If it seems like a lot of attention has already been paid to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's new exhibit, opening this weekend, there's a reason. This is a genuinely momentous undertaking, a chronicling of local history too often overlooked. With "Night Train to Nashville," the Hall of Fame tells the story of blues and R&B music in Nashville, beginning with postwar boogie woogie and extending to 1960s soul. Yes, it's true that Nashville's R&B legacy may not be as prominent as that of Detroit or Chicago or New York. But it is a unique, engrossing tale that makes connections that reach across the whole of popular musicfrom Elvis Presley (who covered local bluesman Arthur Gunter's "Baby Let's Play House") to James Brown (whose hit "Please Please Please" first broke on WLAC-AM) to The Beatles (who covered songs originally performed by Arthur Alexander, a soul singer with significant Nashville ties). Maybe more important is the fact that the music highlighted by the exhibit and its accompanying CD compilation is flat-out, mind-rattlingly amazing. And for every historic moment that might simply have taken place in Music City, there are just as many or more homegrown treasures to be celebrated here: Louis Brooks and His Hi-Toppers' 1955 hit "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)" (later covered by Ruth Brown), the late Gene Allison's "You Can Make It If You Try" (later covered by The Rolling Stones), Robert Knight's eternal "Everlasting Love" (covered several times over since its original 1967 recording). So why is the Country Music Hall of Fame highlighting this history? It's not such a dumb question, and it's one that'll be addressed in a variety of ways at a 3 p.m. panel discussion on Saturday titled "Let's Trade a Little: The Country-R&B Connection," featuring singer-songwriter Bobby Hebb ("Sunny"), producer and song publisher Buddy Killen, producer Shelby Singleton, Eugenia Sweeney and singer Audrey Bryant Watkins. Later the same night, Nashville singer Earl Gaines, who has lent his deep, warm voice to "It's Love Baby" and plenty other songs over the past half-century, will perform with his band at 7 p.m. It's a fittingly exciting kickoff to what will be more than a year's worth of special occasions surrounding this historic exhibit. For more information, call 416-2001 or visit www.countrymusichalloffame.com.
Boss Martians The Boss Martians bang out a classic brand of pop-punk that channels '60s garage and surf with an emphasis on Spector-like melodies, four-square rhythms and anthemic choruses. The Seattle quartet's "I Am Your Radio," featured on their recent CD The Set-Up, was voted the "Coolest Song of 2003" by listeners of Little Steven's syndicated Underground Garage radio show. The Ramones and early Elvis Costello & the Attractions are obvious influences, but their fashion-conscious, joyous spin on straightforward rock 'n' roll is most reminiscent of The Fleshtones. Fun, yes, but they're also true believers in rock's religious qualitiesits potential to inspire and empower those who need it most. With Athens, Ga.'s The Forty-Fives and Warner Hodges' Disciples of Loud opening, this is a night designed to hail, hail rock 'n' roll. Mercy Lounge
Dexter Romweber Rock 'n' roll fans who've come of age in this latest resurgence of trebly garage riffs might not be familiar with Romweber's name, but a little more than a decade ago, his outfit Flat Duo Jets were one of the finest bands paying tribute to rockabilly and the blues while looking squarely ahead with sometimes startling directness. Romweber never really quit making music, but he's been quiet these past few years. He returns this summer with a new album, Blues That Defy My Soul, that should bear witness to his singular style. There's always been something a little unsettling and hard to pin down about Romweber's music, a Gothic tinge that feels completely and utterly genuinenot unlike The Cramps, but with none of the kitschy trappings. To hear him sing is to hear a man reach back through popular-music history and bring a forgotten moment back to life, whether he's taking on the traditional folk tune "Froggie Went a-Courtin'," finding every bit of emotion in Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart's immortal "You Belong to Me" or simply wringing the Link Wray out of his guitar. The End
