Nashville Scene Music Festival 

Nominee Guide

Nominee Guide

Every night in this city, in more places than you can count, musicians take the stage—to sing, to play guitar, to sit behind a drum kit, to blow a horn, to coax unearthly sounds from a laptop. There's more going on here than anyone could possibly keep up with, and in a surprising diversity of styles. Yes, we know about our long and legendary country music history, we even know about the surge of energetic young rock bands—but how many of us have listened to Nashville-born and -bred jazz, R&B, electronica, hip-hop? The Nashville Scene's Music Festival is a chance to celebrate that, to connect the city's disparate musicians and fans in an all-day carnival of food, fun and, most importantly, music.

Scheduled for Sept. 24 at City Hall in the Gulch, this festival requires something of you, readers: we want your input. Tell us who you'd like to hear. We've contacted five performers in nearly a dozen genres—from Americana to gospel to rock to singer-songwriter—and confirmed their availability. Now it's up to you to pick your favorite. Don't see your favorite artist on the ballot? We've created an open category as well, where you can vote for anyone you like. Just click here. Meantime, read on to find out about the nominees and take a moment to appreciate just how good we've got it in Music City.

AMERICANA

Born in Whitehaven, Tenn., alongside Highway 61, which brought a generation of bluesmen north from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis, Jack Clement played a crucial part in bringing rock 'n' roll music to the rest of the world. During a career of treading thin lines between folk singers, polka bands, outlaw songwriters and the commercial countrypolitan music industry, this visionary maverick combined song publishing, music and film production, a record company and recording studios decades before the current trend of international conglomeration. He was the recording engineer on "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" at Sun, wrote Cash's "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" and a slew of other hits, and produced everything from Charley Pride's ground-breaking records to Dickey Lee's "Patches." His great gift to Nashville, besides a generation of protégés who wound up making some of the best and biggest records of the century, is his indefatigable spirit of adventure and capacity for surprise.

With a singer-bassist from Wales, a fiddler from London and a mandolinist from Australia, The Greencards bring the fresh perspective of musical adventurers to progressive American string-band music. Rather than trying to sound like children of Appalachia, they use the close harmonies, tight interplay and skillful musicianship of bluegrass to expand into a more personal, wide-ranging sound. Their originals draw on Celtic and English folk influences, while their choice of outside writers—Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Fred Eaglesmith and John Duffey—illustrates their ear for incisive lyrics. Bassist Carol Young, fiddler Eamon McLoughlin and mandolinist Kym Warner recently moved to Nashville from Austin, where they were named the Best New Band at the 2003 Austin Music Awards.

The leader of the Americana band Last Train Home and a former staff writer for the Washington Post, Eric Brace weaves taut narratives like someone who knows how to cram rich details into phrases concise enough to escape an editor's delete key. But what lifts his storytelling is how his phrases, enriched by the fluid support of his band, collate into an evocative whole. Though he now lives in Nashville, most of his bandmates have stayed in and around D.C., where Last Train Home first got their start in 1997. Perhaps because of that distance, the band's size tends to fluctuate. In all their configurations, though, the group play a combination of chugging roots-rock and sweetly layered folk-country distinguished by Brace's warm, soulful voice and his knack for evocative tales.

Born in Durham, N.C., Phil Lee made his way to NYC in 1971, lived in Los Angeles for a while and finally settled in Nashville a few years ago, collecting adventures enough to fill a dozen albums with "mostly true" tales. This is country music with a rock 'n' roll heart. When Lee sings about his past you can hear a tinge of, not exactly regret or even shame, but hard-earned wisdom. A masterful songwriter, his work reflects impressions made on him by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis and Howlin' Wolf to Arthur Alexander and the Mersey Beat sound of the British Invasion of the 1960's. His road-worn voice, clever wordplay and skilled harmonica work will rightfully bring Bob Dylan (a major influence) to mind, but he is his own man.

"Sunny" isn't usually the first word that comes up in a discussion of Gillian Welch's music. Maybe "partly cloudy" is a better way to describe the gifted singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist's most recent album, Soul Journey. Though it represents a chance for her to step away from her creative partnership with David Rawlings (who produced the disc), it offers much of what we've come to associate with her style: stark but powerful stories set to music whose bare intensity conveys an almost unbearable beauty. Of her most intimate and direct album to date, she explains, "There's a plainspoken and straightforward quality to it compared to the other records." The record may not represent an end, or even a new beginning, for Welch. Certainly her fans can count on many more duets from her and songwriting partner David Rawlings, on record and on stages, for many years yet.

