Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bettye LaVette Soars With Set of Pure Soul at AmericanaFest

By Wil Comstock
MCAU Contributing Writer

Saturday, Sept. 16
12th & Porter

         NASHVILLE -- Bettye LaVette’s career spans 57 years.  Chances are you may never have heard of her. If that's the case, that's a shame.  She is one of the best soul interpreters of song alive today.  For one reason or another, she has been overlooked and passed over, until now… This is her moment to shine!

         I was looking forward to this show all week.  I caught her at City Winery a couple of years ago where she gave a great performance singing many songs by Nashville songwriters.  But tonight was not simply a great show. It was one of those rare moments when the singer connected to everyone in the audience. She left blood on the floor and tears in our eyes.  

         Introducing the Beatles' “Blackbird” she said, “I wanted to take the song and have it fit me, a blackbird taking her broken wings and learning to fly.” I was spellbound. I have never seen anyone take a song and turn it the way Miss LaVette did to fit her own circumstances. Her gravelly vocals sent chills up my spine.

         Bettye mentioned that Beth Nielsen Chapman and Mary Gauthier were in the audience. They had written her next song, “Worthy.” LaVette’s raw vocals, full of conviction on every word she sang, left no doubt that this woman who has waited a lifetime for recognition is worthy.  Tears streamed down her face as she uttered, “Left stumbling in the dark, I had to go within... So I traced my scars back to where I'd been... A diamond in the dirt, perfectly concealed... Down beneath the hurt, it's been so hard to feel... Worthy, worthy, what a thing to claim... Worthy, worthy ashes into flame... Worthy.”  Amen!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

AmericanaFest Attendees Treated to Out-of-This-World Harmonies

By Wil Comstock
MCAU Contributing Writer

Downtown Presbyterian
6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14

         Parking at the Anchor on Third Avenue South, I headed on foot to Downtown Presbyterian to catch Joe Henry and the first 20 minutes of Shelby Lynne and Alison Moorer.  Downtown Presbyterian was built in 1848 and is one of the finest examples of Egyptian Revival architecture in the United States.  Walking into the building is like walking into an Egyptian Temple.

         Joe Henry is a wry storyteller. His narratives are intimate and genuine. He is a maverick who seems to operate in his own plane.  He is about to release his 14th studio album "Stream" in October.  Joe performed several new songs from the album including “Climb” and “Believer.”  The most poignant moment came when Henry introduced his only piano song “This Was My Country.”  He said it was July 4, 2005, and America was involved in a war he didn’t believe in.  He had no reason to celebrate the holiday.  He had to fly out of LA that afternoon, and as he does on most flights, he started to work on a song.  But all that came out was rage.  He stayed with it and eventually saw a ray of hope. It was then that the music started to come. “This was God’s country, this frightful and this angry land... But if it’s his will, the worst of it might still somehow make me a better man.”

         Like many, I had never seen sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer perform together.  They recently released their first duet album "Not Dark Yet" comprised of favorite cover songs.  They drew on these cuts for their performance.  I only stayed for the first 20 minutes but was fortunate to catch the sister’s incredible harmonies on the Louvin Brother’s “Every Time You Leave” and the Bob Dylan penned “Not Dark Yet.”

The Anchor
7:30 p.m.

         I was one of the 4 million people who were introduced to Dustbowl Revival on Facebook when their “Never Had to Go” video featuring Dick Van Dyke went viral.  I caught them two years ago at City Winery and was happy to see that they were playing AmericanaFest this year.  This eight-piece Americana swing band from Venice, California, rocks!  Starting in 2007 when guitarist Zach Lupetin placed an ad on Craigslist hoping to form a group inspired by brass and string bands, the band has moved from an acoustic sound to funky soul and roots-infused rock. I for one am loving it!  “If You Could See Me Now” is a prime example of the new sound, a real crowd pleaser.  The band returned to their roots for their last two numbers coming down from the stage and playing without amplification in the middle of the audience.

