, there are (by my reasonably informed guesstimate) ten or more music fans who love and appreciate the diversity of today’s scene, where The Gibson Brothers and Del McCoury can play the same festival stages as Deadly Gentlemen and Milk Drive.

My simple one-band answer to the question above used to be The Infamous Stringdusters, because I valued their passion for and skill at both directions in bluegrass – forward and back. They could knock you out with a Bill Monroe cover and then jam with jazzgrass master David Grisman and...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on May 18, 2013 – 13:55

You have to salute a band that carries, loads and unloads a vintage xylophone to a show like ours to play on two songs just because it’s exactly the right sound. Our closing band Seryn brought one on Wednesday night. From Texas. And you should have seen this thing. It looked like a hospital gurney from the 1940s with wheels and metal bars on top. Chris Semmelback got up from his drum set on a couple of occasions during Seryn’s set to add its pinging, singing texture to a lush and lovely soundscape. It was but one of the details that made their performance extraordinary, along with some astonishing vocal harmony. But more on that shortly.

The night had a harmony — in all senses. There were no odd turns or jagged corners....

more

Sometimes a band gets you so enthralled, puzzled and generally curious that there’s nothing else to do but to call them up. At least that’s how it goes with us journalist types. So our booking team helped me get in touch with Nathan Allen, singer and guitarist with Seryn, who’s set to close our show on Wednesday night. And my question was: How’s a band with such lush grandeur, chamber-folk complexity and tricky musical ideas making out in Denton, Texas, collegiate hub of the beer-swilling, honky-tonking Red Dirt Music movement?

“There’s so much other music that goes on in Texas!” said Allen from a break in a Denton studio where Seryn (pronounced sir-IN by the way) is recording a sophomore album. “There is a huge music scene here – a really interesting scene. In 2008 Paste...

more

Submitted by admin on May 10, 2013 – 13:32

Americana music is a minimalist art form, by and large. At its core is the lone songwriter with an acoustic guitar, and major heroes in our world know that their audiences won’t demand a full band on the road and often prefer the spare elegance of a solo show or a single accompanist. Heavy production in the recording studio can be seen as a departure from authenticity.

But the times they are a’changin’ as a certain troubadour famously said, both in solo mode and on stage with some pretty vast ensembles. On the charts and in our barn, we’re seeing more horns, more keyboards and sometimes string sections fleshing out bands and making some lush and large sounds. And I say more, more, more. I grew up on classical music. I love jazz...

more

As fans of our show know so well, Nashville’s Belmont University has an impressive track record of fostering musical relationships, even ones made off campus.

And thus it was that Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “crashing” a Belmont neighborhood party, met one another and began a life together. The now-married couple has tried a variety of musical endeavors, together and apart, with shuffling people names and styles. But something settled when the idea of Buffalo Clover took root. With a nice buzz and a Kickstarter cruising into its final days, this exciting band visit the Loveless Barn this week, for an opening slot that will sound utterly perfect on Hippie Radio.

And after that, almost everything’s going to be coming up...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on May 4, 2013 – 16:58

Saxophonist and show-closer Jeff Coffin offered a very cool insight about jazz in our interview at Roots Wednesday night. The word improvisation, he said, comes from the Latin improvisio, which means the unexpected, or to put it another way – surprise. That certainly at the core of my fascination with jazz. Where other genres get their mojo by fulfilling hopes and expectations and being familiar, jazz is an ongoing flood of surprises, era to era, artist to artist and moment to moment.

And indeed Wednesday was a night full of surprises – like Aaron Till scatting in sync with his own violin – like a banjo/keyboard duet – like a Nashville homegirl with dreadlocks singing traditional swing. I drove home from our first ever...

more

Even though roots/Americana and jazz tend to be made, promoted and appreciated in different worlds, I’ve always thought of my love of both as complimentary – not contradictory. Legendary songwriter Harlan Howard famously referred to country music as “three chords and the truth.” So doesn’t that make jazz “100 chords and the truth”? Jazz may use more harmonic colors to get to its end result, but aren’t both trying to speak to the heart?

Actually the best short definition of jazz I ever heard – one that also echoes Mr. Howard’s take on country – is the title of an Oliver Nelson album called Blues And The Abstract Truth. The blues are familiar to almost every American, so they’re the ultimate...

more

Submitted by Craig Havighurst on April 25, 2013 – 15:04

A friend once turned to me after a set at Merlefest and said “Ooh, I had a Merlefest Moment.” And I said, “Oh wow, you have those too?” It put a name on something that had been happening to me year after year as I attended that sprawling pop-up city of roots music. The whole thing was uplifting, but every so often during a performance the world would transform into a dream sequence. The song, the sound, the setting and the season would unify into pure state of transcendent NOW. Pupils dilated. Skin tingled. Heart rate elevated. Eyes glowed with dewy moisture. (And this from a standing start of pure sobriety I must add; Merlefest is alcohol free and not exactly Bonnaroo-esque when it comes to those other potential...

more

Our lives are full of turning points and memories, and our lives in music provide some of the strongest and sweetest.

It was a cool Appalachian evening in the early 1990s. I’d made the trek from my home in Washington DC to a community college I’d never heard of in North Wilkesboro, NC. I’d set up the car camp and figured out the shuttle and the tickets, and there I was approaching the main stage, action already in progress. The band on stage was the rousing Rankin Family, a Celtic-influenced family band from Nova Scotia. The air pulsed with fiddle and accordion. Uplights from behind the main stage flooded the trees on the thrusting hillside at the edge of the meadow. And I thought I’d arrived at the pearly gates. My skin was warm and tingling, and I swelled with joy and purpose....

more

“You have to hit all the bases,” said bandleader and broadcaster Joe Mullins from the stage on Wednesday night. He was talking about a bluegrass show, where you’d better sing about momma, murder, trains and God before the night’s over. But he might also have been describing a good Roots show, where we try to touch as many bases as we can on the Americana infield. Our Nashville Scene friend Jewly noted our wide range of artistic points of view for this week, and one dude watching the final set of the night by The Allen Thompson Band leaned over to me and said over the volume: “ECLECTIC SHOW!” Yah bro. That’s how we roll.

But as much as I expected Wednesday to be an episode of “And Now For Something Completely Different,” I was surprised by the cohesiveness of Thompson’s band, hot...

more

If he truly is a Worried Man, as suggested by the title of his full-length album debut this winter, it’s safe to say that Andrew Combs has fewer troubles by the week, professionally speaking.

Last year the songwriter was waiting tables and scraping the cash together to finish the recording. This year, he’s a staff writer for the groovy Razor & Tie company with festival bookings flying in. He’s on tour now with fellow Nashville rising star Caitlin Rose, following stints with Shovels & Rope and Jason Isbell this winter. He played the prestigious 30A Songwriters Festival, and he’s going to play at Newport Folk this summer. And yes, dear readers, he’s going to play a hotly anticipated 25 minutes of earthy, truthful music at Roots on Wednesday night.

The press is drawing...

more

Things are warming up. On Tuesday evening I was at the ballpark basking in a perfect 70 degree night with a skim of pollen on my beer (you should try it – delicious). Then Wednesday, it’s a scorching 87 degrees! An anomaly I’m sure. Of course that’s the day our beloved barn’s HVAC system had some kind of seizure and would not respond to our ministrations. So it was a bit warm in there, and we hope it wasn’t a bother if you were our guest. I actually loved having the tents open and the spring air flowing around. The performers? They worked up a sweat of course, but they’re in training for the summer festy season anyway. Nothing they can’t handle. The music was the right kind of hot, from open to close, from lush duo artistry through global groove, hard-edged hillbilly songs and feisty...

more

That’s the best howl I can manage in print. But you ought to hear me really go for it when the Howlin’ Brothers are on the Victrola – or live on stage. One of the hottest bands on the strings and things circuit is coming to grace our stage and close our show as we return from a nice spring break. Next Wednesday the Loveless Barn will ring with the sounds that keep us grounded: banjo, fiddle, upright bass and uplifted, harmonically attuned voices. It’s a night of variety, spirit and a big surprise, which I’m told I can reveal not yet but soon, perhaps as soon as the end of this column.

It’s the classic overnight-success-that-took-ten-years thing with the Howlin’ Brothers. Ben Plasse (bass/banjo), Ian Craft (fiddle/banjo) and Jared Green (guitar/harmonica) met in college up in New...

more

“Uncle” John Walker (my new nickname for our show’s co-founder) wore his Detroit Tigers cap Wednesday night in honor of the city that offered a musical education/upbringing to himself and his old pal Derek St. Holmes, the man set to play our penultimate set at the Loveless Barn. It was a young man move bound up with a young man dream of perhaps trading licks with this arena-scale rock star on our stage. And by golly it happened. As Derek St.Holmes started the final song of his ripping and righteous set, he signaled to John to grab his Strat. Cool, except there was no gear in place. A flurry of plugging-in ensued from our crack stage crew, and before we knew it, John was in fact slinging his six-string on stage and playing some fantastic vintage rock and roll with Derek. For a moment...

more

To quote my good friend Rick, a roots music fan and barroom philosopher, “Suck it, Winter!” It’s something he is inclined to say or post to Facebook at this time of year, and it’s become my cathartic battle cry against March days that tease you with warmth and flowers and then spit freezing rain at you as soon as you’ve let your guard down. I think we can agree that we are OVER it. And we’re sliding into a final week of our Winter season, so it’s time for a little pause to refresh, but only after a really, really great party on Wednesday night at the Loveless Barn.

How great? Why great? Well because we’ve secured the musical experimentation and exaltation of a potent collaboration between The Travelin’ McCourys and Keller Williams. The McCourys, of course, are the Del McCoury...

more

Musical legends come in may shades of cool, from not at all to unapproachably awesome. And sometimes they come in cool shades, the way W.S. “Fluke” Holland did at Music City Roots this week. They were gold aviator specs that went ever-so-well with his amazing mane of white hair, not to mention his graceful, gracious personality. Guest host Peter Cooper, historian that he is, did a great job contextualizing Fluke for me and our audience, describing how Holland – a non-drummer at the time – lucked into the Carl Perkins band in 1955, basically because he could keep time and he had a car. Then the third recording session of his life produced “Blue Suede Shoes.” And the rest, as they say, is hysterical.

Fluke became the third man in Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Three, putting him in charge...

more

John Cowan (who closes Music City Roots this coming Wednesday evening) was working at a car wash in Louisville, KY, playing in garage bands and listening to a lot of Yes in 1974. He was 21 years old and knew nothing about bluegrass music, though he did own Will The Circle Be Unbroken album. Then, almost out of the blue, came an audition with New Grass Revival, a bunch of area guys who’d made a great head start as the first big band hybridizing bluegrass and rock. Young John jumped at the opportunity, and his stellar, almost operatic voice became a fixture of that band, through the addition of Bela Fleck around 1980, a major label record deal and even hits on the radio. Cowan told me in an interview last winter that Steve Earle’s famous quip about the mid 80s being a “great credibility...

more

With a lineup that flowed as naturally as a mountain creek, bountiful and beautiful voices, two full horn sections, tons of new music from new albums and a tent revival climax, I’ll nominate last night’s Roots for best in show. Quintessentially eclectic, we touched the bases of traditional blues, bluegrass, modern folk/country, soul/R&B and holy roller gospel. We were serenaded by lovers and by sisters. Our cup overflowethed. Before I pack the car to leave for tonight’s launch of our new sister show Scenic City Roots in Chattanooga, here’s what went down.

Charlie Parr. When I first saw the name it tickled some memory. He’s been a spirit floating around roots music for a decade. But I couldn’t place him. Maybe because he lives in Duluth. Can the blues endure in Duluth? Yes, it...

more

Folks, we have a bunch of major announcements coming up here in the near future, and I’d like to preview just one of them here, because it’s relevant to this week’s Music City Roots.

In the next month, we’re going to be releasing four anthology albums featuring exceptional performances from roughly the past year. The digital releases, coming out in cooperation with Compass Records, will be available on iTunes, Amazon and etc. under the titles GrassRoots, SongRoots, TwangRoots and SoulRoots. Your correspondent had a lot of fun reviewing show tapes and pulling really fine performances that would fit into each category. And while I predicted that the bluegrass or the songwriter collection would fill up first, the volume...

more

If there’s one thing in live music that people react to more than any other, it’s intensity. I’ve seen mediocre players and singers make huge audience connections by pushing their gifts to the limit and just opening themselves up emotionally. Yes, it’s a risk. It can go South in a hurry. But better to go for it. And when an artist is extremely good AND extremely vulnerable AND extremely expressive, mind-boggling things happen. And you’re probably correct in guessing I’m about to tell you this took place – more than once – on Wednesday night at the Loveless Barn, chiefly with some fascinating females.

It began with a troika of songwriters, each with her or his own touch and tone. Shelly Colvin was graceful and warm, with songs that swayed on West Coast breezes. “Alright Now” had a...

more

The DNA of Music City is recombinant. It’s entirely natural and inevitable for artists heading in one direction to fuse with others in collaborative efforts that take a new path together. We’ve enjoyed the fruits of some of these connections at Roots, including married duo Elenowen, swinging Sugar & The Hi-Lows and retro-cool Humming House. One of the most exciting new unions of Nashville stand-outs bears the name Luella And The Sun, and this highly-praised band will be a big part of this Wednesday night’s show.

While it’s a four-piece, I suspect many who’ve followed the music scene around The Family Wash, The 5 Spot and The Basement will view Luella And The Sun as a long hoped-for musical pairing of singer/songwriter Melissa Mathes and guitarist Joe McMahan. Melissa hails...

more

For two consecutive years, the Roots crew has had the pleasure of filming for live webcast the amazing International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. And in those same two years, The Gibson Brothers have won the coveted, top-of-the-mountain Entertainer of the Year Award. Coincidence? You decide. I’m just saying that when Eric and Leigh Gibson get their heart-felt, sincere and wonderful selves near our cameras, amazing things happen. And I feel sure that will be true this week when this stellar duo and their band play Music City Roots. Nor are they the only bluegrass brothers featured this week. The Roland White Band is playing the show for the first time, and...

more

Did I give fair warning? I told you that Australia’s Henry Wagons cultivates audience participation. I mentioned that he might be somewhat interactive. A scenario I did NOT anticipate was any of our lovely crowd being encouraged to make gagging, last-breath-on-Earth sounds over a microphone for live broadcast to the world. No, I didn’t game that one out, but you know, this activity turns out to be freaking hilarious. Like gut-splitting, eye-watering ultra-funny.

Okay, for those who were not there, what the hell am I talking about? The last song of Henry’s set (closing out the night as it happened) was a dark and twisted number from his dark and twisted new recording “Expecting Company?” called “A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done.” Against a menacing backdrop of horror-movie organ and...

more

As you may know, we were in Australia recently and if you’d asked me if I knew anyone in Australia I would have said no way, nobody. But then there I was, walking around the streets of Tamworth, New South Wales, getting the lay of the land on our first full day, and lo and behold, I run into an Australian I DID know. It was Henry Wagons! He of the unmistakable heavy glasses and shaggy visage. He of the jovial, high voltage personality. What a perfect welcome wagon, if you will. And you who follow our adventures at Roots will recall that Henry Wagons played a balls-to-the-wall solo set last February. He stomped the stage and cajoled the crowd. He bellowed an homage to Willie Nelson and climbed into the seats. It was brazen and awesome.

Henry is back this week as part of a...

more

For many musical artists, there are THREE ugly, inescapable truths of life: death, taxes and stage banter. Of course it’s a pleasure for many, but for others it’s their least favorite part of being on stage: The songs feel natural. The chat feels forced. But we were treated to a moment of spoken word last night that was downright moving. Singer/songwriter/bandleader Bonnie Bishop had this to say mid set:

“It’s a total joy to get on stage to bring (my album) to life, literally, live. I believe in this band and I believe in what we’re doing, and it’s a joy to play for you tonight.”

On paper, it may look par for the course, but the tone at the Loveless was deep and the truth in it unmistakable. She’d already warmed up our bodies with two funky, feel-good songs. Now she had us...

more

It may all start with a song but I think we can all agree that at some point a singer becomes somewhat crucial. And while I’m a music/sound guy more than a song/lyric guy at the end of the day, I can not deny the human truth that we’re wired to relate most powerfully the voices of our fellow men and women – be it a lullaby from our mama, a tear-jerker on Broadway, a hymn in church or a smoky monologue from Billie Holiday. It’s an aural infinity. A song well sung is the most elemental and approachable form of musical communication there is.

Of course songs and singers are at the core of Roots, and in terms of sheer vocal skills, we’re on a roll. Last week we heard from some of the best dude singers in the world working in a blues, soul and bluegrass vein. This week Music City...

more

Next week, Roots features two powerhouse female vocalists, but last night at the Loveless Barn it was raining men – men who can sing so powerfully they’d have all four judges’ chairs spinning around on The Voice (only to discover that our guys want no part of their industrial pop makeover). On a night that seemed destined to be knee-deep in bluegrass, the guys who took charge in the final two sets of the night loaded on sacks of Memphis soul and smoke-cured blues in a tour de force of no-barriers music. Glad I had such a good seat.

It was also a 100% Nashville night, which was cool. And cool also describes The Troubadour Kings, a collaboration of Music City pros whose various backgrounds include writing songs for Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride and Kid Rock, producing big rock...

more

This week’s Roots features a bluegrass heavy lineup, and where some of our past grassy shows have emphasized top flight bands and band leaders, I’d describe this week’s bill as long on bluegrass instigators. Randy Kohrs, for example, has his hand in all kinds of projects for himself and others. And Jon Weisberger has advanced the bluegrass cause as journalist, bass player, songwriter and board member of IBMA. Both are playing as leaders with “& Friends” groups, those ad hoc combos that are a feature of bluegrass music. Since Jon is a friend of mind, and since he has an expert bird’s-eye view on the music, I offer this week’s show preview in dialogue form:

Craig: Hi Jon. Let’s start with...

more

Is it rebellious to be rootsy? Well, kinda. Less so than a few years ago perhaps, before the internet truly blew up the major label system and Americana started finding new paths to success. Now the revolution is well under way, taking music back to its pre-industrialized state, and it’s nice to know we have a Nashville reggae band beside us. Roots Of A Rebellion, who played Roots Wednesday night alongside four fellow Belmont University-related bands/artists, didn’t preach for anything but love and brotherhood in their songs. But we know how radical their agenda really is. Because it’s ours as well: great music that turns a profit, not music as profit-center. ROAR’s performance was just one part of a fantastic night of music that flowed from pop to roots to indie with a kind of...

more

One of the better ideas anybody ever had for our show was to dedicate a night to bands that were born at or touched by Nashville’s venerable Belmont University. With a nationally respected music business program that’s graduated all kinds of famous people and its historic recording studios, Belmont has become a vital cog in the Music City machine. Almost exactly one year ago, we enjoyed the very hot Apache Relay, the very smart and fascinating Kopecky Family Band and others in a show that illustrated Belmont’s talent and impact.

So why not again?

Belmont talent on tap for Wednesday night, and it features an all-new lineup that as usual covers a lot of musical ground. No surprise either that we sought and got the help of our friend Dan Keen, Belmont professor and long-time...

more

Part 1

The Tamworth Country Music Festival is distributed across dozens of diverse venues all over this town of 50,000 people, but the spinal column is Peel Street, named for the river that runs through the heart of the city. Fifty weeks a year it’s the town high street, with shops, cafes and the like. During the festival, it’s closed to traffic and becomes busker’s row, where for decades, folks have played on the street, sometimes with a guitar over an open case and sometimes with ambitious PA systems, backing tracks and merch operations. It’s a symbol of Australia’s wide-open, participatory country music scene and it’s a legitimate talent showcase, where big careers (e.g. Kasey Chambers, Felicity Urquhart) have been launched. So when our fearless leaders Todd and John arrived...

more

One of my favorite things to watch is our Music City A-Team musicians supporting an artist who’s new to them and who keeps them on their toes. Trumpet player and singer Joey Morant may have been wearing the gold sportcoat and tie in the spotlight on Wednesday night, but for long stretches of his set I was riveted by bass player Mike Bub, keyboardist Jimmy Wallace, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Justin Amaral and steel guitarist Doug Jernigan. To say Joey is unpredictable is an understatement, but the boys in the band were clairvoyantly with him at every turn. Whether Joey was cruising into another bridge in “Crazy” or diving into a finale on “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” he communicated with nothing but phrasing and subtle direction that only experienced musicians understand. He acts;...

more

“Don’t believe if you play jazz you gotta be a stuffed shirt. You can be serious and loving. It’s all about love.”

These wise and lovely words came from our guest artist Joey Morant when he visited us in the spring of 2011. It was a charged experience. The veteran trumpeter/singer/entertainer put on a joyful, captivating set. He worked the room like a master with call-and-response singing and a stroll through the crowd playing his horn. And in our interview, I felt like I was truly diving into another world when we spoke about his earliest musical experiences growing up in Charleston, SC.

“I was dirt poor,” Morant said. “My seventh grade teacher started a band with old instruments out of the attic of Henry P. Archer Elementary School. And he had one trumpet left, with a...

more

MUSIC CITY ROOTS HAS BEEN INVITED TO STAGE ITS SHOW AT THE TAMWORTH COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL IN TAMWORTH, AUSTRALIA. IT’S THE BIGGEST ROOTS MUSIC EVENT IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE AND WE’RE GOING TO BE THERE ON THE NIGHT OF THURSDAY, JAN. 24 AT THE TAMWORTH TOWN HALL. HERE’S THE NOTE THAT WILL APPEAR IN OUR PROGRAM THAT NIGHT.

If all goes according to an unfolding plan, by the end of 2013, Tamworth and Nashville will officially be Sister Cities. Makes sense to us. We’re both small but proud river cities in very big countries. And we both love and nurture music. So hello, sisters (and brothers) of Tamworth! The entire cast and crew of Music City Roots is as excited and proud as we can be to take our show on the road. We’ve never staged Roots outside of our...

more

From where I sat (at my new journalist super-station off stage right), Leon Russell was, physically speaking, in the background. Seven musicians filled the stage with bodies and energy and music. And waaaay over on the other side, by Keith Bilbrey’s podium, was a thicket of cables and a massing of boxes and an electronic piano and seated behind THAT was a solemn looking man with graceful and abundant white hair and beard, a crisp white cowboy hat and sunglasses that resembled the windshield of a Lamborghini. Would Mr. Russell, working on his second half-century in the music business, be swallowed or subordinated by his gear or his large and exceptionally talented band?

Hell to the tenth power of no.

Leon’s physical, rhythmic command of the piano and his band were absolute....

more

If you want to learn something astonishing about American music and get all misty eyed at the same time, watch THIS VIDEO. In it, Elton John pays tribute to his hero Leon Russell as he helps induct the not-legendary-enough pianist, songwriter and musical instigator into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. It helped me put Russell into context, and it set me on a journey browsing through his albums and live recordings with a fresh ear. I realize that I didn’t adequately acknowledge Russell as one of the godfathers of Americana, but yes he is.

