Loretta Lynn Tribute, Carrie Underwood Concert, Capitol Street Fest
Fear not, gentle readers, your party boy has been on the job all week long. Longer than a week, actually. The fun began last weekend.
Miss Mary’s South Carolinian cousins Chuck & Mary Connors always go to the Opry when they come to town. Always. Over dinner at Sole Mio (10/8), I told them, “You’ve come during a really good weekend. Dolly Parton is on the show. So is Taylor Swift.”
What I didn’t tell them was that it was the Grand Ole Opry’s 85th birthday (10/9). Trace Adkins, Roy Clark and more were there to wheel out the giant cake and celebrate. I’d filled the cousins in with what had been going on since May’s flood, and, sure enough, Taylor spoke of the recovery efforts at the Opry House when she took the stage.
Next up was a return to the “old” Opry home, The Ryman Auditorium (10/12). The occasion was the “Grammy Salute to Country Music Honoring Loretta Lynn.”
Recording Academy folks were on the ground floor. Fans were in the balcony. When Garth Brooks escorted Loretta to their seats downstairs, applause broke out up above. In no time, the whole place was on its feet in a standing ovation. And the show hadn’t even started yet.
“I don’t know anybody who is more loved in the history of music and the history of this town than you,” said Vince Gill via video. He was last year’s honoree, but was unable to attend the gala.
Reba McEntire and The Timejumpers kicked things off with her splendid, western-swing reworking of Loretta’s 1967 hit “If You’re Not Gone Too Long.”
Current NARAS national board of trustees chair George Flanigan reminded everyone of all the good things that the Academy does, then re-introduced Reba as the evening’s host.
“The whole world knows and loves the coal miner’s daughter from Butcher Hollow, KY,” said Reba. “Country music has never had a more truthful and fearless artist….She stood up for all of us women. Loretta did it all. She wrote ‘em. She sang ‘em. She played ‘em.”
Gretchen Wilson performed a sprightly “Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin.’” Kid Rock transformed 1970’s “I Know How” into a frat-house rocker. He and Gretchen teamed up for a ragged-but-right “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” Lee Ann Womack sang “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” with her daughter Aubrey on backup vocals. Martina McBride chose 1966’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and 1973’s “Love Is the Foundation.”
“It’s been a pretty extraordinary night so far, wouldn’t you say?” said Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow. He pointed out that Loretta’s debut at the Ryman and on the Opry was almost exactly 50 years ago, three days hence (10/15/60).
Neil introduced Jack White. Jack recalled meeting Loretta and eating chicken and dumplings at her home in Hurricane Mills. She told him she was planning a record. “If you need a producer for that, I could stop mowing lawns for the summer,” he replied. The result was Van Lear Rose, Loretta’s stunning 2004 comeback CD. Recorded in 10 days on eight-track tape, it won the Grammy for Country Album of the Year. “I think she’s the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th century, and you can’t talk me out of it,” Jack concluded.
Neil and Jack presented Loretta with both the President’s Merit Award and her Grammy Lifetime Achievement honor. “You’re the Queen!” shouted a voice in the balcony, and a long, long standing ovation ensued.
Loretta and Garth concluded the program with the duet “After the Fire Is Gone.” From the opening note, Loretta’s astonishing purity of tone owned the number. Garth harmonized weakly, moving further and further away from the mic, as if he was afraid to try and match her.
“She kicked my butt,” he told reporter Jimmy Carter backstage.
“This has been a wonderful night, and this is what this town is all about,” said Reba. “It’s more important than ever to celebrate country music. REAL country music.” She brought Loretta back out for yet another s.o.
The after-party was in a white tent erected next to the Ryman. This was a real gab fest. Almost everyone remarked about the brevity of the show. Apparently, it was designed so that each performer could say something to or about Loretta, but evidently that message was never delivered to the singers. Hence, the shortness. “If only the real Grammy Awards were that short,” I said.
Terry Hemmings, Terry Bumgarner, Victoria Shaw, Shawn Camp, Mark Moffatt, Matthew Miller, Fletcher Foster, Bruce Bouton, Ben Fowler, Becky Hobbs, Benita Hill, Dan Hill, Doug Howard, Darrell Brown, Allen Brown, Alan Mayor and Alison Jones mingled with power couples Steve Buchanan & Ree Guyer Buchanan, Steve Fishell & Tracy Gershon and Frank & Julie Boehm.
We snacked on mini sausage & cheese biscuits, puffed spinach canapés, stuffed zuccinni slices and lotsa shrimp cocktails. Yacking into the night were Eddie DeGarmo, Ed Morris, Rod Essig, Robert Deaton, John Huie, Jimmy Murphy, Pete Fisher, Pat McMakin, Paul Barnabee, Andrew Parks, Clint Higham, Crystal Gayle, Karen Clark, Gary Overton, Lisa Harless and Shelby Kennedy.
Carrie Underwood brought her “Play On” tour to Bridgestone Arena the next night (10/14). Pre-show dining in the Merchant’s Bar is highly recommended. I tried the fish tacos and Miss Mary sampled the Not-Your-Mother’s chicken salad. Both received rave reviews.
Heading into the arena, industry fabulons spotted in the crowd included Rob Simbeck, Scott Borchetta, Jeff Walker, Nancy Brooks, George Achaves, D.J. Hayden (truly working the room: she has a part-time job there), Rick Murray, Tom Roland, Rosemary Young, Margie Holland and Charlie Monk.
Sons of Sylvia were on stage first. Their set started with an awful Led Zeppelin cover and also included an incompetent bluegrass instrumental. Formerly known as The Clark Brothers, the group lives in Bellevue, lead singer Ashley Clark informed us.
Two things I learned during Billy Currington’s set: (1) He is a much more nuanced vocalist than I thought he was and (2) His hit-saturated repertoire is already quite lengthy. He knew his time on stage was short, so he kept the patter to a minimum and gave the screaming, singing-along fans a set packed solid with music, music, music.
Until you hear them one after another, you don’t realize how many strong songs this guy has introduced. His set list included 2009’s “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” 2006’s “Why Why Why,” 2004’s “I Got a Feelin,’” 2010’s “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer” and “Let Me Down Easy,” plus 2009’s “People Are Crazy,” 2005’s “Must Be Doin’ Something Right” and 2006’s “Good Directions.” Pretty impressive.
Carrie came out rocking with “Cowboy Casanova,” and never let up from that moment on. She has, suffice it to say, developed from a somewhat wooden stage personality into an actual entertainer.
From there, it was up to the 3rd annual Capitol Records Street party. Demonbreun was closed off just east of the dancing Musica statues in Buddy Killen Circle, and despite a shower was full of merry makers.
“It’s always cool to play free shows,” said headliner Darius Rucker, “because I can remember when I couldn’t afford to go to shows.” His new Charleston, SC, 1966 album had dropped on Tuesday, so naturally he gave us its first hit, “Come Back Song.” Surprise guest Keith Urban hopped on stage with Darius shortly after 10 pm, to the crowd’s delight. The two stars did “Raining on Sunday” and “The Joker” together.
The free fun was booked to continue at the Tin Roof with Walker Hayes as the late-night music maker. Lady Antebellum had this slot two years ago, and look what happened to them.
The mood was perfectly summed up by Luke Bryan. “It’s like starting the weekend early,” he said. Exactly.