         At this point I wanted to head across town, but MCAU Editor Chuck Whiting wanted to stay at the Anchor… I’m glad we did!

The Anchor
8:30 p.m.

         The Steel Wheels hail from Harrisonburg, Virginia. All of the members were born into Mennonite families and grew up on bluegrass and mountain music.  They formed as a string band in 2004, later weaving  Americana into their music.  Trent Wagler is on lead vocals, guitar and banjo;  Jay Lapp plays mandolin and National Steel guitar, Eric Brubaker is on fiddle; and Brian Dickel is on bass.  They all sing delightful background harmonies, are fine musicians, and pen their own songs. This band is tight. What a great find and surprise!

The Anchor
9:30 p.m. 

         Next up after working through some technical difficulties was the Boston group Darlingside.  I had read about their great harmonies. They exceeded all expectation.  NPR describes them as “Exquisitely arranged, literary minded, baroque folk-pop." I couldn’t agree more.  The band is comprised of Dave Senft on bass; Don Mitchell playing guitar and banjo; Auyon Mukharji on classical violin and mandolin; and Harris Paseltiner on guitar and cello.  They gathered around a single microphone, blending their richly textured voices into glorious harmonies that breathed life into their lyrics.   My favorite number was “The God of Loss,” just incredible.  Go see this band when they play in your area.

Friday, September 15, 2017

AmericanaFest Continues With 'Hillbillies and Hot Dogs' (And Exceptional Music)

By Wil Comstock
MCAU Contributing Writer

Wednesday, Sept. 13 
Compass Records Hillbillies and Hot Dogs.
11:30 a.m.

                  I always enjoy going to this event. Who doesn’t like a good hot dog and craft beer? This event is held in the front yard and inside the Compass Record building on 19th Avenue on Music Row. The best part is cramming into the small studio and watching the artists on the Compass roster share their music.  They are among the most intimate performances at Americana Fest. This year the bluesy Shannon McNally kicked off the show. I was really drawn in by the haunting “No Man’s Land,” which she wrote for her mother. Bluegrass swing artist Mike Barnett and friends followed with Bob Wills and Buddy Spicher-influenced arrangements for double fiddles. I have never heard such sweet and tender fiddle playing. I really enjoyed his rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" featuring Molly Tuttle on vocals.  Molly remained onstage explaining that she just received her new Pre-War guitar and was excited to be playing it. She featured it on a traditional song using her amazing claw hammer skills. Tuttle was recently featured on the cover of Guitar Player magazine!   AJ Croce took the stage before he was announced, fingering the piano keys with blues riffs. I’m sure it’s not easy to be the son of a deceased legend, but Croce is his own man. That being said, he performed a song his dad had demoed but never got the chance to record, the soulful “Name of the Game” (a song AJ steered away from earlier in his career). He now delivers it with smoldering confidence. Unfortunately, I had to miss Colin Hay and Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards. Had to get back to work!

Station Inn
10 p.m. Caitlyn Canty

                  Caitlyn Canty's stark, reedy voice touched me as I was listening to videos trying to decide what show to see for this evening. I’m glad I went with my hunch and showed up! This was a great show.  Canty was accompanied by Noam Pikelny, the producer on her newly delivered album.  Noam, an artist in his own right, and a member of the Punch Brothers, played steel banjo throughout the evening.  He tastefully lent his skills to Caitlyn’s beautifully penned songs.  Favorites were “Seven Lines” and “Get Up.”  She received a huge round of applause on her lazy rendition of “Tennessee Waltz.” It was the second time I heard that song in one day!  Noam got a laugh when he commented that the stage usually had a full band when other acts played.  He was afraid the exclusive real estate around him (on stage) might run the risk of having a condo go up with huge cranes!  Such is the present state of Nashville in 2017. If you ever get the chance to see Caitlyn Canty live, please do. You won’t regret it!