Tim O'Brien O'Brien has such a broad stylistic range that it's easy to forget he's as gripping a bluegrass singer as the genre has turned up in the past couple decades. Recent album appearances, including a guest turn on Jim Mills' My Dixie Home, help to remind one of the point, but there's no substitute for hearing O'Brien sing up close and personalespecially with a band like the one lined up for this appearance. Guitarist Jeff White is a powerful enough bluegrass player and singer to have had his usual bossman, Vince Gill, serve as a sideman on his albums; fusionary fiddler Casey Driessen melds jazz and old-time influences into a dazzling bluegrass style; and Dennis Crouch of the Nashville Bluegrass Band holds down the bottom end with impeccable timing and the kind of subtle creativity that signals a gut-level understanding of the genre. Rounding out the quintet is up-and-coming picker Tony Ray, a double threat on guitar and banjo, who combines crisp rhythmic drive with a deft melodic sense. With strong originals from O'Brien and White mixed with bluegrass classics old and new, this should be one special evening. Station Inn
Justin Earle & the Swindlers After absorbing the blues in his teens, Earle has matured into a songwriter who draws on all manner of modern and traditional styles to create something uniquely powerful and personal. Along the way, he's developed an amazing voice that allows him to get as forceful, as tender or as down-and-dirty as he desires. A sharp guitarist as well, he realizes that it's emotion and melodynot techniquethat serve a songwriter best. Time spent on the road with his father Steve Earle has given him a confidence onstage rare among performers his age. Backed by his young band, the multifaceted Swindlers, Earle has been drawing fervent record company interest of late. He's clearly come into his own. B.B. King's Blues Bar
Jack Wright/Sabine Vogel/ Michael Griener Reed player Jack Wright is one of the leading figures in the U.S. experimental improvisation scene due to his energetic style and wide sonic palette, his openness to playing with other people and his longevityhe's been at it 25 years. This is Wright's first Nashville appearance, and he'll be joined by two musicians from Berlin. Vogel is a classically trained flautist who cultivates extended techniques and works with leading composers as well as improvisers; percussionist Griener has played with traditional jazz players like Tal Farlow and Herb Ellis and with many of the essential European and American improvisers. Both are associated with the "low decibel" scene in Berlin, which works intensely with subtle shifts of sound and silence. Wright has a more assertive style, but he has had many productive collaborations with other members of the less-is-more crowd. This threesome played together for the first time in fall 2003, so their set should reflect the excitement of a fresh musical relationship. The share a bill with the Arthur Doyle Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. (See the story on p. 39.) Springwater
Drive-By Truckers A month ago, Scene writer Barry Mazor heartily recommended the Drive-By Truckers' Nashville performance, noting high prospects a memorable show. The only problem was, the performance had actually been scheduled for March 26 and not Feb. 26a bit of scheduling confusion we weren't able to sort out until after that week's paper had gone to the printer. So now we take this opportunity to tell fans of the Truckers' Dixie-fried, three-guitar attack that this weekend is their opportunity to catch the band. Mercy Lounge
An Evening of Out Guitar The latest offering from promoter Voight-Kampff Music brings together several musicians who promise to summon forth all manner of unnatural sounds from the guitar. Headlining will be American Trilogy, a project from guitarists Duane Denison (formerly of Jesus Lizard, currently of Tomahawk) and Brady Sharp (of Voight-Kampff Music) and percussionist Brian Kotzur. This group improvise off of Native American chants, field hollers, spirituals and other old American material. In reference to this project, Denison talks about working with the material in a way that steers clear of folk musicwhich I take to mean avoiding the easy-on-the-ears style lampooned in A Mighty Wind. He seems to be after something hard, intense and raw. In addition to consistently putting together great shows under the Voight-Kampff aegis, Sharp is also one of Nashville's leading exponents of avant-garde guitar playing. He uses a full range of prepared guitar techniques, but remains deep down a rock player. For his part in this project, Kotzur works with an unconventional percussion kit. Expect to hear ancient-sounding melodies move through a rugged sonic landscape of extended technique. The other acts on this bill take various approaches to wringing new sounds out of the familiar instrument. Matt Hamilton has been developing a personal solo style built around sustaining and piling up loops; David Petschulat works with homemade guitars and found objects; and David Streit focuses much of his efforts on manipulating pedal effects, in some cases using hand-built pedals. The 5 Spot
