Last night was the Third Man Records showcase at The Stage in Austin, Texas. The lineup featured TMR acts Karen Elson — yes, the former Mrs. White — The Black Belles, PUJOL and Lanie Lane, along with Reggie Watts, White Rabbits, Natural Child, Electric Guest and Purling Hiss. John C. Reilly (yes, the actor) congratulated Third Man on “three years of kicking ass” during a set of country ballads he performed in a felt cowboy hat. But there was no doubt who was the headliner.
Reilly wasn’t the only one bringing the twang, as his and White's sets both had a definite country tilt. White performed two sets: one with his six-piece all-female band, and a second with his five-piece all-male band. Both used upright bass, slide guitar and fiddle. The latter also employed a mandolin and harmonica player.
White performed a mix of material, from Raconteurs and White Stripes hits to new material from his upcoming album Blunderbuss. Not only was the venue packed to capacity within minutes of the doors opening, but the windows adjacent to the stage were opened to allow those on the streets to partake. Nearly 200 people crowded the cobblestone streets outside to hear White do his thing.
From a Nashville standpoint, the most interesting thing here is Third Man's creative direction. As his projects with Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson promised, Jack White is merging traditional folk/country music with garage rock to produce something new. White is incorporating the musical birthright of his adopted hometown — the seat of country music — into his own music. He's continuing the trajectory of Music City, not contradicting it.
White is part of an international trend in folk country revitalization. A lot of well-known artists from other genres have expanded their musical palates with country music. John Mayer’s most recent album is distinctively country, with the cover art a silhouette of him in a cowboy hat. M. Ward will debut an album in two months featuring Nashville slide guitar wizard Chris Scruggs. Traditional country/folk music is finding a new audience everywhere you look.
Jack White didn't invent country music. But in Austin last night, it sure sounded like he means to reinvent it.