CMA MUSIC FESTIVAL
In country music, you know you’ve really made it when you don’t appear at the CMA Music Festival.
Lately, country’s biggest-selling superstars seem inclined to skip the annual celebration of their chosen genre in favor of far more lucrative bookings elsewhere, and this year is no exception. The likes of Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw have been seen at the CMA Music Festival in recent years only as “surprise guests” dropping in on another artist’s set.
So it’s a big deal that Reba McEntire is returning to the CMA Music Festival for the first time in 11 years—the last time she appeared, it was still held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds and known by that quaint old moniker, “Fan Fair.” She’ll be the headliner at the opening night’s all-star show at LP Field, apparently having a bit more time on her hands since the CW Network canceled her high-rated sitcom Reba—like the “Fan Fair” name, a victim of demographics.
McEntire isn’t the only A-level star who will grace the festival with her presence, Urban and Chesney be damned—and besides, the sheer volume and variety of artists on hand at every strata of stardom should more than make up for the handful of stratosphere-level stars with better things to do. There are rising stars and veterans at the Riverfront every day, blockbuster bombast at the stadium every night, bluegrass and classic country in between, honky-tonk after hours downtown, autograph booths at the Convention Center, charity events and fan club parties all over the place and enough music ringing out of every nook and cranny to wear out the most insatiable fan.
The smaller shows are often the most rewarding and substantive, but there’s a bit of the Grand Ole Opry/Louisiana Hayride DNA even in the glitzy stadium shows, as a wide range of acts pack out a nightly variety-show bill with shortish sets designed for maximum momentum and minimal boredom. (Sunday night’s closing concert looks the best, including crowd-pleasers Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert.)
Much has changed about the festival over the last three decades—its name, its location, its ticket price and, to some extent, its very nature. But the CMA Music Festival continues to sum up the core values that separate country from other genres, particularly the relatively short distance, figuratively and literally, between the people who make the music and the people who love it. (www.cmamusicfestival.com) LP Field, Sommet Center, Ryman Auditorium, Riverfront Park, Nashville Convention Center, Hard Rock Café —CHRIS NEAL
TWO GALLANTS Though Two Gallants hail from freak-folk ground zero, San Francisco, their ambling roots style has more to do with the homespun theatricality of Bright Eyes and the raw, ramshackle Midwestern warmth cultivated by Saddle Creek house producer Mike Mogis. From murder ballads to languid stories, the music’s old-fashioned vibe and woozy rhythms sound cadged from a 19th century saloon. Duo Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel have been collaborating since junior high, and that familiarity contributes to the music’s lived-in quality. Though signed to Saddle Creek for last year’s What the Toll Tells, the album was produced by John Vanderslice protégé Steve Solter (Mountain Goats, Okkervil River), who helps find a delightful mix of simple grace, space and live energy. It showcases their dynamic personality, from the rollicking “Las Cruces Jail,” which sounds like a whiskey-soaked Lucero outtake, to the incandescent, fingerpicking road anthem “Steady Rollin’.” While their take on Americana doesn’t substantially update The Band, Stephens’ weathered ache, Vogel’s backing vocals and the band’s easy-going melodicism have a straightforward charm that’s difficult to resist. The Basement —CHRIS PARKER
DOUG HOEKSTRA Hoekstra pulls you in with the intimacy of his hushed vocals and the real-life familiarity of his minutely detailed lyrics, then he opens the top of your head by introducing surreal imagery and unexpected twists in his arrangements. Like many singer-songwriters who need only a guitar and a microphone to entertain, Hoekstra usually travels America and Europe as a solo act. But the Nashville resident currently is doing a short tour with his band—guitarist Joe Rathbone, bassist Josh Fuson, drummer Tommy Perkinson and horn player Jimmy Bowland—which makes this a rare chance to hear his songs with all their creative wrinkles intact. Hoekstra was a recent finalist in the short fiction category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards for his book of stories and essays, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, which may account for why the prolific record-maker has only issued a live album and an EP in the last four years. He’ll end the drought in September with a new album, Blooming Roses, so expect plenty of new songs too. Family Wash —MICHAEL MCCALL
