Nashville Skyline Rag

The third installment of my “Music Fit to a T” series of songs honoring Tennessee doesn’t technically have the state’s name in its title.

But it is my series, so who’s quibbling.

Since my daughter Claire and I are heading to Nashville this week, I thought I’d include Nashville Skyline Rag as the third song in my tribute. The original came from Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, but I primarily remember the song as the opening tune to every Earl Scruggs Revue show I saw in the 1970s (and I saw several).  I liked it so much that my high school and college bluegrass band also played a version of Nashville Skyline Rag.

Given that this has become known as a banjo tune, it is fitting that I’m featuring a video with banjo pioneer Tony Trischka and the Czech bluegrass band (yes, you read that right) Druhá Tráva.

So here’s a little Nashville Skyline Rag to celebrate Tennessee.  Enjoy.

More to come…


The Brand New Tennessee Waltz

I’ve never been a big fan of the “official” song for my home state – The Tennessee Waltz – although you’ll hear an occasional version that works. (See, for instance, the YouTube video of Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones, where Bonnie plays a mean slide guitar solo.)  But for the second in my “Music Fit to a T” series, highlighting songs with “Tennessee” in the title, I’ve chosen a play off the state song.

Jesse Winchester wrote The Brand New Tennessee Waltz for his first album, released in 1970 while still living in exile in Canada where he had moved to avoid the draft.  He wasn’t able to tour in the US until much later in the decade and isn’t as well-known as some other singer-songwriters.

The Brand New Tennessee Waltz is a sad yet lovely song.

Oh my, but you have a pretty face
You favor I girl that I knew
I imagine that she’s back in Tennessee
And by God, I should be there too
I’ve a sadness too sad to be true

But I left Tennessee in a hurry dear
In same way that I’m leaving you
Because love is mainly just memories
And everyone’s got him a few
So when I’m gone I’ll be glad to love you

At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz
You’re literally waltzing on air
At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz
There’s no telling who will be there

When I leave it will be like I found you love
Descending Victorian stairs
And I’m feeling like one of your photographs, girl
Trapped while I’m putting on airs
Getting even by saying Who cares

At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz
You’re literally waltzing on air
At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz
There’s no telling who will be there

So have all your passionate violins
Play a tune for a Tennessee kid
Who’s feeling like leaving another town
But with no place to go if he did
Cause they’ll catch you wherever you’re hid

At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz
You’re literally waltzing on air
At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz
There’s no telling who will be there

So here’s Jesse Winchester, many years later, singing a song for a Tennessee kid.  Enjoy.

More to come…


Tennessee Plates – Music Fit to a T

I’ve been thinking about Tennessee recently, as both Claire and I head there next week.  Claire’s high school choir is in Nashville for a series of concerts, and I’m heading to town later in the week for work and then to connect with Claire.  We’ll end the week with a short visit with family.

With all that on my mind, it was appropriate that John Hiatt’s Tennessee Plates came on the iPod as I was heading over to school to pick up Andrew tonight.  I get a big kick out of John Hiatt, and I love this song.

The video below is a terrific acoustic version.  To keep the good feelings going, I’ll make this the first in a series of “Tennessee” songs over the next few days.  I have a Facebook friend who is posting a series of videos entitled “Music in the Key of Joe” (as all the artists are named Joe).  So call this series, “Music fit to a T.”

Enjoy Tennessee Plates.

More to come…


We’re Not Dead Yet!

Cynics (or my children) looking at last evening’s twin bill at the beautiful Strathmore Music Hall would be tempted to title the show, “We’re Not Dead Yet!”  In response, the current edition of the Seldom Scene (one original member) and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (with a whopping three of the five original members) could respond with the same motto:  We may be older than dirt, but we can still fill a concert hall!

The Scene (photo at the top of the post) played first, with mandolinist extraordinaire Jimmy Goodreau sitting in on a half-day’s notice for the ailing Lou Reed.  This isn’t your father’s Seldom Scene…the vocals don’t match those of Starling and Duffey, and no one can play those Dobro licks like Mike Auldridge…but this is still a good bluegrass band.  Dudley Connell is an expressive lead singer, Ronnie Simpkins – who along with Goodreau was a long-time member of the Tony Rice Unit – can play bass with the best of them, and 70-year-old Ben Eldridge provides the link to the original Scene.  I was only sorry that Eldridge’s son Chris – of The Infamous Stringdusters and Punch Brothers fame – didn’t sit in as he will occasionally do. It was a fun 45-minute set that delighted the crowd in Bethesda.