Calexico What Lambchop are to their hometown's country and R&B heritagea sponge that absorbs like crazy, yet wrings out something both substantially different and indefinably similarTucson's Calexico are to the colliding musics of the Tex-Mex border. Mariachi horns entwine with steel and softly strummed guitars, and indie pop sometimes thumbs a ride with conjunto and honky-tonk, but the end result feels less like studied genre-hopping than an orchestra of diverse talents who met at the crossroads and improbably clicked. Founders Joey Burns and John Convertino played in Giant Sand and the Friends of Dean Martinez before shaking off the latter group's loungy retro affectations. Their latest EP Convict Pool, recorded partially in Nashville, is highlighted by a lush cover of Love's "Alone Again Or" that could pass for one of their originalshigh praise indeed. Before they appear this fall in Michael Mann's hit-man thriller Collateral, welcome them back to town with full-fledged bandmate and ace steel player Paul Niehaus, a longtime veteran of the Nashville club scene whose faint twang remains a constant in Lambchop's ever-evolving sound. 12th & Porter
beginning Tuesday, 30th
Tin Pan South Nashville's annual songwriter festival Tin Pan South begins Tuesday, kicking off 70 shows over five nights at nine different clubs. All across town, soloists with acoustic guitars (or the occasional piano) will alternate between earnest and humorous songs they've written or, more likely, co-written. How's this different from any other week in Music City? Good question. It's sort of like homecoming week at a university: It's the usual game, only it's promoted more heavily and more people show up, and it's all intended to celebrate what makes this town special. Three or four songwriters are teamed at each show to highlight connections and shared aesthetics. On Tuesday, there's the soulful Americana of Steve Young, Rosie Flores, Joy Lynn White and Phil Lee at Douglas Corner, while smart individualists Amy Rigby and Jennifer Nicely join swampy groove merchants Kevin Gordon and Colin Linden at The Basement. Later that night at The Basement, Darrell Scott, Pierce Pettis, Tom Kimmel and Carrie Newcomer will trade their searching tunes. On Wednesday at 12th & Porter, Matraca Berg, Dean Dillon and Leslie Satcher will show how good modern country music can be, and at the Bluebird Cafe that night, Pam Tillis, Karen Staley, Ashley Cleveland and Tricia Walker will reunite the original "Women in the Round" lineup, one of the most popular teamings in the history of Nashville's in-the-round setup.
Rowland Stebbins Quite likely, Stebbins is the only Nashville-based country songwriter to cite Hunter S. Thompson, the late comic Bill Hicks and singer Robbie Fulks as influences. His wry originals show that he's absorbed the witty wordplay of his heroesif not their gonzo attitude. After starting out in the New York alt-country scene, Stebbins relocated to Nashville in 2002, and his outsider perspective is evident in the way he slips skewed humor into sly, sharply detailed scenarios and narratives. His twangy arrangements are a folk-rocker's idea of what country music sounds like, and it works well as long as his lyrics are clever enough to carry the tune. His songs tell of a man who drinks wine when his relationship is going well and whiskey when it's not, and of a fellow who wonders why people don't love him while citing all the traits that put people off. Stebbins can also deliver an irony-free love song. He often plays solo, but for this show he's rounded up his band, The Sons of Bachelors. Radio Cafe
Tape As past performers, producers and directors with ACT I, Bob and Sean O'Connell have offered some of the city's best community theater. Now the duo venture out on their own with the debut production of their new company, GroundWorks, a nonprofit, non-union enterprise that aims to do pro-level work. "We learned all we could without entering the professional arena," Sean says. "Now our job is to learn the mechanics of making a self-sustaining venture. As for our artistic direction, we're particularly interested in understanding what it means to tend to the generation of theatergoers coming up behind us." Tape fits right into that mission, offering a taut exploration of old high school friends, now in their late 20s, who grapple with issues of date rape, machismo and the Rashomon-like proposition of memory vs. reality. Under Bob O'Connell's direction, the three-character drama features Jack E. Chambers, Daniel Vincent and Megan Murphy. The play runs March 26 through April 10 at the Darkhorse Theater. Reservations can be made by calling 262-5485.
