Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nashville Unlimited 2011

An overdue - and now somewhat dated - blog entry. December 25, 2011, is now so far back that its not even in our rear view mirror anymore. After the build-up to Christmas, we all zip through the day like a hot knife through butter. Then we move on to taking down decorations, celebrating New Year's Eve, watching bowl games, and bitching about winter weather.

Before leaving the season completely though, I wanted to post a show review. Nashville Unlimited has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition for me in recent years. Prominent Nashville bassist Dave Pomeroy pulls together many wildly talented performers for the show.

Each year the show is held at Christ Church Cathedral. Most of the performers are not announced beforehand. I've seen John Prine, The Steelriders, Emmylou Harris, Tommy Emmanuel, and Riders In The Sky just to name a few. No tickets are sold, and little promotion is done. The only thing asked of folks who attend is to make a donation to support Room In The Inn.

Hatch Show Print for 2011 Nashville Unlimited

RITI is a Nashville-based homeless-assistance organization. I began helping with some of RITI's programs about 12-13 years ago. Their programs are wonderful and impactful, and I credit the staff and the folks they serve with changing my views (for the better) towards the homeless.

Throughout this year's 2-1/2 hour show, Dave repeatedly reminded us about the purpose of the evening - to support RITI. Folks certainly enjoyed the music, but he frequently mentioned RITI, its programs, and that folks in the back of the room would continue to take donations. Over the last few years of this show, over $100,000 has been collected and donated to Room in the Inn.

As for the music, Pomeroy hit a grand slam for this year's show. So many folks - outside and inside Nashville - generally label Music City as a 'country' town. Some may even broaden it to include bluegrass or Americana. But 2011 Nashville Unlimited featured country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, Mandolin-laden Celtic, baroque classical, and even big band - many genres rarely associated with Nashville.

The show opened with two a-cappella, bluesy songs by The McCrary Sisters - No Room At The Inn and Silent Night.

Next up was songwriter Danny Flowers. I didn't recognize the name, but I made the connection as soon as Dave introduced him. Flowers has been a Nashville-based songwriter since the mid 1970s. His most well-known song is likely Tulsa Time, recorded by Don Williams and later Eric Clapton. Flowers said he wrote a song just for the evening over the Thanksgiving holidays. He gave no title for it, but the refrain repeated "...All I want is Jesus..." It was a wonderful number. I hope he performs it elsewhere next Christmas season and that someone ups it to YouTube. Next he sang the old hymn In The Garden a capella - again, a very moving few minutes.

Daniel Tashian from a new group named The Boxwoods then played the Christmas classic, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire ... on a ukelele. Yep. And it was great. Not Don Ho'ish at all. Afterwards, his bandmates joined him to sing a song titled Christmas Time At Last. One of the band members is Tom Littlefield. Tom once fronted the Nashville-based pop-rock band, The Questionnaires in the 1980s. The title track to their major label EMI debut, Window To The World, was covered by Shawn Colvin (YT). Littlefield also collaborated with Tommy Womack to pen a fave of mine from There I Said It, I Couldn't Care Less (YT).

Music City Baroque followed The Boxwoods. This Nashville ensemble played two classical songs - neither of which I know the title. But hey, toolittleculture can wreck toomuchcountry so I just rolled with it. The thing that really captured my attention; however, was the oddest string instrument I've ever seen. The guy playing it said it was called a theorbo - or just a 'bass lute' if one wants to take the simple route.

This isn't the guy who played the theorbo. He was just in the way of a good picture I found of the instrument.

In the past, Dave Pomeroy has generally opened the evening following his intro comments. For this year's show, he waited until about half-way through it and sang his creation I Wish It Could Always Be Christmas. He even donned the Christmas tree hat he is wearing in his video of the song.

After only one number, Pomeroy brought out Pat Bergeson and wife Annie Sellick. Bergeson was a long-time guitarist for the legendary Chet Atkins. (I also learned he is the ex of bluegrass great Allison Krauss.) Following the death of Chet, he joined Lyle Lovett's band and performed with other greats. He and Annie performed two jazzy numbers, That's What I Want For Christmas and Christmas Memory.

The first year I attended Nashville Unlimited, Pomeroy introduced Nashville Mandolin Ensemble - another completely unknown group to me. I was prepared to hear a song or two of nasally bluegrass Christmas carols. Instead, they blew me away with their complex arrangements of worldly music. Since that first year, they have become a favorite of mine for the show. If you can put yourself back in the Christmas mood briefly, seek out their now out-of-print Christmas CD Gifts. Their four-song set consisted of:
  • Carol of the Bells
  • Dance of the Mirlitons (from The Nutcracker)
  • Medley of songs
  • O Holy Night (vid from a performance of it at Nashville's weekly Music City Roots show at the Loveless Barn)

After a quick re-arrangement of the stage, the Time Jumpers performed three numbers. There has been a buzz about town about this group as they play each Monday at The Station Inn. A somewhat 'super group' of western swing, the band has rotating band members including Vince Gill and Ranger Doug from Riders in the Sky. I have no idea of the first number they performed - though it did include some nifty guitar picking by Gill. Ranger Doug had us scratching our heads a bit with a yodeling-laced second Christmas tune. And the group closed with All Of Me. I found it interesting Gill was just part of the band. He didn't front it. He didn't step front and center. He barely acknowledged the applause following his intro and later guitar solo. He was just a band member.

The night closed with the most logistically-challenging and most unexpected group, Duffy Jackson's Big Band. Yet again - here was another group I'd never heard of despite my having lived in and around Nashville for many decades. Jackson is a highly talented jazz and big band drummer, and his gigs included a stint with the Count Basie Orchestra. Pomeroy's stage hands had to move a lot of chairs and mic stands to accommodate the 20-piece or so band. But they did so quickly, and Jackson's group tore into Winter Wonderland, White Christmas and Sleigh Ride. While Duffy looks like he may have been separated at birth from Seinfeld's Newman, he has some mean jazz drumming skills

I wanted to blog a review of the show. But I also wanted to re-state the purpose of the evening - to support Room in the Inn. Based on a great idea suggested to me by Rockstar_Aimz, I've added a sidebar graphic with a link to RITI. On their main page, one can easily find the 'contribute' link - if you'd like to join me in supporting this great and much needed organization. I'll plan to leave it available for the foreseeable future.


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