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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.