After two days and three nights at sea, the Norwegian Pearl arrived early Tuesday, January 20, at the island of St. Barts in the French West Indies. Many Cayamoans boarded the Pearl’s lifeboats to go ashore and spend a few hours mingling with the well-to-do; others chose to stay aboard and relax. As always on port days, organized music got started later to accommodate the daytrippers, with the first shows beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Guitarist Tim Easton and fiddler Megan Palmer, despite being talented singer-songwriters as well as fine backing musicians for Amy Speace, weren’t given official performing slots of their own. No matter. Tuesday evening found the duo, neighbors in East Nashville, playing the first of three “guerrilla shows” in the Bar City area of the Pearl. Their nine-song set, played acoustically, was heavy on Easton’s songs. These included “Don’t Lie” from his current album, Not Cool, and older material (some by request) such as “Don’t Walk Alone” and “Dear Old Song and Dance.”
Palmer sang her dark tale “Knife Twister,” while Speace joined the two on her own “Strange Boat.” The relatively small audience at the beginning mostly comprised those who were already fans, but as often happens on Cayamo, a fair number of passers-by ended up in the crowd as well, contributing sing-along vocals and improvised percussion on covers of Lucinda Williams’ “People Talking” and the Rolling Stones’ “Factory Girl.”
John Prine’s 8:00 show in the Stardust Theater was an exercise in musical excellence. Highlights included the rousing antiwar anthem “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”; “Souvenirs,” which Prine dedicated to his brother Doug; the gentle “Hello in There,” performed with heartbreaking beauty, and Prine’s duets with the seemingly omnipresent Brandi Carlile on “In Spite of Ourselves” and “Angel from Montgomery.” Prine took a solo turn on “Lydia” and “Sam Stone” before his band – guitarist Jason Wilber and bassist Dave Jacques – returned for a rousing but slightly muddy rendition of the Carter Family’s “Bear Creek Blues.” The band followed with a nice take on the enigmatic “Lake Marie” before closing, with assistance from singer-songwriter Joe Purdy, with “Paradise.”
South Carolina singer-songwriter Edwin McCain’s Tuesday night set in the Spinnaker Lounge turned into a 45th birthday party, complete with a clown, balloons and a cake. That didn’t keep McCain from showcasing his powerful voice and fine guitar playing with a set of intelligent adult pop – dealing, as befits a man in the early stages of middle age, with subjects such as a daughter’s wedding and lasting love. He also threw in some good stories, including one about discovering that Elgie Stover, the purveyor of his favorite barbecue, was in fact a songwriter and producer who co-wrote songs for Marvin Gaye, among others. McCain closed with Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” featuring a nice solo by saxophonist Craig Shields.
The second half of McCain’s show overlapped the first half of The Lone Bellow’s Atrium set, but judging from the last few songs it was a raucous affair. Late selections included a couple of songs from the band’s very successful 2013 album, The Lone Bellow – “You Never Need Nobody” and “The One You Should’ve Let Go.” No sophomore slump here – the band was every bit as good all week as it was last year in its Cayamo debut, and by some accounts even better.
A late-night jam in Bar City featured an all-star cast of artists, along with some talented amateurs. The event was anchored, as it were, by John Fullbright at the piano, along with Tim Easton on mandolin and Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell on clarinet. Song selections included the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” among others.