Ironically, Russell’s 1978 album Americana is not very Americana, with its dated keyboards and synth drums. However, pick up all four of his “Hank Wilson” albums (spread way...

more

Folks, there’s no glossing over it. The world has not been a gentle place of late. Any good faith attempt to follow and comprehend the news of the world is rewarded with some agonizing and depressing situations. We at Roots don’t live on an island. And whether it’s inane politics or the devastating national tragedy in Newtown, we are aware it’s going on, even as our show goes on. And while yes, it’s just a radio show, we continue to believe that sharing culture and collaborative music is the best antidote to the toxic and the hateful. I came very close on Wednesday night to asking our audience to share a moment of silence for the children and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and maybe I’m asking for one now. But let me instead dedicate retroactively a lovely night of peace and...

more

Last week Supe Granda promised us in a song that it’s going to be a “cool, cool Yule,” and we aim to make sure of it this week with a season-closing extravaganza that features fourteen artists or bands and songs featured on the new and very wonderful CD collection An East Nashville Christmas. The brainchild of producer and recording engineer Phil Harris, the CD corrals an incredible number of participants (75 musicians by their count) into a coherent, joy-filled, sonically luxurious Christmas album. Unpretentious and real, with many standout performances, An East Nashville Christmas is bound to be a perennial favorite through the years, even as it presents a smart musical snapshot of 37206 in 2012. The motivation behind...

more

American Idol comes in for a lot of grief from hardcore music fans, and not without some justification. But I often take the counter-intuitive side in that conversation. Because despite its inadequate construct of what makes a great singer, the show is maybe the only place on major-league TV where they actually talk about music, including issues like intonation, poise, song choice and the mechanics of improvement. I’ve been more entertained than offended by it over the years as a casual, check-in viewer.

I’ve been more troubled by Nashville’s peculiar relationship with American Idol. Early on, the show gifted Music Row one of the biggest stars of her time – Carrie Underwood. And then the hat factory began farming the show for almost any Idol finalist who could plausibly be...

more

Twelve. Twelve. Twelve. If it happens to be your lucky number (and how could it not be?) then you’ll find this week’s lineup an alignment of the planets. But isn’t that the day the world’s supposed to end? Oh no, that’s 12/21/12, so again, lucky us! We’ve got stars of folk and fingerstyle, an American Idol and a Daredevil. One of our bands claims to be cursed, but we’ll overwhelm that with the power of twelve and some of the Black Cat Oil left behind by Delta Moon last Wednesday.

I suspect we’ll have lots of folks coming out or tuning in for Langhorne Slim, who has emerged gradually but convincingly over the last five years as a top tier indie folk artist. If the Lumineers should happen to win the folk Grammy for which they were just nominated, they should thank Slim for pointing...

more

I constantly wonder and I sometimes ask our guests: what is it about country music that is so damned interesting and sustaining? How can so many of us who didn’t comprehend it as kids now find it the ultimate form for emotional expression in song? Done badly or pretentiously or greedily, country music is especially awful because it’s so transparent. But in the hands of real artists, those moody blue lines and carefully crafted language can add up to inexplicable levels of catharsis, calm and comfort. I shall not get into a pointless conversation here about the definition of “country music” and its strange annexation by the pop music industry. I know country when I hear it, and I heard it in the front, back and middle of Roots this Wednesday.

Of course with Jim Lauderdale opening...

more

ubmitted by Craig Havighurst on December 7, 2012 – 13:06

I constantly wonder and I sometimes ask our guests: what is it about country music that is so damned interesting and sustaining? How can so many of us who didn’t comprehend it as kids now find it the ultimate form for emotional expression in song? Done badly or pretentiously or greedily, country music is especially awful because it’s so transparent. But in the hands of real artists, those moody blue lines and carefully crafted language can add up to inexplicable levels of catharsis, calm and comfort. I shall not get into a pointless conversation here about the definition of “country music” and its strange annexation by the pop music industry. I know country when I hear it, and I heard it in the front, back and middle of...

more

You guys know Eddie Stubbs, right? The great country music DJ. An icon of broadcasting in the modern age AND a throwback in the best sense of the word. Very importantly to us, he was the first emcee of Music City Roots. For a year, we were on the legendary WSM 650 AM (near to your correspondent’s heart) and Eddie was our first man behind the podium. Of course he and our own Keith Bilbrey worked together for ages at WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. I say this because it’s important to grasp the continuity from Nashville’s first big important radio station to what we do today. Eddie is an amazing person and one of our heroes. There’s...

more

Once frumpy and once sketchy, East Nashville has evolved into a twilight sort of place, with its bars and clubs and food trucks. Rock and rollers and country punkers come out at night, imbibing at joints high-life and low on Gallatin Pike. Bluegrass and old-time pickers congregate at the Five Spot. Nevertheless, a traditional emblem of the East, the rising sun, is an apt symbol of my long-time neighborhood’s cultural trajectory. Even a cursory glance at today’s 37206 music scene will tell you it’s worthy of global attention. It has been for quite a few years now. Wednesday night’s parade of the area’s finest songwriters and artists on our Loveless Barn stage proved it with skill and diversity.

Jon Byrd offered the bedrock sort of start you’d want for a variety Americana night...

more

Your correspondent hopes you will forgive him for skipping a column and double-dosing this post with a review of last Wednesday and a forecast of next Wednesday, as we all emerge from our Thanksgiving dining halls and shopping malls. It was a busy, beautiful time, with my real extended family and our musical family all together at the barn last week. Then we cooked and ate and rambled with our moms, dads, uncles, aunts, cousins until Saturday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Thanksgiving is the greatest American holiday. The focus on family and feast is the best of the good life, and the prescribed dinner happens to be awesome. Our Roots feast was made of music of course, but the same factors apply; it tasted great and brought everyone together.

Who gets to listen to...

more

The year was 1998. I was new to Nashville, and so was the concept of “Americana” music, though our arrivals were, as far as I can tell, coincidental. I’d been following and loving rootsy country and folk for more than a decade, but the term Americana had just started floating around, and I was a fan and journalist trying to figure out what this amounted to for an arts column in the Wall Street Journal. So I cold-called Grant Alden, one of the founders and editors of No Depression magazine. He was gracious and generous with his thoughts (as was everyone else I called on that story) and when I asked him to name me some artists who were indisputably core “Americana,” among the first words out of his mouth were “Buddy” and...

more

“This is a brand new movement folks,” said 77-year-old Bobby Bare on stage Wednesday night at the Loveless. “This is what’s going on in music.” This legendary and ultra-hip country star was talking glowingly about his band (more on that in a moment) but I think he was talking as well about the whole scene and (though he had not heard them yet) the lineup of remarkable bands that were about to follow his amazing set. We proudly claim the mantle of movementhood and have ever since we started Music City Roots. It’s an evangelistic, idealistic, populist sermon from the mount for music with integrity and authenticity, and I think we’ll be nicking that bit of tape from Mr. Bare to play every day at noon on RootsRadio.com as our rallying cry.

As for Bobby’s band, yes, it was state of...

more

Just over a year ago, with Fall in full color and the air apple crisp as it has been here of late, I spent a wonderful weekend at The Festy, the annual music throwdown hosted by the Infamous Stringdusters in a Blue Ridge valley not far from Charlottesville, Virginia. Among the many musical surprises and delights, a snappy little combo called Lake Street Dive took the stage and emphatically confirmed every bit of hype and praise I had heard about them. Efficient and nimble they were, making improbably large music with just four members – one of them not even an instrumentalist. She was lead singer Rachael Price, who has the pipes and charisma to slay a large crowd. Jazz-infused, she has that muted trumpet tone that made Billie Holiday so seductive, plus a groove-awareness and a sunny...

more

I think we’re all glad the big election is over so We The People can get back to the important stuff, by which I mean of course using Facebook to post pics of our pets and checking out new bands and artists. Wednesday, with the cheers and tears of Nov. 6 still fresh in our minds, we at Roots set out to forge a more perfect union – of tunes. Neither red American nor blue America, but the purple, rhinestoned Americana embodied in Billy Burnette’s Manuel blazer. It was a night of discovery, great songs, soul and vintage rock and roll.

When I read about St. Paul & The Broken Bones, I imagined its lead singer as somebody with some wrinkles around the eyes and a lot of stories to tell. Instead he’s an undergraduate accounting major from the University of Alabama at Birmingham who...

more

I have to assume Billy Burnette lives in my neighborhood because I see him out walking and at the corner Kroger. It’s always a bit surreal to encounter one of Nashville’s most proven musicians (Fleetwood Mac and John Fogerty haven’t called YOU to play guitar on world tours, have they now?), not to mention a devilishly handsome cat with rockabilly hair in the produce section. Just another day in Nashville I guess. And Billy is such an approachable, unassuming guy that it’s easy to be blasé about his amazing resume and heritage. So here I am to tell you why his anchoring slot on this week’s Roots is not to be missed.

Typically, the achievements of the father are of academic interest to the story of the son, but in Billy’s case, it’s like some unbroken flow. Put yourself in Memphis,...

more

I dressed up as a mild-mannered interview guy for Music City Roots for Wednesday night’s show. Zany, I know, but I’m just trying to keep it real. We had a bit of a costume party at the Barn on our first-ever Halloween Roots (including a fortune-teller, a banana, our own Megan as a Twister game and actor/singer John Corbett as a hooded mystery dude). But what we mostly had was a big bag of musical sweets that flowed from Southern blues rock into sophisticated folk. Others might have run the evening in reverse, building up to the electrified pulse of the Dirt Daubers, but you know, we’re contrary sometimes.

To start with, we love a surprise and the Dirt Daubers brought one, with late-breaking personnel and stylistic changes that frankly blew my intro all to hell. The string band is...

more

I’ll be candid with y’all because we’re friends. I scare easily. I avoid horror movies. My little girl can pop out from behind a door and go “boo” and I jump. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m just an orderly, boring kind of fellow. So my approach to Halloween, at least since the candy free-for-all of my youth, has been to basically lay low until it passes. Not that Halloween is remotely terrifying in the you’re-gonna-die sense. I just find that adults in costumes, whether zombie, tennis pro or the latest internet meme, well, they scare the bejeezus out of me too.

This week’s show takes place on Halloween night. (Mwah-ha-ha-ha! Eeek! WTF?) Just another week as far as I’m concerned, with friends, Loveless chicken, Blackstone beer and great music. I’m told I don’t have to dress...

more

Dear Mother Maybelle,

You were in our thoughts the Loveless Barn Wednesday night, throughout an edition of Music City Roots where your legacy just kept coming up. Virginia artists bookended the show, and the first ones sang about your guitar. Tiller’s Folly presented a song inspired by your first recording sessions in Bristol. Tomi Fujiyama, country music matriarch of Japan, picked the “Wildwood Flower.” And the night ended with one of your greatest hits. And as for the rest of you, perhaps you already love Virginia, or else maybe last night made you even more of a fan of the Old Dominion. It’s produced a lot of presidents and a lot of great musicians.

Robin and Linda Williams have lived in the Shenandoah Valley near Staunton, VA for going on 40 years, and their musical...

more

It’s the season of lifetime achievement awards, and I’d like to propose one for Robin and Linda Williams. They were among the first eclectic Americana acts I became aware of in my life (long before the term was applied to our music), and for 40 years, they’ve been making some of the kindest, warmest and most bountiful folk/roots music that I know of. Their vocal blend is seamless and without pretense. Their songs – written or borrowed – have long been impeccable, and they’ve been rewarded for that with covers by Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom T. Hall and many others. As a fan and an observer of what’s right and lasting in this world of hand-made music, I’m delighted that they’ll be opening our show this Wednesday night at the Loveless.

“We’ve been niche-less since the...

more

Sometimes I get these show rosters handed to me (delivered by a messenger monkey carrying a locked briefcase) and I just stand in slack-jawed amazement. How does the booking team (working out of a hidden chamber beneath the Volcano Room in Cumberland Caverns) achieve such quality, such balance, such diversity and such skin-tingling prospects? The committee must have ears as big as dinner plates. They hear all and know all. And this Wednesday, you’ll find they’ve done it again, with a bluegrass premiere by our own Jim Lauderdale and a range of supremely interesting artists from across the roots spectrum.

You know Jim of course. Roots owes its special character in large part to the special character of this insightful artist and funny guy. We love him like family, and I think...

more

It was a grand tour of Dixie on Wednesday night. The bill included artists from Memphis, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Nashville, and they brought fiery performances and brilliant songs. Our photographer Tony Scarlati was ebullient afterwards, declaring it the best ever, but we think he was partly just euphoric from how elegantly our new light rig illuminated our performers. To be sure, it was a dreamy evening, with a sliver crescent moon hanging in a cool coral sky just before show time. And the spirit and soul of our varied Southern American sounds surged out of the Loveless Barn.

That first surge you heard was your humble correspondent. Yes, with Jim Lauderdale all geared up to play his first full set on Roots in ages, I thought maybe he’d let me offer the...

more

As of this writing I have not yet seen the premier of the ABC drama Nashville, but the reviews from friends and critics are strong. And it sounds like the producers and writers have tried to tell stories of the whole Nashville and not only the glammy big time country music industry. Even so, I find it hilarious and cosmically weird that they would select Wednesday night, of all times, to air the show, up against our little old barn dance. Well Music City fans, you have a DVR and you know what to do. Tune in to Lightning 100 or the Livestream and hang out with us in real time and save the network melodrama for snuggling in bed afterwards. And hey, we’re glam. At last night’s season-opener, we showed off our brand new lighting rig, installed in cahoots with the great folks at the...

more

I spent part of this morning working on a press release about recent doings at Music City Roots and the launch of our Fall 2012 season. And holy smokes, there’s a lot going on. Symbolically, we can point with pride (and some degree of disbelief) to the fact that next Wednesday marks the show’s third birthday. Longevity is everything in radio broadcasting, and just being able to say we’re still here is a victory. More than that, though, I told a reporter this morning that I thought we’ve filled a void in Music City and become an important platform to acknowledge excellence in Americana music, Nashville’s highest quality and most artisanal musical export. I truly believe it. Furthermore, our fall calendar has been full of great side events like webcasting the IBMA Awards and producing a...

more

People keep talking about music piracy like it’s a BAD thing. But I swear, this band of brigands seized the stage at the barn about 9 pm Wednesday night, and it turned out to be a hearty, rollicking time. Instead of knives in their teeth, they brought a tin whistle, a fiddle and some guit-arrrrs. (Forgive me, but I needed that one.) And they sang about drinking, wenches and drowning and all that good stuff. Up to that point, the evening had been serene and intelligent, as a string of singer-songwriters from Australia took the stage in turn. The vibe was warm. The audience attentive. Then Tom Mason’s Blue Buccaneers crashed in and kicked over all the furniture.

I think some folks wondered about the night’s unorthodox formula, but it ended up being kind of subversive and it was...

more

Now THAT’s Americana! I could say it about everything I’ve seen, heard and done over the last four days. The Americana Music Association Conference and Festival has just wrapped in Nashville. I’m tired and happy and a better informed fan and supporter of the music than I was a few days ago. Even though I’ve been a part of this event ever year since 2000, I’m more awestruck than ever at the caliber of our music and the integrity and soul of our community.

That community is worldwide, as we were reminded on Friday, when an annual contingent of Australian folk and country artists hosted a lunch and performance down at a Lower Broadway honky-tonk. See in Australia, they think it’s cool to spend a small amount of federal and state money to support folk artists and send them around the...

more

Well that was interesting. Fifteen minutes before show time the rain squalled, the lightning thundered and the power went out in the Loveless barn. And not one of those quickie off-and-on power outages. We waited a moment or two, and then some more pausing, and then I began to wonder what might come to pass as, oh, 35 seconds went by. And then click, zzzhhhh, everything came back on — to stay. Nevertheless, I could just feel the agony taking place in the EM-50 production truck, where computers and webcasting machinery was jolted to backup power, and the guys know nothing would be quite optimal the rest of the night. But at least, it seemed we would go on, in all our old-time radio, electricity-dependent glory.

The storms outside were pretty rough and swept in at the most...

more

There’s a legend (which I’m making up right now) in which young bluesman Chris Thomas King visited the crossroads – and figured out a way to take all four directions at once. Perhaps no one has stood up so defiantly for the right to meddle with and adapt a revered American musical tradition than this widely-traveled, Grammy-winning artist, and he’s taken lumps for it. This comes from his own bio:

...

more

One never likes to have a show when friends are in harm’s way, but thankfully the news from New Orleans turns out to be not too bad, as Hurricane Isaac dropped a ton of rain but seems to have not been a catastrophe. And there was apparently more mighty wind blowing around Tampa Wednesday night as well. But even with those distractions, the Loveless Barn filled up, and another excited crowd came together in body and spirit to honor something stronger than weather and waaaaaay more honest than politics. The lineup promised to be and was wildly eclectic, almost disorienting, but when you know you’re heading toward a closing set built around an album called Calling Me Home, it offers a certain reassurance.

The first thing that struck me about the return of North Carolina eccentric...

more

Any artist worthy of the term evolves and adapts over a career, but it’s really special to watch one grow ever-closer to her essence, when she seems to try less but accomplish more. Something like that is going on with the marvelous Kathy Mattea. She’s paring away and simplifying. And as one might have predicted, the results are luxuriously beautiful and meaningful.

When she was a star, back when country radio still had room for music influence by folk and the blues, Mattea blended the accessible with the cerebral. She helped me fall in love with country music for sure. “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” captivated me even when I was mostly listening to the Grateful Dead and Neil Young. And when I saw her live at Ford’s...

more

It was an amazing coincidence. I got in my car to head back into town after a luminous night at Music City Roots and on came the interview show “Q” with Jian Ghomeshi from the CBC. I caught the very start of a lively debate on the question: Should we retire the term “world music”? Well freak my head out because I’d spent much of the day discussing the origins and merits and limits of that very thing. Our spotlight this week was on the new Bluegrass compilation album from Putumayo World Music, one of the most innovative and successful world music labels of all time. And I’d enjoyed a long interview with the company’s founder and CEO Dan Storper. Plus I put questions about world music to some of our musical guests like Alison Brown of Compass Records, who knows that “world” really...

more

It’s hard to even begin to talk about the wide and weirdly named idea of “world music” without taking way too much of your time. It’s a fascinating and frustrating topic that gets into why cultures have such strong biases toward their own sounds and styles and why world music was packaged and presented for years as something super geeky rather than a sumptuous feast of sound. David Byrne, one of the greatest-ever advocates for the music of the world, wrote a must-read editorial in 1999 called “I Hate World Music,” where he teases out the problems inherent in the term (“It groups everything and anything that isn’t “us” into “them,” he says) even as he extols the wonders and delights...

more

Bluegrass can make you buck-dance, boogie or cry like a baby. And we experienced all three this week at Roots. It was a bouquet of bluegrass, a bushel, a banquet, in a show tied to and fueled by the nomination announcements for the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, which will be happening September 27 at the Ryman Auditorium. And from the fiddle-and-banjo duo of “Angeline the Baker” by the Lonesome River Band to the speed-metal-paced “Blue Train” by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver to the sung bluegrass manifesto of Junior Sisk, it was a splendid ride through the traditional side of the music. But I think the emotional climax on Wednesday night came from a group that mixes generations and styles, and more on that in a moment.

We couldn’t have launched with any more...

more

After several months of relative banjo silence on Music City Roots, bluegrass comes rolling back this week and next. It’s kind of a coincidence, but it worked out that two of our bluegrass-heavy theme nights fit back-to-back. But that’s all right with us, because bluegrass is kind of the anchor of modern day roots music – the sun around which the other rootsy genres revolve. It’s got everything one looks for in organic, down-home, hand-made music: the virtuosity, the vocals, the harmonies, the meaningful lyrics and the ensemble cohesion. It’s not that there aren’t any bad bluegrass bands out there, but in general I know of no music scene more shot through with integrity and timelessness.

This week will be our third annual special edition Music City Roots pegged to the...

more

A mystery: did the McCrary Sisters – Nashville’s legendary vocal family group – head out for a night of ease and camaraderie at Music City Roots, only to be cajoled up on stage three times? Or was it a PLOT to infiltrate our operation and make our show EVEN BETTER than it would otherwise have been? (Ann, Regina and Freda DID look rather put together and stage ready, come to think of it.) I’ll never know, but I love how the plot unfolded. To have artists this gifted and serious who play Roots and who come back to enjoy our community, remain connected and do spontaneous guest sit-ins, well that’s how we feel it should work.

Our crazy eclectic evening began with our host Jim Lauderdale working up a brand new gospel song with the McCrarys backstage just minutes before our 7 pm start....

more

Tradition, that loaded and lovely word, plays a big role in Music City Roots, from the roots of the music to our own ways of doing things. One tradition I enjoy is being regularly surprised by the resourcefulness of our booking team. I try to keep up with what’s up in Americana music of course, but so often names appear on our lineup that send me rummaging around the internet trying to learn something. And like our loyal fans who come very much expecting to experience the thrill of discovery, I’m almost always knocked out by the talent and originality of those who wind up on the Loveless stage.

This week will be a buffet of discovery for me. Of course I know Seth Walker. He’s our buddy and a veteran of the show and a long-time favorite. More on him later. But otherwise, it’ll be...

more

My headline this week comes from Pete Huttlinger, acoustic guitarist and seeming wizard, as he set up a tune on the stage of the Loveless Cafe Barn last night. In the story, he was playing for a gathering some time ago, and he chimed through the famous and gorgeous opening chords to “Josie” by Steely Dan. Somebody in the crowd, projecting forward in his mind’s ear to the complex song ahead, wondered aloud to those around him the above anticipatory question. The musician only has one hand on the neck and only six strings to pluck and by god that song has at least six parts that all flow together in interwoven wonder. Seriously, what’s he going to do now?

Huttlinger’s musical answer was awe-inspiring. Let’s just say there was a lot of effortless and efficient motion, with numerous...

more

Most of what we bring you on Roots (and popular music in general) is built around songs and singers. And cheers to them. Most people relate more naturally to a fellow human singing a song than pure instrumental music. But it wasn’t always this way. For most of musical historical time, instrumentalists were at the center of music, and my tastes and passions in music were shaped by music without words long before I became a lover of songs myself. And since we’re trying to reflect the best hand-made music in and passing through Nashville, I decided some time ago that we needed to spotlight the instrument that’s shaped Music City more than any other. Thus the birth of Guitar Night.

The first was last August, with a crazy cool range of styles and players, from the bluegrass of Bryan...

more

File this one under Clarifying Moments: Halfway through an encore song by Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ Wednesday night at Roots, as Kevn Kinney and company was ripping the roof off the Loveless Barn and rending the sky with lightning bolts of electric guitars and pile-driving rhythm, I wanted to see if anybody was tweeting about this amazing set by this beloved Southern rock band. So I glanced at the wonder slab in my pocket, and while yes, there was some obvious enthusiasm pouring forth from the audience within and without for OUR set, the tweet that made me nearly snarf Blackstone pale ale out of my nose came from the Grand Ole Opry, where it seems they were having their own climactic moment: “Can’t get much better than a full house on their feet singin’ along with...

more

Country music is about catharsis – a walk through the valley to get to the promised land – feeling good by singing about feeling bad. When someone’s so lonesome they could cry, or cryin’ over you or crying on the shoulder of the road, they need country music, the world’s cheapest therapy. And this week, Roots features a band that built cryin’ into its name and a singer whose voice alone could break your heart, while his songs will help reassemble the pieces.

From our own Nashville scene comes Thad Cockrell, a solid and serious looking guy with a plaintive cry in his elegant alto voice. He hailed from a sheltered family with a Baptist preacher dad in Florida. After studying some theology himself in North Carolina, he made his way to the Chapel Hill scene, where his musical...

more

Col. Bruce Hampton pulled his mind warping feats of time/space distortion Wednesday night for our talent ministress Laurie Dashper. He guessed her birthday (he does this with bizarre ease and regularity) and then read her mind about a series of items and numbers. I didn’t witness this first hand, but Laurie looked a little pale and shaky when she related the encounter backstage during our slightly cosmic episode of Roots. Col. Bruce also committed some alchemy on stage as well of course, alongside his newest young musical discovery, electric steel guitar scion AJ Ghent, whipping the audience into a second set standing ovation. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because in Col. Bruce’s universe, that’s entirely possible.