Cabaret Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre recently opened this Tony Award-winning Kander/Ebb musical, which walks on the decadent side of 1931 Berlin, right before the Nazis consolidated their growing power. A compelling book (based on the stories of Christopher Isherwood) and a very famous score make this one of the most popular theatrical works of the past 40 years. Martha Wilkinson directs a cast that includes Holly Shepherd as the inimitable Sally Bowles and Atlanta's Jonathon Tatus as the equally distinctive emcee at the Kit Kat Klub. Musical direction is by Tim Fudge, and the choreography is by Pam Atha. The show runs through May 1; for reservations, call 646-9977.
Snow White: The Rest of the Story Boiler Room Theatre's Harlequin Story Theatre program offers young performers a chance to act, sing and create. During a recent six-week session, participants conceived and crafted this musical spoof of the classic Snow White fable. Under the direction of Mark Allen, the play will be presented 3 p.m. March 27 and 7 p.m. March 29 at The Factory at Franklin. For tickets, phone 794-7744.
Adrian Göllner/Ruby Green When you study a specific historic or cultural moment, you naturally focus on key events and characters. But it can be useful to step back and see what else was going on in the world at the same time. In Nashville, we have a wealth of resources documenting the history of our hometown music, but how often do we think about the large-scale historical context of country music? For his Ruby Green show, Ottawa, Canada-based artist Adrian Göllner will do this with one figure, Hank Williams. Think about it for a minute, and you realize that the singer's brief career (1947-53) corresponds with the rise of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. The title of the show, "No, No Joe," refers to a place where these two histories came together: a 1950 novelty song by Williams addressed to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Göllner's work draws from advertising and technical communications to produce installations, graphics, billboards and Web sites with strong elements of satire and social commentary. In this show, he has prepared graphs tracking the progress of Hank Williams' recording career, setting it against the development of nuclear testing. The pieces point out hidden correspondences between these usually separate lines of history, and they raise questions about the nature and validity of the tools used for visual communications. There will be an opening reception 7-9 p.m. Friday, March 26, with a talk by the artist at 7:30 p.m.
Erin Anfinson, Elizabeth Dorbad, Kate Barrere and Jennifer Febbraro/TAG Art Gallery This Hillsboro Village gallery spotlights the work of four women artists in its latest show. Nashville's Erin Anfinson explores the playful, absurd and childlike aspect of the creative process in her clip-art-generated depictions of the natural world. Working from the premise that her audience's understanding and experience of "nature" is a largely flat, simplified cut-and-paste version of the real thing (pieced together through weather charts, photos and other manipulated sources), Anfinson raids her computer's stock of clip art to take her theory to the logical extreme. Kate Barrere explores the ways cartoons provide insights into the uncertainty of the human condition, suggesting that her cartoon paintings "reflect the ambivalent emotional soup that constitutes our reality." Often painted in exotic, dreamy swirls on scraps of found metal, Barrere's creations might easily be misidentified as artifacts from a lost civilization. California artist Elizabeth Dorbad uses found objects to create her sculptures, such as the tangibly salty assemblage, "They Said She Was a Sailor." Jennifer Febbraro prefers to call her paintings "autobiographical landscapes" and draws upon a wide variety of artistic modes of expression (such as choreography, film and literature) to realize her vision. The show opens with a reception, 6-9 p.m. March 27.
SPINDLES & SWORDS/PLOWHAUS ARTISTS' COOPERATIVE Inspired by the story of Adelicia Acklen, a powerful and wealthy woman who found freedom from the repressive female roles of the Victorian era, local artist Beth Gilmore conceived of an art show that would explore spindles and swords as universal "power tools of the ages" and as symbols of female power. Several Nashville artists, both women and men, took on the theme and created new works for the show, ranging from collage and painting to sculpture and weaving. Spend an evening with the artists at the opening reception, 7-11 p.m. Saturday, March 27. Participants include Jill Baker-Smith, Rick Bradley, Becca Gillespie, Doyle Hunter, Erika Johnson, Franne Lee, Margaret Pesek, Julie Sola, Robert Vore and others. "Spindles & Swords" is on view through April 25.
