Cross-County Lines Fest Stages Stellar Performances in Franklin, Tenn.
Music festivals aren’t my thing. The thought of spending multiple days — even ONE day — in a massive, sweaty crowd of drunk people is one of my top five worst nightmares. I don’t care how great the line-up is. But, when Americana Music announced their Cross-County Lines Festival featuring some of my new (and old) favorite artists, I thought an afternoon lounging on a horse farm in Franklin, Tenn., sounded absolutely delightful. So, I packed up my best concert-going companion, grabbed a couple of beach chairs, and headed down I-65, just missing the pre-show deluge of rain that soaked the early arrivals.
The Cross-County slate featured Luther Dickinson, Parker Millsap, Joe Pug, Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, Patty Griffin, and John Hiatt on alternating stages. After settling into a nice spot in front of the main stage, my sidekick and I were too comfy to move for Dickinson’s opening set on the acoustic stage. (Sorry, Luther!) So, our show really kicked off with Millsap.
I saw this kid play twice in early March and, like everyone else who sees him, was blown away from the first moment. It was fun to see this crowd have the same reaction as he launched into the low-key blues of “You Gotta Move.” Bassist Michael Rose and fiddler Daniel Foulks rounded out the trio, with Foulks adding a subversively appropriate flavor to “Quite Contrary” and a bit of the Holy Spirit to “Truck Stop Gospel.” Between those two tunes and a handful of others, though, Millsap did a new song — “Heaven Sent” — that he wrote for a gay friend from Oklahoma as a sort of coming out letter to his preacher father. Quite a few folks, surprisingly and wonderfully, rose to their feet when he finished the number. (Way to represent, Franklin!) And, as usual, pretty much everyone was standing when Millsap and company finished their set with the one-two punch of “Old Time Religion” and “Truck Stop Gospel.” The kid’s just that good. My sidekick’s assessment: “They look like they’re having so much fun up there!”
With apologies to Joe Pug, we opted to sit and chat with his set in the background, because I’m not sure how you follow up Parker Millsap with just yourself and a guitar. But, then, Ashley Monroe took the main stage with her band. I’ve written before that Monroe sounds like country music should sound. And she makes that pitch-perfect sound with the help of her incredibly tasteful, “semi-professional band” comprised of Jeneé Fleenor (acoustic guitar, fiddle, vocals, and mandolin), Lucas Leigh (keyboards), Guthrie Trapp (electric guitar), Pete Abbott (drums), and Mike Bub (upright bass). To start, Monroe threw down four fantastic cuts from her Like a Rose album — “You Got Me,” “Two Weeks Late,” “Like a Rose,” and “Weed Instead of Roses” — along with a healthy heaping of humor about country radio, leather skirts, bear sightings, and co-writing with Guy Clark. Then she tossed in “Unhappily Married,” a Pistol Annies number, followed up by “Heart Like Mine,” which she wrote with/for fellow Annie Miranda Lambert. Because she’s in the throes of making a new record, Monroe treated us to a couple of new songs. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” featured a lovely, lilting fiddle part that gently supported Monroe’s diaphanous voice and melody, while “Dixie” found Fleenor trading spirited licks with Trapp before he cut totally loose on “Satisfied.” Monroe wound her set up with the cheeky “Monroe Suede” and the rollicking “Winning Streak” replete with a fabulous honky tonk piano run by Leigh. Sidekick: “I think I’m starting to like country music.”
So, yeah, we did scurry over to the acoustic stage to get our fill of Brandy Clark because it won’t be long before the opportunity to see her in such intimate settings is long gone. With the perfect blend of charm, sass, and poise, Clark worked through a bunch of great songs because, let’s face it, she doesn’t seem to write bad ones. For the diehards, she offered up “Crazy Women” and “Pray to Jesus” from her 12 Stories record, before grabbing everyone else’s rapt attention with “Mama’s Broken Heart,” the number one tune she wrote for Miranda Lambert. The crowd listened politely and responded appreciatively which caused Clark to compare them to a more rowdy, drunken audience she’d experienced recently: “I’m sure y’all are drunk, too. You’re just quiet drunks.” As evidenced in Monroe’s set, the folks of Franklin appreciate a good weed song and they reaffirmed that affinity for Clark’s “Get High.” Playing solo, Clark managed to make “Better Dig Two” sound almost like the love song it was originally envisioned to be before showcasing two new songs — “You Can Come Over” and “Big Day in a Small Town” — which were both met with absolute approval. Four other cuts from 12 Stories found the set wrapping up with the feisty badassery of “Stripes.” Sidekick: “She’s amazing.”
Sadly, it was all downhill from there when Patty Griffin took to the main stage for the sunset set. Now I love me some Patty Griffin, despite her being the toughest interviewee I’ve ever experienced. Actually, everything was fine for the first half of the set — the gentle “Be Careful,” the ragged “Ohio,” the swampy “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida,” the haunting “Faithful Son,” and the bittersweet “Long Ride Home.” Even a new, as-yet-unnamed song was lovely as could be. But, then, it all kind of ran off the rails is a disjointed, disengaged, and disappointing way with a couple of gospel hymns (“Standing” and “The Strange Man”), a hokey folk song (“Get Ready Marie”), a Spanish-language song (“Mil Besos”), and a rendering of Jimmy Durante’s “The Glory of Love” that at least one of the band members didn’t seem to know. “Go Wherever You Wanna Go” was solid enough, but even “Truth #2” started with a couple of the guys having to change keys and catch up. At one point, the lights even seemed to agree that things weren’t going so well, causing Griffin to remark, “The lights went out. I don’t know if they’re supposed to be out.” They weren’t. Sidekick: “No comment.”
Last up, ol’ John Hiatt who’s an artist I feel like I should love, but I just don’t. I like him fine, but that’s about the extent of my affection. Still, he’s a pleasant enough artist and entertainer. Hiatt got it going with “Drive South” and went on from there, including crowd faves like “Tennessee Plates,” “Real Fine Love,” “Crossing Muddy Waters,” “Cry Love,” “Thing Called Love,” and so many more. Dear John, I’m just not that into you. I’m sorry. It’s me, not you. Sidekick: “I like his vibe.”