This joyful night of Southern jam and sacred steel music...

more

This Wednesday’s show will be fascinating, historic and possibly polarizing. If you really like to stick close to good old country, folk and bluegrass, this week may not be your thing. But it’ll be cool. Because of the chemistry and lineage involved. There’s a coherent theme here, even if I wouldn’t know how to name it. The whole show was curated by our friend Jeff Mosier of the Mosier Brothers and Blueground Undergrass. The connecting thread is the profound, whimsical and largely unknown influence of our guest of honor: Col. Bruce Hampton.

Either you’ve heard of Col. Bruce and are of the tribe, or you’re shaking your head wondering who I’m talking about. If that’s the case, let me fill you in on a wild chapter of American music. Wikipedia IDs him as an “American surrealist...

more

Sometimes I get that anxious feeling that performers can get before a show and that we’ve all gotten a few hours before our own parties. Will anybody come? Nashville’s live music audience is unpredictable and has lots of choices. Then factor in that we’ve just taken two weeks off in our seasonal break. Oh man, now I’m just certain everyone will forget about us and it’ll be like the Snowpocalypse night, when the bands outnumbered the audience.

Silly me. We had some of Americana music’s best-loved artists on the lineup and Nature Conservancy fever in the house (our quarterly benefit show), and by show time it was a standing room, sold out Loveless. And even though Elton John is always telling me it’s rude to drop names, I must tell you that we enjoyed the company of some very cool...

more

Your correspondent has returned from a needed vacation, complete with sand, surf and burgers and beer on the Fourth of July. We at Roots hope you enjoyed your Independence Day as much as we did and that you’re rested and ready for the free-thinking, ultra-independent artists featured in our sweltering summer season. It all begins this week with another benefit for The Nature Conservancy featuring a troika of Americana superstars.

In no particular order, let’s start with Bill Lloyd, because he picks up where our last show left off – in Nashville roots/pop territory. There’s no room for this artist’s amazing resume in full, so here it is in selective short-hand: partner in the influential and hit-making country duo Foster & Lloyd; sideman and collaborator with rock royalty...

more

Our final show of the season coincided with the 2012 Summer solstice, and indeed the day seemed to stretch on endlessly, with sunlight spilling into the Loveless Barn well into the middle of Roots. The wheels of the cosmos seemed to line up, and we gathered together like druids around Stonehenge for a night of music and camaraderie. Our deep lineup of pop singer/songwriters know each other well and functioned like a semi-collective, as we saw Bill sing with David and Molly sing with Jason and Jason sing with David. And then there was the Cumberland Collective, featuring ten superb musicians meshing together like they’d been at it much longer than a few months. It was one of our less rootsy shows, but it was certainly one of our most Music City shows.

Rarely do we get to open with...

more

Pop is a mysterious and fascinating term. It’s short for popular but it includes vast amounts of music that never sold very well. That’s the musicological take: anything that’s not classical music, from dirty rural blues to vaudeville to Elvis to Katy Perry. Or it can strictly mean music that makes the sales and radio charts – the Top of the Pops, as the old BBC TV show was called. But the “pop” that’s meant the most to me is the genre– the thread of music that ties Buddy Holly to the Beatles, REM and Marshall Crenshaw to The Shins. It’s music with short songs, big melodies, snappy beats and a sonic quality that’s come to be known as jangle.

Is pop rootsy? Well, some of it is absolutely, and modern pop is definitely folk-inspired. I think I latched on to the Continental Drifters...

more
DSC3296-300x200.jpg

I want to start off this morning’s report with an apology and explanation to our fans who came to the Loveless Barn last night. For the first time that I can recall, the show was just too loud. Not glaringly so. It snuck up on us. The early acts were spare, but as we got into the Allen Thompson Band and especially our fabulous closer My Name Is John Michael, I realized my ears and head were just worn out. I had to step outside to recover, and others began telling me the same thing. And by then it was kind of too late. A lot of folks left early, and I’m certain that for many, it was because of the volume. Our A-Team front of house sound guy Danny, who is as good as they come, was off, and the new guy I think didn’t grasp how different we are than the typical hall or arena show. The...

more

When Missy Raines, a seven-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bass Player of the Year Award, formed an acoustic progressive jazz band a few years ago, I’m sure a few bluegrass purists thought it was the downfall of Western Civilization. But for myself and lots of music enthusiasts, it was a sign of all that’s right and wonderful about bluegrass music. It’s a mighty mountain unto itself, but it’s a great place to base jump from as well, and great musicians should be free to do so.

Missy and her band The New Hip released their debut album Inside Out independently, and it was picked up as a formal release by the adventuresome Compass Records in early 2009. Missy has had a long row to hoe building up awareness of her music, given it was mostly instrumental...

more

I was never more proud to be from North Carolina than when mourning the passing of Doc Watson. And only a month or so after fellow native son Earl Scruggs. If you care about progressive folk music as much as I do, there are no greater icons than Doc and Earl. They helped craft the sound of our nation, and they were from my state. Musical connections to home are what made last night at Roots such a sweet experience for me. Three artists on a four-act night were from NC – one familiar and two completely new and amazing. Then we capped off the night as a founding band of the country rock fusion revolution played to an adoring crowd. I have a lot to tell you.

It was another spectacular evening. We’ve been lucky this spring with balmy, sunny weather. The crew and artists spent the...

more

A few of our team had a literally groovy experience this week when we visited United Record Pressing, Nashville’s bustling, noisy and amazing LP factory. There we watched – and filmed – as a decades-old press clanked and hissed and steamed while spitting out new copies of our Season One compilation album on beautiful speckled brown vinyl – one every 30 seconds. That project, which came out on CD and download some weeks ago, was a nice chance to review and debate the best performances on the inaugural season of Roots back in the Fall of 2009. For me, at least one was blindingly obvious. I vividly remember watching Holy Ghost Tent Revival out of Greensboro, NC perform “Walking Over My Grave,” which isn’t nearly as sinister as the title suggests. It is lonesome lyrically, but musically...

more

My heart was still heavy from learning of the death of my musical hero Doc Watson when I arrived at the Loveless Barn on Wednesday night. He was my spark and guide into the world of Americana / folk / roots music (my thoughts at length are posted here), and his festival MerleFest (a tribute following the untimely death of his son) was and remains an inspiring, educational destination where one can hear who’s great and who’s next. Music City Roots aspires to a similar philosophy of booking, which is to say fresh and eclectic takes on tradition. I’m happy to say last night measured up to that in every way, from the pure folk of Josh Oliver to the guitar virtuosity of Trace Bundy to our show-capper, Alejandro Escovedo, playing unabashed roots rock and roll. It was the best kind of...

more

When I started digging deep into Americana and what was then called alt-country in the late 1990s, No Depression magazine was the go-to source of information and inspiration. So imagine my surprise when a cover story decreed that Alejandro Escovedo was the “Artist of the Decade” for the 1990s. WHO? I’d made a vow never to be embarrassed about not knowing an artist, but how HAD I missed the artist of the DECADE? Well it turned out the founding editors of No Depression had, like many fans of independent country and old-time, come from a punk rock background, and their passion for Escovedo dated back to his days in Austin’s Rank & File, a band of former hard core punk rockers who embraced country music and thus were pigeonholed as cowpunk. On record they sounded like a mellower and...

more

“Music goes in cycles,” said Trevor Silva backstage, he of the rose covered western shirt, the Salvador Dali-worthy handlebar ‘stache and the drum sticks that propelled the music of J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices on stage at Roots last night. Silva is on a mission to cycle back to classic country music, and as with a holy mission, travel is required – thousands of miles in a van with bass player Mike Brock and highly bearded J.P. himself, stirring the fire for country music that’s two-stepping (not boot-scooting), lonesome (not wholesome) and honky tonk (w/o badonkadonk). And in this, we support them.

It was a night when virtually every flavor of country music was represented with remarkably equal purity and finesse on our stage: bluegrass, old-time, honky-tonk, and even a...

more

Sometimes a great song sneaks up on you over time. And sometimes they shock you and freeze the first listen in a strong snapshot memory. And in that spirit, I’ll always associate the new Gretchen Peters song “Woman On The Wheel” with Harding Road and nearby H.G. Hill School. I dropped my daughter off on a Saturday morning, and Gretchen’s new album “Hello Cruel World” had been spinning in my CD player with the volume down for some reason. So my very first impression of this impressive album came improbably from turning up the player at the start of track number six. And there suddenly was this unfolding story that jolted me like the first time I heard Shawn Camp’s “Tune of the Twenty Dollar Bill” or more recently Kevin Gordon’s “Colfax.”

Peters, singing in her plush and reassuring...

more

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...

more

As a reporter, I’ve burrowed into some of Nashville’s deepest mysteries (Why DO they play Rascal Flatts on country radio?), but I’ve been stumped by its most perplexing paradox. Why doesn’t Music City dance more? There are certainly pockets of enthusiastic dancers in clubs and societies around town, but the industry crowd (and yes, the Americana cognoscenti are as guilty as anyone) are more inclined to listen to live music with arms crossed than with hips shaking. Last year I went to see Trombone Shorty at the Grammy Block Party. In any other city, his funky-butt hard-edged New Orleans grooves would have been gasoline on a boogie fire, but your correspondent had to dance nearly alone. Sigh.

But of late, you’ll pardon the pun, something is afoot. Nashville’s clubs are starting to...

more

In the 1960s, when folk and roots music had its first big revival in popular culture, much was made of the so-called generation gap. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became some of the dumbest advice ever proffered to young people, and older generations did not react with grace and understanding to young people thinking for themselves. It was chaotic, if you can recall. Well, today’s roots music revolution often feels like the exact opposite. Families pick together and stick together. Songs are passed along in a beautiful age-old oral tradition. Youngsters eagerly seek out the tutelage of older musicians, because, well, they know how it’s done. Our show ended with a shining example of legacy and family ties, and it wasn’t the only one.

We don’t usually open with righteous rock and...

more

The Google tells me that Father’s Day is June 17 this year, but for us, it’s this Wednesday when we celebrate roots music fatherhood in at least two ways. We’re thrilled to welcome the great John McEuen and his two sons Jonathan and Nathan. And we’re featuring musicians from the new Pa’s Fiddle Project, a set of new recordings of some of America’s greatest old time tunes. We haven’t had a really rich old string band sound on our stage in a while, so it’ll be a welcome return to what really are our musical roots. And McEuen is one of Americana’s true founding fathers.

He is, of course, an indispensable member of the indispensable Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, an outfit I didn’t have appropriate appreciation for before I moved to Nashville. They were formed in California in about 1966...

more

There was a lot to turn one’s head last night at Music City Roots, but at one point I did a double take. Ben Sollee was early on in his truly epic set (more on that later), playing his cello like a clawhammer banjo and singing sweet tones, when I noticed that his cello wasn’t resting on the floor like every cello player I’d ever seen. The endpin, that little pole that extends from the bottom of the instrument, was retracted and he had the cello cradled between his crossed ankles. It underlined the Ben Sollee story: seemingly NOTHING this guy does is conventional, ho-hum, expected or written in the rule books. That’s a hallmark of many of the artists on Roots and of artistry itself, but it’s great to see such a boldly different, boundary-less artist who succeeds so completely. Because...

more

The first time I recall seeing/hearing a cello in a roots/Americana band was Lyle Lovett’s Large Band. And then about the same time I got into the old-time duo of Norman and Nancy Blake, where she would bow or pluck to back up Norman’s exquisite picking. That was the early 90s, but these days the cello is quite popular, even fashionable, in the folk world. And a good thing too, because it may have the mellowest, warmest and most intimate tone of any instrument. Crooked Still puts the cello in service of modern bluegrass. The Bee Eaters make chamber folk with it. And The Avett Brothers have a cellist who rocks out standing up.

But the only artist who’s emerged as a front guy singer/songwriter who builds his music from the cello out is Ben Sollee, and we are extremely fortunate to...

more

You can’t say you weren’t warned. My preview of our quasi-themed jam-grass/Southern rock Music City Roots predicted more volume and in-yer-face attitude than our typical show. I saw a few folks at the ticket window who looked like they might be expecting mild, so I hope they appreciated the wild. Because the place was jammed with happy, keyed-up people totally attuned to the high-energy coming from the stage. By night’s end, our bands had them standing, hollerin’ and testifyin’. With North Carolina’s great Merlefest getting set to start the net day, I was struck that all our music last night could have should have been on an outdoor stage at a nice eclectic festival like Merlefest or Rockygrass, because Big Daddy Love, the Volunteer String Band, Bloodkin and Leftover Salmon made grassy...

more

They say salmon return to their birthplace to spawn, implying a certain cycle-of-life continuity vibe among the Coho, Sockeye and Chinook sets. And having just listened to and enjoyed very much the first new Leftover Salmon album in eight years, it seems that the legendary inventors of Polyethnic Cajun Samgrass have internalized the ethos of their namesake fish. Put more simply, a genre-bending, blazingly fun band has reunited and picked up where it began in 1989 and where it left off back in 2005.

I became a fan of Leftover Salmon at the Hillside Stage at Merlefest in 1995. I was still pretty new to bluegrass and roots music. I was trying to figure it all out and learnin’ my Doyle Lawsons from my Del McCourys. I was aware of, and fond of, Grateful Dead-grass and New Grass...

more

As I pulled into the Loveless parking lot yesterday, NPR reported the death of Dick Clark, ageless music promoter and broadcaster. It’s easy to forget that when his Philadelphia TV show went national on ABC in 1957, rock and roll was still on the margins of American culture. Clark helped legitimize and mainstream it with personal cool and a show that gave parents reassurance and many legends their first big-time exposure. My understanding is that he desegregated the show as well, on stage and in the audience. If ever there was a bridge-building musical ambassador who understood the power of good presentation it was Mr. Clark. So I unofficially dubbed last night’s show Americana Bandstand in his honor.

We didn’t do the Twist or Watusi, but we did feature five exceptional men of...

more

Until my sister married a Charleston, West Virginia guy and moved there, I admit I didn’t give that fair state much thought. It’s often portrayed as remote and less than hip, but that’s not fair. But browse the relatively new West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and you’ll discover how much has emerged from its misty hills and its legendary WWVA Jamboree radio show, including Little Jimmy Dickens, Hazel Dickens, Hawkshaw Hawkins and studio wizard Charlie McCoy.

I found out about the Hall of Fame reading the blog of this week’s Music City Roots guest artist Tim O’Brien. He was back in his home stage last Fall fall helping with the ceremonies inducting Connie Smith (born in Hinto, WV before finding her muse...

more

One of my little tidbits of wisdom for the 21st century music business is that if you’re going to make an album and put your name on one of the 100,000 CDs released in a year, it should be more than just your latest collection of 11 songs. It should have a deeper reason to be than it was two years since your last album. It should have story and some kind of conceptual center that will help it rise above the noise. Case in point: Chuck Mead’s new Back At The Quonset Hut album. It’s a story within a story within a story. And the guy who dreamed it up and pulled it off (and who ably guest-hosted the show late last season, by the way) is playing the next Music City Roots.

I was fortunate to work on the video component of Chuck’s Quonset Hut album, producing and directing a...

more

We missed one another. Two weeks off from Music City Roots between seasons is absolutely necessary for everyone involved, and the team continues to work during the lulls on video shoots, radio syndication and future plans. But there’s nothing like being together under the sweeping roof of the Loveless Cafe. There were extra twinkly lights strung across the barn last night and a hint of honeysuckle in the air as we closed in on 7 pm and the first strains of Rob Ickes’s dobro on our especially appropriate theme song: “Born In A Barn.”

I knew it would be a night of discovery for me, with four of the five acts quite newly on my radar. But the booking team hasn’t let me down yet and their track record remains intact. I could tell Gareth Dunlop has a special voice and touch from a few...

more

Some readers of this blog know that for the past year at my house we’ve been parenting a new member of our family and a new American: 12-year-old FongChong. And one of the many interesting parts of watching her adjust to her new life with us and in Music City is the music from my world that she latches on to. FongChong’s first Americana favorite was Jill Andrews singing “The Mirror,” which captivated her with its melody and bell-toned voice. But lately, her number one request has been “Flower Flower” from the new album by The Vespers.

How perfect, since we at Roots think of The Vespers as family as well. In their story, we can see all that’s positive and functional in the new Nashville music scene, the DIY music business and the Americana format. When they close our show this...

more

Your correspondent regrets being out of touch since our Winter season ended last Wednesday. I hopped on a plane the next morning to spend Thursday to Saturday at South by Southwest, the gargantuan music conference in Austin, TX, where I proudly wore my ROOTS CREW work shirt and tried to spread the word about our show. Talk about feeling lost in the noise. The streets were jammed. Clubs and yards were pulsing with live music. It was both exciting and daunting. We certainly want Music City Roots to be seen as part of the nation’s indie music business revival. At the same time, I was reminded constantly that intimacy and human scale are core values for us, so SXSW is an imperfect place to tell our story.

That said, it was great to see a bunch of MCR alum artists making the rounds...

more

Imagine growing up as a McCrary Sister, in Nashville’s first family of gospel music. When I spoke on stage in late 2010 with Ann and Regina McCrary, they made it pretty vivid.

“I remember the Fairfield Four coming to the house,” says Regina McCrary. “And they had rehearsal. We could sit in the room and listen to them as long as we were quiet. But as soon as they finished rehearsing we would all jump up there and we would mimic them. We would do exactly what they did.”

You see, their dad was Rev. Sam McCreary, one of the early members of The Fairfield Four, perhaps the most famous of all the Southern gospel groups. Their home was a crossroads for the elite of gospel music, with regular visits from folks like Mahalia Jackson and the Staple Singers and Thomas Dorsey.

“I...

more

What was it about yesterday? Did you feel it too? About 5 pm with the sun low in the sky and the spring flowers popping like popcorn around the Loveless Barn I felt like I was living in a Beatles song, floating down a river past Strawberry Fields, high with a little help from my friends. No chemicals involved I assure you. Just a rush of euphoria about Spring and the audience about to arrive and the music about to happen. I love this time of year, and it’s great to feel it arriving a few weeks early.

When the show finally got underway, my mood only got better. Our guest host was honky tonkin’ ramblin’ man Chuck Mead, and as expected he lit up the stage and got us moving. Then The Roys made a joyful noise, offering songs with certifiably bluerassy titles (“Lonesome Whistle” “Coal...

more

Justin Wade Tam is a busy fellow. Since arriving from his San Diego hometown and studying at Belmont University, he’s helped found Harmony Republic, which evolved into Music City Unsigned, a splendid support organization for musicians and community-minded folks. He’s managed events and become a director at Musicians Corner, the wonderful outdoor concert series at Centennial Park. And, little surprise, he’s a musician. But what is surprising is that his new band, Humming House, has taken off like one of the 1930s speedsters pictured inside the debut album.

This week’s lineup features talent from all three stages of artist life. A veteran rocker/writer/philosopher in David Olney. A new duo in The Roys. And an established, evolving soulgrass band in The Steeldrivers. But the band we...

more

It was an improbable day to begin with: February 29, Leap Day. The fifth Wednesday in what is otherwise the year’s shortest month. A band of wild thunderstorms rolled through Middle Tennessee in the afternoon, but by show time everything had cleared up, and the folks rolled in, even for a bill without any so-called headliners. Instead it was the young and the restless – nearly all twentysomethings, who are making marks with solid songwriting and respect for tradition. It was a good night of discovery.

Woody Pines is a most affable guy with tossled hair and a ramblin’ man’s outlook. We talked about his love of street busking, and man he has the personality and voice for it. Familiar songs and new songs that sound like folkie standards come out of Woody and his band loud and proud....

more

Folks, I’ve just returned from two remarkable days at our sister show Bluegrass Underground, watching the team shoot the show’s second season for PBS. I’ll write more about this soon, but for now suffice it to say that I was overwhelmed and moved by the experience. Todd, John and company assembled a top-of-the-world lineup and staged a pristine looking and sounding festival in the under-world, and I saw performances by the Del McCoury Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Civil Wars, Sarah Jarosz and the Time Jumpers that I’ll never forget. Our own host Jim Lauderdale played a magnificent acoustic set that also happened to be the funniest of the weekend. No surprise there.

I bring this up because I’m inspired and because I’m proud of the BU team, which is nearly the same gang...

more

Well dang it and a few other words that are more satisfying to say out loud than to write down. I got a speeding ticket on the way home from Roots. That long stretch of gently curving smooth asphalt as Highway 100 heads back into town can lull you. I was chatting happily with my wife and daughter about the show, and then I see a cop’s parking lights switch on. Dang it. Oh well. Happens to everybody. And the thing is, after a night like last night, how could you not speed a little? And how could you feel bad about a ticket for long? It was a barn-full of love and bold sonic wonders.

In order of appearance, which coincidentally was just how I experienced it, we hit it brightly with Tiller’s Folly, the jolly trio out of Canada that makes that good old newgrass music, tweaked with...

more

I have a musical secret. As much as I love and cherish folk, blues and bluegrass, at my core, I’m a jazzbo. If I really was going to be abandoned on that proverbial desert island, I’d have more jazz than anything. And because I really value modern music and innovation, I’ve become a devoted fan of Medeski, Martin & Wood, a trio that’s enjoyed inspiring commercial success for a strictly instrumental and improvisational band. A lot of folks in the rootsy community have caught on to these guys over the years, and certain jamgrass bands are likely to have shared stages and audiences with MMW, who have a certain roots sensibility themselves. Keyboardist John Medeski had a side band once with Robert Randolph (pedal-steel genius) and the North Mississippi All-Stars, and I’d like to...

more

We like to say that Music City Roots presents outstanding artists working in or passing through Nashville, and last night couldn’t have been a better example. We were visited by a West Coast twanger who’s lived here a year, a soothing songstress who’s logged six and touring artists from Austin, Oklahoma and Toronto. As for the Cleverlys, they tell us they moved as a clan from the Ozarks of Arkansas, but then they say all kinds of things. We’re not sure if anyone still arrives at the Greyhound station with nothing but a guitar and a change of clothes like they did in back in the day. But the point is there are as many roads to Nashville as there are individual voices.

Our survey of the new Nashville Sound bookended the night with (insert drawl here) cooooountry music, with a...

more

I had just unloaded my gear at the Loveless for an afternoon of artist interviews when our producer John Walker came up to me with a big smile on his face (not unusual) and holding out a CD. Ahhh, the long awaited Music City Roots Season One compilation! Cuts from Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush, Mike Farris, Miss Tess and many more recall the Fall of 2009, when we went on the air with hopes, dreams and the goodwill of a bunch of wonderful songwriters and musicians. This collection comes out officially on March 1, and we hope it becomes a calling card for the show and the first in a series that shows off the excellence and variety of the musical artistry we try to present weekly.

Case in point: last night’s show. We had a wild man stomping in the aisles, a dazzling young R&B/folk...

more

I love twang, train beats and banjers as much as anyone, so it’s cool to have Bakersfield school country troubadour Dave Gleason and the wild-a## bluegrass of The Cleverlys coming back to the Loveless stage for our Feb 15 show. But as I looked at our lineup for the week, I was particularly excited to see that in one show, we’ll be treated two of the most distinctive and intelligent female artists emerging in the US right now. Angel Snow and Samantha Crain won’t be categorized or cornered. One may tend to the elegant and the other to the earthy, but I believe both of them to be truly state of the art.

Many may share my initial reaction to hearing the name Angel Snow, which went something like: ‘no way.’ But it is her real name, and I’ve evolved from reflexively associating it...

more

After a week heavy on tradition and four visions of gradual change at our Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America night (see HERE for details), we felt the need to once again celebrate the transgressive and the progressive – to roll the dice and see what happens with some bands famous for hopping over fences and scaring a few folks even as they delight a hell of a lot more.