Station Inn
11 p.m.  Hayes Carll

                  Hayes Carll is a modern day troubadour, his lyrics plainspoken with a touch of sarcasm. I could understand every word he sang. This is a man with a message. Hayes accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and was backed by Adam Landry on electric guitar and Mike Meadows on snare and percussion.  I enjoyed “Nobody Wants to Hear the Truth Anymore,” “The Magic Kid” (a tender song about his son), and “My Wild Pointy Finger,” a number about the accuser in all of us. I left feeling challenged to look at life a little differently. Hayes will do that to you.   

                  For more information about AmericanaFest, visit

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

AmericanaFest Begins with BMI Party and Unforgettable City Winery Shows

By Wil Comstock
Contributing Writer

         NASHVILLE -- At 2 p.m. on Tuesday (Sept. 12), I headed over to the Basement to pick up my press pass. It was raining steadily. We all stood quietly in line waiting under our umbrellas. One of the volunteers manning the line gave his umbrella to a girl in front of me. He then proceeded to stand in the rain with his hooded raincoat dripping onto his shoes. I was pretty impressed. I thought about the sacrifice so many people make to get this festival up and running. All of the volunteers, the extra hours the staff puts in, the endless meetings, the workers at the venues all over town, all lending grace with welcoming smiles on their faces. Thanks... you are the pillars that support this wonderful event! There would be no AmericanaFest without you.

         At 5:35 p.m., MCAU Editor Chuck Whiting picked me up at work, and we headed over to the BMI Kickoff Party. It was held in the downstairs foyer because of the rain. This event was sponsored by George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey. Upon entering, I grabbed a Tennessee Punch... yum and strong!  I then made my way over to the food line. Barbecue chicken breast for me with salad and jalapeno chips. The place was crowed, all bistro tables taken, so I made my way over to the stairs and sat down. Bravely, I lifted the chicken off of the hamburger roll and ate it with my fingers. My birthday is next week, and I’m trying to drop a few pounds! There are no calories in the alcohol, right? 
         About the time I finished my dinner, Hurray for the Riff Raff was taking the stage. They were fronted by Alynda Segarra, looking and sounding like a chic folk artist.  To quote The Wall Street Journal on Alynda’s singing: "She has a subtle, expressive voice that she wraps around songs that draw on the sounds and styles of the American South, and her lyrics often takes unconventional tack on traditional subjects." Riff Raff was followed by Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers. I really liked this band. Phoebe and husband, Dominick Leslie (mandolin and vocals), spent time in India at an ashram studying music. This eastern influence is felt in the music and executed perfectly with Phoebe’s searing vocals accompanied by fiddle, mandolin, accordion, upright bass, and percussion. Last up was indie rock band Susto from Charleston, South Carolina. Their lively music had me dancing as we left BMI and headed over to City Winery. 
Hurray for the Riff Raff performs in the BMI lobby during AmericanaFest
         After parking on the street in one of the last free areas in Nashville, we headed to CW to see Colin Hay at the 8 p.m. show. This was the second time I saw Colin, and I was not disappointed. Colin fronted the Australian band Men at Work in the early 1980s. That’s his vocals on “Who Can it Be Now” and “Down Under." His familiar voice is like a good glass of sherry, stirring up warm memories. Colin is quite funny and entertaining, a great storyteller who does not shy away from the hard subjects like his mother’s death. He had the audience in the palm of his hand on “I Don’t Know Why,” “Come Tumbling Down,” and “Waiting for My Life to Begin.”     
         Joan Osborne filled the 9 p.m. slot singing songs from her critically acclaimed album "Songs of Bob Dylan." Osborne had a residency at New York’s Cafe Carlyle in March 2016 and March 2017. At those gigs she performed only Dylan material. She always loved the way Ella Fitzgerald performed the "Great American Songbook" and wanted to do something like that. She picked Dylan because of his lyrical timeliness to events going on today, saying that even though we may be polarized politically, music brings us together. She was accompanied by her two virtuoso producers, Keith Cotton on piano and keyboards and Jack Petruzzelli on guitars. Joan’s sultry voice wrapped around each song and made them her own. No imitation here, pure interpretation. I especially enjoyed “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Masters of War,” and the rearranged “Rainey Day Women #12 & 35.” I can’t wait to pick this album up!
To learn more about the AmericanaFest and see the full schedule of live shows, workshops, and parties, visit