BLUEGRASS

In Nashville today, you will find songwriters and artists who have a strong sense of what's commercial; then, on the fringes, there are those who create songs that are more personal, songs from the heart that move you but which may or may not ever top a chart. There are very few writers who fit both categories, but Harley Allen is definitely one of those few. Anyone who has followed bluegrass music for more than a few years is familiar with Harley's bluegrass background and with the legendary Allen name: Harley and his brothers toured and recorded as the Allen Brothers, and his late father, Red Allen, was not only one of the great lead voices in bluegrass, but also sang the low harmony part on some of the finest trios ever recorded with the Osbourne Brothers. Allen's own songs are well known to country music lovers, with cuts recorded by the likes of Garth Brooks and Alison Krauss. Still, Harley Allen fans might argue that none of these great artists can render a Harley Allen song the way he can.

Almost everybody in Music City knows Melonie Cannon—it's just taking the rest of the world a little longer to catch on. Raised in the wings of the Grand Ole Opry, Melonie mingled as a young girl with the Olympians of country music. She knew them through her father, songwriter and producer Buddy Cannon, a giant himself in Nashville. She was just 14 when she sang on her first recording session. And by the time she'd reached high school, studio dates filled her calendar. Sammy Kershaw, George Jones and Kenny Chesney were among the many who made use of her voice—its easy reach from whispered intimacy to exuberance, its way of wrapping around a melody and finding truth in a lyric even the first time through a tune. The wonder is that it's taken this long for the secret to escape. On her debut self-titled album, she delivers with a rare blend of down-home soul and uptown professionalism.

Great musicians will always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must find a bond—one that more often than not goes beyond the purely musical to the personal. For The Grascals, that bond has been forged at the intersection of personal friendships, shared professional résumés and an appreciation for the innovative mingling of bluegrass and country music. Musicians whose roots reach back over more than two decades of bluegrass history, they embody a profound grasp of and familiarity with country and bluegrass tradition that made them a natural choice for Dolly Parton to turn to for recording and tour support not long after the group was created. Though nominally a new group, the web of friendships, band memberships, recordings and personal appearances that binds The Grascals together has produced an ensemble of unsurpassed cohesion and focused artistic direction.

Alecia Nugent's had talent all her life, but it took a long time for opportunity to come calling—and since then, her strong, graceful voice and exceptional ability to find and deliver the essence of a great song have earned a grassroots buzz that has made her Rounder debut, Alecia Nugent, one of the year's most eagerly awaited releases. With its engaging mix of bluegrass and country classics and rarities, the album serves as a perfect introduction. All-star backing by a hand-picked instrumental and vocal ensemble frames Alecia's voice with exquisite sensitivity and unerring creativity. From the rollicking Flatt & Scruggs staple that opens the set, to the closing drive of "Blame It on the Train," this is an album that will appeal to bluegrass stalwarts and country music fans alike—indeed, to anyone with an appreciation for the simple yet profound strength of a great country song and for a singer with the heart and skill to express it.

We rarely come across genuine buskers in America, let alone tightly meshed ensembles with keening vocal harmonies, fiddles and banjos. But Old Crow Medicine Show (O.C.M.S.), doing things the old-fashioned way, took their stirring and reassuring music to people where they lived, made friends, opened ears, moved feet and drilled passageways through time. Today, with a wider musical range than their Appalachian stringband origins, O.C.M.S. play more concert halls, festival stages and rock venues than street corners. Their self-titled album is an unbridled spirit, played live and loud across the nation, in a voice entirely their own.

BLUES/TRADITIONAL R&B

Crystal Armentrout embodies the concept of the total, consummate artist: a versatile singer who possesses a voice of incredible technical ability as well as emotional depth, a songwriter with an uncanny knack for creating new melodies with lyrics that bring unexpected variations to seemingly familiar themes, and a virtuoso guitarist. After cementing her reputation as a charismatic live performer with two self-produced CD releases, Armentrout began work on a third effort at Dark Horse Recording in Franklin, Tenn. Upon hearing the initial recorded tracks, Gary Walker, owner of Great Escape Records, took notice of her talents and signed her to a deal. Moving effortlessly between modern rock, adult contemporary, old-school soul, funk and roots music, Crystal proves to be a masterful interpreter of virtually any style of music that she chooses to undertake.