Wild and wooly, Henry Wagons has asserted himself as the new alt-country icon of Australia, and his sojourns stateside have been very well received. He’s earned the fandom of Justin Townes Earle, whom he sounds a bit like and with whom he’s shared bills. The scion of the Earle hard country songwriting tradition has said that Wagons is a...

more

Because it’s a family-like society with common history and reference points, bluegrass is full of inside jokes. One endlessly shared laugh among insiders stems from Bill Monroe’s reputed, reported, oft-skewed and probably true quote about music he deemed outside the bluegrass ken: “ain’t no part of nothin’.” The irony is that while we adore our founding father’s iron will and acerbic way of putting things, most of us recognize that the music he formulated invites change and that even if Mr. Monroe would not like much of the great music being made in his shadow today, that’s okay. Anyway, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but a songwriter (Nashville’s Craig Market to be specific about it) has managed to write a commentary on bluegrass in song that rhymes “ain’t no part of nothin’”...

more

Folks, we’ve been schooled. Five artists with ties to Nashville’s Belmont University played the Loveless Barn Wed night and showed our audience how its done, from joyful neo-traditional to barn-burning rock, with stagecraft, songwriting and instrumental chops to spare. Two of the bands already have national buzz and stature. One’s opening doors overseas. Two are on the make with bright prospects. What are they teaching those kids over there?

It’s cool when a theme night can still have so much diversity. And it started with the shaggy, brassy old time of the Westbound Rangers. Their opener “Stonewall” about the venerable Confederate general sounded like an homage to Grandpa Jones, while the really fresh reading of “Gospel Plow” lent new life to that rarely covered gem. They...

more

Folks who follow bluegrass even a little tend to know about the International Bluegrass Music Association, which holds its annual convention and Fan Fest every Fall in Music City. But many aficionados of deep, lonesome, hard-core, ultra-traditional, real-deal bluegrass have an even softer spot in their hearts for Nashville’s OTHER big bluegrass gathering – one that kicks off this week and which defines our show’s theme for Wednesday night. The Society For The Preservation of Bluegrass Music In America, abbreviated as SPBGMA (say “spigma”) is a smaller but distilled throwdown that takes place annually at the Sheraton Music City out by the airport.

The hotel lobby and hallways (and even the poolside when the Feb. weather makes a pleasantly unseasonable turn) are awash in the sounds...

more

A little known fact: the first big Nashville star to attend Belmont wasn’t Brad Paisley or Trisha Yearwood (famous alums both) but Minnie Pearl. Back then (the not-so-roaring 1930s), it was called Ward-Belmont and it was a finishing school for proper Southern ladies. Young Sarah Colley really wanted to study theater in New York or at a major drama program, but the Depression had taken a toll on her family’s finances, and she found WB an affordable local option. She performed Shakespeare there and went on to run touring theater troupes before creating her famous character Minnie Pearl and taking her to the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw.

The alumni list of modern day Belmont University in recent decades is a who’s who of Nashville’s country and gospel music industries: Josh Turner,...

more

We love them so much we had two “parades” at the Loveless Barn last night, worked into a larger parade of talented and diverse artists who once again lit up the place with joy, blues, passion and pathos. The David Mayfield Parade opened the show with surprises, laughs and shocking energy. Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade returned to Roots for a third time, showing remarkable growth and evolution. And our other (non-marching) bands were no less worthy of the crowd’s love and attention, which they gave in abundance. We didn’t have giant balloon floats, but we did have spectacle.

We knew Mayfield would bring it. He’s a born showman who will go the extra mile for a smile and he’s got a surreal streak too. He came out a-wigglin’ and a-weavin’ with his acoustic guitar as his band...

more

I will always marvel that amid the comings and goings and doings of Americans who fix cars, teach math, drive trucks, try cases, fill cavities, etc. etc. there’s this slice of the population who feel the calling of music more than anything. They are the family bands, the touring twentysomethings and the 60-year old cult figures who pound away year after year, sharing their souls with others and stoically putting up with bad gigs, endless miles and an uncertain livelihood and legacy.

James Intveld, who plays Roots this week, is a lifer for sure. You can tell by the way he carries himself and inhabits his rich blend of country and rockabilly. The California native began playing shows and clubs in the Los Angeles area and was a major force in the Palomino Club country awakening of...

more

I love an epic. My favorite movies are Lawrence of Arabia and Lord of the Rings, clocking in a 3.5 hours and 10 hours respectively. I love it when a good ballgame goes into extra innings. And I’ve always admired Bruce Springsteen for his luxuriously long shows.

All that came to mind last night at Music City Roots as we blew past hour three with a full head of steam and several top notch performances still to come. It’s got to be the longest show we’ve ever had, and some fans I talked to put it among their all-time favorites. Because it was quality as well as quantity that shaped the night. Not to mention variety; we had sounds and sensibilities from just about every part of the Americana spectrum.

Newgrass trail-blazer John Cowan got us started with a set that reached from...

more

Barry Waldrep says he never set out to be a talent scout or cultivator of the next generation, but this all-around Southern musical all-star has found himself in the appealing position of mentor. When Waldrep rounds out Roots this week with not one but two sets, it won’t be as a typical front man. He’ll be evoking the sound and spirit of his new album Live In Atlanta, with a collective known as the Band of Brothers & Sisters. And in many cases, those “siblings” are young artists he’s discovered and with whom he’s collaborated.

Let’s offer some background. Barry, who looks a bit like a mashup of Duane Allman and Trace Adkins, grew up in Georgia, son of prominent bluegrass musician James Waldrep. Barry was winning contests and playing festivals by ten years old, even joining...

more

To launch this new season and new year, I started a new tradition yesterday at Roots. We set up a small studio at the Loveless Café during the day, and I interviewed some of our artists after sound check. They’re hanging around before the show and we’ve felt like the five minutes on stage just isn’t enough. So I’m excited to have more time to really figure these folks out, and we’ll begin sharing these longer conversations soon. Yesterday I spoke with singer/songwriter Julie Gribble and modern-day blues man David Jacobs-Strain. You could hardly imagine two more different personalities. She’s an effervescent gal with a deep background in theater. He’s a level, thoughtful guy who began trying to play guitar like Robert Johnson as soon as he discovered him, before his 13th birthday. He’s...

more

We humans just LOVE to count things, and we have ten fingers and ten toes, so tens and any number divisible by ten feels important to us. And ten tens makes that juicy round number 100, a constant source of fascination. We commemorate one hundreds. Live to 100 and you’re considered smashingly lucky. Centenaries are big news. So forgive us for feeling a wee bit proud that when we return for the opening of the 2012 year and its Winter Season, Music City Roots will be staging its 100th show since going on the air in October of 2009.

Roughly the first half of our radio adventure took place over WSM, the historic radio station that changed country music and Nashville for the better during the vibrant 20th century. After a year, we saw a better path with the locally owned,...

more

A barn in the country. Twinkly lights and little trees. What more could you want for a Christmas show? It was not a snowy night (in fact it was mercifully mild). But in every other respect, the scene at the Loveless was Currier & Ives in a headlock by Norman Rockwell. All for our final show of the season, a friendly two hours co-hosted by country duo Joey & Rory.

Hit songwriter and tall overall-wearing, brush-cut sporting Rory Feek and his pure-voiced bride Joey ride the line nicely between main-line country music and its rootsy bluegrassy side. Their stuff can sound like The Whites or like a great 1970s radio track. And indeed they opened their set with the swaying “It’s Christmas Time” and Merle Haggard’s 1973 classic “If We Make It Through December,” which played like...

more

Joey & Rory got a gift. It came a few years ago in the form of a TV show called Can You Duet? on CMT. In case you hadn’t noticed, country music isn’t exactly full of opportunities for rootsy, comforting, timeless twang to reach millions of people at once, and this made one overnight.

The married duo of Joey and Rory Feek were living a peaceful life, she as a mom and solo artist and he as a hit songwriter, when the idea of auditioning for the show came up. And let’s face it, they could have made awesome records all day and night and not found a place on country radio any more than Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or Robin and Linda Williams could, just to name two other distinctive and important duo acts. But CMT made this platform for duets, and it was a hit. Joey & Rory...

more

They say that when two voices lock together in perfect harmony, there’s a mystery sound like a third voice. So how many extra voices are there when three people sing together? It sounded like a chorus of angels more than a few times yesterday at Roots, a cold Wednesday night when it seems fate brought us more three-part harmony than I would have thought possible on one show. Four out of five acts built their sound around three voices or achieved their climaxes with focused, beautiful vox humana in trio form. And the one fellow who sang solo, well he was quite amazing in his own right.

Act one was Atlanta based folk group Girlyman. As the name implies, the 10-year old band had a mild gender bendy thing going on; it was probably the first time we’ve seen a male bass player with an...

more

In the beginning, there were fiddles and banjos, instruments with hundreds of years of tradition, radically transformed in America, before records and radio, before cars and highways. In the age of media and mobility, string band music was transformed anew and energized as something that would be called bluegrass. And in the wild, magical late 20th century, that branch became its own trunk of its own tree with many branches and stems. Out there you’ll find Yonder Mountain String Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers and just a whole lot of other great music.

Younger and less proven than those star-level acts, but very much in this tradition of progressive thinking and expression with old-time instruments is Rockin’ Acoustic Circus, a quintet making its...

more

It was a real treat watching Malcolm Holcombe’s set standing next to Matraca Berg last night. Like so many folks in the audience, not to mention your correspondent, she was transfixed by his intensity and emotional depth. She said something to the effect that she couldn’t believe she had to go on after him. I said really, that’ll be no problem. And of course she went up there and conjured up just as much magic, albeit of a different color and temperament.

At Music City Roots, one act follows another, and they nearly all set the bar really high for the next guy or gal or band. We’re amazed ourselves week in and week out how many varieties of good and authentic there are. And last night delivered five more, ranging from a bluegrass opener to a closer who couldn’t be pigeonholed by...

more

I wasn’t able to get any writing done on Thanksgiving morning, with family arriving and a big meal to prepare, so I’m reviewing this year’s big holiday Music City Roots from a couple of days’ distance. And that works, because over the last three years, the Thanksgiving Eve show has become a warm and emotional extension of my favorite holiday – the one with family and food but without the shopping mall pressure. Music has not traditionally had a big role to play in Thanksgiving, but maybe we’re changing that in some small way by starting a few traditions of our own.

18 South for example has played every one of our T’giving shows, because they bring the spirit of the backporch and the family jam to the professional stage. They’ve been taking it a bit easy lately because married...

more

Late last year, I was honored to be asked to write a career/album bio for Malcolm Holcombe, one of the most interesting and shockingly powerful folk musicians of our time. I’ll never forget seeing him for the first time, after much build-up from those in-the-know, at Douglas Corner with a small acoustic band. His talent and passion simply exploded – out of his bony fingers and out of his chapped throat. After seeing many too many bards-with-guitars in the post-James Taylor mold, here was a guy who actually had the presence of the original bluesmen – the ones I thought I’d only ever get to hear on scratchy reissues. The songwriting was pure poetry and the delivery was pure expression. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was as meaningful as anything I’ve heard coming out of a guy with a...

more

When something works, don’t mess with it. Then it might become a tradition. And we think we’ve found one. It was two years ago that Todd The Booking Guy and Laurie The Backstage Genius conspired to invite 18 South out to play our Thanksgiving eve show, and we’re happy to say that they’ll be back for year three this week. This quintessential Americana sextet folds country, blues, gospel and soul together as well as any band in Nashville or the nation. They are part of our family and their family has gotten bigger (lead singers Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall recently had twins), and what’s Thanksgiving about if not family?

It’s also about praise and communion with the spirit, and nobody helps us feel that connection better than Mike Farris, the rocker turned gospel star whose...

more

My wife says I hyperbolize and that I’m ALWAYS coming home from Roots proclaiming it the BEST SHOW EVER, which isn’t really true, but yes I do tend to gush. But she and the rest of the family were there last night so they know what transpired. I’ll never declare any show best ever again, because it’s silly, but I can say confidently that we’ve had no show in our two-plus years that better captured our interwoven loves and passions: Nashville’s legacy, our community and music itself. The Red Beet Records Tom T. Hall Songs of Fox Hollow night was much anticipated, and it will be remembered in reverent tones for years to come (at least by us). So here’s an inadequate rundown of the night’s events.

I began a new habit of arriving mid-day, so I saw sound check for the first time in a...

more

Visiting Fox Hollow is a rarified Nashville experience that relatively few people get to enjoy. I’m talking about the old world country estate that’s been owned since the late 1960s by Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie. It’s over some hills from the hyper busy Cool Springs Mall – which wasn’t even a gleam in a developer’s eye when the Halls moved in – and you can hear an overtone of traffic white noise in the distance. But mostly what you hear is the wind, the creek, the birds and the Hall’s pet peacocks, which patrol the property and call out to each other that everything is fine.

About a year ago, a dozen or more of Nashville’s finest roots and Americana musicians spent the better part of a week at Fox Hollow in the Halls’ cozy recording studio producing a special album. Called I...

more

I predicted that last night’s Roots would be one of our least rootsy Roots, and it WAS light on twang (at least until Jedd Hughes’s guitar-driven rave-up at the end). But if roots means organic, hand-made and grounded, then our special Ten Out Of Tenn (TOT) edition, featuring five of the artists who have made that collective so successful and enduring, fit right into our scene. For another year, we went up against the CMA Awards, and as I watched the tweets come in about THAT show, with its gimmicks and artifice, its millions in technology and hair/makeup, I felt better than any millionaire, better than any radio-friendly Entertainer of the Year watching our friends, old and new, make beautiful, sophisticated music for our discerning, passionate audience.

It began with Trent...

more

Ever since the music industry blew up, I’ve believed that one good way through the confusion and fog is to look backward to go forward. After all, American music built a mighty industry and a treasure-filled catalog of magnificence between 1900 and 1980, so now that the formulas of the 90s and 00s have fallen apart, we can ask what did they do back in olden days that worked so well? We at Music City Roots took our cues from early radio, hoping that the tactile engagement of live performance, well presented on the air, would cultivate community and raise the tide in the harbor. But for me, the experiment in Nashville that has most brilliantly updated a great old idea is the touring package show known as Ten Out Of Tenn.

This collective of Ten songwriter/artists from Tennessee was...

more

It’s one thing (and not an easy thing) to write a good song and perform it for a room full of strangers, just you and your guitar. But it’s quite another to take said guitar to a stage and become something larger – to cultivate an environment and draw everyone together into a state of empathy and belief. And to do that night after night, year after year… Well, that’s just crazy, but we know it’s possible, because last night at Music City Roots, Vance Gilbert and David Wilcox conjured something before our very eyes and ears. Both sets transcended performances of songs and became human experiences, full of wit, poignancy and insight. We were very sad to lose Nanci Griffith, also capable of such special shows, to illness. But we did not lack for special. All our artists brought it on a...

more

Such good timing on this week’s appearance by Bearfoot at Music City Roots, because I’ve been looking for a chance/excuse to post something about their superb new album American Story. This band has been through a great deal of change, but don’t let the personnel shuffling dissuade you from checking out this Alaska-born, Nashville-based progressive bluegrass/acoustic band. Things seem to have fallen together nice and clean, because American Story is one of the most refreshing, alluring projects I’ve had in my CD player this year, and there are plenty of reasons why.

Let’s start with the most conspicuous of the new folk in this folky, grassy band – the willowy and lovely Nora Jane Struthers. Already cooking along as a solo artist, she released her self-titled debut disc of...

more

You want to know why it’s a good idea to come to Music City Roots and actually sit there through everything, whether it’s the best thing you ever heard or not? Okay, I’ll just speak for myself here, but it’s not just the discovery of the new. That’s a given. It’s the discovery of that which has been under one’s nose for some time that can be truly special. These experiences can be revelatory or, in the case I want to tell you about, a little embarrassing. I was shocked and amazed and enthralled by Tommy Womack’s final song, “Alpha Male And The Canine Mystery Blood.” The title tells you a lot about the song. It’s odd and honest. It rambles, stream of consciousness through wild inner terrain and conflicted feelings, touching on 80s nostalgia, fatherhood and scenes from the new, weird...

more

We do try to stay on the cutting edge of antique-inspired music here at Music City Roots, and in all humility, I think we’ve nailed it this week. We’ve got a superb lineup that’s going to wrap up with two acts that comprise a remarkably wide picture of what’s going on in Americana/roots/indie music. One’s a songwriter from here in Nashville who was tapped this summer to tour with the super-hot Civil Wars. The other’s an uproarious band from New York that’s leading that city’s old-time country music revival scene.

Rayland Baxter has Nashville/music biz pedigree. It’s not going to tell you anything about his music, nor is it the most important thing about him, but his dad is Bucky Baxter, who played steel and other instruments in session and on the road with Bob Dylan, Steve Earle...

more

Before you groan, I promise I won’t drop any more Australian clichés. And tonight at the show, I resisted the temptation to lapse into an Aussie accent. What is it about talking to Australians that makes you sort of want to be one? They’re wildly proud of their country, and it’s so United States-ish in its breadth and indie spirit that for sure, in the immortal words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.

A contingent of some 30-40 Australian musicians came to town for the Americana Music Association conference and festival, which wrapped up on Sunday. Many are still here, so we had four artists plus their musical colleagues filling out our bill at the Loveless last night. It was deep and diverse and solidly dedicated to country music’s various strains.

James Blundell...

more

This week, in the midst of the Americana Music Association convening and good-timing, I joined several hundred AMAers at what’s become an annual tradition: the “Aussie Lunch” at the Second Fiddle, with free barbecue and a lineup of roots music artists from Australia. For the past few years, an organization called Sounds Australia has been helping Aussie artists find new audiences and distribution channels around the world. And part of that effort has been to send a contingent to AMA, led by the wild and wonderful Dobe Newton, he of the legendary Bushwackers band and double-take inducing suits.

Dobe collaborated with the Roots team to curate this week’s lineup, a quartet of acts that...

more

Did you know that Americana isn’t just a school of music-making and an association and a club that we belong to? As of this year, it’s an actual word. Last August, after much internal debate, Merriam-Webster officially added a third definition to its entry under Americana, calling it “a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music.” First a Grammy category, and now this? It’s exciting to reflect on as the Americana Music Association kicks off its 12th annual conference and music festival, the very one that we at Music City Roots got to be part of last night as we opened AMA and our ninth season on the air. And we couldn’t have assembled a cooler or more robust cross-section of the music, with sounds from all over America and all over the sonic...

more

Changes of season stir the blood and inspire. And all the more for nerds like me, because this is the season of musical gatherings, confabs, summits and camaraderie. Last week, the International Bluegrass Music Association held its World of Bluegrass, and Music City Roots was there, taking in the tunes and webcasting eclectic jams from our 20th floor suite. This week, I attended the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington DC, where I got to tell the Music City Roots story to an audience of music industry progressives as part of a panel on local music scenes and the power of community. And next week, the Americana Music Association launches its 12th annual conference and music festival. And for the second year, we’re part of it. The Loveless Cafe Barn is an official AMA...

more

When this adventure we call Music City Roots got underway, the show had a different proposed name at a different proposed venue, and only a tiny team of four or five people even knew about the scheme and dream to create a new broadcast showcase for Nashville’s Americana scene. Now we have a small army of crew, sound experts, ticket takers, bar tenders, camera people and what have you. It’s an awesome, hard-working gang, and even as we’ve become a larger family, the family feeling has grown stronger. Last Wednesday night, MCR wrapped up Season Eight, marking two full years on the air, with a rowdy sing-along and all eyes on the future.

It was one of those over-stocked nights of talent mingling returning vets with first-timers. The Brooklyn country rock quintet Yarn kicked us off...

more

As it sometimes does, Music City Roots felt last night like a sweeping survey of Americana from its stripped-down origins to its contemporary edge. That is as it should be, because our theme was a salute to the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, with five acts that will be gracing that festival’s many stages this weekend. Bristol is the home of the 1927 Big Bang recording sessions of commercial country music and a cool scene today that fits right in with nearby Johnson City, Knoxville and Asheville NC. So on a night when it stormed outside to beat the band, the bands on stage couldn’t be beat.

We got started in the hills of old Virginia, with a picker who truly reminded me of Doc Watson, and that’s not an easy comparison to make. Wayne Henderson is someone I’d heard about for...

more

If you’re a border-straddler, Bristol is the place for you. The line dividing Tennessee and Virginia runs right down the middle of State Street. And since those legendary 1927 recording sessions where Ralph Peer recorded the Carter Family, Pop Stoneman and Jimmie Rodgers for the Victor Talking Machine Co., Bristol has been a key city in the journey of country music. And country music wouldn’t have become anything without fusion and fearless fence hopping.

For the past decade, the city of Bristol has burnished its reputation as a music town by hosting Rhythm & Roots Reunion, a magnificent three-day festival that’s become one of the prestige stages for Americana artistry. And this week, we tip our hat...

more

The new book by Arthur Plotnik called Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives reminds us how many ways there are to assert something’s magnificence besides the tired old amazing, incredible and of course awesome. We music writers need to specialize in superlatives, because we strive, in the face of futility, to come up with new ways to communicate the brilliance of the brilliant and the sublimity of the sublime. But if I had that book next to me I’d still have trouble finding the words to convey how I felt during the climactic moment of Marty Stuart’s closing set last night. Full of life and hope and wonder, I’d say. Blown away, in common parlance.

Of course when an artist is brazen enough to name his band the Fabulous Superlatives, he’d...

more

It sounds like a novel by David Foster Wallace or some other slightly off-kilter genius – a novel that would have been panned for being too far out. A kid from 1960s Mississippi becomes a mandolin prodigy and starts working for a major star at age 13. His first crush is on the prettiest, most golden throated gal singer of her era. Her first big hit lands when he’s six years old, and he admires her from afar like every other fan. Time passes. Both become great country music artists. Their worlds converge. They collaborate. They flirt. They marry.

And yet the story is true. Following the careers of Marty Stuart and Connie Smith is like discovering a new wing of your family – a cool aunt and uncle who are constantly turning up with exotic gifts. They’re preternaturally stylish, and...

more

One of Dale Ann Bradley’s many gifts is an ability to make over carefully chosen pop songs is a bluegrass way, and in that spirit she’s covered the old Seals & Crofts tune “Summer Breeze” on her new CD. She, a three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and I, who once won a popsicle stick plaque for being more or less on time to things, talked about that new track and new record last night on stage at the Loveless. And while Dale Ann didn’t perform “Summer Breeze,” her show-opening appearance set a breezy, easy tone for a great night at Music City Roots.

After a week of wall-to-wall bluegrass and a week of wall-to-wall singer/songwriters, it was nice to get back to an eclectic survey of sounds and to welcome some global talent. Dale Ann put us in a deep country place,...

more

We hope we’re not over-reaching by claiming a certain kinship to the remarkable musical and cultural events coming at us later in the week, because just 48 hours after we kick off the next edition of Music City Roots, the National Folk Festival will get underway on the Bicentennial Mall in downtown Nashville. This event traces its origins to the time of the FDR administration and indeed vocal support from the great First Lady Eleanor. As they say on the website: “Musicians and craftspeople from every state in the Union and most U.S. territories have participated in this ‘moveable feast of deeply traditional folk arts,’ which is now attracting the largest audiences in its history.”

Our lineup this week also touches on folk culture from around the world, from traditional Irish to...

more

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...

more

Marshall Chapman is a great storyteller and apparently a great listener as well. Because after publishing a memoir of her journey from South Carolina debutante to Music City maven, rocking singer songwriter and confidante of outlaws (Goodbye Little Rock and Roller), she followed it up with a book of interviews, where she does only about ten percent of the talking. It’s titled They Came To Nashville, and it’s a fun and probing set of conversations with 15 country music hot shots about THEIR Nashville journeys. Most are old friends, so Marshall draws out great stories and smart, funny repartee – from the likes of Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Bobby Bare and Kris Kristofferson.

