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 music mavens like Folk Alliance Director Louis Meyers, Music Council Co-Chair Randy Goodman and Kira Florita of the Nashville Opera. I was also surprised by an old friend and picking buddy who was in on business from his new home in Colorado. So I tried to stay focused on the wonderful music flowing off the stage. I really did. But I’ll admit last night’s 2012 Summer Season kick-off highlighted the community mix and mingle side of Roots almost as much as the artistry.
Kim Richey opened the night, and how often does one get to say or experience that? With her tidy, tight and well-polished four-piece band, she hit from the start the chiming, soothing strains of “Wreck Your Wheels,” the title track of her current album. We also heard the pivotal song I mentioned in my preview, “Those Words We Said,” from the opening of her 1995 debut album, as well as a truly elegant and melancholy cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” But I think the song that felt most like Kim Richey circa right now was her set closer “When The Circus Comes To Town.” Its stately march of artfully programmed beats and the slightly primal chant of its lyric add up to perfect modern folk music. It’s exciting that Kim has moved back to Nashville from a long sojourn in London, so we’ll be able to see her more often.
The Willies, making a Roots debut, opened up their eclectic set with double basses, literally. The blended sound of a plucked acoustic against a bowed acoustic was rich under the stylin’ voice of Jen Jones, as she opened the set with the smoky and jazzy “After The Fight.” Her partner Dave Willie, one of the bassists, traded vocal duties with her through a four-song set, as the Nashville-based band showed range and charm. They were followed by the back porch electro-grass of the Flea Market Hustlers. The Murfreesboro sextet offered up strong vocals and tasty guitar jams as they performed songs like “Go See Jerry,” a tribute to the late great Mr. Garcia. I think we know where these guys are coming from, and it’s a place of good will and good times.
Laura Cantrell has a serene voice that nevertheless cuts like old time country, even in a duo acoustic situation like last night. She filled her set with album title tracks, opening with “When The Roses Bloom Again” and closing with “Not The Trembling Kind.” Then in the middle came her sweet homage “Kitty Wells Dresses” from her album of the same name. I particularly loved “Starry Skies,” which I think may be new, as I can’t recall it from her existing albums. It occurred to me that the song and its title were kind of perfect metaphor for Laura’s music – clear, timeless and dappled with light.
With his show-closing spot, Bill Lloyd pulled out the stops and brought an amazing full band, featuring Pat Buchanan on lead guitar. Despite an untimely amplifier blowout that was replaced on the fly by our crack crew, Pat and Bill’s guitars glowed and shimmered together in perfect pop rock tones and textures. In Bill I hear everything I ever loved about early Elvis Costello, Big Star, The Plimsouls, the dB’s and more all cut with big doses of Nashville’s songwriting legacy. He opened with his own fresh title cut, the smile-inducing “Boy King of Tokyo” inspired by scrapbooks he owns covering his very early years living in Japan with his military dad. Another from that project, “The Best Record Ever Made” was a starburst of candy colored rock and roll that affirmed the surprise and sustenance of pop music. Kim Richey joined the band on stage for the final songs, singing clean and soaring backup vocals. What a joy to behold.
Jim Lauderdale, looking tan and relaxed, blew the roof off with his opening verse to the Loveless Jam take on the Beatles’ “Get Back” and then sent the verses around the assembled cast of fine singers. It was a super-tight and satisfying arrangement, and of course Bill and Pat knew all the guitar licks and where they are supposed to go. So we’re back baby, and loaded for a summer season. Hope you’ll come make the hang very soon.