RHYTHMS FOR CHANGE: EVERY BEAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE BENEFIT W/ AFINKE ORCHESTRA, RHYTHMYSTIK, MUSIC CITY SAMBA, VILLAGE DRUM AND DANCE ENSEMBLE ConsciousFlowz is back with another benefit show, this time one that highlights some of Nashville’s world beat artists to promote AIDS awareness through music. The Afinke Orchestra incorporate Latin/Caribbean styles from mambo to rumba and the cha-cha-cha—the sound we know as “salsa.” And with the veteran session aces who make up Afinke Orchestra onstage, body-moving will be mandatory. Salsa music fans will recognize their covers of classic Latin music legends such as Celia Cruz. RhythMystik plays an on-the-fly mashup of African percussion, jazz and hip-hop, with the occasional didgeridoo riff or shakuhachi solo. Music City Samba, a collective of local percussionists and jazz musicians from the Nashville Jazz Workshop, will illuminate the electric, often sensual national music of Brazil. The Village Drum and Dance Ensemble of East Nashville’s Village Cultural Arts Center will perform music and dancing influenced by the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora. Mercy Lounge —MARK MAYS
HEARTLESS BASTARDS The sturdy, rough-hewn guitar throb and pantyhose-tight rhythm section offer a working-man’s rock backdrop for the brawny vocals of singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom. Moving like a steely-eyed predator, the Bastards’ heartland rawk has a clamorous, no-frills strut that recalls fellow Ohioans Scrawl with a sprinkling of Silkworm’s jagged post-punk guitar drone. Wennerstrom’s reedy alto swings like a Louisville slugger with the same crackling thud at the point of impact. She’s got brass in her pockets, and she knows how to use it, providing an undeterred gravity and momentum to the songs. While there’s no doubt the Bastards score as music you’d like to have a beer to, they’re at their best when Wennerstrom squeezes in a catchy hook and melody, as on the slinky, rumbling shimmy of “Brazen,” or the simmering to full-throated bluesy rave title track off last year’s sophomore release, All This Time. They’ve come a long way in just under four years (as a song title off that album suggests), crafting a Midwestern rock sound as humble and no-nonsense as the region that birthed it. Exit/In —CHRIS PARKER
FREE ERIC VOLZ BENEFIT WITH STRUT, THB AND THE RUNNING We may never know who murdered Doris Jiménez in Nicaragua last November, but it’s clear that the judicial deck was stacked against 28-year-old Eric Volz, a former Nashvillian who was living in Managua, where he ran a bilingual magazine advocating smart growth and ecotourism. Volz, who had dated Jiménez, was convicted of the murder in February and sentenced to 30 years in a Nicaraguan prison. As widely reported in the local and national media, including Anderson Cooper 360° and Dateline NBC, Volz’s attorneys say he was railroaded due to anti-gringo sentiment and a mob mentality, and the evidence certainly appears to support the attorneys’ claims. To raise money for Volz’s defense fund, Summertown’s The Farm, one of the few hippie communes of the early ’70s still thriving, hosts a benefit show featuring Asheville, N.C., ska-punkers Strut, local reggae rockers The Running and THB, who describe their sound as the “the Chili Peppers mixed with Fishbone,” which pretty much nails it. THB, btw, is an acronym for The Homegrown Band. Get your head out of the bong, stoners—the name refers to the fact that all the members grew up on The Farm together. The Farm, Summertown, Tenn. —JACK SILVERMAN
TED NUGENT Love him or hate him, The Nuge is something of a renaissance man. As an author and columnist, occasional actor, former host of his own reality TV show, board member of the National Rifle Association, anti-drug activist, hunting supply store owner and creator of his own brand of beef jerky, Nugent has been outspoken in his conservative political views, which has earned him a healthy number of detractors and admirers. What often gets lost in the discussion is how kill-it-and-grill-it Uncle Ted largely acquired his mouthpiece—by playing guitar in a loin cloth. Emerging from Detroit in the late ’60s, Nugent shared much of the grit and grime associated with other Motor City musicians of the era, namely the MC5 and The Stooges. Also like his peers, Nugent gained his reputation with an intense, over-the-top live show and relentless touring, but The Nuge’s anthems were decidedly arena-friendly, which exposed him to a much wider audience and a higher level of stardom not enjoyed by many of his colleagues. Ryman Auditorium —MATT SULLIVAN
PAUL BURCH & THE WPA BALLCLUB, JON LANGFORD, KELLY HOGAN AND CHRIS SCRUGGS Tonight’s show offers a batch of artists whose various alt-country flavors can’t conceal their true métiers. On last year’s East to West, Paul Burch and The WPA Ballclub made offhand, country-inflected noises but rocked “I’m a Takin’ It Home,” which sounded like The Faces waiting around for the Gallatin Road bus. Jon Langford’s prolific career, which includes stints with combos such as The Three Johns, The Waco Brothers and The Mekons, shows no signs of slowing down, and lately he’s taken to covering old Procol Harum tunes. Kelly Hogan is a big-voiced pop classicist whose work carries overtones of soul music and girl-group melodrama. Rounding out the bill is Chris Scruggs, a talented guitarist who has recorded with everyone from BR549 to Amy LaVere. The Basement —EDD HURT