Marshall, who has played our show before, is a great ambassador for Music City, so we asked...

more

If music washes off the dust of everyday life, as the great jazz drummer Art Blakey was fond of saying, then bluegrass music is a power washer for the soul. Something about a great bluegrass show, with its earthy roots and sacred overtones, leaves one feeling purified and refreshed. And buddy, a great bluegrass show happened at the Loveless Cafe Barn last night. The four bands that played Roots, all freshly nominated for 2011 IBMA Award nominations, could have been a headlining roster for a night at any festival in the nation. All were on fire with a mystical combination of passion and precision that is almost impossible to find elsewhere in popular music. For lovers of American roots, this scene is where it truly all comes together – the virtuosity of classical, the interlocked swing...

more

There’s no denial, anger or bargaining involved. And I’m not talking about getting over bluegrass addiction, for which there is no cure or need of a cure. I’m talking about careers – the ones we’ve watched develop and evolve in the bluegrass universe. Our lineup this Wednesday is a picture of artists at four different stages of a life in this awesome, career-oriented music. It proves that fans stick with great artists over the long haul, and it suggests that today’s young artists have a lot to look forward to.

It may sound funny to call Sierra Hull the newcomer, since she’s earned so much attention and acclaim so fast, but she’s more than a decade younger than Josh Williams and she’s only recently released her second album. The bluegrass artist spends years in training, which...

more

We’re about to start music lessons for our 12-year old adopted daughter, so a few days ago we got to fooling around with her new digital piano. We were trying to just sound out a few simple melodies, and she remarked on the fact that I didn’t play every note the same volume, even on a ditty like Mary Had A Little Lamb. In fact I was kind of exaggerating, to see if she’d notice and to see if I could make that tune swing. Success on only one count. Anyway, I told her that’s DYNAMICS: loud, soft, loud, soft… And it’s one of those really important elements of music that often gets overlooked. There can be dynamics in one note, one measure, across a whole tune or across a whole night of different artists. And that’s what we had last night at the Loveless Barn. The energy fluctuated. The...

more

Seeking inspiration for this week’s preview, I pulled out Mindy Smith’s debut album, One Moment More from the winter of 2004. I hadn’t heard it in ages, and it rolls even sweeter now than it did when it shocked people with its quality upon its debut. It kicks off with the powerful “Come To Jesus” and concludes with an epic cover of (and outrageous duet with) Dolly Parton on “Jolene.” In between are nine more timeless songs that are hard to top for folk fusion laced with beauty and heart. The music is serene, but it also snaps; no muddy lethargy here. Mindy’s limpid voice could charm and beguile singing a German technical manual, but as it happens she writes lovely, inhabitable songs too. “One Moment More” will be a melancholy standard as long as she’s willing to perform it. No wonder...

more

I once got to interview the late great Jerry Reed and he explained to me that at an early age he developed “an unreeeeeasonable love for the guitar.” I think that’s the case with the many amazing players who graced our stage last night. I knew I was going to love the show; I didn’t dream it would be such a hit. We sold out, without the benefit of a Vince Gill or a Keith Urban to pack the house. And one really nice guy said to me after the show it was the best one he’d seen out of like 25 he’d been to. If you’re a guitar freak, it was not an unreasonable statement.

David Grier, one of the most unique individuals and instrumentalists I’ve ever known, opened our affair, flatpicking with a subtle rhythm section of Missy Raines on bass and Robert Crawford on drums. Grier’s style is...

more

In the beginning, God placed six strings across a fretted plank and attached them to a resonating box of wood shaped like a woman. Good idea. Okay, actually it was the Spanish, and we here in the U.S.A. should be forever in their debt, because inadvertently some guys back in the 16th century gave America the instrument it needed to rewrite the history of music from the ground up in the 20th century. The guitar has been America’s muse and its most companionable musical friend. You can take ‘em places. You can play them solo or in a group – electric, acoustic or somewhere in between. You can pick them like Doc Watson or strum them like Dolly Parton with four-inch fingernails or stroke them with a bare thumb like Wes Montgomery. People will it seems never run out of fresh ways of playing...

more

Angela Easterling says that to beguile means to charm or enchant, sometimes in a deceptive way. Hmm. I didn’t see anybody trying to mislead anyone else last night, but a lot of folks were certainly beguiled by the five enchanting women who took the stage and offered five utterly different ways to invest songs with beauty. My wife and daughter and mom-in-law were in the crowd at the Loveless last night, so you know where my heart lies, but just between us, the presence and talent of all those starlets left me a little dizzy. Frontier Ruckus, I love ya, but it wasn’t the same.

Amanda Shires had openers, sharing the stage with her long-time companion Rod Picott; they make a very cool pair. He massages an old Gibson. She sings and fiddles. And fiddles hurt, like those Tour de France...

more

Last week, I realized I was discriminating against our lone female act of the week, the fabulous Amy Black, when I titled my essay “Soul Men” and focused on the Bo-Keys and some of the other dudes who were getting set to play. Amy jokingly called me on it after the show, and that was fine. I apologized for the way the editorial cookie had crumbled. This week the wonderful band Frontier Ruckus is gonna be the overlooked minority in the room when they make their return. Because besides their manly selves, our lineup is made up of a bunch of talented, vivacious women. And I just gotta talk about them.

Tara Nevins has the most experience among the bunch. She’s the long time singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who co-fronts the awesome Donna The Buffalo. They’ve played MCR...

more

They say Tennessee is really three states that don’t mix well: East, Middle and West. But we know better. When Bobby “Rocky Top” Osborne can pick along with Memphis soul veterans, a jazz banjo fiend and a Telecaster-wielding country twanger on a stage in Nashville, it gives us hope for reconciliation in these divisive times. They can’t raise the debt ceiling in Washington, but our own “gang of six” acts sure did raise the roof at the Loveless.

Up first was the commanding Guy Davis, one of the premiere contemporary bluesmen in the world, and his experience and gravitas was clear from the opening notes. He brought a 12 string acoustic along (hard to carry, harder to tune) for the upbeat “That’s No Way To Get Along.” Then it was Delta-ish guitar on “The Chocolate Man” and dazzling...

more

Well this week may be a case of almost, ALMOST too much of a good thing. We’ve got a six-act night just packed with renowned talent and legendary figures. It’s hard to know where to start, but it wasn’t hard to know where to finish. When you’ve got an eight-piece, horn-driven band from Memphis with veterans of shows and recordings by Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas and other soul greats, they’re gonna close the show.

I’m talking about the Bo-Keys, a band that’s been around and working since the late 90s but which has a new album and a big head of steam. They formed when young bass player and producer Scott Bomar met veteran Memphis guitarist Skip Pitts. Skip’s the guy who made the wah-wah funk guitar riff happen in the theme from Shaft, so no more questions about cred need...

more

Well Nashville topped out at just 94 degrees yesterday, so that was quite a relief from, you know, the HEAT of the previous few days. The barn was chillin’ though, as always. And even with a whole lot of people there. Man, it was exciting to see such a great turnout for our quarterly Nature Conservancy benefit and a promising young lineup. It was a perfect scenario for a season opening show. And thus did Music City Roots, Eighth Edition get underway.

I was excited about show-opener Milk Drive out of Austin because they’ve recently been on the lips of my newgrassy friends, and those know me will know how much I dig that progressive acoustic thing. It’s remarkable that fiddle master Stuart Duncan was in the house to play with our show-closer Andrew Peterson, because Stuart is one...

more

David Letterman used to say before Stupid Pet Tricks segments, “It’s an exhibition, not a competition, please no wagering.” And that’s true for music too. It ain’t sports. Even though we have charts and Grammy Awards, it’s safe to say that when you’re listening to a transcendent performance getting carried away, you’re not sitting there thinking “wow, she’s gonna WIN!” That said, the world of music is full of contests from American Idol down to the local high school talent show, and sometimes they can be telling.

Consider the case of Robby Hecht. Let’s say you’ve never heard of this fine Nashville singer-songwriter. (I know, I know, but let’s just SUPPOSE you’re not already a big fan.) And you read his resume. In 2006 he wins two festival songwriting contests at Riverbluff and...

more

The end of a season on Music City Roots (we just wrapped our SEVENTH!) is always a catharsis. We know we’ll miss gathering at the Loveless Barn when the next two Wednesdays roll around, but we and the crew are glad to have a break from the hectic duties of staging the show every week. And we always seem to end on a very high note, like this week’s amazing show-closers Sarah Jarosz and Jim Lauderdale. There in two artists you could hear the wide, delightful range of what bluegrass and roots music has become and can be. Jim, our great friend and musical host, has been a ‘grasser since he was a North Carolina teenager, and today his writing and singing is infused with lessons learned through his success in country music. Jarosz, who’s rapidly becoming a national star, merely uses...

more

The Spring 2011 season of Music City Roots comes to a close this week with a lineup that shows off as well as any we’ve had our belief in variety and quality. We have a full set in store from our super-host Jim Lauderdale. We’ll also be featuring one of Americana’s new starlets, a glowing female singer-songwriter, an acclaimed Canadian folk trio and a Nashville string band with loads of humor and harmony. I just have a very good feeling about all of this, but I want to point you to two artists who for me are evidence of why Americana music is so healthy and exciting these days.

I’ve had Sarah Jarosz on my mind a lot lately because I recently did an NPR story about the making of her second album, Follow Me Down, which debuted in May. The bluegrass and traditional communities –...

more

It appeared planned by somebody obsessed with symmetry, but it just happened to work out this way. Last night’s Music City Roots was bookended by Nashville duos – a pair of deuces as it were. It was like getting four artists in the space of two, yet even more because of mysterious multiplier effect that happens when great talents collaborate. It’s the power of two; it’s exponential.

In the case of DADDY, who opened the show as the day’s wild weather finally settled down into a pleasant evening, the duo label is slightly misapplied. As we discussed in our interview, despite the prominent co-lead vocals of Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough, this five-year-old experiment was intended to be a BAND, with all of its components mattering as much as the others, from the Paul Griffith/Dave...

more

Learning about Foster & Lloyd came as a bit of a shock, because my initial impressions of late 1980s country music weren’t inspiring, what with your Lee Greenwoods and Exiles and Alabamas (apologies to big fans of same) ruling the airwaves. But there were some gems amid the chiffon and soft focus male perms, and my education on that began one day in about 1993 when I had CMT on while putzing around the house, and suddenly there was this cat who looked nothing at all like the George Strait clones singing one of those songs that could turn almost anyone into a country music fan on first listen. He was Radney Foster and the song was his solo debut “Just Call Me Lonesome,” and I was enthralled. Further investigation revealed that Radney hadn’t just materialized out of Texas. He’d...

more

You may have heard we had a little competition last night in the variety show with so-called-country-music category. While we did our thing at the Loveless Barn, a few miles away there was this slightly bigger show in a spaceship with very expensive lights and a TV broadcast with fancy pickup truck ads and so forth. But while they had Rascal Flatts, we had Randall Bramblett and Greensky Bluegrass. Where they had Kid Rock, we had Jim Lauderdale. And simultaneous to their duo mash-up of Jason Aldean and Ludacris, we had a duet of our own: Rhonda Vincent and Gene Watson. Life is rarely full of such stark and easy choices. And at the risk of sounding Countrier Than Thou, as Robbie Fulks has put it, we smoked CMT’s patootie. I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone in the spaceship for a...

more

When Town Mountain kicks off Music City Roots this week, those with the bluegrass gene will rise up and holler. We’ve not had a big blast of ‘grass on the show in a while, but this week we’re going to dive back in hard, starting with this buzzed-about Asheville band and closing with acts that represent both sides of the newgrass/bluegrass coin. Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass will offer up their trippy, soulful take on acoustic tradition in the penultimate slot. And taking us home will be a duo of Rhonda Vincent and Gene Watson, two timeless, Opry-steeped voices who have joined forces for an album, whose release we’re celebrating this week.

Town Mountain is on the make. Coming out of the same NC scene that produced the Steep Canyon Rangers and Chatham County Line, this Asheville...

more

Kelsey Kopecky, one of the two main singers in the Kopecky Family Band (and the only Kopecky by the way), is one of the more endearing people we’ve ever met backstage at Roots. When I first said hello, she was writing up set lists in purple marker – the kind that sit on the floor by musicians’ feet – and that’s pretty much par for the course. But I noticed a few minutes later that she’d gone an extra mile. Kelsey had written cheerful little notes to her bandmates and left them underfoot between the stairs to the stage and the microphones in front. “SMILE KOPECKY FAMILY You Are Loved!!” the first one said. I’d never seen that before!

Smiles proved easy for everyone on stage and in the Loveless Barn during that first set, as the Kopecky Family Band brought their quirky, smart,...

more

Any time groups of musical people get together on a regular basis to share music among themselves and others, the metaphor of family usually comes up. The Grand Ole Opry team has been spoken of as a family for decades. Bands often refer to themselves as ‘like family’ with all the affection and/or strife that implies. And we’ve felt like family at Music City Roots since those early shows when we realized how much we depended on one another and how much love we had for each other and the overall enterprise.

Our opening artists this week took it all the way and named themselves the Kopecky Family Band, even though only gal singer Kelsey is a Kopecky by birth. This septet of musicians, which grew out of musical friendships at Belmont University, always look very chummy and involved...

more

The Farewell Drifters are getting set to release an album called Echo Boom, their third. The title stems from the fact that this buoyant energetic quintet of twentysomethings are the sons of Baby Boomers. And as singer/writer/guitarist Zach Bevill said on stage last night, the songs for the project seemed to coalesce around the theme of what they’d inherited and what they’d been left to find out on their own – the paradox of being raised with maybe too much freedom and infinite choices. Music always seems to find the right balance between inheritance and individual expression though. That’s one of the things I was feeling as I watched several generations of musicians on stage singing “Jambalaya” together during the Loveless Jam – the young guard and old guard fused into one. I was also...

more

It has come to my attention that most of you were NOT paying close attention to mainstream country music in the early 2000s (imagine that!). But I was, because it was part of my beat as a reporter at The Tennessean. And lots of strange and crazy things happened, like the surprise triumph of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the excommunication of the Dixie Chicks for political reasons. But nothing was quite as nuts as the parable of “Murder On Music Row.” If you don’t know the story, you should. If you already know it, it’s still pretty delicious to revisit it.

Larry Cordle, who will be among our distinguished guest artists this week, was and is one of the premiere songwriters in bluegrass and classic country music in Nashville. He’d hit the big time in the early 80s when Ricky...

more

The Mississippi RIver, the great waterway of our nation, which has given the South so much fertile land, so much music and so much heartache, is swollen like it hasn’t been since Robert Johnson was the hot new thing. It’s topping levees and swamping homes. Our hearts go out to the folks in Mississippi and Louisiana who’ve moved to higher ground, leaving land and property behind to the forces of chance and nature.

Between these current events and the recent anniversary of Nashville’s historic floods of 2010 and the fact that our final act last night was called Highwater, I guess such thoughts were inevitable. Fortunately there’s another meaning to the phrase, when we use high water mark to mean a new benchmark for something that exceeded our expectations. And we set a few last...

more

Never have we needed Blackstone Brewery more to bless our lineup of bands. Because folks, we’ve had nights of cerebral singer songwriters, and this ain’t that. We’ve had dudes with autoharps. This ain’t that. We’ve had bluegrass babes. Nor is it that. This is beer-drinking music through and through. Often there’s no easy thread tying our acts together, but there is here, at least in my fevered imagination. And it’s beer. Trucker rock, deep blues, quirky honky tonk. It all goes with a cold one or two. And so where perhaps I need to warn a few of you away until a night that will suit your more rarified tastes, I’m urging most of you to get out to the barn on Wednesday, because it’ll be the Loveless Roadhouse for sure.

I’m particularly excited to catch Patrick Sweany, a blues-rooted...

more

Coming of age in the 1980s, my generation was fated to learn about music in the age of MTV. Now there’s nothing wrong with music videos per se. But make no mistake, the advent of MTV-style marketing and digital audio processing marked a fundamental shift in musical values, and it meant that if you wanted to really understand the power of the human voice and the emotional undercurrents of great singing, you were going to have to go out of your way to educate yourself, because the mainstream music business and radio were NOT going to help you. In fact, they were going to bamboozle you with auto-tuned, processed parodies of the human voice and subliminally suggest at all times that if you young folks out there spent significant time listening to Billie Holliday or Bing Crosby or Jean...

more

So THAT’s what the buzz is about. I’d seen the Civil Wars on YouTube and enjoyed their album, and it all sounded really good. But it was hard to glean what exactly had shot them on the rocket ride they’re enjoying. There’s abundant great rootsy singing and songwriting out there in Americana, and it so often seems like the good stuff reaches the converted but has a hard time cracking music’s glass ceiling. But the Civil Wars are gonna be on the Tonight Show this week after just two or three years together. Fans swarmed to the Barn to see them. They left a Ryman audience rapturous not long ago. And now, having seem them live, I know why. Chemistry. Pure, unadulterated communication and empathy. Joy Williams and John Paul White gaze at each other and take incredibly subtle cues from each...

more

Cherryholmes has been a true phenomenon in the world of bluegrass, a world that doesn’t get to use that word very often. At a time when it generally took a decade or more for bands or artists to “emerge” and even be considered for top awards and major audience mindshare, a very unusual family band from Los Angeles (of all places) appeared out of the blue and caused a major stir. They got signed to the prestigious Skaggs Family Records and after just a few years of touring and recording they were in line for Grammy Awards and they won the IBMA’s Entertainer of the Year.

But hey, they’re doggone entertaining. Not since the Stonemans (forgive me if I’m overlooking somebody) had the world seen a bluegrass band this big composed entirely of family, shredding with familial familiarity...

more

Conventional wisdom says a multi-act show should build from small to big, from intimate to blockbuster. Well, you know how we feel about conventional wisdom. Last night at the Barn, we started at a full-tilt sprint with some of the largest bands we’ve seen, and by the end of the second act 17 musicians had been on stage. When we wrapped up a couple hours later with an acoustic duo, it made a kind of sense. Because from one end to the other, the musicianship was superb and the voices were some of the strongest and most moving we’ve heard.

Our over-the-top opener was a Brooklyn-based nine-piece with the seductive name Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Son. This was freaky cool. Huge band. Huge sound. Fronted by a tiny lead singer with a huge voice and huge, stage-commanding...

more

I noted a couple shows ago that our bands were especially bearded, and last week’s show was a little bit man-centric as well. But we restore balance to our yin-yang this week with a fabulous flock of females, including a duo who’s making a comeback after years on hiatus.

The first femme fatale is Arleigh Kincheloe, frontlady of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. We can’t wait to hear this horn-driven funky band. Their size gives them power. Their attitude gives them groove. And Sister Sparrow can sing. This should set a great tone for the night.

Vietti artists Buffalo Clover also have a gal singer, though she seems to share lead vocal duties with husband and co-writer Jeremy Ivey. This emerging Nashville band has an enthralling, earthy sound. It’s folk with a touch of...

more

My old pal Bill, an exceptional photographer and a dedicated student of early recorded music, attended Roots last night in part because he’d become a fan of Frank Fairfield, the solo artist who opened the show with blues and ephemera inspired by recordings from the early 1900s. I asked Bill what he’d ask Frank if he was going to interview him on stage, like I was about to. His suggestion: When you got in the time machine, what was it like? Frank does give that impression, like he’d teleported forward 75 years. But when we did interview, Frank’s attitude was like: What? This isn’t OLD music. “I play modern instruments,” he protested.

I suppose it is all relative. Compared to a 17th century hurdy-gurdy, Frank’s early 20th century guitar and banjo are modern. And such instruments...

more

Many years ago, during my country music education, I happened to flip past some channel – probably TNN or PBS – and there was Suzy Bogguss, an artist I was already somewhat familiar with, and Jerry Jeff Walker, then to me still a mystery man, singing a lonesome duet about a cowboy. I’d find out later that the song was called “Night Rider’s Lament,” and it was one of those performances I’ll never forget, where the simple beauty and elegant expressiveness of a well-written, well-performed song just smacked me. I’d enjoyed Suzy to that point. After that I called myself a fan.

Hardly anyone you can name during her heyday of country music in the 1990s released or had hits with such cool, intelligent material. “Some Day Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” “Hey Cinderella” and “Aces” are just a...

more

If I may wax personal for a second, because I can’t think of anywhere else to go with this, I was quite happy last night to bring our new daughter Jia out to see Music City Roots in person. She’s 11 years old from China and the Roots family welcomed her with open arms (even though she thinks hugging is weird), and she comported herself with grace and charm. She was also very patient, because while I’m generally a music-more-than-words guy, it was impossible last night not to think about all the English flooding past her and to recognize acutely how vital songwriting is to our love of Americana music. I mean it sounds obvious because we deify Hank and Merle and Kris and Guy and Townes and many other song poets. But trying to listen through Jia’s unfamiliar ears gave me renewed...

more

The ancient scholar Petrarch (you know all about him, right?) wrote that “sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.” It’s as if he’d been listening to modern-day radio and dreaming of relief, maybe something on the order of a wildly eclectic live show with feeling, spontaneity and artistry from all over the map. Well brother, we have his answer and yours. Music City Roots is always full of twists and turns, but rarely do we get a smorgasbord of influences like this week’s lineup. There’s no one artist that sums up the night, so here’s a little bit about each of them.

Scott Miller has been our guest before. He’s the perfect example of a guy who can rock it out or folk it up, depending on the circumstances. The former founding member of the V-Roys, icons of the Knoxville...

more

There’s no escaping or denying it. In Americana music, hair is in. Beards have become bear-like among the bard set. Whiskers are as common as whiskey. In recent months we’ve enjoyed the wagging beards of Apache Relay, The New Familiars, Cadillac Sky, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, etc. But last night was something, man. It was a zoo. Allen Thompson’s beard was red and huge. Brian Wright’s was blond – and huge. Kevin Steele’s was more angular and trimmed. Frank Solivan and Ricky Davis were in goatees, but facial hair they had. As far as fur, it was five acts for five. Micol Davis, Ricky’s wife, was the only lady on the stage, and seemingly only Jim, Keith and I shaved for the event, just so the radio audience and our moms know.

As imbalanced as the gender thing was, the musical...

more

Music City Roots runs on renewable resources: hope, faith and passion. Sure we burn a few watts of electricity bringing the music to the people over every means available, but overall we try to get a green bang for our buck. So as we start our Spring season this week, we celebrate our long-standing partnership with the Nature Conservancy (in the form of our regular, quarterly fund-raiser show, with all proceeds going to the world’s leading conservation organization). And at the same time we’re giddy over two new partners who also value the planet: Nissan and Whole Foods. Welcome, we say! The official, press-release style announcements will come very soon, but we’ve already started doing events with both companies (including Tuesday when we’ll be at Whole Foods in Green Hills for a noon...

more

Soon after I set about wrapping up my interview with trumpet player and singer Joey Morant, I felt like I’d just hotwired a high performance automobile. One minute we were talking about stuff like his home town and the influence of Louis Armstrong, and I swear all I said was, “so are you ready to play?” and next thing I know Morant is working the crowd from the Roots chat room. “Everybody scream!” Scream! And he seems to telepathically launch the band into “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and I’m standing there with two cordless microphones thinking, “my work here is done.”

Yes, they don’t call him Mr. Entertainment for nothing. Joey Morant brought an old-school blues and jazz attack to our stage like we’ve never had. Wearing a sleek and shiny orange paisley sport coat and a gold tie, he...

more

Seasons come and seasons go, but I don’t think we’ve ever been so ready to say goodbye to winter as we are in Nashville this year. Cold, snowy, dark and long it was, and while we had some wonderful warm Wednesday nights in the Barn, it’s going to be a whole lot nicer with the doors open and the balmy breezes blowing in. To celebrate this transition, we’ve lined up a big time, six-act, three-hour extravaganza as we close out our 2011 winter season this week. And we could hardly have found more celebratory music to bring to the party.