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Americana Fest to Stage 16th Annual Honors & Awards Show at Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 13

     NASHVILLE -- Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller will be returning as hosts for the 16th annual Americana Fest Honors & Awards Show at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

     The Americana All-Star Band will feature Larry Campbell, Robbie Crowell, Jim Hoke, Jerry Pentecost, Chris Wood and the McCrary Sisters.

     Check out the entire festival schedule at 

     Here's a list of this year's awards show performers:

Billy Bragg
Brent Cobb
Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm
Rodney Crowell
Iris DeMent
Drive-By Truckers
Rhiannon Giddens
Joe Henry
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Jason Isbell
The Lumineers
Lori McKenna
Van Morrison
Graham Nash
Old Crow Medicine Show
Sam Outlaw
Margo Price
John Prine
Amanda Shires
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
Aaron Lee Tasjan
     A live video stream of the 2017 Honors & Awards show will be webcast via starting at 6:30pm. A live audio simulcast of the show will also be available via SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country, and on Nashville area terrestrial radio stations: WRLT (100.1 FM), WSM (650 AM) and WMOT (89.5 FM).

     Individuals can catch performance highlights on Austin City Limits for a special broadcast to air on Nov. 19 on PBS.

     Tickets for the 16th annual Americana Honors & Awards are made available for purchase with an AMERICANAFEST℠ conference registration. To buy tickets or learn more about the festival, visit


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Gail McDaniel to Teach Watercolor Painting Course Near Atlanta

            ATLANTA (September 2017) -- Gail McDaniel, an acclaimed watercolorist who, by invitation, has served as an associate member and demonstrating artist/instructor for the prestigious Winsor & Newton Creative Artist Network of London, will lead an eight-week watercolor painting course this fall south of Atlanta in Griffin, Georgia.

            The course will be offered to beginning, intermediate and advanced artists on selected Wednesday afternoons starting Oct. 4, 2017 at Griffin First United Methodist Church, 1401 Maple Drive. Sessions will occur from 1-4 p.m. on Oct. 4, 11, 18, and 25; and Nov. 1, 8, 15 and 29. The class will not meet the week of Thanksgiving.     

            The artist/instructor will provide insights on composition, value, color theory and application. She also will demonstrate some of the techniques that have helped make her an award-winning artist, including abstract under paintings, disappearing purples, painting on Masa Paper, white on white, monotype paintings, let it flow, texturize your paintings, portraits, reflective surfaces, and wax-resist Batik. The course is structured to serve artists at all skill levels, from the very raw beginner to the most advanced. McDaniel will close each session with individual critiques.

            Because space is limited for the classes, reservations are required. Tuition is $165 for eight class sessions. For more information or to register, contact the artist by phone at (678) 603-1502 or send an inquiry to Individuals can learn more about the artist/instructor and view her artwork at and follow her at and

            McDaniel recently was commissioned to create four program covers for Griffin Choral Arts' 10th anniversary concert season. Before moving to Georgia, McDaniel spent more than 20 years working as a professional watercolorist and art instructor in Nashville and Brentwood, Tenn. During that time, she taught more than 1,300 students in classes and workshops around the world. A number of her former students have developed into professional artists with exhibitions and commissions.

            "Some people come to find out if they can paint in watercolor," said the artist, who painted the invitation cover for "A Little Night of Music" starring country superstar LeAnn Rimes. "Like me, others love the look of watercolor paintings and want to learn the medium. Many come for the change of pace and the new, wonderful, relaxing challenge it brings. The intermediate and advanced students come to me to grow in the medium."

            Over the years, McDaniel has seen the positive change that comes over many people when they spend three hours with her, creatively thinking from the right side of their brain.

