Friday, September 18, 2015

Americana Music Festival: Outstanding Music That Cannot Be Pigeonholed

By Wil Comstock
MCAU Contributing Writer

            NASHVILLE -- Excitement builds as the early arriving crowd sips wine and munches on snacks waiting for the first big night of the Americana Music Fest.  Long beards, salt and pepper hair, T shirts, and plaids dot the crowd...  All here to celebrate the music that cannot be pigeonholed by the radio programmers.   JD and the Straight Shot have left a copy of their new CD at each of the place settings.  I make a mental note to give them a good review.  : )     

            JD and the Straight Shot kick off the show by telling us they will play through the entire CD they have given us.  “Empty” draws me in with its sweet harmonies and delta blues feel.  I hear a New York accent as JD speaks between songs.  He is flanked by a suburb violinist on stage left and two acoustic guitars on the right, one of which is his son.  All four harmonize.  Behind them the steady and solid sounds of the upright bass player drives the band on.  We are treated to the lighthearted “Glide” and the wonderful Celtic and title cut “Ballyhoo”, my favorite.  “Here He Comes”, a tribute to Johnny Cash, and the sweet “I’ll See You Again” close the set. I have to admit I would give them a good review even if they didn’t give us a CD.  What a pleasant surprise to discover this band.

JD and the Straight Shot (Photo by Chuck Whiting)

            Multi-platinum artist and new author Jewel begins her set with an a cappella version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, starting with the seldom-heard introduction.  Wrapping her voice around the lyrics milking the song to soaring heights and gentle nuances. Jewel, wearing short jean cut-offs, white halter-vest top, and a black, lightweight fringe jacket, looking much the same as she did 20 years ago.  She introduced her second song as a sort of love song, which took 20 years to write.  Sounds like the title is “You are Here”, but investigation turns up nothing.   Jewel tells us she and her then husband were camping in the California desert with no radio reception when they started to see “God Bless America” signs.  When they reached civilization, she heard on the radio about the towers falling. The DJ dedicated her song “Hands” to the victims.  A moment she will never forget... a rendition the audience will not forget. Telling us her background: Raised in Alaska on a commune; Mother left when she was eight; Won a scholarship to attend high school in Michigan; Her trip to Mexico where she started to write “Who Will Save Your Soul”.  Closing with her first hit, we were left with no doubt why Jewel is a part of  Americana. 

Jewell (Photo by Chuck Whiting)

            Americana icon (songwriter for the some of the Eagles' biggest hits, sometime Eagle himself, actor, and singer) JD Souther entered the stage looking trim, in a grey suit with an open-collar, light grey shirt.  The crowd gives an ovation before he opens his mouth.  JD on guitar accompanied by a sax, upright bass, piano, and rhythm box.  We soon find what excellent players they are. JD opens with the jazz-tinged “Something in the Dark”,  the first release from his new album 'Tenderness'.  We sit mesmerized as he plays “I’ll Be Here at Closing Time”, "New Kid in Town”, and another cut from his new album, “Dance Real Slow”.  JD tells us that his father, who was in a big band, used to play him the next song when he was young.  While playing in San Francisco 20 years ago, JD heard Tony Bennett sing it at the Fairmont Hotel -- a song that now takes on new meaning, “Saving All My Love For You”.  I just shook my head in disbelief knowing this was the best show of the week.   The hits keep coming with “”Prisoner In Disguise”, “Heartache Tonight”, and “Only Lonely”. The audience claps and yells their approval after each song.  Closing, JD says, “We have one more song... this is Americana right? " and leases us with “Oh Lonesome Me”. I slowly emerge from my trance!

JD Souther (Photo by Chuck Whiting)

            My friends are tired and leave, but I decide to stay for a couple of songs from the next act Donnie Fritts and John Paul White (a former member of the Civil Wars).  John Paul says he was asked to put together some music for the premier of the film "Muscle Shoals".  He called Donny, to whom he had never met, to ask him to play.  Donny wasn’t a huge fan of the movie (since he and other songwriters were left out), but he did consent to play. This was the beginning of Donny and John Paul’s friendship.  John Paul was blown away by his songs and eventually produced Donny’s upcoming album. They started out with “Errol Flynn”. These guys sound like Levon Helm and the Band. I love them! John Paul took lead vocals on Dusty Springfield’s “Breakfast in Bed”,  a song of Donnie ‘s she recorded for the "Muscle Shoals" sessions. The songs kept getting better with “We Had It All”, recorded by Dobie Grey, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.  They closed the set with the fun number “Down in Tuscaloosa in 1962, Roll Tide”.  I sure am glad I stayed to hear these guys.

          To learn more about the Americana Music Fest, visit

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