Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Nashville is still a town to elicit excitement. Say what you will about the glut and glitter of the Kentucky Fried anthems saturating the airwaves overhead, or the mediocre imitation of the like that blares forth from every paint by number juke joint down in the bowels of Broadway. There is still a lust to be found here. Nevermind the snakeskins yet to be broken in on denim clad tourists. Cutting a path through the teeming streets, one can still sense the inarticulate longing for everything grand and timeless that can be harmoniously plucked from six strings stretched across a hollowed box. The Yankees bring ultra-modern cameras with them in the hopes their massive, magnificent lenses can telescope into the past and capture images of a simpler time that probably never existed. In the bloated, whisky-drenched stares of starlet hopefuls, in the incessant repetition of busking anarcho-folkies, one can find all the delirium, joy and pathos of those who truly believe in the long-shot odds of silly things like romance, liberty, and music.
Over in East Nashville, they bemoan gentrification. It’s the same sad bastard chorus you hear in Austin, in Brooklyn. The kids with artistic pipe dreams move into rundown neighborhoods creating a bohemia in the likeness of their youth culture. But as the movement reaches critical mass, the developers take note and then sell that self-same dream to the established until residents can no longer distinguish the art from the artifice.
Yet in Nashville, the concept has bled over from the purely physical, and there isn’t one amongst the thirteen hundred fifty two who harbors any doubts about the integrity of country music. These days its pure industry. But you can’t really blame the city for capitalizing on the fact. There’s a very real, very large demand for sing-along stadium balladry. But as the behemoth continues to grow, interesting things are cropping up around the periphery.
Enter the newest generation of country crooners. It’s a movement lead by the inimitable Shovels and Rope. With the success of last year’s Swimmin’ Time, country is not only catching on with the indie crowd, it’s coming back full circle to its 1960s outsider persona. There’s many names you’re familiar with: Sturgill Simpson, Corb Lund, Hayes Carll, Todd Snider, Hooray for the Riff Raff, etc. But, from all corners of the nation, young musicians are converging on this medium in the hopes of making it relevant again. From the Northeast, there’s Joe Fletcher, swinging out blindly at eternity. From Texas, Wild Child proves you don’t even need a guitar to get boots tapping. Then there’s Johnny Fritz (ne Corndawg) wherever that long haul driving, waltz timing troubadour calls home, there’s bound to be a stereo pounding out the spirit of the individual we’ve all clung to, so tightly, for years.
But, if you happen to be in Nashville on Saturday night and you absolutely have to have the youngest contender for the next major personality, you go out to the Acme Feed and Seed on Broadway to see Cale Tyson. In spite of his brief 25 years, nonetheless his succinct discography, Tyson’s pedigree more than qualifies him as someone to watch. A previous intern for American Songwriter and opener for Dwight Yoakum, young Tyson is forging relationships with all the right people. His collaborations with Robert Ellis are only eclipsed by his close relationship with the crown prince of Wyoming and bravest bullfighter to ever live, Luke Bell.
I know what you’re thinking. Acme Feed and Seed? It’s hard to label yourself a honkey tonk when there’s not a drop of blood on the floor. And what is this article? Just more hyping by an obscure critic? For one who prefers the Drake Motel over all others, I can tell you despite the dinner crowd atmosphere of the Acme’s first floor, as a venue it served Tyson well.
Without benefit of introduction or opener, Tyson took the makeshift stage to greet a capacity crowd. And though it would seem the thousand-plus audience was there mostly for the cocktail hour, the odd request for songs off his past EP’s High on Lonesome or Cheater’s Wine surfaced from the tip queue between classic country cuts preferred by more casual fans.
Tyson’s presence displayed all the hallmarks of one not necessarily yet comfortable with the role of band leader. He offered up no cheap antics to keep all eyes on him, and neither was his vocal delivery designed to wrest away the spotlight from the competing leads of guitarist Mark Sloan or pedal steel of Brett Resnick. Whether it be through modesty or intimidation, by the sheer size of the crowd, Tyson preferred instead to screw his eyes tightly shut against the stage lights while delivering the ecstatic highs and bone-crushing lows of both classic country hits and his own material.
A makeshift dance floor opened up at the foot of the stage where the flower dresses of the big city hipster girls swirled, came together, and crashed apart, as the well whiskey caused the vision to blur. The dancers seemed predominantly women, causing one to question the constitution of the young men in Nashville, until a few of the older hands came forth to a display a proper two-step, the twirl and dip of a culture that seems nearly depleted.
And the set went long, better than an hour but not quite two perhaps. With Tyson et al keeping the energy high, displaying his own works between the mandatory track list of any Alan Jackson owned joint. The nimble danced, the modest listened, and most sang along from the darkened interior as the sonic onslaught of a Saturday night drowned out all the worries of gentrification, the pop-country music industry, or the shimmering image of what Nashville might have once been. It’s been said that for the majority of history music died the moment it was born, so we can’t be blamed for being in that moment, for drinking much too much, dancing with strangers in a city far removed from our homes as a veritable babe plays out songs written by men dead longer than he has himself been alive. It’s the spirit of it all that catches us up, makes us laugh like children, fall in love on dancefloors or else pick fights we know we can’t win. That spirit stretches back in an unbroken lineage to our very ancestors, to the men and women who made Nashville what it is today, whatever that may be.