A little cultural history was made at City Winery Lounge last week when the venue hosted a stop on the first country-music tour headlined by two women of color.
The host of the “Color Me Country” radio show and CMT commentator Rissi Palmer and veteran Black country stylist Miko Marks were co-billed on the show. Both women have been at the forefront of the recent influx of Black performers into the genre. That their tour is happening at a time when country female performers are being discriminated against makes this event even more significant.
“This is the final night of this tour,” said Palmer in greeting the capacity crowd. “What you are about to see is two friends. It’s our last night… I’m just so glad it’s here in Nashville. Our friendship began at the Opry.”
Palmer’s Opry debut was in 2008. She invited Marks to join her on the Opry stage when she played it again in 2022. They sang a Judds song on the show, and then Palmer surprised Marks by inviting her to be a solo guest star on the Opry that fall. They have been buddies ever since.
“We’re stronger together,” said Marks. “I’m glad we made this happen.” The two women recreated their Judds song collaboration, a gorgeous rendition of “Flies on the Butter,” with Marks providing a stunning low-harmony vocal to Palmer’s lead.
They’d tossed a coin to determine who went first at the show. Miko Marks opened, doing the rousing “Ancestors,” the slow bluesy “Rhythm,“ Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” (which she learned from Mavis Staples’ version), the folkie weeper “Travel Light,” her CD title tune “Feel Like Going Home,” her Civil Rights anthem “Trouble” (which she dedicated to the late Nashville icon John Lewis), an energetic “One More Night” and the superb, soulful, church-y ballad “Lay Your Burdens Down.” She received a standing ovation.
Rissi Palmer reprised her 2007 debut single “Country Girl” and offered a groove-saturated “Sweet, Sweet Lovin,’” the comforting “Summerville,” a gently romantic “Love On You,” her soulful lullaby “Goodnight” and the excellent social commentary “Seeds.”
Palmer provides her own rhythm guitar and was accompanied by the acoustic lead-guitar playing of Charles Newkirk. The sidemen for Marks were Steve Wyreman on acoustic lead guitar and Justin Phipps on harmonica and rhythm guitar. Both of them also guested on some of Palmer’s tunes. These men also co-produce Marks’s albums with her. The two women closed with their current duet single “I’m Still Here.”
“They have fearlessly navigated the music industry to become shining beacons of hope,” said BMI’s Shannon Sanders as he introduced the concert. “I want to hear the rousing support you’re giving them to show all night.” He needn’t have worried. This was a very demonstrative and vocal audience that shouted encouragement and applauded vociferously throughout the event.
The finale was another loud standing ovation, punctuated by cheers and yells.
“I love my job; I love it so much,” said a tearful Miko Marks. “You have no idea what this means for us,” said Rissi Palmer. “Thank y’all so much for coming.”
Assisted by Phipps, both women did a brisk business autographing at a merch table loaded with CDs, t-shirts, hoodies and posters.
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