Americana Music Fest – Part IV – Thursday Night

So, I talked about struggling my way from the front of the stage of the Delta Spirit show at Live on the Green, and unfortunately not being about to stay around to see Jakob Dylan and his band The Wallflowers close out that evening, but I had my Americana wristband and a full schedule planned. 

The Basement was my first stop for a performance by the always wonderful Angel Snow.  We first wrote about Angel way back toward the beginning of this little music blog experiment.  She is a Nashville singer-songwriter with a heavenly voice, and a gift for writing really great songs.  She wrote a couple of songs that Alison Krauss recorded on her Paper Airplanes record.  Angel’s songwriting partner and frequent collaborator is Viktor Krauss – Alison’s brother.  Viktor was not at this show, as he was across town playing at with the great Jerry Douglas. This information would prove to be foreshadowing in a way.  The hard lesson learned is that one cannot be everywhere at once during the Americana Fest.  But more on that later.  Angel has a new album due out in early October with a return engagement at The Basement with Marc Scibilia and Matraca Berg for the CD release show.  She did a few songs off the new album and some our favorites like Coals and Water and Fortune Teller.  Even though Mr. Krauss was not present, her  band sounded great and her voice was as amazing live as it is on record.




I left The Basement with the intent to head to The Station Inn to catch Mary Gauthier and to see Richard Thompson.  My lesson learned is that if you are wanting to see Richard Thompson at The Station Inn – unless you have better connections than I do, you better show up early.  So, yeah, I reached The Station Inn to find a line outside and the likelihood of enough people leaving before Richard Thompson played not so good.  So, I punted and decided to head over to The Rutledge lest I be shut out from the Big Star tribute show.  

Now, grant it I was bummed about missing Richard Thompson and Mary Gauthier, but you know what, the real lesson learned from the evening was, when it comes to the Americana Fest, you just have to pick your venues and stick it out, and know that though you may miss some amazing shows, you are also going to see and hear some equally but different amazing music.

The theme for the evening at The Rutledge – a decent sized club on 4th Avenue, which unless I’m mistaken is where one of Nashville’s first modern era Coffee Houses, Blue Sky Court was located – was Memphis music.  Around 11:00, the Bo-Keys took the stage.  They were introduced as a modern take on the classic Memphis sound.  Lead by bassist Scott Bomar, The Bo-Keys opened with a couple of really boss instrumental songs which sounded amazing.  Then, they brought up their featured vocalist Percy Wiggins, who dressed to the nines had the look of a legendary soul singer, and that is exactly what he is.  This was truly classic Memphis Soul-stew sound with a face forward and anchored solidly in the present time.  

The band includes the sole surviving member of The Bar-Kays who were killed in the crash that took the life of  the great Otis Redding, the drummer was part of the Hi Rhythm Section which played on many of the classic Stax recordings.  Other members of the band included guys who had played with Al Green, Rufus Thomas and Bobby “Blue” Bland.  I have to say, I’m not an expert when it comes to this part of the Memphis sound, though, like you I’ve definitely heard it, but I do know great music when I hear it, and The Bo-Keys make great music.  





For me, the highlight of the night – heck, of the festival, of my life as a music fan, was the closing set of the night.  I had been talking about the All-Star tribute to the music of Big Star ever since I heard about it.  All I knew going in was that the show was going to feature Chris Stamey of The Dbs, Mike Mills of R.E.M. and original Big Star member Jody Stephens plus…  Hell even without the … that was good enough for me, and the mind reeled as to who the … could be…

As it turned out, the … did not disappoint:  Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs), John Davis (Superdrag), Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Clockhammer), Bill Lloyd (Foster and Lloyd, solo), Byron House (Band of Joy etc., etc., etc.), Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) and several young North Carolina-based musicians including Skylar Gudask and Brett Harris and I’m probably missing some amazing people… 

So, what I can tell you is that a Big Star tribute with that cast would have been amazing no matter what.  Even if it had been sloppy and hastily thrown together, it would have been legendary.  But… honestly, the reason this show was so amazing to me, was not the stellar band and guests, it was the music.  Big Star, I honestly don’t know how to adequately write about how important a band they were.  How much of the music I grew up listening to and enjoying owes a huge debt to this Memphis band.  The late Alex Chilton, Chris Bell and Andy Hummel along with Jody Stephens to me, redefined what this music  (progressive, avant-garde, alternative, whatever) could be.  

So this show and what made it so amazing for me.  This band which at times included a full string section (which sounded amazing) brought the songs to life in a way I never could have anticipated.  I can’t even begin to give you a blow by blow, song by song account, but here are some highlights:

Mike Mills vocals on September Gurls




Bill Lloyd on In the Street

Skylar Gudask on Thirteen
The whole crowd on Thank You, Friends
and so much more…
great moments like Luther Dickinson whose father, the late Jim Dickinson produced Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers album talking about hearing some of the songs in a rough version when he was just a kid.

So, yeah, I was completely blown away, and all sense left me which I think is what Big Star’s music is supposed to do.  I left the club exhilarated and exhausted and flying on a musical high…. and this was just my first night of the Americana Music Festival….

  

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