(This was written a couple of months ago for a British publication but I thought you all might dig it. JR)
It was a dark and stormy night in The Music City and the flashing, "NO VACANCY" sign in front of the old Loveless Motel was no lie because it was elbow room only but CMR Nashville's Jefferson Ross was thrilled to be on hand for the premier episode of the legendary WSM Radio's new series, "Music City Roots", a weekly, live radio program that will be broadcast every Wednesday evening at 7PM Central Time for Canada and the United States, 1AM for Britain and 2AM for the European Continent. (Jefferson would ask the Australians to figure this out on their own because he is an idiot at math.)
Situated in the large, white, spanking new barn, recently built behind the venerable Loveless Motel and Cafe, the show embraced a crowd of Music Row elite and music lovers alike. It reminded this writer of what a Nashville happening used to be like, a warm setting where thoughtful writers and singers met thoughtful listeners and apprentices with no agenda but to get great songs across. (Sorry if that sounds sappy...it's the truth.)
Eddie Stubbs, who hosted most of the program, and who is a walking encyclopedia of Country Music information, tethered the broadcast down to a smooth, baritone mood reminding us all that WSM was built on new technology back in the 1920's and continues to reach forward into the 21st Century.
He then introduced Mr. Craig Havighurst, a Nashville columnist and author, who wrote a splendid book entitled "Air Castle Of The South: The Making Of Music City". It is the story of WSM Radio and the evolution of Music Row and the music industry through that powerful radio station. Havighurst conducted the interviews throughout the evening. These included our headliner, Emmylou Harris and iconic singer/songwriters Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy.
Mr. Havighurst remarked, being in such luminous company of Stubbs, Harris, etc., that he was feeling like a certain, most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, "I don't know what I'm doing here!"
Kennedy/Rose took the stage with much aplomb and applause, with Pam Rose thumping along on a parlor-sized Larrivee guitar and Ms. Kennedy strumming a sunburst Gibson acoustic with dual, tortoise shell pick guards. After playing their first number, Rose quipped, "If you enjoy music that doesn't fit in a box, then you are in the right place." They then performed their number one song that the duo wrote for Restless Heart, a tune called "I'll Still Be Loving You".
In the spirit of WSM's famous commercials during The Opry, Stubbs enthralled us, and your writer is not kidding you here, with a shoe commercial. He praised the righteousness of French's Shoes And Boots and then lifted up his own size 15 shoe, proclaiming that French's always has the right size for him. One would hope that French's will forever more be crammed with patrons after that display from such a stoic and dignified gentleman.
Havighurst then interviewed Ms. Harris and started the query with an interesting statement and question, "You weren't always a Country fan, were you?"
Country Music Hall of Fame member, Emmylou Harris replied, "No, I didn't like Country Music. I loved Folk Music but I was converted to Country as well." And, that might possibly refer to her 'conversion' by country/folk/rock sinner-saint, Gram Parsons, with whom Harris collaborated on several seminal projects in her career. Parsons is assumed to be the key, male figure in her "The Ballad Of Sally Rose", which was mentioned several times during the evening, written and co-produced by her ex-husband, Paul Kennerley.
Havighurst asked her if one needed to be ambitious to make it in the music industry. Harris replied, "I think that you have to be KIND of ambitious but, like Minnie Pearl said, I'm just SO PROUD TO BE HERE." (I am terribly sorry but humans do not get too much cooler than this woman. Please shoot this way if your author is wrong.)
Annie Crane and Robin Aigner then took the stage with some generous applause. A winning duo of women from Brooklyn, they sang a nice, opening song and then hurled themselves into Hank Williams', "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". They shone like lovely, earnest, Brooklyn girls but they did not seem lonesome at all and no one was even close to crying. One hates to be a wet blanket for this segment, but in this town full of KILLER female singers, this was a Glee Club moment, at best.
And, THEN, the angels sang...
Ms. Harris stepped out on the stage, with Rose, Kennedy and a stellar, acoustic band in tow, and smoldered with a deep throated yet laid back version of the song, "Evangeline", which was featured on her 1981 album by the same name.
Her dress was a lavender, opaquely netted, Western affair, skirted in light fringe and she wore deep, violet cowgirl boots trimmed in cream.
Her message for the evening was about animals and a large number of ARC (Animal Resource Center) members were there for support. Kennedy/Rose sang a song about animal care and Harris, repeatedly, admonished listeners to have their pets spayed and neutered.
The last song that Ms. Harris sang as your correspondent was leaving the building was a favorite hymn in the Americana canon, "Prayer In Open D".
The very last bit of the song lyric reads,
"BEYOND THE RIVER AND THE FLOOD,
AND THE VALLEY WHERE FOR SO LONG I STOOD,
WITH THE ROCK OF AGES IN MY BONES,
SOMEDAY I KNOW IT WILL LEAD ME HOME."
In this era of plastic, blow up dolls, music fans far and wide can relax and be glad that folks like WSM and Emmylou Harris continue to feel the rock of ages in their bones and that, someday, it will lead us home. And, home is a good place to be on a dark and stormy night...listening to WSM.
Keep a song in your heart!
Your Old Cousin-