Richard Feaster, Jim Ann Howard and John Geldersma/ZEITGEIST GALLERY New York artist Richard Feaster returns to his Nashville roots for a group showing at Zeitgeist. His new series "Plumbago"a historic term for graphitefeatures immense monochromatic surfaces that appear abstract and noisy, but upon closer examination are filled with hypnotic patterns in soft layers of ground zinc, pewter and graphite. The result is a glowing tapestry of symbols and allusions to scientific illustration and geophysical processes. Nashvillian Jim Ann Howard's works depict goddesses and animist imagery in prehistoric art, inspired by visits to The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Jungian Institute in Manhattan. Coloradoan Geldersma exhibits his prayer sticks and spirit poles, colorful and slinky sculptures influenced by Native American, African and Eastern traditions. The opening reception is 6-8 p.m. Saturday.
Through the Looking GlassA Seduction of the Arts People's Branch Theatre hosts this benefit designed to raise both money and public consciousness of its experimental ethos. The title ties in to the company's forthcoming new adaptation of the classic Lewis Carroll story, and the entertainment includes a scene from the show. Besides plenty of food and drink, there are also belly dancers, body painting, a door prize and other offbeat undertakings in tune with the restless PBT spirit. The Verbena Court Strut Band provide live funk music. Festivities are 7-9 p.m. March 25 at 3rd & Lindsley. For tickets, phone 429-6184.
Evening of BroadwayA Benefit for Broadway Cares The cast of Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre's Cabaret will present excerpts from the musical 8 p.m. March 28 at the Chute Complex Show Bar, 2535 Franklin Road. Proceeds from the event will go to Broadway Cares, a nonprofit entertainment-industry organization that supplies direct assistance to individuals and service providers combating HIV/AIDS. The evening's talent lineup will also include some of the Chute's own premier performers. For info, contact Martha Wilkinson at 226-2788.
Model Train Show/Open House In the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, Nashville has a terrific facility to go along with its rich railroading tradition. At this event co-sponsored by the Cumberland Division of the National Model Railroad Association, rail aficionados can enjoy model layouts, tours of private railcars or demonstrations of steam locomotives, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Visitors can also shop in the company store for rail souvenirs or have a meal in the dining car. For information, call the museum at 244-9001.
Underground Not to be missed on the big screen. Emir Kusturica's exhilarating 1995 tragicomedy turns the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia into epic vaudeville, fusing slapstick, surrealism and sudden violence into the story of two brawling buddies whose exploits encompass a half-century of world war and civil war. Almost overstuffed with indelible images, the film screens Thursday through Saturday as part of International Week at Vanderbilt's Sarratt Cinema.
The Bell Witch Haunting This film is the first of two locally produced movies this year inspired by the terrifying saga of the Bell Witch, who menaced John Bell and his family in Robertson County for four years until 1821. Real life and fiction blurred when four members of the cast were savagely ripped apart by unseen forces. (OK, not really. But we heard somebody might've tripped at the cast party.) Writer-director Rick White's movie makes its premiere Saturday at the Belcourt, and we hear tickets are almost gone for the four shows.
Tokyo Godfathers Local anime lovers have been clamoring for a Nashville theater to book regular screenings of Japanese animated films. The Belcourt says put up or shut up with a week's run of this animated melodrama by Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue), and if the movie does well, the theater says it may explore screening others more often. The story updates the venerable John Ford sudser Three Godfathers to the streets of Tokyo, where three homeless vagabonds care for an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. Visit www.belcourt.org for more information.
The Ladykillers Tom Hanks, sporting a Col. Sanders outfit and a honeysuckle drawl, plays the ringleader of a group of riverboat thieves whose big score gets thwarted by a little old lady (Irma P. Hall). Joel and Ethan Coen wrote and directed this reworking of the delectable 1955 British black comedy; Marlon Wayans and J.K. Simmons co-star. The film opens Friday at area theaters.
Never Die Alone Scarface meets Sunset Blvd. in this yarn adapted from a Donald Goines novel, with DMX as the cold-blooded gangsta who narrates his wicked life and times from the plush lining of his coffin. It starts Friday, along with Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and some singer-actress named Jennifer Lopez in Jersey Girl, the new comedy-drama from Kevin Smith.
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