Herchel Bailey began singing at age 7, and he started singing professionally with his father, bass player Deford Bailey Jr., when he was 17. He was born into a family of musicians—his grandfather was Grand Ole Opry harmonica star Deford Bailey—so singing is in his blood and very dear to his heart. Though he was voted Male Blues Vocalist of the Year in 2003 by the Nashville Blues Society, Bailey isn't just a blues singer—he also makes room in his repertoire for jazz and R&B as well. After spending years performing with local artists such as Tyrone "Super T" Smith, Jimmy Church and Familiar Faces, he recently organized his own band, Herchel Bailey & The Unit, who've been playing regularly at B.B. King's and Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar. Not for nothing has he been nicknamed The Velvet Voice.

Among the artists who rose to national prominence out of Nashville's fertile blues and R&B scene of the mid-1950s to late 1960s, few displayed the fiery intensity or matched the popularity of legendary vocalist/songwriter Earl Gaines, whose booming, churchy tenor and swinging melodies clearly established him as a torchbearer of tough Southern soul and blues. Beginning as a vocalist with Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, Gaines' smash 1955 Excello hit "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)" sold over a million copies and became a standard covered by Bobby Bland, Ruth Brown and Delbert McClinton. Over the following two decades, Gaines recorded for Champion, King/Deluxe, Hollywood, Ace and Sound Stage 7 before he retired from music in the late 1970s. With encouragement from local blues impresario Fred James, he reemerged and undertook several successful tours with past Excello labelmates Roscoe Shelton and Clifford Curry. Most recently, he's received renewed attention thanks to the Country Music Hall of Fame's "Night Train to Nashville" exhibit.

Born in 1936, Johnny Jones traveled to Memphis when he was only 13 to witness his first live performance by blues legend Joe Hill Louis. In the early 1950s, he moved with his mother to Chicago, where he was exposed to all the blues greats of the era. In his early adulthood, he shared an apartment with harmonica player Walter McCollum, and they formed a small group, working regularly with Junior Wells and Freddy King. Soon thereafter, Jones moved to Nashville and became a studio guitarist. He formed the Imperial Sevens in the early 1960s and was a regular at the New Era club. Jones became the bandleader for several different local television shows during the 1960s, including Night Train and The!!!Beat. A soulful singer and dynamic, multifaceted guitarist, Jones plays everything from bluesy solos to explosive rock licks. He recently enjoyed fresh recognition with the "Night Train to Nashville" exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Singer-guitarist Stacy Mitchhart has built a worldwide fan base thanks to live performances, national television exposure, radio airplay, loyal enthusiastic fans and aggressive marketing and merchandising campaigns. He actively tours the U.S. and has the house gig at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printers Alley, where he has held court for some eight years—and was instrumental in the club being awarded The Best Blues Club by the Blues Foundation in 2000. He is a showman dressed to the nines, with a teasing smile, quick wit and taste for blue humor.

COUNTRY

Elizabeth Cook was born the 11th child of musician parents, including a father who served time for moonshining. She sings with a lilting, vibrant soprano that sounds like it was formed in the upper atmosphere from stray Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and pure sunshine. But there's a certain mathematical precision to Cook's third album, This Side of the Moon. Not a moment of these 13 tracks is wasted; each is served up with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of discipline. Cook's singing never slides into melisma, and the fat-free production aims for timelessness, not timeliness. It's all held together by the strict parameters of Cook's beans-and-cornbread drawl and determinedly retro Tammy-and-Loretta sound. Not for nothing has she made more than 100 Opry appearances in the last four years, charming the traditionalist gatekeepers with her classic-country sound, girlish charm and scrubbed-clean good looks.

Shelly Fairchild grew up in a musical family where everyone sang and several relatives played musical instruments. Her voice conveys the blues of her Mississippi Delta home, and her Columbia Records debut, Ride, twists and turns as it follows Fairchild from the country to the city, with her voice always the center of attention. To capture the contrasts that make her unique, the singer worked with an atypical team of producers, veteran Buddy Cannon and local blues guitarist Kenny Greenberg. Her producers understood that she's always loved country music, her influences ranging from Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton to Hank Williams Jr. and Travis Tritt. However, as much as she draws on a variety of styles, what she creates is something all her own.

Universal South recording artist Erika Jo is the first female to win the top Nashville Star prize in the history of the show and its youngest contestant ever. In its third season, the show featuring her big win enjoyed the highest ratings to date. Her prize package included a recording deal with Universal South. She's been a performer since age 4, when she started singing in her father's country cover band, and it didn't take long before the solo spotlight gravitated to Erika Jo. By the time she auditioned for "Nashville Star" in November of 2004, five days after her 18th birthday, she already had thousands of road miles and countless hours of performance experience under her belt. But still, she never imagined she'd eventually be the one contestant standing after thousands of hopefuls had been eliminated.

Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen, the two men who make up the duo Hanna-McEuen, are first cousins and sons of identical twin sisters, Rae and Kae. Spending so much time together growing up and always living near each other lent itself to strengthening the bond between them. In addition, their fathers are Jeff Hanna and John McEuen, who have been playing music together for nearly 40 years as founding members of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Natural talent is a given here. While their vocals are equally effective, no matter who is singing lead, their voices blend in a way that's unmistakably linked to acts like the Everly Brothers. Both are also accomplished guitarists whose work is featured throughout their debut album.

Born of triumph and tragedy, Bobby Pinson's songs encompass everything from political statements, personal mantras, real-life situations and the examination of the human condition. When the panhandle Texan sings of who he is, where he's been and at what cost, his voice rings with gritty truth. "A John Deere tractor with an airplane engine" best describes his mixture of country roots, rock 'n' roll energy and down-to-earth lyrics. He credits artist songwriter greats Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen, and Steve Earle as influences, and though he attributes his "first three chords" to his dad and his early interest in songwriting to his grandpa, his first fascination with rhyme was found in the pages of Shel Silverstein's poetry. Pinson's own songs are colored with wit, stained with whiskey and framed with hard-won "wisdom by default."

DJ/ELECTRONICA

Drawing from 26 years of collective DJ-ing experience, Chek & Mindub have played a key role in developing Nashville's electronic music scene. Formerly hosts on WRVU-91.1 FM, Chek & Mindub played the best in drum-and-bass and house music on their shows "Abstractions" and "The Underground Alarm Clock." In 1999, they helped form The Elevator Music Collective, which has gone on to nurture one of Nashville's most successful monthly house parties, Audity Central. Chek & Mindub have also been instrumental in other successful events, including Hump at Mercy Lounge, Spin Echo at Basante's in Green Hills, and Tea Dance at Merchants Restaurant. They've performed across the U.S. and have performed alongside such talent as Mark Farina, Derrick L. Carter, Halo, Justin Long, Colette, Monk and Jask. They continue to explore funky, fresh sounds that will stimulate your mind as well as your feet.

One the founders of the mid-South electronica scene, Chip B (a.k.a. Chip Ballard) is a Nashville native who first began producing electronica in 1988 and crossed over into DJ-ing shortly thereafter. Since that time, he has toured and performed internationally alongside renowned artists such as Moby, Deee-Lite, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and Orbital. To date, he has released four independent tracks and remixes, most notably "Sweet Dreams," a club hit from 2001. Locally, he has dedicated much of his efforts to the proliferation of electronica in Nashville, having produced many concerts and directed Nashville CARES' Artrageous event two years in a row.

By day, Coolout is a music producer/engineer. Sick of lax local artists and shady music industry folks, two years ago he retreated to his home studio to pursue solo projects and find the true meaning of art. Summer 2005 sparks a whole new chapter, as Coolout will continually release CDs for two months straight. By night, he is perhaps the hardest-working DJ in Nashville; he's been a resident DJ at BarTwenty3, Liquid Lounge, Time/Bar Nashville and Johny Jackson's Soul Satisfaction.

Here are a few things fans expect from a jensen sportag show: maximum volume, twisted visuals, audience participation, perverted pranks and, most commonly, pure rhythmic malevolence. jensen sportag is an ex-tennis pro-cum-reclusive midi novelist from Copenhagen. jensen sportag is also the name for the simulative post-techno band of Benji Craig and Austin Wilkinson from Nashville. The man from Denmark dictates midi notation to the band from Nashville, who record and perform the circuitous arrangements with patented "modern mental dancefloor" sound design applications and colorful retrofit stage themes. Later this year, they will release a long awaited LP and unveil a new set of songs and stage revue that jensen grudgingly describes as a retro-robo-proto-pop opera. Austin and Benji are also scheduled to release new recordings under the aliases Moonjean, Spread Eagles and Racial Purity Beatbox, as well as broker a remix series between mr. sportag and several Nashville bands.

Lenny Bertoldo's work for Britney Spears, Kevin Lyttle, Kelly Clarkson, Cher and others has made him one of the most sought-after and versatile pop producers and remixers in the world of dance music. Lenny B.'s most recent single, "I Touch Myself," is buzzing at dance radio stations all over the U.S., and his collaboration with the remix team Piper (Tommy Dorsey and DJ Ron) on Wynonna's "I Wanna Know What Love Is" made the Billboard Club Chart. In 2004, Lenny B. released his own album, To The House, a collection of deep, groovy, West Coast-influenced grooves under the alias BluSol. Amor, released on Regress Records under Lenny B.'s other alias, Bertoldo, was picked up by Steve Lawler for his Lights Out 2 CD compilation.

