My previous blog post was about our Wednesday activities in Nashville. We had tickets for a show on Friday, but no plans for Thursday. But Jeanne enjoyed the Amy and Vince show so much that she decided to do a do-over; I loved it, too, but wanted to hear something else.
So I took off on my own, and ended up initially at another one of those 25-by-whatever-storefront honky-tonks. The band playing that night at Redneck Riviera — sorry, didn’t get their name, and I’m not sure they ever announced it — mostly played something other than “country.”
Wasn’t there that long — enough for two drinks (decent bourbon on the rocks, in a plastic cup, $10 a pop) — but their set list during that timeframe mostly included the Outfields’ “I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight,” a couple Bob Seger songs, and Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” (The last of those might be part of the job description at Nashville honky-tonks.)
The band was OK, but you can probably hear as well-played rock music in a randomly-selected, similar venue in Wisconsin. The lead guitarist was (to me) impressive, but just before I left he more impressed me by, a la Hendrix, playing a solo behind his head. I put a fiver in the tip bucket on my way out the door …
(But is this what Larry Cordle and Larry Shell wrote about in their 1999 song “Murder on Music Row”? “But someone killed country music, cut out its heart and soul …For the steel guitars no longer cry and fiddles barely play/But drums and rock 'n roll guitars are mixed up in your face.”)
I went from there to B.B. King’s Blues Club, only a few blocks away. (This is one of the great things about Nashville, the proximity of a variety of music venues.) That establishment has multiple live acts every day, and the artists that night was Mike Hayes and the Hustle.
Don’t know if Hayes is the second coming of Stevie Ray Vaughn, but he did a couple SRV-inspired numbers. And he can definitely pick it — not that I know that much about the guitar, but I was scratching my head trying to figure out what this skinny white dude was doing with those six strings.
Jeanne and I returned to B.B.’s club Friday, to have dinner and catch some more music before going to Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman at 9:30. The food was very good, as was the music — the live act that late afternoon and evening being one Carl Stewart, a Nashville guitarist much in the mold of the the man after whom the club is named.
Stewart is a left-handed picker who plays traditional blues in a sport coat (but also has a Grammy for a contemporary Christian song). He and his band did some B.B. songs and other blues numbers, but also played a couple of my favorite songs from The Music: “My Girl” and “Moondance.”
The Van Morrison classic has a wonderful lyric, but we don’t often think about its musical score. Stewart and crew did it as an instrumental, highlighting how good the tune is.
That was the pre-game for Friday’s big event, the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman. The main attraction for me was an appearance by Emmylou Harris, but — as is always the case with this great musical program — there are a number of acts on the bill.
The first to appear that night was Tenile Townes, a young Canadian singer-songwriter who you probably haven’t heard of, but likely will hear more from. Emmylou was on early, and made my night with the first chords she and her band played — I thought, “She’s really going to play ‘Poncho and Lefty’?” Did that, and “Leaving Lousiana” too, as I recall.
The other “name” artist on the card that night was Toby Keith, who was big stuff on CMT, GAC and C&W radio back during my dalliance with country and bluegrass 15 years ago or so. Keith did some songs back then that were almost novelty tunes, which pushed out of my memory the higher-quality stuff he did, like “Who’s that Man,” which he performed that night.
Toby’s also a pretty good live act. He brought out Eddy Raven, who’s maybe not a top-tier country guy these days, but has had several No. 1 hits, including “I Got Mexico”. Eddy’s 74 and looking a bit rode hard and put up wet, but did pretty well solo at the Opry.
Performing after Keith was an artist who is not a household name, but who has made music with a number of people who are. Mac McAnally is a multi-instrumentalist who has had a couple Billboard Hot 100 hits of his own, sang with Kenny Chesney on one of his No. 1s, and is a member of Jimmy Buffet’s Coral Reefer Band.
McAnally has also record production credits on his bio, for albums by Sawyer Brown and Restless Heart. He did a solo guitar instrumental that was just amazing.
The other newer act — the last one on the bill — that caught my attention that night was Paul Thorn, a Mississippi singer-songwriter and former professional boxer who once fought Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran. Thorn has a rocking, rough-edged style and writes quirky songs, judging by the two he did that Friday night.
Opry artists usually do only three songs or less, as the program moves along between commercials. Yes, you heard right — the Opry is still, as it has been for its nine-plus decades, a radio show.
There’s a golden-vocal-chorded dude reading the radio ads (Dollar General, a Tennessee-based outfit, was one of the sponsors that night) and introducing the hosts. The hosts are generally older C&W artists — John Conlee and Jeannie Seely that night — who apparently live in Nashville and are thus available for the shows.
The Opry runs in segments, with separate hosts and sponsors for each, with the curtain closing in between them. It’s a unique entertainment experience, and I heartily recommend it to anyone — even people who don’t like country — who visit Music City USA. And I do recommend visiting Nashville.