Conroe Americana Musical Festival’s winning debut

By Paul T. Mueller

Conroe, Texas – The good times continued through the weekend at the premiere edition of the Conroe Americana Music Festival. Fair weather, a strong lineup and a relaxed vibe made for a fine experience for the hundreds in attendance in the small city north of Houston.

Dale Watson and Ray Benson at Conroe Americana Music Festival

The schedule on Saturday, May 6, began at 12:30 p.m. and ran until midnight, with 26 shows at six venues. A noon-to-6:00 Sunday schedule featured 17 shows. Many fans found themselves trying to decide among several good options at the same time; the event’s relatively small footprint, spread over a few blocks, made it possible to see parts of multiple sets without spending too much time in transit.

Some Saturday highlights:

  • The appropriately named Caleb and the Homegrown Tomatoes, from Conroe, kicked off with a lively set that included “Family,” a look at the ups and downs of life on the road, and nice covers of the James Gang’s “Funk 49” and Robert Ellis’ “California.”
  • Sophia Johnson, a native of England who relocated to Austin a few years ago, played an energetic set of bluegrass and swing that showcased her impressive guitar skills. The supporting cast included Beth Chrisman on fiddle.
  • Texas honky-tonker Mike Stinson demonstrated his gift for catchy hooks and rocking riffs on songs such as “Late for My Funeral” and “The Box I Take to Work.” The set featured nice contributions from ace guitarists Lance Smith and Brian Whelan (for whom Stinson played drums in an earlier set).
  • Eric Taylor

    Iconoclastic singer-songwriter Eric Taylor, a mainstay of Houston’s folk scene in the ‘70s, played a few long songs featuring his unorthodox vocals and guitar playing, interspersed with rambling stories about marital misadventures and the time Lucinda Williams introduced Bob Dylan to Townes Van Zandt. Taylor eventually left the stage to his wife, Susan Lindfors, who played a couple of nice songs including her “A Matter of Degrees.”

  • Notable moments from Sunday:
  • Houston-based trio The Great Trumpet played an engaging set of energetic folk featuring guitar, washboard and cajón, plus nice contributions from a guest fiddler (but no horns). The songs were marked by interesting arrangements and nice harmonies by guitarist Andrew Smythe and washboard player/singer Sarah Haug.
  • Folksinger Ray Bonneville, a native of Canada now living in Austin, entertained an attentive audience at the Red Brick Tavern with songs exploring the problems and rewards of living, all filtered through his weathered voice and distinctive guitar playing. Selections included “When I Get to New York,” “Funny ‘bout Love,” “What Was I To do,” and a couple of requests “Canary Yellow Car” and “Tiptoe Spider.”
  • Honky-tonk star Dale Watson and Western swing master Ray Benson (frontman of Asleep at the Wheel) put on a clinic in crowd-pleasing showmanship during one of the festival’s closing sets. Songs included some by Watson (“I Lie When I Drink”), some by Benson (“Miles and Miles of Texas”), some by both (“The Ballad of Dale and Ray,” “Feelin’ Haggard”), and some classics (Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin,” Bobby Troup’s “Route 66,” Commander Cody’s “Hot Rod Lincoln”). There was also plenty of comic interplay between the two veteran performers. The encore consisted of exuberant renditions of Hoyle Nix’s “Big Ball’s in Cowtown” and Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” featuring assistance from fellow festival performers Guy Forsyth, Jon Dee Graham, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis.Festival talent booker Tracy Brandon, speaking shortly after the last notes had faded and crews had begun breaking down the outdoor stages, pronounced the festival a success. “The fans had a great time,” Brandon said, noting that the event had drawn attendees from other states as well as from around Texas. Asked about future plans, she said the event’s producer, the Conroe Downtown Area Association, “hope[s] to continue to grow the festival.”

Conroe Americana Music Festival: Day One

By Paul T. Mueller

The inaugural Conroe Americana Music Festival got off to a promising start on Friday, May 5, in the charmingly restored downtown area of the small city north of Houston. Perfect spring weather and moderate crowds made for an excellent festival experience, and the eclectic mix of musicians matched the fine atmosphere with outstanding performances. The overall vibe was laid back, with flashes of intensity.

The promoters’ decision to hold the festival in four indoor venues – two pubs, an event space and a converted ice plant – and two open-air stages under festival tents worked out well for the event’s first evening. All of the venues are located within a few blocks of each other, making for easy show-hopping. The relatively large number of performers meant that six shows were going on simultaneously pretty much the whole time, causing some frustration for those who wanted to see everybody, but also dispersing the crowd and avoiding big crushes at any one venue.

Some highlights from the first night:

      Quiet folkie fare, accompanied by cello and mandolin, by Shellee Coley, a onetime Nashvillian now back in her native Texas. Coley filled one of the 6 p.m. opening slots, in the beautifully restored Martin’s Hall, with her own songs and also a well-received rendition of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

          Texas music from Houston-area singer-songwriter Brad Boyer, accompanied by guitarist Chad Ware. Hampered somewhat by subpar acoustics and noisy bar patrons in the Sparkle Ice House, Boyer carried on with a mix of originals (“Five Stones and a Sling,” “Long Cold December”) and covers (Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” Guy Clark’s “Stuff that Works”). There was also a nice rendition of his tribute to Guy, “The Last Folksinger.”