If you’ve hung out with us at all, you know Mike Farris. He’ll close out the show with his chicken-fried, sanctified gospel rock. By merging the power of his former life as a rock and roller with his passion for the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane and...

more

We at Music City Roots take pride in our eclectic taste and there are sometimes nights where the old Monty Python expression “and now for something completely different” keeps coming to mind. But sometimes, like last night, there are shows that flow and mesh so inevitably and smoothly that one could imagine the lineup going out on a multi-state package show. We enjoyed five acts anchored in country music, each with its own quirky and cool take on the legacy, each straddling the antique/modern divide in its own way. Some wore overalls and some wore sequins, but the segues were seamless.

If you want to jump-start somebody’s heart, get a defibrillator. If you want to shock a radio show into life, hire the Defibulators, a badass hillbilly-meets-indie-rock outfit hailing from the...

more

First of all, Hello. Your humble scribe and Roots interview guy has returned from three weeks in a distant land, and I couldn’t be happier to be preparing my ears and soul for another Wednesday night of good times at the Barn. I missed a lot about home, but nothing more than Music City Roots. Many thanks to Jon Weisberger, Larry Nager and Jewly Hight for their inspiring and interesting blogging and interviewing in my absence.

Now to address a different kind of coverage, this week’s lineup got me thinking about the fine and perilous art of performing songs made famous by others. In Americana it’s pretty much a given that artists write their own music, but I’ve always loved bands and singers who could artfully sprinkle their sets and albums with songs that influenced them – songs...

more

0

For a show like Music City Roots—that thrives on spontaneity and going against the grain—last night took things to a whole new level. And there was a full house of folks on hand to enjoy it, a butt in every seat and not a square inch of standing room unoccupied.

Marshall Chapman was born to host just such a night—even though she claimed to have never hosted a thing in her life. She rolled with the punches, got laughs and generally made her way through the show script with untamed rock ‘n’ roll authority.

And the lineup? Those formidable female artists and that band of veteran...

more

Start scanning down the list of artists on this week’s bill, and you can’t help but notice something out of the ordinary—they’re almost all women. Even the guest host, freewheeling force of nature Marshall Chapman, and the guest interviewer, yours truly. Females, the lot of us. That is, until the special final act—a veteran band of brothers from different mothers.

In a year and a half of wild and wooly, down-to-earth and down-home Wednesday night shows, Music City Roots has played host to almost every imaginable flavor of roots music, but never before to a lineup quite like this one.

There’s a story behind this group sharing the stage, and it goes like this. I wrote a book about some of the most fascinating songwriters in Americana. It just so happens that they’re women. It...

more

Whenever you’re at the Loveless Café around suppertime, you know it’s going to be a good night. And when there’s a Music City Roots show at the Loveless Barn, you can count on it. But even after the dozens of memorable nights I’ve spent there since MCR started almost a year and a half ago, I can’t remember one as varied and just plain great as this past Wednesday.

Which was odd, since backstage, everything was going wrong that could go wrong. Jim Lauderdale couldn’t make it because his mom was seriously ill, so Peter Cooper came in at the last minute. Keith Bilbrey started having eye problems soon after the show started and left for the hospital (he’s fine). Interviews were tossed out of order, rendering the script, usually little more than a loose guideline anyway, completely...

more

Budgets seem to be on everyone’s minds, from our own kitchen tables to Washington D.C. and Wisconsin. So this week, I thought I’d give The Tennessean’s Ms. Cheap a run for her well-pinched pennies and write about Nashville’s biggest live-music bargain.

On any given week, the Music City Roots lineup is easily worth three times the $10 admission, but this Wednesday, it’s serious sticker shock – really, really great sticker shock. For the price of a movie ticket, you get:

+ Raul Malo, one of the truly great voices of our age. He and his new band will do a wide-ranging set drawing from the soulful country he topped the charts with The Mavericks in the ‘90s, as well as the Latin and trad-pop sounds that fill his latest CD, Saints and Sinners.

...

more

It’s very fitting Music City Roots takes place in the Loveless Barn, since a good MCR show is a lot like a good meal of fried chicken, greens and biscuits at the Loveless Café. You’ve got your sweet, your spicy, your fresh and wholesome and your guilty pleasures. And when it’s done, you are one satisfied customer.

This past Wednesday, with Nashville all thawed out under a full moon, The Barn was packed for another musical feast. The Folk Alliance’s gathering in Memphis was the theme of the week, which, given the dizzying variety of music under the “folk” umbrella, is as open-ended as it gets.

Musical host Peter Cooper started things off with a new song about that spring ritual of rebirth, Opening Day. Then it was game on, starting with former Nashvillian Kevin Welch. Backed...

more

Hi, I’m Larry Nager, your Music City Roots guest interviewer and blogger for the next couple weeks, while Craig Havighurst is off to China.

I’m a lifelong musician and music journalist, having started at 14 in jug bands playing washboard and washtub bass and going on to play upright and electric bass, mandolin and guitar in bluegrass bands with Red Allen, Harley Allen and now Tony Ellis, as well as blues with Big Joe Duskin. For the past 30 years, I’ve covered music for magazines and daily newspapers (remember those?), as well as written a book (Memphis Beat; St. Martin’s Press, 1998) and worked on several documentaries, most notably Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music. I also do the interviews for...

more

Spend enough time around a real-time production like Music City Roots and you’re bound to hear someone involved drop the phrase, “that’s why they call it live.” Last night, it was easy to see why. With attendees pared down to just a few hardy souls undeterred by what passes for a serious winter storm in Nashville—reports of drives typically requiring fifteen minutes being stretched into three and four hour ordeals were legion—the Loveless Barn could have become a pretty lonesome venue, were it not for the spirit that down-to-earth music can (and did) engender. Crew members took attendance, made note of the missing (like scheduled guest host Peter Cooper) and the delayed (our heroic announcer Keith Bilbrey) and parcelled out substitute assignments even as they decided to give every...

more

It’s a funny kind of week at Music City Roots, as we say goodbye sadly to the legendary Charlie Louvin, whom we’d hoped to have with us for the show until pancreatic cancer took him at the end of January, and, in a happier—and temporary—way to interviewer Craig Havighurst, off to claim a new addition to his family (and ours) in the form of a daughter. Until he returns in a few weeks, his duties will be handled first by me, and then by my virtual twin, Larry Nager—both of us bluegrass bass-playing music journalists transplanted to Music City from Cincinnati, though I freely admit that Larry has a much finer head of hair than I.

It’s perhaps a bit ironic then that this week’s lineup is a bit less ‘grassy than usual, but I’m welcoming the opportunity to expand my horizons, for in...

more

Rock and roll is Americana’s dilemma. On one hand, the biggest, baddest rock bands in history – the Stones, Led Zeppelin and others – took their original cues from American roots icons like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Like newgrassers stretching acoustic traditions, they took the folk blues and cranked it to 11, emotionally and sonically. On the other hand, if we declare the legacy of those bands as Americana – alongside its more familiar country/bluegrass/folk/gospel identity, then what DOESN’T it include? Everything comes from the blues right?

Anyway, this is one for historians and musicologists to sort out on another day, but I’ll say this. The Jompson Brothers rock hard and twang hardly at all yet fit Music City Roots like a single black leather glove....

more

Not my words. Nope. I draw my headline this week from NPR’s veteran arts correspondent Susan Stamberg talking about one of our featured performers this week, Susan Werner.

And gifted is nothing but the truth. Werner writes and performs on guitar and piano, playing the latter well enough to land a spot on Marian McPartland’s prestigious Piano Jazz show. She has a sunny, sharp, sweet and expressive voice that she controls like a master. And as a songwriter, she’s not content to merely let the muse hand her stuff. She gives herself challenges, adopting new schools and burrowing inside them with concentration. When she tackled the American standard style on her 2004 album I Can’t Be New, blending the craft of Porter, Kern and Gershwin with a modern feminine sensibility, she prompted...

more

I’m always amazed by the power of great live music to ease life’s burdens, and every week I leave Music City Roots feeling better deep down than when I’d arrived. But I appreciated the good vibes and the love and camaraderie of our Roots family yesterday more than ever. You see yesterday morning, I had to euthanize my beautiful Border Collie Jessie after more than 15 wonderful years together. She was a light in my life and I’ll miss her terribly. And on top of that we were as a community mourning the loss of Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin, who was supposed to play Roots on Feb. 9. The cares of the world just seemed heavy on the heart. Then the music started.

We had a Mutt-and-Jeff team of Jim Lauderdale and Peter Cooper co-hosting the show,...

more

Like last year’s awesome Double Rainbow guy, I sometimes just stand there astonished, meekly asking “What does it MEAN?” Case in point – studying the Music City Roots lineup for Wednesday. We’ll be visited by: A star of the singer/songwriter circuit. A semi-ironic old-school country band. A dulcet-toned newcomer with a showpiece moustache. A hot folk/rock outfit. And my favorite dance band in the world. It’s a smorgasbord. It’s musical tapas. And I’m hungry.

Opening up the evening will be Catie Curtis, one of the kingpins of the 1990s Boston folk scene and a veteran of the early Lilith Fair tours. She’s had all kinds of songs on major television shows and played the White House. Her powerful stories and sweet voice have made her a star of the genre. And now she’s on Nashville’s...

more

Seth Walker felt like a member of the Music City Roots family from the first time we met. Tipped off by the fandom of major soul songwriter Gary Nicholson, Seth found his way to the Roots stage, where he blew us away. But even before that, we met him and got to find out what a solid guy he is. Dudes in Nashville, and I suppose elsewhere, are prone to calling other dudes “brother” upon meeting and man-shake-clutch-half-hugging. I’ve found myself dropping the b-bomb more frequently recently and wondering if it feels affected, but it actually stems from a pretty deep feeling that this community is a remarkably tight-knit family that looks out for one another. And in that context, I know we all are pleased to call him Brother Seth.

He’s part of the interesting Austin-Nashville axis,...

more

Our host Jim Lauderdale is, of course, one of the most stylish men in country music, and my favorites of his custom western suits are the ones that prominently feature yin-yang designs. You know what I mean – the ancient Asian symbol that reminds us that the universe tends toward a balance of all opposing forces. You can’t have light without the dark, male without the female, etc. And while Jim didn’t wear a yin-yang suit last night, the show reminded me of that venerable symbol. It was a harmony of contrasts.

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver launched our night in a bluegrass blur, tearing into “Gone At Last” at a tempo so fast it would have been challenging just to play rhythm downstrokes. They even had a fellow playing brushed drums, which surprised me a bit since Doyle is...

more

It’s something my generation and those after didn’t live through, so we can only see it on archival film. A preacher thunders against the evils of rock and roll, circa 1955. While some kids party to the sounds of Elvis and Carl Perkins, others protest those records as anathema to the righteous life. It all seems a bit quaint in retrospect (though I’ve felt at times like burning more than a few records being played on radio today). But part of the wonder of American music is that it’s not only had this long-running tension between the conservative and the libertine, but it’s been better for it.

This was what I got to thinking about as I pondered this week’s Music City Roots dichotomous lineup. On one hand, we’ve got one of the stalwarts of traditional bluegrass and good old...

more

Refreshed, recharged, relaxed and revived, we took the Loveless Barn over again last night after a two week break and brought Music City Roots back for its sixth season. The menu was lovingly prepared by our talent honcho Todd Mayo, and while our guest artists weren’t exactly household names, we had a great crowd and a show that flowed as logically and artistically as any we’ve had. Four courses plus dessert. Delish.

Starters was the spoken word brilliance of Minton Sparks, MCR’s “Dark Minnie Pearl.” This remarkable performer and writer conjures up stunningly sharp characters and leaves the audience giggling, sometimes uneasily and sometimes with unmitigated glee. With Joe McMahan strumming or chunking or snapping his acoustic guitar, Minton spun magical tales – of an aunt who...

more

“We’ll be sincere but not pretentious,” David Mayfield told an interviewer recently about an upcoming performance by his new band. “But we also don’t mind being goofy. There will be dancing. It will be sort of Simon & Garfunkel meets Randy Newman.”

Awesome! We know Mayfield from his bracing and bold work with indie-rock-grass band Cadillac Sky. But Mayfield, who’s been touring and playing since he was a kid in his family’s countryband, has a ton of music in him. So lately he’s been supplementing C-Sky work with collaborations that include the Avett Brothers and his sister, widely admired songstress Jessica Lee Mayfield. We get to hear his own band, the David Mayfield Parade, round out the night at our Winter 2011 season opener, a benefit for the Nature Conservancy and a night...

more

If everybody supposedly stays off the roads when the weather forecasters cry “SLEET,” then who were all those people in the cars plodding along and keeping me from getting to the Loveless Barn last night? And if all those people were out in cars, then why didn’t more of them come see us? Yes, we suffered from the curse of the false weather alarm and clearly scores of people who would have otherwise enjoyed our Yuletide swing-fest stayed home and watched us on the inter-tube.

But no matter. The tree was twinkly, and the lit garlands in the barn made a true winter wonderland picture. We had what felt like a family gathering and the hearty, brave, attractive and noble audience members who did brave the sleet light rain were as excited and generous as an audience could be. And I...

more

All good things must come to an end, or at least take a break, so this week’s show marks the end of the 2010 fall season and a great year, and we’re looking forward to a shimmering, twinkling good time.

We’ve asked the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble back to conjure the holiday spirit. There’s nothing quite like the sound of this venerable Music City group. Built on the model of the mandolin orchestras of a century ago, the NME has been entertaining and enlightening since it was founded in 1991 by the late Butch Baldassari. We miss Butch who lost a battle to cancer two years ago this January, but we hear him every time the ensemble brings its bright and chiming sound to our stage.

Up next will be our pal Tom Mason. An anchoring figure in the East Nashville music scene as well...

more

When you think about it, a mandolin and a Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar have some things in common. They both have pairs of strings that give them their jangly, chiming sound. And they both figured in the texture of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, those magic bands that built a bridge from Beatles pop to Golden Age country music. I was certainly thinking about this last night as Chris Hillman (a Byrd and a Burrito) used his mandolin to create the melodic introduction and spacey solos on “Eight Miles High,” in lieu of Roger McGuinn’s Rick. He and old compadre Herb Pedersen rendered an exceptionally full and fascinating take on the tune, and a bunch of other classic material besides. It was the capstone of a sensational night at the Loveless Barn.

Eric Brace and...

more

As I write, the first snow of the year is falling outside and the new album from Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen is on the stereo. It’s a beautiful live recording from The Edwards Barn in Nipomo, CA, and as a preview of what’s to come this week in OUR barn, it’s incredibly exciting. The performance is comprised of tight, rippling acoustic versions of songs from various chapters of these old friends’ illustrious musical careers. From the Desert Rose Band we hear “Love Reunited.” They lay into a fabulous version of “Together Again” by one of their key musical influences, Buck Owens. They strip the psychedelic paint off “Eight Miles High” from the Byrds catalog and amaze with “Sin City,” one of the classics from the Flying Burrito Brothers, which Hillman co-wrote with Gram Parsons....

more

An old friend who happens to be a music freak and who likes to set up his business travel around good live show opportunities did just that yesterday and made a surprise appearance at the Barn last night. He said he’d been enjoying the MCR podcasts since they went up on iTunes a few weeks ago. And given that this is a guy who recently attended one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, NY, getting a thumbs up from him on Music City Roots made a nice night even nicer.

It was a return to the bluegrass well with three classic ‘grass acts and one bluegrass influenced band in our Vietti slot, whom I dug, even if they did make use of drums, or Satan’s Skins as they are known to the bluegrass police. Anyhow, it could not have been more exciting to have Jesse McReynolds and J.D....

more

Tension between the old and new has always been and will always be an important part of bluegrass music. Artists who prove cutting edge and controversial in one decade become legends in the next. This week at Roots, we have two such musicians – trailblazers who have achieved iconic status as both band leaders and instrumentalists: J.D. Crowe and Jesse McReynolds.

Crowe is a giant of the banjo of course, but he’s also a stylistic pioneer. When he formed his own band The New South, after years cutting his teeth with the great Jimmy Martin, he made possible a new sound and a new approach to repertoire that was both inclusive and exciting. The band’s debut album included the guitar and vocals of Tony Rice and the mandolin and singing of Ricky Skaggs. And even though Crowe’s banjo...

more

I think we all remember last year’s pre Thanksgiving show as one of the most transcendent nights we’ve had at Music City Roots. The troika of John Cowan, Shawn Camp and 18 South just hit all the right vibes and reached a spiritual place that sent us all into the holidays feeling close, loved and optimistic. So at the risk of repeating ourselves, we figured why mess with success? We tried to pull together the same combo for this year’s Thanksgiving show, and everyone agreed!

So that means I’ve written about these amazing cats before, but here’s a quick refresher. Cowan was a key member of New Grass Revival who showed up for a bass playing job and who wound up getting that and the lead vocalist slot, because he can sing like the spawn of a Metropolitan Opera star and a Mississippi...

more

I’ve long maintained that if you ran the numbers, Tennessee would appear in more song lyrics than any other state. Because it rolls off the tongue. It’s got three rhythmic syllables. And it rhymes with a lot of great words. Plus it’s a pretty musical place. But it was a surprise to have two songs called “Tennessee” performed on Roots in one night. And man, they were different. Dave Coleman’s song had that serene beauty and cutting guitar tone that is his signature. Angaleena Presley’s was mournful, about an orphan kid caught up in a screwed up world she nothing to do with screwing up. But contrast is beautiful and so was the evening.

Dave is the front man of a now decade-old band called the Coal Men, though I think unlike Angaleena’s daddy and granddaddy, he hasn’t actually been...

more

I’m a bit of a statistics geek, so let me try a new musical metric out on you.

Think of a musical artist and give him/her/them two scores. X is how good they are, on a scale of 1-100 (obviously subjective, but that’s okay). The other, Y, is how famous they are. One means they have no fans and no friends and they’ve never left their mother’s basement, while 100 is, oh, U2. The number to pay attention to is the difference between those ratings, or X-Y. Let’s call it their Humbler Score, after the nickname of Danny Gatton, the late great DC area guitar player who is in my estimation one of the least-known geniuses of the 20th century. His X would be in the 90s and his Y would be below 20, so Gatton would have a whopping 70+ Humbler Score. Are ya with me?

I’ve always been drawn...

more

With rare exceptions, musicians are social and collaborative creatures. Meet a cerebral singer-songwriter and you could easily be one or two degrees of separation from some rock star. For example, who would have suspected that Nashville’s best-kept-secret Jeff Black was pals with hyper-platinum recording artist John Oates? And what’s John Oates doing hanging out and writing with newgrass mandolin star Sam Bush? Well, it’s complicated, but it’s also delightful and enriching, as last night’s Roots proved.

Much about the evening felt fresh and surprising. The Loveless looked particularly amazing and festive, with an extra dose of twinkly lights and paper lanterns suspended in the rafters. (Was that for us or did somebody get married there this weekend?) The crowd was also huge even...

more

It might not be immediately obvious listening to “Private Eyes” or “Kiss Is On My List,” but John Oates of the smash duo Hall & Oates cut his teeth on real deal folk and roots music. It wasn’t all he listened to as a young guy growing up outside of Philadelphia in the 50s and 60s, to be sure, but he says Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt were among his favorites.

Even Hall & Oates had more folk influence layered in there than the critics gave them credit for he says. As Oates told American Songwriter this year: “If you really want to steal what we do, it’s this blending of acoustic traditional American music with urban R&B. You put those two things together, and that’s what we evolved into. That’s this common foundation that we have that never seems to go...

more

The downside of working in and around music (besides the increased likelihood of non-yacht-ownership) is that when you’re exposed to loads of music, new and old, year in year out, you can find yourself getting harder to please. Sometimes I fear I’ll never be really zapped by something new again they way I was as a teenager. The feeling of discovery and connection is so palpable then, and then as we get older we can get to feeling like we’ve seen it all, heard it all. I don’t want to be Jaded Guy, but every now and then my aging self starts to feel like that.

And then I go to a night like last night at Music City Roots. There was the usual good-time air and even more of a cool cocktail party atmosphere than usual. But on the musical front, I discovered two new bands that are sure...

more

There are few sounds as compelling in the world as the thick, warm grooviness of a really nice double bass, and it’s a pity that those who play this demanding instrument are often hidden there in the back of the band in a support role. But fans of jazz especially know never to underestimate the bass player. After all, some of the finest composers and bandleaders of all time – like my boys Charles Mingus and Dave Holland – were/are bass players. And this week at Roots, we’ll be hearing from an extraordinary bass player who earned her reputation in bluegrass but who as a bandleader has exploded the genre barriers and offered us a striking new acoustic sound.

Her name is Missy Raines, and if you follow the picking world, you may know she owned the IBMA bass player of the year award...

more

Well, there are good shows and there are great shows and then every now and then there a comes a jaw-on-floor, hair-blown-back, memory-searing super-show that comes with tears, inexplicable brain endorphins, moments of cosmic clarity and a feeling of love and well being that transcends the tribulations of all mankind. That’s basically how I felt about 9:28 pm last night as a stage full of grandmasters led an all-barn Loveless Jam singalong of the old fave “This Little Light Of Mine” (The Sam Cooke version, noted Ms. Laurie, as she had downloaded the lyrics).

I mean how did anyone arrange or conspire to put these people on one stage at one time? Joe Diffie, Jim Lauderdale, Mike Farris, Tim Shelton and others traded verses, while no less than Kenny Vaughan, Viktor Krauss, Jerry...

more

In some ways, Jerry Douglas is the reason I moved to Nashville. Not that he personally invited me or anything, but you’ll see what I mean.

During my post-college years when I really jumped down the roots music rabbit hole, there were scores of important artists and musicians living and passed who made the journey rich and rewarding. But as much as I loved the bedrock tradition and the singing/songwriting troubadours that made up most of the Americana landscape (even if we weren’t calling it that yet), I grew up as an instrumentalist with a deep love of jazz and classical music that informed how I listened to folk music. There at the center of the swirling, diverse bluegrass universe was a cadre of musicians who brought together everything I’d ever appreciated about instrumental...

more

The count-down to and start of every Music City Roots is always a pulse-quickening experience. Especially for those who are taking the stage as musicians or announcers. But I have to say last night I was actually kind of nervous. I hadn’t felt quite this antsy since opening night one year ago, when we literally had no idea what it would feel like to put on a live radio show. So much was new tonight that it felt like an audition or a maiden voyage of some kind. We knew that in kicking off our new season and our second year on the air, we were presenting ourselves to thousands of new listeners, most of whom probably had no idea that we were about to invade their radio station.