            "It's truly a night-and-day change, not to mention the fun they have," McDaniel added. "Many who come to me with no art background find they really have a true talent for painting. Some of them never had the slightest notion they had any talent. It's such an outstanding reward for them and a source of real pleasure for me."

            A good example is Phyllis Tatum, a watercolorist who studied with McDaniel for 14 years in Middle Tennessee. She and her fellow students were thrilled when she won four blue ribbons and a red ribbon at the Tennessee State Fair. Her crowing achievement came later when she won the fair's "Best of Show", a rare occurrence in watercolor circles.

            McDaniel fondly remembers receiving a thank you note from former student Suzy Foy of Estes Park, Colo., who wrote, "My whole life I have dreamt about being an artist... I never believed I could live that dream, one painting at a time. Because of my workshops, mentoring and support (from McDaniel), it is happening."

            "One of the obvious results of classes is the togetherness that comes upon the group," McDaniel noted. "Friendships develop, and with that interest in each other's lives and the happenings and events in their world. The group watches children grow up, grandchildren being born, and members die. The group celebrates the joys together, as well as the sad times, giving special support. Sometimes, our paintings reflect those experiences."

            The classes near Atlanta should be no exception. McDaniel will demonstrate the techniques, shortcuts and concepts that she has developed or learned by doing, reading or studying with others. She plans to show her students everything she knows, holding nothing back. Her goal is to inspire them without making them feel overwhelmed.

            During her career, McDaniel has trained artists from 36 different states (including Alaska and Hawaii), the District of Columbia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea. She has taught 11 workshops at historic Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, a landmark where the late Georgia O’Keefe lived and painted. She also served as a member of the arts faculty of Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art.

            In 2002, she and her husband, Ken, launched the "Students and Friends of Gail McDaniel Awards", raising more than $90,000 for Middle Tennessee public schools. The fundraising effort earned Gail and Ken a nomination in the "volunteer innovator" category of the 2009 Mary Catherine Strobel Award. In 2012, the artist was named the PENCIL Foundation's "Volunteer of the Year".

            Before leaving Tennessee, she received an award for "Excellence in Community Service" from the Travelers Rest Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was inducted into the Cave City, Ky., Hall of Fame and named (as an eighth generation Kentuckian) to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels as one of  "Kentucky's ambassadors of good will and fellowship around the world."

            In 2001, she was invited by directors of the "Art in Provence" program to conduct an eight-day watercolor workshop in Dieulefit, France. She studied under 38 noted art instructors to help build her reputation as one of the South's top artists/instructors. -- even accepting a commission to paint a family landmark for former Kentucky Gov. Louie B. Nunn.

            Gail McDaniel's artwork is featured on the program covers of four major concerts in 2016-17 performed by The Griffin Choral Arts group. The choir, which is led by Artistic Director Dr. Stephen J. Mulder, is celebrating its 10th anniversary season.

            For more information about Gail McDaniel or to see her work, visit

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Gail McDaniel Returning to Nashville for 'Watercolor Pouring Workshop'

     NASHVILLE -- Award-winning artist/instructor Gail McDaniel will return to Nashville from Nov. 10-12 to lead her "Watercolor Pouring Workshop." 

     Emerging and professional watercolorists will work with gail from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. All sessions will occur at Plaza Artist Materials, 633 Middleton St. in downtown Nashville. Tuition for the three-day workshop is $175. 

"Espanola Lavanderia," a watercolor painting by visual artist Gail McDaniel.

     "My students will learn to pour luminous, transparent layers of watercolor while saving the pristine whites of your watercolor paper," McDaniel said. "You are truly pouring your pigment across your paper and creating your artwork without brushes, a palette knife, and other painting tools. Your results will be truly amazing!" 

     McDaniel, an internationally known watercolor artist/instructor, will return to Plaza, having moved to Georgia after 20 years of teaching in Nashville and Brentwood. She has taught workshops across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Central and South America. 

     Visit her website at For questions or to register, call (678) 603-1502 or send an email inquiry to You can follow McDaniel at and