GOSPEL/CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN

Singer-songwriter John Davis spent a decade as the primary creative force for Superdrag, a melodic power-pop band from Knoxville, Tenn. With their combination of punk energy, bittersweet melodies and classic British influences, the group built a sizable fan base and produced a Top 20 Modern Rock hit, "Sucked Out," from their 1996 debut Regretfully Yours. Davis' growing alcohol addiction led him to re-embrace his faith and embark on a more spiritually-driven solo career. His self-titled debut release still shows Davis' considerable gift for crafting gorgeous melodies, but employs the lyrical language of traditional gospel and gospel-blues.

At last year's "Night Train to Nashville" celebration at Tower Records, the most soul-stirring moment belonged to veteran gospel and R&B singer Levert Allison. His brother Gene, once the most famous of Nashville's R&B hitmakers, had died just days earlier after years of struggle and obscurity. When Levert reared back his head for the soaring first line of his brother's signature song, "You Can Make It If You Try," listeners openly wept—out of joy at his celestial voice as much as sorrow. There are no tears of sadness when Allison takes the stage with the Dynamic Dixie Travelers, the gospel powerhouse formed in Dickson in 1957 by Harry Holt and Morris Pollard. The group recorded for the venerated Nashboro label before signing with Ted Jarrett's T-Jaye Records in 1981, and after almost 50 years the indefatigable Holt still serves as lead tenor, flanked by Allison, Vernon Holt, Chris Carr and Danny Anthony.

In 1992, Buddy Greene co-wrote "Mary, Did You Know" with Mark Lowry, and the song has since become a modern-day Christmas standard that's been recorded by Kathy Mattea, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna, Reba McEntire, Natalie Cole and others. He's also penned songs for Ashley Cleveland, The Whites and Del McCoury. In addition to being a respected songwriter and guitarist, Greene has become something of a harmonica sensation, playing on recordings by Béla Fleck, Charlie Peacock, Jerry Reed and Riders in the Sky. His latest record, Hymns & Prayer Songs, is an 18-song vocal and instrumental collection that features an all-star cast (Ron Block, Kirk Whalum, The Whites and more) celebrating the music of the church.

Ginny Owens grew up the oldest of two children in Jackson, Miss., where she started playing piano at age 2. She lost her sight to a congenital eye disease around the same time, but it didn't slow her down, and she continued to play music throughout her childhood. After moving to Nashville to major in music education at Belmont University, she wound up signing a record deal with Rocketown, releasing an album of personal songs that earned her the Dove Award for New Artist of the Year in 2000. She describes her most recent studio album, Beautiful, with the phrase "old soul." While the record has a decidedly R&B flavor influenced by her years of listening to everything from Stevie Wonder to rap, its lyrics are very much about her maturing process. The words and melodies may be simple, but they were born out of the more seasoned corners of her soul.

Touring aggressively the past year-and-a half and playing a variety of venues—from college campuses, to bars, to coffeehouses, to an old carpet warehouse—Kansas City native Matt Wertz engages listeners with his impassioned breathy vocals and a stage presence reminiscent of a conversation with a good friend. One moment, he's evoking laughter by performing boy-band cover songs and spouting off embarrassing stories about himself, the next moment bearing his innermost thoughts for all to scrutinize. And each of these facets of his show are equally a part of who Matt is.

HIP-HOP/CONTEMPORARY R&B

Some DJ, others make beats. Heads everywhere spit lyrics, and many are even recognized as true MCs who actually manage to rock a crowd here and there. Few get by juggling two or more facets, and an even smaller number happen to be classically or self-taught piano players, drummers and strummers. Count Bass D does it all. Count has been working to prove this since his decade-old debut, Pre-Life Crisis (Sony). Not only did he compose every note, pen lyrics and contribute the cuts and scratches, but he played most of the instruments. His third solo project, Dwight Spitz (2002), was hailed as a "headphone masterpiece" in Rolling Stone in February 2003. Count Bass D has worked with the likes of the Beastie Boys, Vitamin C, Van Hunt, Matt Mahaffey, MF DOOM and writer Oriana Lee.

