Out in the Tennessee backwoods, Music City Roots always delivers a great show. Held at the Loveless Barn, the show is a throwback to an older time. It plays live on the radio, but commercials are read over the microphone. There are five acts, but each uses the same drum set. It’s five songs and onto the next performer, giving the concert series a casual, down-home feel. Did I mention there are biscuits and jam as well? Delicious, and oh-so-welcoming.
Jeff Black started the night off. His set was highlighted by the accompaniment of a great mandolin player, who threw down on several hair-raising solos. Black himself ended his set solo, playing a heavy piano ballad. It was simple songwriting, and a nice way to set the mood for the night.
Two younger, out-of-town bands filled in the gaps between the night’s more-established opener and headliners. Yarn, a band from Brooklyn, brought their style of alt-bluegrass to Music City. Their set was the loudest of the evening, and probably the most high-energy. Brian McGee, a singer-songwriter from Asheville, North Carolina, had a bluesy take on Americana.
John Oates came next, thrilling the crowd with a mix of songs off his new album, Mississippi Mile, as well as a few Hall & Oates staples. Oates showcased his low, gravelly voice in a mix of uptempo jams and low-key ballads. Highlights of the set included Americana versions of smash hits, “You Make My Dreams” and “She’s Gone.” The former took a few seconds for the crowd to recognize, but then was greeted with a giant roar and several Nashville natives dancing in the aisles. Oates introduced “She’s Gone” with the story of how he wrote the song after being stood up on a New Year’s Eve date. Meanwhile, everyone in the audience silently thanked the musical gods for making that girl so mean. In a true testament to Oates’ songwriting prowess, both H&O songs – even slowed down and in their rawest form – were as undeniable as ever. Oates received a large round of applause at the end of his set, perhaps winning over some skeptics as to the legitimacy of his Americana chops.
Sam Bush – who had sat in with Oates on a few songs – and his top-notch group were the final act on this evening’s bill. Bush lead his band through extended instrumentals as well as “Circles Around Me,” the song, co-penned with Jeff Black, off his recent album by the same title. At the conclusion of Bush’s set, in the great Music City Roots tradition, all the evening’s performers were summoned to the stage for a group-encore performance. The jam-du-jour was The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek,” with Bush taking first verse duties in the best approximation of Levon Helm’s vocal style we’ve ever heard. Oates, Black, and McGee all took verses, with guitar solos by Guthrie Trapp and the evening’s host Webb Wilder, to boot. All in all, another great night at the barn.
Davis Inman contributed reporting for this article.