A Night of Songs
Darrell Scott’s name was first of the bill. After all, it was his CD release show. He played first and he led the final song. The show was billed as Darrell Scott and Friends, and what a group of friends it was that crossed the stage at the City Winery in Nashville — big names and big talents, all. Still, it was clear from the beginning of the night that the focus of the evening was going to be on someone who did not physically appear on stage.
Ben Bullington was a physician and a songwriter who passed away in 2013. Darrell Scott’s brand new CD is called 10 – The Songs of Ben Bullington, and it was Bullington’s spirit, music, and lasting influence which remained front and center for the entire night.
Scott, backed by drummer Kenny Malone, opened the night performing “Crooked Road” — the title track from his 2010 album and Shattered Cross., written by the late Stuart Adamson. He then stated that this was to be a once-in-a-lifetime evening and read some words from the CD liner notes about Bullington, before playing the first song on the new album, “The One I’m Still Thinking About.”
The first guest was Nashville guitarist/singer/songwriter WIll Kimbrough, who produced some of Bullington’s music. Joining Kimbrough onstage was Joanna Gardner — a singer, a former record industry executive, and a close friend and neighbor of Bullington in Montana.
Much was said about Bullington’s love of song, so it was appropriate that each guest performed one Ben Bullington song and one song of their own. Kimbrough performed one of Bulllington’s songs called “Appalachian Mountain Delta Blues” and then his own, “I Like It Down Here”. The two songs drew a line between Kimbrough’s native Alabama Gulf Coast roots and Bullington’s western Virginia background. Legendary keyboardist Bill Payne [Little Feat] joined Kimbrough on the second song, and the pair served as part of the house band for much of the show.
Next on stage was bassist and extraordinary vocalist John Cowan [New Grass Revival] who joined Darrell Scott on the beautiful Ben Bullington song “Lone Pine” as well as a song he and Scott wrote together.
Legendary singer Tracy Nelson performed a stirring version of Bullington’s “Come to Me” before playing her signature song “Down So Low,” which has been called the saddest song ever written.
Tommy Womack closed out the first set, bringing some levity to the stage as he performed Bullington’s “I Despise Flies” and his own “Alpha Male and the Canine Mystery Blood.”
The second set opened with Scott performing a pair of songs from the new album, “His Chosen Time” and the sprawling “Born in 55”. Next, he brought on a young Nashville band called Boy Named Banjo, which includes Scott’s son Abe on bass, and they performed a beautiful rendition of Bullington’s “Here’s to Hoping” as well as their own song, “Have it All”.
Bill Payne returned to the stage and performed a song he wrote with Bullington called “The Last Adios” and a song he co-wrote with his son, the haunting “Dust and Bones”.
Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh, who met Ben Bullington later in his life, performed “Ring around the Moon” from Bullinton’s White Sulphur Springs album and “The Cure for the Pain” from Peters’ recent release, Blackbirds.
Rodney Crowell was the final guest of the evening. Scott introduced him as a star, but said he did not mean it in the showbiz sense, but rather as one who others use to set their course. Together they performed, “Country Music (I’m Talking to You)” a powerful and scathing indictment of the state of commercial country music — about which Bullington was afraid he’d gone too far. (It is rather scathing.)
Unaccompanied, Crowell silenced the house with a song he said described his last time with Bullington. The song was moving and beautiful.
All of the guests returned to the stage for one final song, “In the Light of Day,” which which served as an inspiring and uplifting end to an incredible night of songs — those written by Ben Bullington, and others dedicated to the memory of a man who will live on through his music and the stories of his friends.