Unlike many of his Southern peers, Haystak raps about his life as so-called "white trash," exploring the social dimensions of being white and underprivileged in the South. Born Jason Winfree to teenage parents, and raised by his grandparents, he grew up among impoverished surroundings. He turned to crime as he came of age, eventually turning to rap music as his salvation. Few gave the mammoth country boy a chance to succeed, however. In the late '90s, he defied the odds by aligning himself with a local rap label, Street Flavor, and producers Kevin Grisham and Sonny Paradise. The partnership resulted in Mak Million, Haystak's 1998 debut album, followed two years later by Car Fulla White Boys. By this point Haystak had garnered a substantial regional following. The ensuing buzz attracted Koch Records, who signed Haystak and rereleased Car Fulla White Boys in late summer 2000. Two years later, the label released Haystak's third album, The Natural.

Krystel infuses soul music with hip-hop beats, but her voice is reminiscent of the artists who've influenced her: Patti LaBelle, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, even Dolly Parton and Janis Joplin. Among her songwriting influences, she counts The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, India.Arie and Erykah Badu. Krystel has toured and performed on TV with Lyle Lovett, performed with Warner Bros. Latin soul artist Debi Nova, and worked with producers Shannon Sanders (India.Arie, Haystak, Next) and producer Drew Ramsey (India.Arie, Haystak, Brandy, Eric Benet).

Steve Roper is a jazz and blues guitarist who used to lead the versatile house band at B.B. King's club on Second Avenue and still plays there on a semi-regular basis.

Bandleader and guitarist Van Bradshaw put Higher Ground together in the summer of 2000 with the idea of bringing a new style of party band to colleges. Their repertoire extends from the '70s to the modern day, and their stylistic reach encompasses hip-hop, dance, R&B and oldies. Vocalists Deshan Jones and Nacole Robb collectively form 2~Way, and both have experience performing jazz, blues, gospel and R&B. You can currently see 2~way featured with Higher Ground at Level 88 Jazz Bistro.

JAZZ

Jeff Coffin, well-traveled saxophonist, composer, and member of the Grammy-winning Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, rejects all labels and categories other than "music" and "musician." In the face of his most recent album Bloom, even those once broad tags fall short of defining the close coiling of sound, philosophy and humanity that is the core of his art. Since 1997, Coffin has traveled the world with the Flecktones, performing with musicians of all walks. Along the way, he has absorbed an astounding range of influences, and Bloom is a genre-smashing extension of all Coffin has accomplished both as a solo artist and a Flecktone. His music, a successful intersection of genres, styles and collaborators, is the most convincing proof of his belief in an intangible musical spirit unburdened by any specific borders.

Acoustic violin/guitar-based trio The Gypsy Hombres blend traditional jazz with European, South American and classical music. Their repertoire embraces a wide variety of composers and styles—from Brahms and Chopin, to George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, to international folk songs—all while retaining the gypsy spirit. They're also accomplished composers. The Nashville Chamber Orchestra commissioned its composer-in-residence, Conni Ellisor, to write a piece incorporating some of the Hombres' original songs, melodies and riffs. The result was "Nuage de la Nuit," a 27-minute tribute to the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt featuring the Gypsy Hombres. Some of their own live shows have included special guest artists, including Chet Atkins, Alan Jackson, Tim O'Brien, Mandy Barnett and the great French gypsy stylist Romane.

In addition to being a jazz trumpeter, Rod McGaha is a composer, vocalist, lyricist and producer. McGaha was born and raised in Chicago, where his jazz-loving father would constantly play Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong records. He toured with Gene Chandler before attending Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and then DePaul University. During this time, trumpeter Clark Terry caught a performance by McGaha and took him under his wing. He went on to land numerous gigs and toured the world as a sideman for Kenny Rogers, BeBe and CeCe Winans, The O'Jays, Take 6, Lou Rawls and Max Roach. He has earned a number of awards, among them The Maynard Ferguson Award from the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, The Louis Armstrong Jazz Award for Outstanding Jazz Trumpeter and the Outstanding Jazz Trumpet Soloist Award from the National Association of Jazz Educators.

The Nashville Jazz Orchestra is dedicated to the performance of quality jazz by some of Nashville's best studio musicians. The band's library includes standard big band charts and original arrangements by local arrangers. The NJO also promotes jazz education through concerts and clinics in local schools.

After growing up listening to electric bass giants like Stanley Clarke, Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins, Victor Wooten rose to prominence as the bassist for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. While continuing to work with the Flecktones, he's developed a thriving solo career, releasing several records over the last decade, including the Grammy-nominated Yin-Yang. The youngest of the musically prolific Wooten brothers, Victor is widely regarded as one of the most influential bassists today and is the only three-time winner of Bass Player magazine's Bass Player of the Year award. He's performed or recorded with Chick Corea, Branford Marsalis, Bruce Hornsby, Prince and Dave Matthews, to name just a few. He's currently touring in support of his latest release, Soul Circus.

