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Nashville's acclaimed roots and Americana variety show

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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...

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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...

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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....

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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“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...

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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),...

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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.

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