THE WILDWOOD VALLEY BOYS Based in Milan, Ind.—remember Hoosiers?—the Wildwood Valley Boys may be the ultimate case of substance trumping showmanship. Lead singer/guitarist Tony Holt isn’t quite as diffident an emcee as he used to be, but he’d still rather sing than talk—and for music fans, that’s a good thing, because he’s arguably the most underrated singer in bluegrass. Though banjo man Brian Leaver and mandolinist Jake Brown are more than capable soloists, the group’s basically all about the singing. They’ve got a killer trio built around Holt’s understated but heartfelt leads. And it’s also all about the songs, many of them from Tony’s dad, Aubrey, who has written an astonishing number of oughta-be-classics and who also contributes nerve-tingling harmonies and occasional leads. Don’t expect any razzle-dazzle from this bunch, just some of the best singing and songs served up by anyone in bluegrass today. The Station Inn —JON WEISBERGER
JON BYRD On the inside of Byrd’s Auto Parts, the debut album for this well-traveled guitarist, his cowboy boots are photographed propped up against a Fender amp, his Telecaster leaning on the other side. That might suggest that his style of country music leans on the Bakersfield sound and shows off this in-demand sideman’s six-string work—and it does. But the real news comes in how distinctly his original songs blend with several cleverly chosen remakes, from the crisp, Buckaroos-style drive of Red Sovine’s “Freightliner Fever,” Johnny Cash’s “Blistered” and Doug Sahm’s “Be Real” to crafty, dirt-road arrangements of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” and Neil Young’s great, rarely revived “(When You’re on) the Losing End.” The album suggests Byrd deserves not only to be plugged into an amp, but also to be standing behind the microphone at the center of the stage. Family Wash —MICHAEL McCALL
ADAM MCINTYRE & THE PINKS Here’s all you need to know about Adam McIntyre: he recently contributed a track (“Strangers”) to a Dave Davies tribute album. It takes a pretty hardcore Kinks fan to exhaust the songs of leader Ray Davies and move on to the far-less-heralded contributions of brother Dave, but McIntyre is just that kind of pop classicist. He seems to have internalized decades of rock candy from the Zombies to Paul Weller to Jellyfish to Neutral Milk Hotel, and sweats it all out in high-energy live shows backed by the lean, propulsive Pinks. The former Nashvillian is now based in Atlanta, but will take a break from work on his upcoming new album to offer his former neighbors a needed power-pop fix. The 5 Spot —CHRIS NEAL
HOWLIN’ WOLF BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION WITH SCISSORMEN AND THE EAST NASHVILLE ARISTOCRATS It’s ironic that a man named for the most obscure U.S. president would go down in history as one of the most famous bluesmen of all time. But Chester Arthur Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf, was in no way your typical bluesman—he didn’t wrestle with alcohol, drugs or loose women, nor did he struggle financially. (“I’m the onliest one drove out of the South like a gentleman,” he famously said.) Still, he laid down some of the most menacing, possessed music ever recorded, in a deep, bone-chilling growl that would have sent Beelzebub himself (herself?) running for cover. To celebrate what would have been the 97th birthday of the man who recorded the definitive versions of classics such as “Wang Dang Doodle,” Spoonful” and “Little Red Rooster,” recent Boston-to-Nashville transplant Ted Drozdowski and his juke-blues duo Scissormen host a night of gut-bucket blues, including a healthy dose of Howlin’ Wolf classics. (Drozdowski, incidentally, was also born on June 10—no doubt the moon turned a fire red that night.) Also wangin’ their dang doodles will be the East Nashville Aristocrats, featuring the double-barrel guitar attack of cool-side-of-the-Cumberland mainstays Reeves Gabrels and Audley Freed, who’ve played with…oh, you know by now. Family Wash —JACK SILVERMAN
JOSH KELLEY W/TEDDY THOMPSON Mississippi native and now Nashville resident Josh Kelley has recently joined the growing list of Music City music makers (Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney, kinda) whose girlfriends or wives outstrip them in celebrity status. Kelley, who had a huge hit a few years back with his John Mayer-esque “Amazing,” is engaged to Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl, who currently stars in the Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up. No word as to whether the couple will make their home in the Brentwood hills, but Kelley did make his latest soft-pop album Just Say the Word there. Opening the show is Teddy Thompson (son of legendary folk duo Richard and Linda Thompson), who released one of the best records you didn’t buy in 2006, Separate Ways. The record recalls a more rock-minded Rufus Wainwright hitting a particularly good songwriting patch after a particularly bad breakup. Plus it contains “Everybody Move It,” the best square-dance song ever written about hanging out at “da club.” 3rd & Lindsley —JASON MOON WILKINS