ROCK/SIGNED

Be Your Own Pet have singles on XL Recordings and Rough Trade UK. They will be recording an album this fall. They have played Nashville venues including The End, Exit In, Bongo Java and Guido's Pizza. They are playing internationally at Glastonbury Festival and Reading Festival (UK), Coney Island Siren Festival (New York) and Summer Sonic Festival (Japan).

You make your own fun in Sparta, Tenn., and that's exactly what the members of The Features did. Thirteen years old and bored out of their minds, singer/songwriter/guitarist Matt Pelham, bassist Roger Dabbs and organist Parrish Yaw grabbed themselves some instruments and decided to form a band. They started out playing covers, moved to Murfreesboro to study, got connected with the live scene there and promptly quit college to concentrate on their music. They grafted, crafted and worked on their material and their live show, sent demo tapes and played gigs, and soon signed to UK label Fierce Panda to release a clutch of 7-inches; 2003's The Beginning EP was later rereleased in the States by Universal, to whom the band had just signed. Their debut album, Exhibit A, a speeding jumble of sharp-edged guitar pop with a lush melodic core and a great lyrical sensibility, has been released on Universal imprint Temptation.

Three of the four Followills were still in their teens when Kings of Leon debuted with the five-song EP Holy Roller Novocaine in February 2003. Youth & Young Manhood followed six months later, and the band swiftly rose from rural obscurity to bona fide rock stardom overseas—particularly in the U.K., where Manhood has almost sold double-platinum. Kings of Leon's second record, Aha Shake Heartbreak, finds brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill, and first cousin Matthew Followill, delving deeper into their rich musical rapport and shared personal history to deliver a dozen doses of raw, personally charged rock.

The Pink Spiders are a case study in how to successfully hustle for the big break. Formed in summer 2003 by singer Matt Friction, bassist Jon Decious and drummer Bob Ferrari, the band quickly honed their punk-infused hyperpop, adopted a slick pink-and-black motif (a marketing exec's dream) and debuted the EP The Pink Spiders Are Taking Over! By November, the band had played almost every hole-in-the-wall in the country, released a stunning full-length Hot Pink, and signed to Geffen Records. The band currently reside in Los Angeles, where they're putting the finishing touches on their major-label debut, produced by Ric Ocasek.

Formed in Nashville in 2001 by former high school bandmates Dillon Napier and Daryl Stamps, Scatter the Ashes craft a dark, atmospheric blend of punk and prog-rock. With the addition of Matt McCord and Bob Farmer, the band expanded on their early punk foundations and penchant for swooning melodies, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the Ramones, Rush, Radiohead and The Cure. Scatter the Ashes recorded their Epitaph-released debut album Devout/The Modern Hymn in New York with My Chemical Romance and Brand New veteran John Naclerio.

ROCK/INDIE

The Clutters are one of the few proper rock bands playing in the city. They bash out three-minute nuggets of verse-chorus-verse pleasure with plenty of crunch. Between the rusty power chords, walking bass lines and a hell of a lot of cymbals, you'll hear squeaky guitar leads and a Farfisa. It's too messy for polite company, but too fun to keep to yourself. They bash out rock 'n' roll with the glee and rebellion of '70s punk but without the posed angst. You know, it's just like good rock 'n' roll ought to be. With the release of their debut album, T&C, on Chicken Ranch Records earlier this year, The Clutters are set to start converting rock 'n' roll atheists.

Drawing on the tones of artists such as David Bowie, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Super Furry Animals, The Kinks, Blur and Supergrass, De Novo Dahl debuted in the fall of 2001. The Nashville-based six-piece features Mark Bond on keyboards and lead vocals, Joel McAnulty on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Sandy Sandidge on lead guitar, bassist David Carney, all-around good-time vocalist/omnichordist Serai Zaffiro and drummer Joey Andrews. De Novo Dahl's live shows are always fun-filled and frequently feature themed outfits, audience participation and special events.

Following a recent explosion of rock acts out of Nashville, Luna Halo are beginning to emerge on the national radar. After hearing their independent release and seeing the band live, producer Rick Rubin (Tom Petty, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Run DMC, Johnny Cash) encouraged Warner Bros. to ink a deal with them in May '05. A modern rock sound influenced by the likes of Nirvana, The Smiths, Muse and The Clash, Luna Halo have carved out a sound all of their own. There is more to come from these rockers following a summer in the studio recording their major-label debut with producers Rick Rubin and Neil Avron, set to be released in early 2006.