Let me say straightaway and with no prodding, payment or pressure that we love Lightning 100. This station...

more

Rhonda Vincent hosts the season premiere of MCR for the benefit of the Nature Conservancy

Sure, you must think we’re stretching and yawning, waking up from our two-week “vacation” as we prepare to return to the Loveless Cafe Barn for the new season of Music City Roots, but nothing could be further from the truth. A lot’s been shaking here behind the scenes, and we’ve just made a big announcement to prove it: As of our Oct. 20 show, which happens to be OUR FIRST ANNIVERSARY, Music City Roots is moving to a new broadcast home, Lightning 100, WRLT at 100.1 on your FM dial. It’s a big change, but one we think will be great for getting the word out about the show, reaching new audiences and having a great stereo FM signal in our home market. Lightning 100 has a long...

more

Say what you will about hallowed tradition, but bluegrass is amazingly flexible stuff. In one evening of music last night at Roots, we heard bluegrass bands cover some of the dangdest songs you ever heard. The Infamous Stringdusters tapped U2 for an ethereal acoustic version of “In God’s Country.” Barry Scott & Second Wind, our Vietti artist for the night, opened their set with, of all songs, “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” and then followed it with “Stuck On You” by a guy who, with all respect, probably wouldn’t be our first pick to play Roots – Lionel Richie. And yet given its cool country delivery, if you’d told me the latter had been written by, say, Ronnie Bowman, I’d have believed you. And the coverage continued, with New Found Road offering “Please Come To Boston,” the old Dave...

more

The grass is always greener someplace else, the old saying goes, but there is truly no better place to be than in Nashville during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass. For years, this has been the top annual gathering of the tribes for bluegrass business folk and fans alike. The event’s move from Louisville to Nashville in 2005 allowed the IBMA Awards to take place at the Ryman Auditorium, where bluegrass music was fundamentally shaped if not invented by Bill Monroe’s band in the mid 1940s. This is the week one feels most connected by the common purpose of promoting and exposing this vital American music, a mission we at Roots are happy to pursue all year around.

MCR is not an official showcase for World of Bluegrass, but we certainly feel a kinship...

more

Artists evolve. It’s part of the job description. There’s no alternative really. Like the shark that must keep swimming to breathe, musicians have to develop, at least subtly, to remain relevant. My friends the Dixie Bee-Liners are a perfect example. When I met founders Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward five or so years ago, they were basically a duo with hired sidemen and a pretty straightforward bluegrass album to their credit. Now they’re a settled, coherent band with an ensemble feeling and a range of new music that truly takes bluegrass music in new and exciting directions.

So when they kicked off Music City Roots last night with the droning earthy dulcimer into to the song “Heavy” it created a wonderful, fresh ambience. It sounded timeless and American, but not saddled by...

more

I vividly remember discovering Kim Richey. It was 1995 and I was just starting to put it together in my brain that country music was way more diverse than “they” ever told us and that an entire movement was galvanizing around writers and artists who had nothing to do with the low-fat milky stuff that had taken over a radio format I’d once enjoyed. I was in the Tower Records in Manhattan (words to make a music fan cry) and one of the listening stations featured a kinky haired woman from Nashville who sounded like she’d been visited in turns by the muses of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne and Gail Davies. And there was that crystalline, emotion-laden voice. Sold. Fan for life.

Richey is actually from Ohio, and let it not be said this is a place without soul because plenty...

more

Retro is a complicated concept that rides a razor’s edge between cool and square. Most of us crave SOMETHING about the past, no matter how hip we are, and it might come out in fashion sensibility, driving a ’57 Chevy or a vinyl record fetish. A healthy musical diet certainly should have plenty of the old mixed in with the new, and our lineup at Roots last night had that quality, and I mean it both ways. It felt vintage all around. And it was quality.

Lighting last night’s fuse was Shotgun Party, a trio out of Austin that comes off a bit like the Hot Club of Cowtown with more caffeine and better harmony singing. Jenny Parrott chunked on the archtop guitar while Katy Rose Cox bowed a fiery fiddle, and everything fell nicely together when they joined their bookmatched voices. They...

more

I write from the middle of Americana music week, feeling surrounded by and totally immersed in amazing sounds, stories and all-around artistry. It began with this week’s Music City Roots, an official kick-off event for the Americana Music Association’s annual convention and festival, and it was an absolute blast, with Chuck Mead, Manda Mosher, Madison Violet, Corb Lund and the Steeldrivers. The next night we were treated probably the best Americana Honors & Awards show ever, with gobsmacking performances at the Ryman Auditorium by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Roseanne Cash, the Avett Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Joe Pug and many more, not to mention a 30-minute show closing set by Robert Plant and his Band of Joy.

Last night, it was showcase central, and while there was great...

more

There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘taking our country back,’ and while I’m not sure what folks mean by that, I do know that more than 10 years ago, a small group of music aficionados decided to take country music back from the over-fluffed, auto-tuned eye candy it had become during its 1990s explosion. Those pioneers chose as their banner the name Americana. Not so much a genre as a frame of reference, Americana embraced what was then called alt-country, folk, blues and bluegrass under a big tent. Now the trade group born of that movement, the Americana Music Association (AMA) boils the music’s many complexities down to the nice clear statement: “contemporary music that honors and/or derives from American roots music.”

Hey, that sounds like what we do. So this week it gives...

more

What is jazz? And why do some people love it like chocolate while others think of it as the musical equivalent of beets and brussels sprouts? I think it’s more a matter of public relations and misunderstandings than anything else. As Gypsy Hombre Peter Hyrka said last night, he’ll frequently hear folks say “I don’t like jazz but I love what you guys do.” But who couldn’t like what the Gypsy Hombres do (and did last night on Roots)? And who could deny that their music, along with J.D. Souther’s melodious pop, Carolyn Martin’s western swing, is jazz AND roots at the same time?

Yes we had a swinging, stringing great time last night, reveling in some classic music of the past and some new expressions of tradition by all of those remarkable artists. And we were treated to one of the...

more

Because we sure have that swing. This week’s Music City Roots will celebrate that elusive and wondrous musical quality that put the snap in American music for decades, often in unexpected ways. Say “swing” to most folks and it will probably conjure up an image of dance bands from the 1940s or for country fans maybe Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, which did with fiddles what Tommy Dorsey did with horns. All that is absolutely on point, but the feeling of swing also permeates jazz, bluegrass and even some pop music, when the timing is right. It’s a heartbeat. It’s a groove. You know it when you hear it.

Nashvillians have been hearing it for nearly two decades in the music of the Gypsy Hombres, a trio that’s changed personnel over time but that has always included founding member,...

more

It often feels after a Music City Roots like we’ve heard many voices blending into a larger, never-ending stream (especially since we end the show with that big sing-along known as the Loveless Jam). It’s a perpetual reminder that Americana artists stand out there pretty naked, with no electronic assistance and no dazzling show to distract from the main event: a singer singing a song.

Last night was a big bold case in point. Not only did we feature four striking and original voices, we were treated to an a cappella group that’s figured out novel ways to blend many voices into one coherent and surprising sound.

Ben Glover opened things up with his soothing but worldly baritone, sounding older and wiser than his years. I loved his song “I Am, You Are” which dissects a crowded...

more

Once upon a time not very long ago there was a band that would have been perfect for Music City Roots even if their name was calculated to give the Loveless Cafe crew a culinary heart attack. The Biscuit Burners were a neo-traditional band out of Asheville, NC, which landed in all kinds of prestigious places, from the BBC to Mountain Stage and a bunch of great festivals. Perhaps you saw them.

We’ve already had one former Biscuit Burner on the show in the person of Odessa Jorgenson, singer and fiddler in the band Bearfoot (and spontaneous guest backup singer just last week). And now we welcome another femme fatale who was there at the band’s origins. Shannon Whitworth branched out as a solo artist about four years ago, which placed a spotlight on her truly remarkable and original...

more

Honest Abe seemed to be looking over everyone’s shoulders at last night’s Music City Roots. Mary Gauthier got very candid very fast about how the birth of her songwriting career was directly related to the end of her substance abuse years. Gabriel Kelley told us in his interview how he left behind a Music Row publishing contract because he didn’t think he could write honestly enough. Megan McCormick offered songs from her brand new Honest Words CD. And I can honestly say that it was a great show from a rangy range of artists for whom art without honesty would simply feel like fraud.

Perhaps the only duplicity of the night came from Have Gun Will Travel, our opening band out of the Tampa, FL area who, I am happy to report, arrived unarmed. They were however well outfitted with...

more

I have a good feeling about this. Music City Roots this week includes a performance by a young Nashville artist who’s made a remarkable stylistic journey and who (though I have a terrible track record at predicting this stuff) could be a big national deal by this time next year. Her name is Megan McCormick, and I’ve been driving around for the past month with her debut CD Honest Words in my car. It’s being released the day before our show, and as much as I’ve appreciated Megan in local venues and as a supporting musician to others, I had no inkling she was going to come up with something so complete, so absorbing and so beautifully crafted. This album, brimming with bold melodies, heart-torn lyrics and amazing guitar work, heralds a major arrival.

It’s not just me. The disc is...

more

If you’d asked me the last song in the universe I’d have ever expected to hear on Music City Roots – if pressed for the song as far away as possible on the cosmic rootsy scale from, say, “Freight Train Boogie” (last night’s Loveless Jam) – I’d have said, well of course, “Danke Shoen.” But the SECOND least likely song would have to have been “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I mean we could have agreed on this before last night – that under no circumstances could the oft covered wedding staple ever work in our land of twang, grass and blues. Right?

Well, leave it to Roots to keep surprising music-loving me. On an otherwise bluegrassy night, we were fortunate to get a visit from Gary Morris, a country hit-maker of the 80s and a wide-ranging and acknowledged master-singer who has been on a...

more

That the vast pool of amazing musical talent rooted here in Music City, and now spanning the planet, will be put on a global platform for all the world to enjoy.

That all the gifted artists that have dedicated their lives to achieving excellence in their craft will be given an opportunity to let their voice be heard, regardless of commercial paradigms.

That the walls of categories will come down, and bridges will be built between generations, in the hopes that each may learn what is best about the musical contributions the others gave birth to.

That that the music will continue to evolve and grow, while never losing sight of the heritage of its roots, and never forgetting the history that was made along the way.

That we will all open up our minds, listen with...

more

Perhaps you did a double take during last week’s show. Did Jim Lauderdale say something about a webcast? A live, HD on-line version of the show? Well, in case you didn’t get to your computers, it’s true. Admittedly last week’s webcast was what we in the industry call a “soft launch” because there were so many uncertainties as our crack team got all the gear installed and the feed up and running. But the folks who did discover us at www.musiccityroots.com or over the Ustream network are telling us it looked and sounded great!

So it’s official. Music City Roots is on the ‘net, live and in spectacular streaming HD video. We’re still a radio show first and foremost, but now you can stop imagining what we’re wearing or what kind of guitar that dude is playing and peek in from any...

more

Note: in Craig Havighurst’s absence, our friend Peter Cooper stepped in for this week’s show. Peter has performed on MCR before as a duo with Eric Brace, and he is an entertainment writer for the Tennessean.

Music City Roots’ affable regular Craig Havighurst was stuck in North Carolina, starring in a feature film or working in the tobacco fields or something or another. And so the right-thinking Roots folks called me Wednesday morning in desperation.

“Save us,” they pleaded. “We need someone to interview the musicians on tonight’s show, and because you yourself have performed admirably on Music City Roots in your unassailable musical duo with the great Eric Brace, we assume you to be a person of skill and intelligence. We are also impressed that you have two albums coming...

more

I was on work/travel this week in Western North Carolina, so unfortunately I missed my first Music City Roots since the show began last fall. Definitely a drag. My consolation was to actually hear the show on the 650 WSM-AM (the point after all), and hey, wow, I loved it, despite some lightning zap interference. The storms pursued me down the Cumberland Plateau, while ahead a psychedelic sunset played out between thunderheads, and I hope you had as epic a setting for listening. It was super to have Jim Lauderdale back on stage after a few weeks away, and I was delighted to hear the voice of my friend Peter Cooper of the Tennessean filling in for me on the Honest Abe Front Porch.

But as always, the main event was the music, and my heavens, as many times as I’ve heard him and as...

more

If you haven’t seen the video of Bobby Bare Jr. and his son Beckham singing Shel Silverstein’s “Daddy What If” then get thee hence to a computer (oh, wait, you likely have that covered at the moment) and check it out HERE for four minutes of endearing father-son magic. This wee recording session promotes the new tribute album of songs by the late great Silverstein, called Twistable Turnable Man, but there’s also a bunch of history packed into this unassuming little vocal duet.

Bobby Jr. made an early professional debut singing the song with HIS dad Bobby Bare in 1974, and the cut was nominated for a Grammy Award. (See that performance HERE) At the time,...

more

Sometimes the Music City Roots stage looks like a gear warehouse or a Guitar Center with drums, keyboards and amplifiers all over the place. And on some recent weeks, back stage has felt more like a traffic jam than a jam session. But tonight, just when some of us needed it, there was a zen garden quality in the Loveless Barn. The stage held but a single snare drum and only one amp – a vintage Fender so beaten and road-scarred that it had to belong the Pine Hill Haints. Two of our artists needed nothing but a guitar to do their thing. And there were but four artists on the bill, (as God intended). It had a serenity and calm that fit the moist but breezy July night.

So in context, the top of the bill felt like a veritable extravaganza, what with a whopping five finely made...

more

Each week I look at the lineups for Music City Roots and think to myself, ‘what’s the theme?’ What’s the hidden connection between these artists who were booked on this special day, because that’s when their booking agent said they’re available? Sometimes we set out to design a show and sometimes a collection of artists falls together by happenstance and the alignment of the planets. But always, always, always, they share one thing in common, and that’s a fealty to the founding fathers and mothers of our nation’s musical life – the traditions that bind us and define us, whether plunked on a clawhammer banjo, blown on a trumpet or shredded on an electric guitar.

This is one of those planetary weeks, but it sure looks like fun. For one thing, we’re getting a full set from a guy who...

more

It’s not often that in one evening you can hear six artists who capture the flow and evolution of folk music, from the turn of one century to the turn of another, from pure to punk. (And yes, punk music is folk music, in case you never got that memo.) The return of Music City Roots for the summer season was a choice collection, a dipper in the stream that kept coming up clear and delicious.

I could write at length, and hope to one day, about Frank Fairfield. I’d never heard of him, but that’s the fun of Roots. (Who’s that? WOW!) Research told me he was one of the new crop of early music aficionados, a collector of old 78s and wax cylinders, a recording artist on the highly selective and backward looking Tompkins Square label. And there are other folks who play “Keep My Skillet...

more

Time off is good and necessary, especially in the summertime, when the Southern heat and humidity sap one’s strength. We’ve enjoyed our two weeks’ break, but we also find ourselves itching to get back on stage and continue our weekly exploration of the wide Americana music-scape. That happens July 14 at the Loveless Barn when Music City Roots premieres its Summer 2010 season.

We have a lot in store. We’ll feature the itinerant, rail-hopping folk music of Frank Fairfield and the motorcycle-touring quirky country music of Johnny Corndawg, a returning MCR alum. We’ll have pop-folkie Tristen, tagged as a rising star of 2010 by Paste magazine. And we’ll get a listen to Athens, GA roots rockers Futurebirds. But I’m especially excited to tell you about two of the most buzzed-about acts...

more

Music City Roots and bluegrass music are, as the kids say, BFFs. As music goes, there’s no other scene that can top it for collective good-will, pan-generational sharing, honesty of talent and the power to bring wildly different people together. So last night, we did gorge upon it. Nine acts, ranging in age from teens to seventies, all with something to say, all with major skills, helped us wish a happy anniversary to the IBMA, the International Bluegrass Music Association. For 25 years, IBMA has been connecting bluegrass professionals and fans, making many more careers possible and spreading the music around the world. We were thrilled to be part of the celebration. (Full disclosure, I’m on the IBMA board and have been a long time member, but you don’t come here for unbiased reporting...

more

t’s no secret whatsoever that Music City Roots loves bluegrass. The genre itself, even in its pure “traditional” form, is an embodiment of our show’s philosophy: folk and roots styles updated for modern times. Because when Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys cooked up their very original sound in 1945, it was a pretty radical left turn from the old-time string band music on which they were building. And in an amazing turn of music history, the new sound proved so popular and viable that it spread worldwide and continues to grow and evolve.

The International Bluegrass Music Association is the trade group responsible for helping bluegrass continue that growth and evolution, and this week, Roots helps the IBMA celebrate its 25th anniversary with a special, season-ending...

more

Some come to Nashville with dreams of fame and fortune, which makes for good movie scripts but really winds up being meaningless in the long run. Others were drawn here with a burning curiosity and hope that Nashville’s musical community and history are real and knowable and fulfilling – that its mojo still lives and is accessible to those who avail themselves of it, whether as an artist, picker, producer, fan or chronicler. I’ve been extremely fortunate to find that is real, and in my 14 years here I’ve heard and seen moments of musical alchemy and artistic accomplishment that will rank among the most important memories of my life. Last night’s Music City Roots was such an experience. We’ve had many great shows, but something about this convergence of styles, trends, community, venue...

more

We both love and hate to say it, but this week’s Music City Roots is SOLD OUT. Yep, like those concert t-shirts back in the day with the red letters slashed across the back. A special confluence of talent has lit up the switchboards and we’re ready for a very big Wednesday night.

We can’t help but think that some of this interest is due to the remarkable and much-anticipated return of Jason & The Scorchers to the record bins and the concert stage. We’re talking here about not just one of the best bands to ever come out of Nashville but an iconic rock band that some people would rather see than the Stones. To save myself all kinds of thinking and typing and because he says it better than I could, here’s what friend of the show Tommy Womack said about The Scorchers in his essay...

more

We had a guy who was big in the 70s and some guys who were born in the 80s. We had the biggest band we’ve ever had on Music City Roots and the funniest artist we’ve ever had. Naturally, we had some bracing roots rock and a mod mountain-inspired songstress. That’s par for the course. But in general, for a random Wednesday in June, it was quite the night of firsts and surprises.

So savor the irony of getting started with a band called The New Familiars. They’re familiar to us because they played a great set on the Loveless stage last fall. And they’re new because they’ve figured out a way to crank the intensity of their bluegrass instruments up to about 9.5 and lace it with dirty blues and sound fresh and different. They really made their set a show, with an involving, spacey intro...

more

Jere Cherryholmes, the bearded and burly dad/bass player/bus driver in the Cherryholmes bluegrass band, said last night that he still thinks of his family’s group the way he proposed it to his kids roughly a decade ago – as an adventure. There’s no fixed star to aim at, no endgame. Just a big, audacious experience with trials and surprising delights along the way. Music City Roots is a lot like that too, and last night, MCR and Cherryholmes merged their adventures together for a little while, and it was fantastic. Departing from our usual formula, we let Cherryholmes curate the evening, and they hosted all four sets, inviting in a range of guests that really told the story of their years in Nashville. Their early neighbors, the Armisteads, came because they form the core of the...

more

Roughly composed of one part Rolling Stones, healthy doses of Dylan and John Prine, plus a whole lot of Nashville hot chicken grease, DADDY is but the latest iteration and manifestation of the long-running musical bro-mance between Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough. Their Southern pop/rock band the bis-quits in the early 1990s was short-lived but much loved. And while they’ve collaborated here and there since then, only in DADDY has the Kimbrough/Womack chemistry truly been rekindled. Add to their guitar/vocal attack the all-star rhythm section of Paul Griffith (drums), David Jacques (bass) and John Deaderick (keys) and you’re looking at a Music City supergroup with writing and playing chops second to none. They will be just back from a current swing in Europe when they play the Roots...

more

A great show has the stuff you were expecting when you came and the surprises that you can never plan for. And there were at least two moments last night when I was caught up short and left with nothing but a smile. First was our “emerging artist” band The Drunk Uncles who topped off a killer set of Waylon-worthy country music with a guest appearance by Larry Cordle (about whom more later). And the other was the third song in Monte Montgomery’s five song set when I was thinking ‘hey this is pretty great; I wonder if it’s working for the crowd?’ and all of a sudden he ends the tune and like four fifths of the house leap to their feet and go bananas in one of the most flash mobbish standing Os I’ve seen. No wonder Monte’s set closer was called “Shock.” Shock and awe, to coin a...

more

It could be a Nashville trivia question years from now: What band played both the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Grand Ole Opry House within two weeks of the 2010 flood that disabled both venues? That would be Cherryholmes, the acclaimed bluegrass family band that came out of nowhere a few years ago to become one of the genre’s top acts.

Bass player and band patriarch Jere Cherryholmes says the Schermerhorn shows were one of the highlights of their career so far. As part of the Nashville Symphony’s Pops Series, they filled the house for three nights running and played with the symphony in shows that left the audiences kind of freaking out. “To get that kind of reaction in our home town – Music City – and with so much going on that weekend – was incredible,” he...

more

Music is a magic land where truly, one plus one equals more than two. When two great singers or players lock the right two melodic lines together, your brain and heart start making up more parts, filling in and forming a cosmic conversation between you and the music. We’ll get to hear that duo effect two times over at the May 26 Music City Roots, when we’re joined by one couple steeped in old-school country and another united by the blues.

Doug and Telisha Williams are one of the more exciting country music couples in the post Gillian Welch and David Rawlings era. Hailing from Martinsville, Virginia, they write about and sing about the land and place and people they know. And often that means hard characters and hard truths. The title track of their current and second album...

more

A virtuoso acoustic guitar shredder. A Knoxville chanteuse. A Californian who mastered bluegrass and jazz. And a former truck driver with a penchant for knife throwing. Isn’t this exactly the kind of horizon-opening, unpredictable experience you’ve been looking for? We thought so. Music City Roots on May 19 should be by turns jaw-dropping, serenity-inducing and wickedly funny. But hey, we’re a variety show in a barn, so that’s how we roll.

Let’s get a little more specific. Although I should no longer be surprised by producer Todd’s booking prowess, it was kind of a shocker to see Monte Montgomery show up on our schedule. I first encountered this Austin phenom more than a decade ago, when he was landing on magazine covers and blowing people away with his innovative techniques and...

more

As a lover of the English language I’m sensitive to the mis-use of words, as when people praise a singer/songwriter as ‘prolific’ when they mean wonderful or amazing. But all prolific means of course is that someone produces a lot. Some great artists like Guy Clark are not prolific. Some prolific artists are not fantastic. It’s hard to be both, but our buddy and musical host Jim Lauderdale has done just that for years. In fact it’s hard to point to anyone in Americana music who has recorded and written so many songs with such consistency.

So while we have some superb talent performing this week (see below), this column and this episode of Roots will be a bit Jim-o-centric. You see Jim agreed to be our regular musical host for very little compensation and he’s put enormous energy...

more

As a lover of the English language I’m sensitive to the mis-use of words, as when people praise a singer/songwriter as ‘prolific’ when they mean wonderful or amazing. But all prolific means of course is that someone produces a lot. Some great artists like Guy Clark are not prolific. Some prolific artists are not fantastic. It’s hard to be both, but our buddy and musical host Jim Lauderdale has done just that for years. In fact it’s hard to point to anyone in Americana music who has recorded and written so many songs with such consistency.

So while we have some superb talent performing this week (see below), this column and this episode of Roots will be a bit Jim-o-centric. You see Jim agreed to be our regular musical host for very little compensation and he’s put enormous energy...

more

Back in its growth-to-glory days, one of the things that distinguished WSM was its aggressive use of remote broadcasting. They’d set up microphones at events, planned and unplanned, all over Middle Tennessee and somehow get the signal back to the WSM mother-ship for live broadcast to the nation. Decades before digital or cellular anything, they beamed news and music from a moving passenger train. They broadcast the NBC Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry from a moving steamboat in the Cumberland River. And they sent journalists with back-pack radios up into Kentucky to cover the massive Ohio River Valley flood of 1937.

Now an epic flood has come to WSM. On Sunday night/Monday morning, the Cumberland burst its banks and swept across the Opryland complex, entirely submerging WSM’s offices...

more

Sadly, we couldn’t play past midnight but there was a massive orange moon floating in the sky last night. And in any event, hearing Peter Rowan sing those stirring words “If you ever feel lonesome, when you’re down in San Antone…” in our Loveless Barn evoked a feeling of mellow grandeur and a sense of accomplishment. “Midnight Moonlight,” which Rowan led in the show-closing Loveless Jam, will forever be associated with Old And In The Way, his band with Jerry Garcia. And I’ve heard (and played) so many versions of that song around campfires with kindred souls that it’s become kind of an anthem for a certain approach to music. And Rowan, a true giant of acoustic American music, sang that anthem for us. If nothing had happened to that point, it would have been a great show.

