By Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots Producer
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), but because they didn’t PLAN. You have to plan, folks. For example, on the same weekend, two other festivals – much bigger ones – came off without a hitch. Merlefest in North Carolina and JazzFest in New Orleans actually served up authentic music, genuine community, good food and good times for fans who don’t need to feel like they’re winning on a reality show and who aren’t measuring their lives in bikini access and Twitter followers. So for this week anyway, it’s Real Culture: 2. Celebri-crap Culture: 0. Well done, roots music.
MCR had to do a bit of extra planning and demonstrate resilience in the face of challenges as we had more late-breaking lineup shifts this week than maybe ever before. Here’s the superb final tally: Rising Virginia-based folk star Dori Freeman makes a long-sought MCR debut. John Carter Cash brings a family music legacy that’s second to none. Colter Wall is our deep voice of hard country. And we welcome the return of one of the most fluent, flexible roots rock bands in the good old USA.
That would be Great American Taxi, which was supposed to be a one-off get-together for a benefit show back in the 2000s. But as founder Chad Staehly told a newspaper recently, it’s 12 years and almost 1,000 shows later and here they are. He could have gone on to tell you about the personnel shifts that have made him the band’s senior and only founding member. That said, GAT has consistently hewed to an organic and classic tone that ties them to Little Feat, The Band and Credence. Todd Snider, honorary member and full time fan, sums them up this way: “There is a new scene happening right now that mixes jam and Americana. This band started it with songs where you’re diggin’ the words so much you’re hoping maybe they won’t interrupt them with a hippie jam, until they do…and then you’re like…see? This is why I love these guys.” As somebody who loves that balance between song-driven music and instrumental-driven music, I endorse that endorsement. And we all look forward to Taxi’s return to Roots for the first time since 2013 at the Loveless Barn. The come bearing a new album too.
Something indefinable and special hovers around Colter Wall. In outfit and aspect he seems to float in a bubble where it’s 1973 and where he’s drinking buddies with Mickey Newbury and Tompall Glaser. Wall, who is part of the new East Nashville country music revival choir, (along with Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price) is just in his early 20s, but both his eyes and his voice suggest otherwise. The ancient sounding baritone that comes out of his bearded visage is surprising and mesmerizing. Then there are the skillful and delectable lyrics. “You see I did not much care / For the way that he’d sit and glare / So I closed his eyes for good / With a bar-room chair,” he sings in “Ballad of a Law Abiding Sophisticate” from his debut album Imaginary Appalachia. And believe me, death is not an uncommon theme in Colter Wall songs. Now he’s back with a brand new self-titled album produced by the star-making David Cobb. This is uncompromised stuff and it’ll be interesting to see him share a bill with a Cash.
That would be John Carter Cash, who’s been in the news recently for publishing a book of father Johnny’s poetry and producing a sparkling and inventive debut EP for his new wife Ana Cristina, who performed on Roots just a few weeks ago. Now here comes John Carter for a set, and to tell the truth, we’re not sure what he’ll sing or how he’ll approach it. That’s part of the fun. JCC isn’t primarily a recording artist but a producer with hundreds of credits and several Grammy Awards to his credit. Just lately he’s made an imminent album with Loretta Lynn and kicked out a single by Brad Paisley that set music to one of Jonny Cash’s recently published poems. The gorgeous video for the latter is a wonderful tour of the Cash Cabin where John Carter does his work and where the love of Johnny and June lives on. The circle will never be unbroken as long as JCC is around.
And as I said, late breaking news brings Dori Freeman to our stage, and this is something we’ve pined for since hearing her self titled 2016 album. The Virginia native grew up around the Galax fiddle convention, one of the most absorbing and ancient roots music events in the nation. Her deep mountain influences took a cool modern turn when a cold outreach to English artist Teddy Thompson led to a producer relationship. Her music is cool and crystalline on the outside with a sturdy soulful core built on great songwriting and an awareness of the ancient tones. Oh, and her voice is magical. This will be an important MCR debut.
We’ll be happy if you make a rash, last minute decision to come to Roots this week. But really you’ll feel so much better if you make your plans ahead of time.