Going It Alone 

Garth Brooks' only live performance this year

This is our only live performance of ’95,” Garth Brooks told the 100 or so faithful spectators who stayed to hear him following the Oct. 24 taping of Martina McBride’s first TNN special. “I usually have my band and a light show,” he continued, “so this might suck.” Having made this ritual gesture toward lowering expectations, Brooks launched into a casual six-song solo set that demonstrated he is basically suck-proof.

Brooks was on hand for this impromptu set because McBride had persuaded him to be a guest on Martina McBride: Full Speed Ahead. Before she signed to RCA Records, McBride sold T-shirts on the road for Brooks, and, in 1992, she was his opening act. Brooks taped his segment of the special before the studio audience convened, but he agreed to stay on and do the additional performance to ensure that no one would feel cheated. One of the singer’s many charms is his insistence that fans be treated reverently. After he came offstage—and to the visible consternation of his handlers—he chatted, signed autographs and posed for photographs for close to an hour.

Brooks opened his mini-set with “The Thunder Rolls.” Wanting to hear something a trifle less grim, a fan then shouted for “Shameless,” a histrionic high-point of Brooks’ concerts. “I can’t do ‘Shameless’ in pants,” pleaded the tight-jeaned superstar. To tout his forthcoming Fresh Horses album, Brooks sang “She’s Every Woman” and “Rollin’.” He reminisced about the old days, when he had to do soundalike covers of hits to keep the crowd’s interest. He illustrated these musings with a creditable imitation of George Jones’ “She Thinks I Still Care” and a brave, slightly bawdy version of Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias’ “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” He concluded with his signature piece, “The Dance.” Clearly, Brooks loves to perform, no matter how large or small the assemblage before him. He seemed as grateful to the audience for this all-too-brief encounter as the audience was to him.

The evening provided several musical highlights, however, even before Brooks set foot onstage. A powerful and dynamic singer, McBride enchanted the crowd with past hits as well as selections from her new album, Wild Angels. Aiding her in this enterprise were such heavy-hitters as Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Levon Helm, Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose. McBride, McClinton and Parnell raised the room temperature several degrees with their romp through “Two More Bottles of Wine.” (McClinton’s understated tale of how he came to write the song was hilarious; I can only hope that the show’s producer leaves it in.) McBride and Helm’s treatment of “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road” was as heartbreaking as it was liberating. The special—which also features an appearance by Gretchen Peters—will air Nov. 20.

Hillbilly Heaven

Even if Nashvillians love country music, they still may never get around to visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum at the corner of 16th Avenue South and Division Street. “Too touristy,” they think. That’s a pity. Because tucked away inside, at the entrance of this cavernous shrine, is a gift shop so rich in kitsch and real art that just walking through it is an experience.

The dreaded onset of Christmas lately drove me to this shop in search of gift ideas. And I was not disappointed—even though the recipients of my limited largesse may be. Appropriately, the store’s strong point is its recorded music. It boasts an astoundingly wide and comprehensive collection of country CDs and cassettes. For example, you can pick up a copy of Mark O’Connor’s The Championship Years, a release that chronicles the fiddler’s youthful contest-winning performances between 1975 and 1984. The CD is one of many fine releases produced by the Country Music Foundation, the organization that owns and operates the Hall of Fame.

There are dozens of long-form videos, ranging from old Opry shows to packages of music clips by new acts. Particularly of interest is the Country Video Hall of Fame Series, a marvelous collection of filmed performances by top stars of the ’50s and ’60s. The store also stocks hundreds of books and magazines about country music, along with numerous near irresistible bric-a-brac items and an entire counter dedicated to Elvis Presley merchanise.

You do not have to buy a ticket to the Hall of Fame to browse the store; that privilege is free. Winter hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Currents

♦ On Jan. 16, Giant Records will release Trouble Free, its second album by the magical Rhonda Vincent. Well known in the bluegrass field, Vincent was a vocal role model for Alison Krauss. Although Giant has had little success breaking Vincent into the country mainstream, the label deserves a lot of credit for staying with her so long. Her current single/music video is “What More Do You Want From Me.” With the right song and a modicum of openness from radio, Vincent could follow the tradition-tinged path that Krauss and Patty Loveless have finally opened for women.

♦ The stars were out at Gail Davies’ wedding reception at Cheekwood early this month. Spotted at the soiree were Crystal Gayle, Kristine Arnold and Janis Gill (a.k.a. Sweethearts of the Rodeo), Paulette Carlson, Russell Smith, Kevin Welch and Harry Stinson. The event celebrated singer-songwriter Davies’ marriage to English musician Rob Price.

♦ The United Nations recently canceled a long-scheduled appearance by the Nashville-based World Peace Choir out of fear of terrorist attacks. The choir had been booked to perform for the UN’s 50th anniversary celebration.

♦ Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Recording Industry will sponsor a free seminar on Nov. 8 to teach singers, engineers and producers how to improve the quality of vocals in the recording studio. The event will be held in Room 103 of the Bragg Mass Communication building. Featured speakers will be voice coach Renee Grant-Williams, producer/engineer Bill VornDick, and MTSU assistant professor Daniel Pfeifer.

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