But a...

more

When I was searching for my first place to live in Nashville in 1996, a lot of signs pointed East. Historic East Nashville was said to be a good place to find an affordable home in a quirky, developing neighborhood that was becoming an arts and music enclave – with a great view of the Nashville skyline to boot. So on an early house-hunting mission, I walked into the Radio Café at the corner of 14th St. and Woodland Ave. for the first time. Not only did I get a good breakfast, I met a guy who played drums with Steve Earle at the counter. I took this as a good omen. And once I moved into the ‘hood, there were many many great nights of music at the Radio, many of them by artists who lived right there in zip code 37206.

The Radio Café is gone, but the scene in East Nashville is...

more

Barry Tashian paid the show a particularly high compliment near the end of last night, saying that Music City Roots reminded him why he’s long loved Nashville, that it captured the Nashville spirit at its best. That’s certainly what we all strive for each week. Not that we’re limited to Nashville artists by any means, but for so many who live in, migrate to or even pass through Music City, there’s an ethos that binds them together, one embracing quality, community and authenticity. I certainly felt like last night caught that perfectly.

It also proved we can challenge our audience a little bit and they respond. The night began with Minton Sparks, the first spoken word artist we’ve had on Roots. She’s been releasing albums and performing around town and around the country for...

more

Bluegrass is a music of bridge-building, spanning multiple generations and styles. It’s one of the only music forms in the world that assimilates hard-edged old conservatives and youthful progressives, making it one of the last places where extremely disparate Americans can gather to jam and enjoy. That diversity has been cultivated by a handful of musicians who’ve had credibility on both sides of the cultural divide, like John Hartford, Vassar Clements and our guest next week, the great Peter Rowan.

Here’s the question I really want to ask Peter Rowan: How’d you do it? How did you wind up playing as a band member with the famously rigid Bill Monroe AND with hippie icons Jerry Garcia and David Grisman? I can speculate that the answer will be that across all fronts of bluegrass,...

more

Last weekend I snuck off with my wife to New Orleans for French Quarter Fest, a three day celebration of local music from what I like to call America’s original Music City. The depth and breadth of sound was remarkable, and yet everything there resonated with a common sensibility. It was OF ITS PLACE, which all great music is, at least when it starts out.

I had the same feeling last night at Music City Roots, though obviously swapping Nashville for New Orleans. The night simply brimmed with artists who, individually and in various combinations have added to our Music City gumbo (damn, I swore I’d never use that metaphor again). It was a gathering of old friends and intimate collaborators with Nashville as their common point of reference. Perhaps Jessi Alexander, co-vocalist of 18...

more

We Southerners take stories seriously. They’re our conversational currency, our living history. From Faulkner and Flannery to today’s bright writing stars like Nashville’s own Ann Patchett and Tony Earley, we celebrate those who celebrate life through words, just as we celebrate the regular raconteur.

So when I heard that our April 21 show (a benefit for our sponsor/partners at The Nature Conservancy) would feature Marshall Chapman, Minton Sparks and Tommy Womack, it felt meant to be. These fascinating artists live and work at the confluence of literature and music, and each has his or her own approach to digging truth and light out of the Southern landscape.

For Minton Sparks, the medium is theater, sort of. Over roughly a decade, she’s developed a one-woman show and...

more

You’d figure that having been married since the early 1990s and playing scores of dates each year, Ricky and Micol Davis have seen a lot of each other. But when they finished their high energy set at Music City Roots last night (getting the standing-est ovations of the night by the way), and they came over to the chat room, they scrunched up together and Ricky put his arm around Micol and it was so cute I had to describe this for the radio audience. I’d heard their duo/band Blue Mother Tupelo before and loved it in that Delbert McClinton roadhouse kind of way. But it was really special to connect with them as people and see first hand their dedication to the music and to each other.

So there was much love in the house, as the show returned for a new season on a perfect evening at...

more

I loved that old PBS show Connections, where host James Burke would wander around the world describing how one small invention centuries ago led to this and then that and then ultimately to some earth-shattering change like, oh, the Great Depression. He was one my guides to looking beneath the layers. But I was already on board that idea thanks to my passion for music. Reading liner notes and books LONG before the internet, I built a framework on which I could hang new bits of musical knowledge. You think you know Led Zeppelin and then you find out Jimmy Page was in the Yardbirds first! You fall for Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue album and find out that the piano player Bill Evans had a solo career as well, and you check that out, and life is never the same again.

Nashville is full...

more

A note from Micol Davis was a reminder that Music City Roots: Live From The Loveless Cafe is about far more than just two hours of great live music on Wednesday nights.

Micol is the female half of the husband and wife duo Blue Mother Tupelo. She and Ricky Davis are a bracing blues/rock team who can lay it down as a self-contained unit or scale up with a band. They’ve truly become friends of the show; we see them in the audience most weeks, hanging out and taking in the music and the atmosphere. This coming week, however, as Roots begins its Spring 2010 season, they will grace our stage for the first time as featured artists.

So when I asked Micol to share some thoughts about the show, it was a thrill to get the following reply:...

more

Even more than most holidays, St. Patrick’s Day comes with whopping doses of clichés, so when you think of SPDs past, you’re likely to remember loud people in loud outfits with shamrock necklaces drinking green beer or leprechauns hawking furniture sales on TV. Before last night I’m not even sure I could have told you what a meaningful, soulful St. Pat’s Day would have been like. But now I know. You’d get together a huge barn full of music lovers and let Maura O’Connell sing for them and have Shannon Quinn fiddle. That’s what we did on the season closing episode of Music City Roots, and judging by the keyed up crowd, it went over well. Irish eyes were smiling, if I may hurl a cliché of my own.

We kept the theme thing loose, opening with the bluegrass of The Chapmans, and while...

more

From an interview I did with Maura O’Connell in 2002:

“A song from any time should feel comfortable in any time. A song is a song is a song, if it has potential to live past its own time. It’s a folk song, no matter where it comes from. I do like to sing songs like ‘Down In The Sally Gardens.’ It’s such a strong song it sits right next to a Patty Griffin song. They’re equally present in our day as poetry.”

It is enriching indeed to sit and talk with someone who is nearly as elegant speaking about the resonance and reach of songs as she is singing them. In O’Connell’s case, she’s got mountains of experience through which such observations get filtered. She was the precocious, singing little girl with a singing mom in an Irish community where singing was as regular and...

more

If loving heathens is wrong, I don’t want to be right. One rarely hears such a powerful, gimmick-free rock and roll band with such evenly distributed talent as the Band of Heathens, who played Music City Roots last night.

Like The Band or Little Feat (common comparisons last night), B of H from Austin feels like a complete operation, a total integration of visions and voices. Guitarists Colin Brooks and Gordy Quist and keyboardist Ed Jurdi all write and sing and yet nobody dominates the stage or the ideas. The music is soulful Americana without baggage, colored with electric lap steel and churchy, grungy electric piano. In a word, brilliant. Wish they’d had hours to play.

And that was just the opening act of a wonderfully balanced night that featured the acoustic and the...

more

From an interview I did with Maura O’Connell in 2002:

“A song from any time should feel comfortable in any time. A song is a song is a song, if it has potential to live past its own time. It’s a folk song, no matter where it comes from. I do like to sing songs like ‘Down In The Sally Gardens.’ It’s such a strong song it sits right next to a Patty Griffin song. They’re equally present in our day as poetry.”

It is enriching indeed to sit and talk with someone who is nearly as elegant speaking about the resonance and reach of songs as she is singing them. In O’Connell’s case, she’s got mountains of experience through which such observations get filtered. She was the precocious, singing little girl with a singing mom in an Irish community where singing was as regular and...

more

Musical innovation is a slippery, ill-defined concept. Does it live in novel melodies, or mash-ups of styles? Is it something made by fingers on frets or in the minds of the audience? I suppose it falls in the I-know-it-when-I-hear-it category. Or I could just point you to a Cadillac Sky show. Ostensibly a “bluegrass” band, the five C-Sky guys are an ever-changing ensemble of artists who absorb top flight influences but who make sure that what comes out the other end of their creative black box is always searching and never derivative.

The first things many of us heard from this Texas-born band was “Born Lonesome,” the first track off their debut album on Skaggs Family Records. It had significant bluegrass pedigree, with superior instrumental chops, the strong, high vocals of...

more

Wait, what’s that sound? That yearning, blue, soul-satisfying twang? Oh yeah, COUNTRY music! For a show that’s on WSM, the greatest station in the history of country and a show dedicated to Americana, the new home for traditional country, we haven’t had a whole lot of the old-school, honky-tonkin’, boot-and-hat-wearing country on the Loveless Barn stage in our two seasons. For that reason, David Ball, kicking off last night with his 1993 smash “Thinkin’ Problem” was like cracking a cold longneck of Shiner Bock on a hot summer day. David also gave us “I Don’t Want To Go Back To Houston,” a smooth as silk Texas bossa nova and “Hot Water Pipe,” a cranker off his new album.

And we’re so glad he didn’t skimp on the song I think everyone wanted to hear, his surprise top five hit of a...

more

Musical innovation is a slippery, ill-defined concept. Does it live in novel melodies, or mash-ups of styles? Is it something made by fingers on frets or in the minds of the audience? I suppose it falls in the I-know-it-when-I-hear-it category. Or I could just point you to a Cadillac Sky show. Ostensibly a “bluegrass” band, the five C-Sky guys are an ever-changing ensemble of artists who absorb top flight influences but who make sure that what comes out the other end of their creative black box is always searching and never derivative.

The first things many of us heard from this Texas-born band was “Born Lonesome,” the first track off their debut album on Skaggs Family Records. It had significant bluegrass pedigree, with superior instrumental chops, the strong, high vocals of...

more

If this week’s show was presented like a resume, you wouldn’t believe it. You’d call a few references to check it out. “So, this bunch SAYS it wrote a massive hit for Eric Clapton, had a multi-platinum country album, fiddled with the Texas Playboys and played guitar for the legendary Sam Bush? Really?”

Yes, really. Let’s break it down.

Start with Danny Flowers, one of those reasons Nashville has the world’s deepest musical bench. He left his home town of Henderson, North Carolina as a teenager and began exploring the world with music as his muse. He met and befriended Emmylou Harris then developed the chops to back up a range of artists like Dobie Gray and new Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Don Williams. He worked with past MCR guests Gove Scrivenor and Cowboy Jack...

more

“You really can’t go wrong when there’s biscuits and music in the room,” said Ashley Cleveland from the stage of the Loveless Barn, summing up the situation elegantly and giving me my lead. Thanks also, Ashley, for the performance, which did not pussyfoot around. I asked her on stage to talk about the category where she’s won three Grammy Awards – Rock Gospel – and yeah, it was a dumb question. Nashville’s very own Ashley is the very definition of rock gospel, about which I’ll have more to say.

Tonight’s rangy lineup actually began with a fellow who has had an analogous career to Ashley’s – Will Kimbrough. Both are artists who make great albums and write songs. They have done tons of backup work for insanely distinguished others. They are quintessential Nashville A-listers. And...

more

If this week’s show was presented like a resume, you wouldn’t believe it. You’d call a few references to check it out. “So, this bunch SAYS it wrote a massive hit for Eric Clapton, had a multi-platinum country album, fiddled with the Texas Playboys and played guitar for the legendary Sam Bush? Really?”

Yes, really. Let’s break it down.

Start with Danny Flowers, one of those reasons Nashville has the world’s deepest musical bench. He left his home town of Henderson, North Carolina as a teenager and began exploring the world with music as his muse. He met and befriended Emmylou Harris then developed the chops to back up a range of artists like Dobie Gray and new Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Don Williams. He worked with past MCR guests Gove Scrivenor and Cowboy Jack...

more

When a show opens with one of the most energetic, skilled bands in the world roaring through “El Cumbanchero” at full tilt, it’s a pretty good sign that some special other somethings are waiting in the wings. And while show closer Darrell Scott didn’t have the strength of numbers, he has his fingers and his voice, and that was enough to assure everyone in the Loveless Barn that they were in the hands of a master. I was surprised actually that our fearless and always astute producers lined the show up that way, but it turned out having energy at the top was a great idea.

That energy came from the Greencards, that eclectic acoustic power supply from Australia, whose two most recent additions, fiddler Tyler Andal and guitarist Jake Stargel have given leader/founders Kym Warner and...

more

He had me at THIS. And by THIS I mean that CD that Will Kimbrough released in 2000 that told the world he was more than a mere sideman or band member. THIS was a superb debut album by a seasoned artist with a vision and the first of a string of striking statements that would have encompassed confessional folk music, sharp pop rock and alt-country twang. In the meantime, Kimbrough has become one of Nashville’s musical MVPs and recipient of an Americana Music Association instrumentalist of the year award.

Kimbrough hails from Mobile, Alabama and he was putting bands together from about the time his age had “teen” at the end of it. From 1984 to 1992 he toured the southeast as leader of Will and the Bushmen. Then upon moving to Nashville he teamed with the brazenly talented and funny...

more

He had me at THIS. And by THIS I mean that CD that Will Kimbrough released in 2000 that told the world he was more than a mere sideman or band member. THIS was a superb debut album by a seasoned artist with a vision and the first of a string of striking statements that would have encompassed confessional folk music, sharp pop rock and alt-country twang. In the meantime, Kimbrough has become one of Nashville’s musical MVPs and recipient of an Americana Music Association instrumentalist of the year award.

Kimbrough hails from Mobile, Alabama and he was putting bands together from about the time his age had “teen” at the end of it. From 1984 to 1992 he toured the southeast as leader of Will and the Bushmen. Then upon moving to Nashville he teamed with the brazenly talented and funny...

more

Just when you think you’ve heard every way there is to play a guitar, every possible groove on the drums, you need to head to Mississippi. Or more conveniently, get Mississippi to come to you, which we managed last night when a contingent of musicians from that state’s Hill Country visited the Music City Roots stage. Sure enough, there were revelations, not to mention incantations and excitations.

We got things shaking with Afrissippi, a four-piece band that paired the nylon string guitar and Senegalese picking styles of founder Guelel Kumba and the righteous red and white hot-rod electric guitar of Eric Deaton. It was a melting pot of polyrhythm and proud, ecstatic singing. Kumba told us in his interview that about ten years ago after landing in Oxford, MS, he discovered that...

more

Too many people have spent too much energy trying to find the perfect definition of Americana music, the nice catch-all for contemporary music rooted in our great traditions of folk, blues, country and gospel. But if you want an illustrative definition, Americana is what you’d find at the many festivals that book both the Greencards and Darrell Scott, a la Merlefest of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Or Music City Roots, if you’ll give us credit for being a mini-festival every week.

Steeped in tradition but impeccably modern, these artists have become icons of an important transitional time in our music history, where a backlash against pop phoniness met a surge of grassroots enthusiasm for authentic singing, songwriting and musicianship.

Darrell Scott can do all three like a...

more

If you study American music you can’t get away from the story of the Mississippi Delta, the cradle of the blues and home to pioneers like Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson. But East of there, running from northern Mississippi down the middle of the state is a stretch known as the Hill Country, and in recent years this region has at last been acknowledged as a hotbed with its own sound and traditions, perhaps most notably through the rise to fame of the North Mississippi All-Stars. This week on Roots, we’ve pulled together one of the strongest themed lineups of the year, one that draws from the Hill Country, with its strong African roots and its modern grooves.

To help illuminate what you’ll be hearing, I make things easy on myself and quote at length the observations of Justin...

more

Have banjos, will travel.

Last night’s Roots was an object lesson in the radical and magical flexibility of bluegrass and its signature instrument, from home ground to the outer planets. From the Scruggs style rolling riches of the Larry Stephenson Band’s Kenny Ingram, to the adorable banjo uke of Supple Station Trio’s Taylor Brashears, to the newgrass energy of Mike Sumner with the Randy Kohrs Band, to the jamming and free-wheeling chops of Split Lip Rayfield’s Eric Mardis, it was a full spectrum of plectrum.

It seemed wise to start rooted in tradition, and there aren’t many on the circuit as equipped to lay it down in classic style as Larry Stephenson. He told me he was especially influenced by the Osborne Brothers, and that shone through in his set on both the secular...

more

If you study American music you can’t get away from the story of the Mississippi Delta, the cradle of the blues and home to pioneers like Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson. But East of there, running from northern Mississippi down the middle of the state is a stretch known as the Hill Country, and in recent years this region has at last been acknowledged as a hotbed with its own sound and traditions, perhaps most notably through the rise to fame of the North Mississippi All-Stars. This week on Roots, we’ve pulled together one of the strongest themed lineups of the year, one that draws from the Hill Country, with its strong African roots and its modern grooves.

To help illuminate what you’ll be hearing, I make things easy on myself and quote at length the observations of...

more

All kinds of weighty things were going on in the world last night, from Kris Kristofferson’s poetry at the Ryman and President Obama’s poetic prose in Congress, but we remained focused on the business of the barn. It was an unusual night of music, and I think we were all wondering whether the pieces would fit together. Would it be e pluribus unum, or a house divided?

I don’t know if he was entirely serious, but lone wolf singer/songwriter Gove Scrivenor told us he was playing with a band on stage for the first time, which might be small news, except he’s been a respected artist on the folk circuit since the 1960s! Anyway our pal and his Guthrie Trapp pulled together a tidy little combo, and Gove’s low, honeyed voice sounded amazing against the minimalist rhythm section. So did...

more

Dobro players are an interesting lot. As hard as all the folks work who learn guitar, fiddle, banjo or bass, the guy or gal who feels the calling of the resonator guitar, with its sliding angularity, has to work harder. It’s unbelievably demanding on the right hand with its speed and timing, and over on the left, you’re on your own for hitting the right notes, without the aid of the guitar or mandolin’s frets. It takes a certain brassiness to even try.

So when you meet a dobro player, chances are they’ve got all kinds of musical skills. They’re often composers, band leaders, arrangers. But friends, few if any have as many musical credentials as our guest this week Randy Kohrs. He didn’t let all those hours woodshedding on his premiere instrument keep him from developing a...

more

We love and strive for variety on Music City Roots, but we probably haven’t had a show as rangy and eclectic as we did last night. From Dylanesque folk to hearty gospel to classic songcraft, it was a quite a ride.

We knew from the moment Mike Farris and the fabulous McCreary Sisters opened our second show back in October that we had to have them back. It’s one of the great vocal displays you’ll ever hear (embellished last night by an impromptu guest appearance by blues monster Jimmy Hall), and it’s extraordinary that Farris does not only standards but original songs that feel like standards.

The duo Sugarcane Jane visited us from their base in Alabama. Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee are a pure vocal duo who lock together in superlative lonesome harmony on just about every...

more

One of my best memories of last’s fall Americana Music Association festival took place in the middle of one of the showcase nights at the Mercy Lounge. A stellar band of jazz-aware sidemen took the stage, followed by a guy who looked a little, well, unfocused. J.D. Souther looked like a rumpled poet who’d slept in. But he donned a guitar and asked the noisy crowd to settle down a little so folks could hear the lyrics, and before long he’d cast a spell. His new materials sounded familiar and lived-in. And his renditions of his classics like “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid In Town” had everyone singing and swaying along like a high school reunion.

If it was merely nostalgia over the many hits he wrote for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt that made Souther take to the stage, it would...

more

Nashville remains special because if you look closely, you can see the veterans who built Music City living and working side by side with the young artists who are building on their legacy and pushing the town’s musical traditions forward. It’s what gives the place continuity and soul.

So on our next show, Music City Roots presents prime examples of that dichotomy, as our musical guests include one of Nashville’s senior senators and one of its most remarkable alt-country youngsters: Cowboy Jack Clement and Chris Scruggs.

The term gets overused, but Cowboy Jack is a genuine songwriting, record-producing, talent-making legend. He got his start in Memphis assisting the great Sam Phillips at none other than Sun Records, just after Elvis broke through and while Jonny Cash was a...

more

We figured Will Hoge would bring his cracking band and his life-affirming voice, but who knew he’d also leave us with an unofficial new theme song for MC Roots?

In the middle of his captivating set, Nashville’s roots rocking ambassador gave us a song about musical dreams kindled by a glowing radio dial. “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” a simple gem of a tune, spoke straight to the core of everyone involved in our show and, it seemed, our capacity crowd. You take passion, love and integrity to the marketplace and sure, you’ll get beaten up, but you’ll also triumph, it seemed to say. The thing is to try.

I’m kind of embarrassed to say it, but until last night, I’d only appreciated Will’s music from a distance, even though so many of my friends are raving fans. I’d just never...

more

One of my best memories of last’s fall Americana Music Association festival took place in the middle of one of the showcase nights at the Mercy Lounge. A stellar band of jazz-aware sidemen took the stage, followed by a guy who looked a little, well, unfocused. J.D. Souther looked like a rumpled poet who’d slept in. But he donned a guitar and asked the noisy crowd to settle down a little so folks could hear the lyrics, and before long he’d cast a spell. His new materials sounded familiar and lived-in. And his renditions of his classics like “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid In Town” had everyone singing and swaying along like a high school reunion.

If it was merely nostalgia over the many hits he wrote for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt that made Souther take to the stage, it would...

more

In case you haven’t heard of the Music City Curse, it’s this notion that developed over the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that no matter how awe-inspiring a Nashville rock band was, it would never get a fair shake when it reached the New York and LA power-brokers who decide who gets big-time video and radio play or major label record deals. Recently, breakouts by Kings of Leon, Paramore and others have given hope to many that the curse is over, but before those guys, Nashville had a few sure-thing rockers who earned critical acclaim and fans worldwide, and we’ve got two of the greatest of them on Music City Roots.

Jason Ringenberg was the original cowpunk, a firebrand who mingles the twang of Hank with the rock and roll swagger of Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger. When he formed the...

more

In case you haven’t heard of the Music City Curse, it’s this notion that developed over the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that no matter how awe-inspiring a Nashville rock band was, it would never get a fair shake when it reached the New York and LA power-brokers who decide who gets big-time video and radio play or major label record deals. Recently, breakouts by Kings of Leon, Paramore and others have given hope to many that the curse is over, but before those guys, Nashville had a few sure-thing rockers who earned critical acclaim and fans worldwide, and we’ve got two of the greatest of them on Music City Roots.

Jason Ringenberg was the original cowpunk, a firebrand who mingles the twang of Hank with the rock and roll swagger of Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger. When he formed the...

more

When they said the word “snow” on TV we at Music City Roots cringed. We weren’t worried about putting on a great show, but you know how it is. The good people of middle Tennessee tend to batten down the hatches when anyone invokes the S word. But they came! And in droves. We had what felt like the biggest crowd yet for our winter season opener, a benefit for our friends/partners/sponsors The Nature Conservancy. And the performers, they were running at capacity too.

We bookended the show with funky, hip-swiveling rhythm. Not that Chuck Mead (who opened) and Donna the Buffalo (who closed) sound anything alike. But Chuck brings a whip-crack attack to his honky-tonk that makes you want to shake it, while D the B was born to make people boogie like they do in Louisiana. Chuck offered...

more

Of the many fortunate connections and developments that took place on the journey to getting Music City Roots on the air, few can compare to our love-at-first-sight relationship with the Nature Conservancy. This extraordinary organization signed on as a major sponsor early in the game, and it couldn’t have been a better match. We stand for integrity and authenticity in music; they protect the integrity of authentic natural spaces and resources. That’s why our second season launches January 6 with a fantastic show for the benefit of the Nature Conservancy. The artists have agreed to play free, and all proceeds will go to the 49-year-old conservation organization, whose work in Tennessee and around the nation we truly admire.

And what artists they are. We’ll be featuring one of our...

more