What do Stereolab, James Carter, Sleater-Kinney, Cecil Taylor, and Massive Attack have in common? They haven’t played Nashville or at the very least, they haven’t played Nashville in the past 15 years. Touring jazz and underground rock acts often bypass Music City, either because they don’t expect to find an audience, or they can’t find a willing or suitable venue. As a result, local music fans haven’t had much chance to see attention-grabbing acts such as Neutral Milk Hotel or Tortoise let alone left-of-center music legends like Lou Reed, Tom Waits, or Ornette Coleman.
That’s something independent promoters Rick Whetsel and Christopher Moon hope to change. Under the banner Anhedonia Presents, Whetsel, Moon, and their partner Jason Moon Wilkins are starting to bring simmering national and regional acts to Nashville, and they say they’ll shoulder the publicity and the financial risk themselves. All they need is to find club owners willing to go along.
“Nobody’s willing to take a chance on regional acts, but everybody says, ‘Why aren’t these bands coming to town?’ ” says Whetsel, who subsidizes his efforts by working as a contractor restoring houses. Moon has his own answer: “Nobody asks them to come.” By matching modestly budgeted shows with suitable venues, Whetsel and Moon think they can attract a steady stream of acts that normally wouldn’t play here.
This might sound like a pipe dream if the promoters didn’t already have a track record. With fellow booker Leslie Turner, Whetsel, Moon, and Wilkins helped turn the old Victor/Victoria’s into the hottest new indie-rock venue in town in the spring of 1997. They pulled in bands that had never played Nashville, most memorably the lush pop group Magnetic Fields, and the shows made money. When the club burned down that summer, they started booking acts at the now defunct Second Avenue venue Tommy Guns. A show by the space-rock band Trans Am drew more than 150 people, including fans who’d traveled from Florida and Kentucky. But when Tommy Guns shut down without notice, the promoters were left once more without a steady home.
Two weeks ago, Anhedonia booked the Chicago band Joan of Arc for its first local gig, at the newly revived Elliston Square club The End. “Bruce [Fitzpatrick, the manager,] God love him, loves the music and supports the scene, and he has a small enough club to take a chance,” says Whetsel, a Pittsburgh native who’s been booking shows for 15 years. Moon says he was out about $80 on the Joan of Arc show, but he thought it did well for a late Sunday-night gig.
But for some of the acts the pair wants to bring in, such as Good Will Hunting Oscar nominee Elliott Smith, a larger room would be required and Whetsel and Moon are stymied about their options. The choices are even more limited when it comes to jazz. In an extremely ambitious move, Anhedonia and Chris Granger from the band Schfvilkus are currently working to book David S. Ware, an avant-garde saxophonist who’s regarded as one of jazz’s most controversial rising stars. Such a show would be a remarkable coup, but finding a venue, and an audience, that can offer a prayer of recouping Ware’s $1,500 guarantee is a tough challenge.
Nevertheless, Moon thinks it can work. He points to a show he booked last year at Tommy Guns by jazz keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and his combo Zony Mash. Even though the owners padlocked the club on the night of the gig, forcing Moon to relocate at the last minute to Lucy’s Record Shop, the show still drew 100 people. Anhedonia broke even, and that was fine. “We’re not trying to make a fortune,” Whetsel says. “We’re trying a make a scene.”
Whetsel and Moon have a list of acts they want to bring to town if they can secure a venue: the list includes Grant Lee Buffalo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Superdrag, Girls Against Boys, The Donnas, Rocket From the Crypt, and jazzman Charlie Hunter. The timing couldn’t be better for a club to pick up on these and similar acts.
For one thing, the word spreads quickly. At The Sutler, Kim Webber has had a number of plum dates fall into her hands including a mobbed show by Freedy Johnston, who normally plays much larger venues just because she’s building a track record booking cutting-edge acts. The networking cuts both ways: When Nashville bands get tagged to open, they gain connections in other cities that can lead to future gigs.
The Anhedonia team is also negotiating to purchase a building on Eighth Avenue South near the old Victor/Victoria’s for their own 300-capacity club. In the meantime, they want people to suggest national or regional indie-rock and jazz acts they’d like to see play Nashville. Call Moon at 731-5737, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Get this straight, says Steve West at Go West Presents: 328 Performance Hall is not about to close. Rumors about the club’s imminent demise started spreading after plans were announced for the Franklin Street corridor, which will eventually come through 328’s Fourth Avenue location. Before that happens, however, two bridges will have to be built, and West says that’s still years away. “When you see construction starting here, then you’ll know,” he says.
As for 328’s recent dry spells without shows, West says the space has often been rented out or used for private parties during those stretches. And on weekends, Johny Jackson’s Soul Satisfaction and Craig Butler’s new Sunday-night Urban Dance Party continue to draw the faithful. While it’s good to know the club isn’t in any danger, it’d be great to see 328 bring in more of the edgier acts that have provided its best shows in recent years shows like Pavement, R.L. Burnside with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, or last December’s Patti Smith concert, one of the coolest evenings of music anyone has booked in Nashville this decade. More shows of that caliber should shut down the rumor mill for good.
Eldon Shamblin, one of the most innovative rhythm guitarists of the 20th century, died last Wednesday at age 82. Best known for his work with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, with whom he played from 1934 to 1959, Shamblin cowrote (with steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe) “Twin Guitar Special” and arranged such Wills classics as “Faded Love” and “San Antonio Rose.” He also managed the group for Wills.
After the bandleader died in 1975, Shamblin not only continued to work with Wills’ group then billed as Bob Wills’ Original Texas Playboys he also began touring and recording with Merle Haggard, performing with the country singer well into the ’90s. Although renowned for his Western swing playing, Shamblin won the praise of jazzmen Joe Venuti and Herb Ellis, who utilized his liquid guitar phrasing on their own recordings. Les Paul and Charlie Christian also numbered among the guitarist’s fans.
Remarkably enough, Shamblin who as a teenager earned his musical stripes gigging in the honky-tonks of Oklahoma City was a self-taught guitarist. He released his final solo album, There’ll Be Some Changes Made, on the eve of his 80th birthday in 1996.
Elliptical dispatches: Upstate New York power-pop band The Figgs, who backed Graham Parker on a recent live LP, arrive Saturday for a last-minute gig at The End. They’re touring in support of their new record, Couldn’t Get High....
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