THE DYNAMITES “More than at any time in recent memory, soul music’s pressing syncopation and stirring hollers are churning within the popular mainstream,” proclaimed The New York Times in February of this year. Nashville soul seekers already knew that, thanks to frequent appearances by deep funk favorites Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings and the passionate proselytizing of devotees Mike Grimes and Grimey’s co-owner Doyle Davis. Besides digging waist-deep into rare grooves on his long-running WRVU funk and soul show, Davis has recently put his money where his mouth is by founding the new label Outta Sight records, which releases Charles Walker and The Dynamites’ debut Kaboom! this week. For those who don’t have tickets to Bonnaroo or have no desire to suffer the instant effects of global warming, The Dynamites play this week before heading out on their first-ever national tour. Here’s hoping Davis’ Outta Sight records follows in the footsteps of raw blues revivalist label Fat Possum and brings some more forgotten Southern soul favorites out of the shadows. Grimey’s Records —JASON MOON WILKINS
SUPERCOOL CD RELEASE Guitarist Daniel Levanti and bassist Jeffrey Marshall formed Supercool after meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, five years ago and played throughout Europe before relocating to Nashville, where Marshall’s family lives, in 2006. Despite the potentially ironic band name, Supercool aren’t snarky or tongue-in-cheek, preferring straightforward folk- and blues-influenced rock and emotionally direct lyrics. Marshall and Levanti share lead vocal duties, and songs such as “Superstar” make good use of the significant contrast between their voices—Marshall has a rich baritone, while Levanti at times recalls Robert Plant. Marshall, by the way, was born with no arms or hands, and plays bass with his feet while singing, a pretty remarkable accomplishment that should make all of you excuse-makers (“My hands are too small to play guitar,” “I’m too short to play basketball”) cower in the corner. Still, Supercool prefer not to make a big deal of Marshall’s impressive abilities—they make no reference to it on either their website or MySpace page, preferring to let the music be judged on its own laurels. And any band who names its debut CD Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 deserves props in our book. Supercool’s producer, bassist-to-the-stars David Pomeroy, will join them for this show on what he refers to as “baritone lap steel.” The Rutledge; Supercool also play Grimey’s at 6 p.m. June 15 and The 5 Spot at 8 p.m June 16. —JACK SILVERMAN
JEFF With JEFF, the talented brothers Orrall take the messy DIY garage-punk of drummer Jamin’s former band, Be Your Own Pet, and rename it, take away its cutesy chew toys, and unleash it to prowl the neighborhood without a collar. Armed with a spectacular weapons-grade howl, Jake Orrall’s bristling guitar growls and spits, and sibling Jamin’s drums seem to come in only three menacing sizes: large, mega-massive, and stupid huge. It’s the very best kind of punk rock—excitable, awash with enthusiasm, but never taking itself seriously, too focused on giving your ears a sound thrashing to be overtly angry, and seemingly intent on being daft without ever becoming dumb. 2006’s Infinity Cat release Castle Storm never flagged, its 13 hurtling noise experiments providing plenty of insight into what propels live shows that are already gaining a near-legendary status. In an age where blogs rule and word-of-mouth is gospel, JEFF are winning discerning ears in the U.K., and little by little, here at home. True to their play-anywhere ethos, they’ll also hit a party at vintage clothing boutique Local Honey with The Selmanaires on Saturday, June 9. These are JEFF’s first Nashville shows since moving to Chicago in January. The End —ANDREW J. SMITHSON
MIXED EMOTIONS Richard Baer’s comedy mixes warmth with gentle social themes, as a Jewish carpet dealer and a Catholic interior decorator, both widowed, discover a romantic connection that forces them to make some major lifestyle decisions. The new Chaffin’s Barn production is under the direction of Kim Nygren, familiar to many as one of the dinner-theater’s more gifted regular performers. The cast includes Adam Burnett, R. Alex Murray, Jeanne M. Ackerly and Charlie Winton. Opens June 12 and plays through July 14. Phone 646-9977. Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre—MARTIN BRADY
