As this week’s Scene cover story indicates, the 300-plus bands wandering into the upcoming three-day Nashville Entertainment Association Extravaganza are walking into a minefield. In search of that all-elusive major-label deal, they’re entering a path narrowed by industry-wide consolidation and booby-trapped by lack of radio access, the shifting fortunes of A&R execs, and a slash-and-burn mentality that sees the artist roster as the first place to trim costs. They’re also facing a proliferation of pay-to-play music festivals that rustle up hundreds of bands for 30-minute shots at (unlikely) fame. In such a climate, why bother making music?
The best acts at Extravaganza ’99or X99, as it’s catchily abbreviateddon’t have a choice. They’ll be making cool music long after the wannabe Wallflowers, semi-Semisonics, and Matchbox 40s are scrubbing floors for Unipolyversalgram. There are, as always, too many lame follow-the-trend acts on hand this yearthe most common complaint we’ve heard about X99 (besides the overwhelming familiarity of the lineup). We’ll discuss that some next week. Luckily, though, it’s our present job to tell you about the good stuff. Consider the following a pocket-sized navigator’s guide, with picks from the Scene’s finest:
Every bluegrass fan in town will be at the Station Inn, which hosts the well-nigh unbeatable lineup of the Del McCoury Band, the Gibson Brothers, the Whites, Blue Highway, and the superb husband-and-wife gospel duo Jerry & Tammy Sullivan. If you don’t see a banjo in your future, however, the evening features strong showings in hip-hop, pop, roots-rock, and jazz.
”Art for Sale,“ the title track off Murfreesboro rapper Count Bass-D’s audacious new LP, could serve as the Extravaganza’s unofficial anthem; few MCs manage to make their record-company sob stories so catchily relevant, or so reminiscent of golden-age Stevie Wonder. Get down for the Count this year at Somethin’ Live, where he’s on a bill that includes the worthy Nashville hip-hop collective Utopia State.
Trumpeter Rod McGaha and 20-year New Orleans jazz vets Astral Project headline Caffé Milano’s jazz night, while the swing revival is represented at Blue by Atlanta’s League of Decency, which, to its credit, didn’t make me want to tire-iron a jitterbugger after two songs. Safka, a sort-of perkier Indigo Girls featuring the daughters of ’60s pop singer Melanie (”Brand New Key“), sounds like a pretty fun live show over at the Bluebird; so does Theresa Andersson, a Swedish native and Crescent City blues-folkie who brings her shout-along choruses of womanly empowerment to Jack Legs’.
Don’t feel like racing across town? On Lower Broad, you can mosey from the raucous gutter-country of Pumpskully at Maggie Magee’s down to Wolfy’s for a late-night set by Decca escapee Chris Knight, whose self-titled LP was one of Music Row’s more arresting releases last year. Play your cards right, and you can catch The Attic’s pop showcase, featuring Cheap Trick acolytes The Shazam!, the Byrds-meets-Bis-quits sound of The Cowards, and Cincinnati’s glammy Tigerlilies, who put on a good show at X98.
Speaking of returning Extravaganza acts, you won’t waste your evening if you opt for club-scale arena-rocker Mary Cutrufello (at Jack Legs’), industrial-cabaret chanteuse Rebecca Stout (at 12th & Porter), or the punky grrl-group pop of Fair Verona, formerly Calypso (at the Castle Door). But of all X vets, we’re looking forward most to Lifeboy (formerly Soul Surgeon), which sounds like Argybargy-era Squeeze reincarnated as three gifted Nashville teens. The group’s upcoming Sire debut is already getting raves around town; get a sneak peek 11:45 p.m. at The End.
Michael McCall’s Picks: The Luxury Liners, Bob Bradley & the Highbeams, Joy Lynn White, The Mary Janes, Stacey Earle & the Jewels, and R.B. Morris at The Sutler; Wes Cunningham at the Castle Door; Darrell Scott at the Pub of Love; Séanachie’s Celtic lineup.
Bill Friskics-Warren’s Picks: Count Bass-D at Somethin’ Live; Greg Trooper at the Bluebird Cafe; Ray Wylie Hubbard at Maggie Magee’s; Lifeboy at The End.
Ron Wynn’s Picks: Astral Project and Rod McGaha at Gibson’s Caffé Milano; Count Bass-D, Hip-Hop Soul, and Utopia State at Somethin’ Live; the Lennon Murphy Band at The End; Shaded Red at Douglas Corner.
With his fragile voice and uniquely winding melodies, Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith sets a benchmark for all Extravaganza pop acts, as you’ll find out Thursday at The Sutler and Friday at Caffé Milano. But if anybody measures up, it’s Swan Dive, the Nashville-based duo of Molly Felder and Bill DeMain. Already pop stars in Japan, Swan Dive should conquer the rest of the world with their forthcoming CD Circle, an exquisite mix of song and studio craft in which Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, and ’60s European film scores rub shoulders with way-out electronic doodling. They perform at Jack Legs’ on a solid lineup that includes the excellent piano-powered pop of Murfreesboro’s Fluid Ounces and the estimable former Bis-quit/Bushman Will Kimbrough. Nor should you miss Nashville’s founding father of power pop, Bill Lloyd, in his late-night pre-record-release gig at The End.