The Dirt Band is still doing what they do best – playing a mix of anything that pops into their head.  I’m dating myself now, but I saw NGDB when Jeff Hanna (motto:  my hair is ALWAYS going to look better than  yours) was playing washboard and they still had the sense of a jug band about them.  Last night’s show was filled with old favorites and thankfully some new material as well.  John McEuen still hams it up on the stage (when you’re a six-foot plus, very hairy banjo and fiddle player, it probably comes with the territory).  Jimmie Fadden remains a terrific harmonica player.  With Jim Ibbotson’s departure, Hanna handles most of the lead singing. A riff on what would have happened if the Beatles had been a bluegrass band (answer:  Paul McCartney’s divorce would have been a lot less expensive) led to Hanna’s bluegrass cover of Get Back.

The title song on their new CD was written by Gary Scruggs, and when Hanna mentioned this I got to thinking about another Scruggs song, The Lowlands. When searching through YouTube for some appropriate video to add to this post, I came across the Dirt Band – along with Jamie Hanna and Jonathan McEuen – playing (you guessed it!) The Lowlands. Jamie and Jonathan are cousins (their moms are identical twins) and their dads are NGDB members Jeff and John.  I’ve always enjoyed the family nature of bluegrass and roots music (think Carter Family, Del McCoury, Nickel Creek) so I love to see these guys singing and playing with their dads.

The Hanna-McEuen duo sings beautifully.  I’m sure their old men are proud.  Enjoy.

More to come…


Theatre Rebirth

I knew that I had become my father when I found myself telling a friend a few years ago that “I paid more for my last car than I did for my first house.”  It was one of those lines that my father used when I was young – and here I was repeating it!  (Just to set the record straight, our now 10-year-old car wasn’t that expensive; it just happened that as newlyweds, we got a great deal on a 1910 townhouse that needed a lot of work.)

Another story that I heard from my father when I was young was how he spent nights and weekends taking up tickets and serving as the back-up projectionist at the Franklin Theatre in his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee.  Daddy knew all about the movies and stars from that era, because he had a free seat.

So it was no surprise to me that Tom Brown would be in Franklin last Saturday evening when the lights in the marquee of the historic Franklin Theatre were turned on for the first time in 40 years.

The Heritage Foundation of Franklin – one of the great local preservation groups in the country – now owns the theatre, which last operated as a movie house in 2007.   Here’s how their “Save the Franklin Theatre” website describes the connection between the theatre and the community:

The enduring romance with the Franklin Theatre began in the summer of 1937. The marquee spilled brilliantly onto Main Street inviting citizens countywide to see “Night Must Fall,” starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell.

And they came — young and old, black and white, rich and poor. They laughed, they cried, they dreamed. And, together, within the illuminated walls of the Franklin Theatre, unforgettable moments occurred and memories were made.

In the 70 years that followed, until rising rents forced the theater to close in 2007, life changed dramatically. But for the most part, the Franklin Theatre stood timeless, becoming one of the most beloved small-town movie houses in the South. Fresh-popped corn, first kisses and saving pennies for the Saturday matinee became pastimes shared from one generation to the next.

I talked with Daddy after the lighting ceremony, and he was thrilled.  He sent photos – including one where he’s holding a promotional sign – and said that the local Main Street manager had given a shout out to the National Trust.  (Daddy’s always pleased to hear people speak kindly of his son’s employer!)  The theatre is to reopen in June of this year, and he’s planning on returning when his high school class holds their reunion in his old movie house haunt.  But this isn’t just a place for those soaked in nostalgia.  The marquee restoration was underwritten by the “Next Generation of the Heritage Foundation” – a membership group composed of supporters age 21 to 40.

That’s what preservation is all about: taking places that help define a community and using those places to link generations together.  By celebrating and protecting these places, we build livable cities and towns for today and for the future.

Thanks for the memories, Daddy, and thanks for the stories.  Now that your grandson is getting ready to head off to college in urban studies (after writing his college application essay on Jane Jacobs), it appears that your love of community has been passed along to yet another generation.

More to come…