SWEET CHARITY Molly Ringwald has certainly had an interesting career, and she deserves definite props for making her way through the thicket of show-biz reinvention. A former child star, Ringwald, now 39, moved on to TV’s Facts of Life before gaining icon status—and a Time magazine cover shot—as the darling of writer/director John Hughes’ trilogy of ’80s teen-angst films, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. In the ’90s, Ringwald moved overseas, living and working (both onstage and in film) in France and England. More recently, she’s been doing what former American cinema stars often do to maintain homeland exposure: turn to the New York stage. Her credits, among others, have included Cabaret and Enchanted April, and now she’s headlong into a national tour of this somewhat legendary Bob Fosse-conceived ’60s musical, which was originally inspired by Federico Fellini’s 1957 film Nights of Cabiria. In Neil Simon’s script, Fellini’s Italian hooker becomes a New York City taxi dancer, struggling to maintain hope through her sketchy personal life. The music is by Cy Coleman, and Ringwald sings and dances her way through some of the composer’s more familiarly frenetic numbers, such as “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” There are eight performances, June 12-17. Phone 255-ARTS (2787). TPAC’s Jackson Hall —MARTIN BRADY
SARA LA, “STILLED” Sara La can be one of the most effective and affecting painters in Nashville, creating simple images that are filled with quiet dignity, muted pain and beauty. Some of her best pieces work with themes of her Chinese heritage. Other threads in her work put human figures into surrealist fantasy environments, or they go in the opposite direction and isolate silly or mundane snippets of domestic life. It looks like the work in the Zeitgeist show will draw from these last two tendencies. The show opened last weekend and stays up until July 7. Zeitgeist —DAVID MADDOX
LAURA LEVINE, “TWEET SUITE” Levine has had a successful and varied career photographing musicians for publications such as Rolling Stone, illustrating children’s books and directing videos and films. One other aspect of her hyperactive creative life is painting. TAG is showing paintings from a series that depicts North American bird species. Each piece shows a single bird, alone like a field guide illustration, rendered in the style of American folk artists on a homespun background of vintage trading stamps. These paintings honor or re-create a confluence of qualities in American rural life—the self-sufficiency and self-confidence to make art for oneself and the careful attention to detail of the rich natural life near at hand. The show opens Saturday, June 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. and runs through June 30. TAG —DAVID MADDOX
JULIA MORRISROE, TOM ZARRILLI, K.J. SCHUMACHER These artists explore the treasures in the trash of our cultural detritus. Morrisroe makes use of a pop art vocabulary to give voice to her cynical critiques of consumer society. In her “Speed at Six Series,” the painter borrows a graphic shorthand from comic books to investigate the idea of speed. Zarrilli’s “Visions of the Yards of Clutter” consists of photography and short videos that examine the fine line between yard sale bargain hunter and cultural voyeur. Schumacher eschews his familiar architectural paintings in favor of photography. The shows open with a reception on Saturday, June 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibit will run through July 14. Ruby Green—JOE NOLAN
VALUE MENU SHOW Plowhaus cooperative presents the latest installment of its popular Value Menu Show series, with all art on exhibit priced at less than $50. Featured artists include Athena Workman, whose illustrations run the gamut from Gorey-inspired, spooky-cute drawings to photography that explores Nashville’s pop culture. Caryn Cast’s portraits, at their best, stare back at the viewer, evoking a real sense of isolation in the confrontational space. The opening reception takes place on Saturday, June 9, from 7 to 11 p.m. The show will run through the weekend. Plowhaus Artists’ Cooperative —JOE NOLAN
CAROLYN JOURDAN Can a high-profile U.S. Senate counsel, a brainy lawyer with “all the external indicators of success,” find satisfaction as the receptionist in her father’s rural Tennessee medical practice? Carolyn Jourdan’s beautiful memoir, Heart in the Right Place, tells how she was called home to fill in “for a few days” when her mother had a heart attack that proved to be permanently disabling. The story keeps you turning pages for all the country color of the mostly impecunious patients, but the real theme is Jourdan’s struggle to make her life count. She had felt right about some of her work in Washington, working conscientiously for the public good. But in her father’s office, she makes a different kind of difference, helping people at the bottom, listening to them as though their concerns matter no less than those of some ambassador, cabinet secretary or senator. Carolyn Jourdan will discuss and sign at Davis-Kidd Booksellers at 6 p.m. June 13. —Ralph Bowden
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Great article! It needed to be said, and it was said well!