Elsewhere, Friday is the Night of 1,000 Label Showcases, and the best ones show the breadth of talent and vision that all indie imprints should aspire to. Chicago’s forward-thinking alt-country label Checkered Past weighs in at The Sutler with one of the weekend’s strongest bills, including Tom House, Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub, Tommy Womack & the Geniuses, Lonesome Bob, and the strikingly dark Australian singer/songwriter Steven Camden. At the Bluebird, Alison Brown’s ever-expanding Compass shows off a roster that ranges from folksy pop to worldbeat dynamism; make sure you don’t miss Clive Gregson, one of the most underrated artist/songwriters working today.
Indigo Girl Amy Ray’s Daemon label offers a Douglas Corner showcase highlighted by drawling South Carolina enchantress Danielle Howle and the trip-hoppy campfire jangle of pH Balance. And the Massachusetts imprint Tar Hut features the engagingly ragged King Radio, the second of two first-rate bands (after the Pernice Brothers) to rise from the ashes of the Scud Mountain Boys. That show’s at Robert’s Western Wear.
In a parallel-universe Nashville, Rosie Flores is the queen of country radio and has her own helipad on Music Row. At X99, however, she remains the indefatigable Rosie Flores who plays a mean guitar and belts out rockabilly and high-octane honky-tonk. She performs a too-rare show at the Station Inn with one of Nashville’s best, David Olney.
Whether he’s performing at The Spot as shmoove Velvet Jones or as bandleader Bo, Michael Bohannon is the renaissance man of contemporary Nashville soul; he’s part of Somethin’ Live’s evening of new-school R&B featuring Shannon Sanders, whose ”Hustler 4 Life“ was an unexpected hit on 92Q. If you don’t see us there, you’ll know we stayed too long watching the Stonesy Duane Jarvis at Wolfy’s or catching newly signed Elektra act The Katies with Self and Superdrag at the Exit/In.
Michael McCall’s Picks: Radio Star, Neilson Hubbard, Millard Powers, Hugg, and The Nevers at 12th & Porter; Greg Trooper and Jeff Black at Caffé Milano; the Shapeshifters and Billy Joe Shaver at Maggie Magee’s; Who Hit John and Bill Lloyd at The End; Andy West and Steve Conn at Windows on the Cumberland.
Bill Friskics-Warren’s Picks: Sambo Ngo at the Bluebird Cafe; Danielle Howle & the Tantrums at Douglas Corner; Swan Dive at Jack Legs’; Billy Joe Shaver at Maggie Magee’s; Lonesome Bob at The Sutler.
Ron Wynn’s Picks: David Olney and Rosie Flores at the Station Inn; Jennifer Jackson at Jack Legs’; Lois Berg and Jeff Black & His Band at Gibson’s Caffé Milano; Ikie Smoove, Sheri Hauck, and Shannon Sanders at Somethin’ Live; Richard Leo Johnson at Radio Cafe.
The theme for the night is...theme nights! No Depression fans can stay parked all night on Lower Broad, which hosts the ”High Lonesome Trail,“ a six-club jaunt that extends from Windows on the Cumberland’s exhaustive songwriter showcase to Kristi Rose and the Steam Donkeys at Robert’s Western Wear. Without straining too much, you can stroll down to The Attic’s edition of ”Les Femmes Qui Rock,“ or to the last of Séanachie’s three-night Celtfest ”Rocky Road to Dublin.“
We’re more curious about Brother Henry, a band featuring producer/engineer David Henry, who worked on R.E.M.’s last album and on Josh Rouse’s superb Dressed Up Like Nebraska. Brother Henry plays at a top-notch Sutler evening featuring Rouse, Matthew Ryan, and Joe, Marc’s Brother. And despite years of good word, we’ve never seen rocker/songwriter Greta Gainessomething we hope to correct 8:45 p.m. at Jack Legs’. Same goes for Ruby Amanfu, the 19-year-old singer-songwriter who actually stands a good chance of getting signed at this year’s wing-ding. She landed a primo opening slot before Dreaming in English, Stone Deep, and Sonia Dada at 328 Performance Hall.
Anyone still grieving the breakup of early-’90s alternarockers Anastasia Screamed will be heartened by the return of frontman Chick Graning (12th & Porter) as well as by his former bandmate Chris Cugini’s new project Delta Clutch (Indienet). Meanwhile, several Jacksonville, Fla., bands have somehow ended up on the same night at The End, including Choke, Von Ra, and attitudinous noisemakers Gumwrapper Curb. We know because we got a nice call from Von Ra’s mom.
Michael McCall’s Picks: 22 Brides at Douglas Corner; Felix Wiley at Gibson Guitar Cafe; Farmer Not So John at Jack Legs’; the Rank Outsiders at Legends Corner; Jim Calvin at Maggie Magee’s; Sarah Jahn at The Klub; Patience Moore and Jamie Hartford at Wolfy’s.
Bill Friskics-Warren’s Picks: Trish Murphy at 12th & Porter; Ruby Amanfu and Stone Deep at 328 Performance Hall; Ashley Cleveland at the Bluebird Cafe; the Tom Mason Band at Legends Corner; Greta Lee at Maggie Magee’s; the Jim Roll Band at Robert’s Western Wear.
Ron Wynn’s Picks: Ruby Amanfu at 328 Performance Hall; Daniel Tashian at 12th & Porter; Lori Lawton at the Pub of Love; Tabasko Kat at Legends; the New World Spirits and The Fountains at Jack Legs’; Patience Moore at Wolfy’s.
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Wonderful! We're hoping Knoxville puts something like this together, too. It's a fantastic concept!!