Mile 8 formed with a goal to produce thick grooves and complex arrangements with a laid-back style fusing reggae, jazz and rock, pulled from such influences as John Coltrane and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It has been a busy 2005 for Mile 8. Already, the band has been scouted by Relix Magazine for its "On the Verge" section in the April/May issue, been presented the award of "New Groove of the Month—June '05" by jambands.com, and played a monthlong tour for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain. They have also recently played two of the most high-profile festivals in the country, Bonnaroo and High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, Calif.

With their no-frills attitude, anthemic choruses and high-energy live performances, Murfreesboro's Slack breathe new life into an industry filled with fashionably pessimistic hipsters and overhyped assembly-line rock. With more than 10 years' experience playing, writing and recording, the band began their ascent with the release of their first album, Sorry to Drop This on You, on SSL (Superdrag Sound Laboratories). After a romantic dance with college radio, they continued to tour wherever and whenever they could, pausing only to work on new material and perfect their sound—big hooks, loud guitars and knock-you-off-your-feet drums, usually clocking in at under three minutes a song. Last fall, they signed to Century Media/Abacus Recordings, which is set to release their new album, Press Your Luck, in early 2006.

SINGER-SONGWRITER

Jeff Black's songs start in a personal place, often hidden back in the darkness, yet they always strive to illuminate. He's a burly, bare-knuckled, blue-collar son of the Missouri plains with dark Irish blood who digs into tough topics with a gentle heart. There's nothing predictable about a Jeff Black lyric other than it will be sung robustly and it will head toward hope instead of dwell on despair. His songs take unexpected turns, cursing and snarling at points, showing their lust and their desire as well as their determination to remain bound for glory. Washed in the spirit and built on simple truths, they're ambitious epics performed with brawny passion.

Like too many Nashville artists, David Mead has taken a couple of rides on the major-label merry-go-round, only to be cast off in favor of easier-to-market product. While such dashed hopes would have done in more than a few aspiring singer-songwriters, Mead soldiers on, likely because he's driven more by the need to create music than to achieve fame. His last couple records, Mine and Yours (2001) and Indiana (2004), received critical praise, and he recently released Wherever You Are, a collection of numbers from some 2002 sessions for RCA that never got released. Mead is an exceptionally gifted singer and writes brainy pop tunes that are rich in melodies. He's just put the finishing touches on Tangerine, a yet-to-be-released album produced by Brad Jones.

As the title of his latest album, East Nashville Skyline, suggests, Todd Snider is the personification of his neighborhood: working-class, gritty, unpretentious and uninhibited. In fact, the album was largely inspired by the death of his close friend Skip Litz, an East Nashville legend who, like many characters from Snider's songs, lived fast and hard and couldn't give a damn about the morality police. Like another of his friends, country renegade Billy Joe Shaver, Snider's not a household name, yet he's managed to develop a strong cult following through word of mouth and his compelling live shows. Though he occasionally travels with a band, he's considered one of the best just-a-guy-with-guitar acts out there and counts among his fans Jimmy Buffet, Jerry Jeff Walker and his Oh Boy Records label-mate, John Prine.

Honest, literate, incisive lyrics, a gift for melody and a sturdy grasp on songcraft: this is what sets Jason White apart. Concerned with neither easy fame nor slick production, he writes songs from the gut—songs that ask questions, that explore, that raise debate. Whether they take place in smoky taverns, speeding cars or the solemn quiet of late-night contemplation, his songs play out like novels distilled to their most primal emotions—characters grasping for love, for oblivion, for acceptance, for a way out. White combines the pop know-how of Neil Finn with the gritty outlook of Tom Waits or John Hiatt and the gorgeous melodic sensibilities of the genre's greatest. He crafts songs that blur the lines between pop music and art—songs that are unafraid to ask questions, to indict and to revel in their own seamy, sexy madness.

Though her dad is Hank Williams Jr. and her grandfather is Hank Sr., Holly Williams has little in common musically with either. In fact, when she first started playing in Nashville music clubs, she never told people about her family, wanting to see if fans would like her music on its own merits. She's a soulful, introspective singer who's been compared to Tift Merritt, Mindy Smith, Mary Chapin Carpenter and even Dusty Springfield. Her debut album, The Ones We Never Knew, explores themes of ill-fated love and spiritual longing and has received strong reviews. She's been touring heavily since its release, sharing bills with John Mellencamp, Billy Bob Thornton and Ron Sexsmith, among others.

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