This week we take in some of the outstanding pictures our ND photographers have posted during the past couple of weeks. It’s a nice selection of established folks, including some I have not seen in awhile, with some fresh newer talents to be reckoned with.
The newest and brightest of the recent breakout artists comes after some 13 years of making the rounds to become that proverbial “overnight” sensation, Margo Price. After a stupendous tour of the UK, she opened her tour of the States with a couple of shows in Virginia. I caught the one in Blacksburg, and while the streets of that college town were eerily deserted on a warm Friday night, the diverse crowd in the theater was pumped and expectant. Most of those I spoke with had yet to see Price and her crack band, the Pricetags, but they were primed. After the show, some came up to me and said she was beyond their dreams.
Price began the show with what has become her standard, “Y’all want to hear some country music?!” before launching into “Tennessee Song.” It did not let up for nearly two hours. She was the embodiment of many of those who came before: Tammy, Loretta, Emmylou, and Lucinda with some Stones, Beatles, and Leon thrown in the mix for something all own, extending the grand tradition she’s part of.
Highlights were a “Hands of Time” solo, during which she raised her eyes to the heavens, and “Hurtin’ on the Bottle,” where she came down into the dancing crowd and mixed it up. The band also did an extended jam led by the keyboardist that ventured into the realm of psychedelia. Don’t ask me the name of the song, I was too mesmerized to take to notes. It being George Harrison’s birthday, she did one of his country songs, “Behind That Locked Door.” Even though it was written for Dylan, Price did it a la Charlie Rich and George Jones to great effect.
Two nights later, I saw her again on Mountain Stage, where she did a knockout 30-minute set, and as it was Johnny Cash’s birthday, she and the band ripped into “Big River.” Then she took part in the Stage finale song, Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors.” As if that were not enough, afterwards she and the band ventured down to the Empty Glass, a dive bar where many folks gather after the show, and rocked it up some more. It was a helluva weekend.
Let me not fail to mention the engaging Nashvillian Jonny Fritz, who opened the show. Once known as Jonny Corndawg, he was a bright mixture of Bonnie Prince Billy, John Prine, and Roger Miller. I thought this even before he did his ode to Miller, “Stadium Inn,” about a real Nashville hotel of a certain character. Or, rather, characters. During the break he hawked his latest album as he walked among the crowd. I got one. You should as well. As he’s been opening for Price, he also did a set on Mountain Stage. He was even more lively that night. I cannot fathom how he has remained relatively unknown for this long.
The photos of the newer talents in include the T Sisters, Aly Tadros, Jana Jae, and Adia Victoria. The latter caused quite a stir last December when she felt maligned by being called an Americana artist in Charles Aaron’s piece, “Americana’s Year of Reckoning,” published on MTV.com. It was revived two weeks ago in a piece by Betsy Phillips in the the Washington Post. I urge you to read both stories, and the comments. It’s an engaging and lively discussion. I have seen Victoria in performance, and she is someone very special and doing what all artists do: expanding the limits.
I have special memories of most of the other artists. Some I’d like to share, leading off with Vince Gill. I first saw him when Pure Prairie League played my college. In case you have not heard the story, soon afterwards, their label was dropping them as what they were doing was not in vogue. RCA’s A&R person had to break the bad news, but added that she knew Gill would have the last word as his talent was just too great. I wonder what ever happened to that RCA exec.
I first heard Chris Smither simply because he was the same label as Townes Van Zandt, Poppy. I thought that if they are in the know enough to have Van Zandt, Smither must be worth checking out as well. Over 50 years later, he’s still making great music. Plus, his cover of “Killing the Blues” is haunting. So is his story about meeting its unassuming writer after a show.
Bettye LaVette was, along with Ruth Brown, my favorite R&B singer. I preferred their magic and grittiness over the more polished Motown folks. I have seen both many times, including one memorable New Year’s Eve in New York.
I knew and liked Nina Gerber long before I heard her or even knew she was a musician. She was best friends with and a great supporter of Kate Wolf, a voice that left us all too soon. She’s also the main mover behind the festival that bears Wolf’s name.
The other folks are no less noteworthy: Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, Karla Bonoff, Dar Williams, the Wood Brothers, Timothy B. Schmit and Howe Gelb. All have added much to our rich history not just of music, but of our culture as a nation.
Many thanks to our fine photographers as well: Mark J. Smith, C. Elliott, Todd Gunsher, Peter Dervin, Tom Dunning, and Kirk Stauffer.