          High-energy takes on introspective songs (“Never the Pretty Girl,” “Whisper My Name”) by Austin artist BettySoo, accompanied by a full band that included Will Sexton on guitar and Bonnie Whitmore on bass, in the Corner Pub.

          Rocking blues from Austin’s Peterson Brothers Band, with brothers Glenn Peterson Jr. on guitar and Alex Peterson on bass, along with two drummers, on an outdoor stage sponsored by Conroe’s Southern Star Brewing Co.

          A diverse mix of originals and interesting covers from Austin-based singer-songwriter-producer Gurf Morlix. The former included “The Best We Can,” which Morlix said is based on a “pretty chord” of the kind he rarely uses. The latter included “The

Peterson Brothers at Conroe Americana Music Festival

Massacre at Glencoe,” a ballad about an 18th century feud between Scottish clans, and Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” Morlix closed with the lovely benediction “The Parting Glass.”

          Boogie with a side of spirituality from the seemingly ageless Billy Joe Shaver, who seemed right at home in the cavernous Sparkle venue. Backed by an enthusiastic young band, Shaver cranked through such familiar favorites as “Try and Try Again,” “When the Fallen Angels Fly” and “Live Forever,” plus newer fare such as “Hard to Be an Outlaw.” His brand of rocked-up country appealed to listeners and dancers alike.

The festival continues through the weekend of May 6-7.

Preview: Conroe Americana Music Festival

 

By Paul T. Mueller

Music gets another festival to call its own this year, with the Conroe Americana Music Festival set to debut May 5-7 in Conroe, Texas. The event, described by the promoters as “a grassroots premier festival featuring a mix of Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Folk, Texas Country, Roots Rock, Blues, and Americana music,” will take place in Conroe’s historic downtown, about 40 miles north of downtown Houston.

The festival’s website, http://conroeamericanamusicfestival.com/, currently lists more than 50 scheduled performers. They include such well-known names as Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (aka the First Couple of Texas Americana), John Fullbright, Billy Joe Shaver, The Mastersons, Gurf Morlix, Angaleena Presley, Dale Watson and Ray Benson, and Mike Farris. Of course, there’s a heavy presence of Texas artists, familiar in the Lone Star State but possibly less well known elsewhere, such as bluesman Guy Forsyth; songstress Terri Hendrix, with longtime collaborator Lloyd Maines; rockers Uncle Lucius; former True Believer Jon Dee Graham; veteran folkie Eric Taylor; Houston-based honky-tonkers Mike Stinson and The John Evans Band; Austin-based blues-folkie Ruthie Foster, and Austin blues-rocker Carolyn Wonderland. The complete lineup can be found here and the schedule here.

With free parking and short distances between the festival’s six venues, the weekend’s toughest task figures to be deciding which performer to see at any given time. There are six venues – four indoor spaces and two somewhat larger outdoor stages – with scheduling seemingly set up in hopes of dispersing the crowd. For instance, the Friday lineup includes shows by Gurf Morlix and the Mastersons both at 9 p.m., at pubs located across the street from each other. Those sets will be partially overlapped by four other shows, including Hendrix and Maines and Austin-based bluesmen The Peterson Brothers. Scheduling dilemmas may be eased to some extent by the fact that some performers will play more than once.

As is often the case at the outset of such events, ticket prices are reasonable: $35 for a one-day pass for Friday or Sunday, $50 for a Saturday pass, or $75 for a three-day pass. Parking is free and food will be available from several food trucks.

According to the festival’s website, the event was “(e)stablished through the Conroe Downtown Area Association (501c4) [and] the proceeds of the festival will be used to enhance the Historic Downtown Conroe area with improved signing and beautification projects.”

The Conroe Americana Music Festival gets under way at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 5, and wraps up at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 7.

25th Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival

By Ken Paulson

Tin Pan South, an extraordinary songwriters festival set in Nashville, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a full slate events scheduled from March 28 through April 1.

The Tin Pan South festival features small groups of successful songwriters, typically playing in the the round (or in a row.) Some songwriters are more polished performers than others, but it’s a treat to hear the original versions of now-classic songs.

Among the Tin Pan South highlights:

  • Bruce “Hey Baby” Channel, Gary Nicholson, “Sonny “I Fought the Law” Curtis and Sonny Throckmorton at 6 p.m. on March 28 at the Bluebird Café.
  • Mac Davis, Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley and Lee Thomas Miller at 6 p.m. on March 29 at the Bluebird Café.
  • Jessi Alexander, Deric Ruttan, Jimmy Yeary and JT Harding at the Hard Rock Café at 9 p.m. on March 29.
  • Keb’ Mo’, Desmond Child and Victoria Shaw at the Listening Room at 6 p.m. on March 30.
  • Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, Paul Overstreet and Scotty Emerick at the Hard Rock Café at 6 p.m. on March 30.
  • James Otto, Mark McGuinn, Myler Reeve, Treat Landon at The Country at 6 p.m on March 30.
  • Bob Morrison, Dickey Lee, Pat Alger and Wayland Holyfield at the Bluebird Café at 6:30 p.m. on March 31.
  • Emily West, Jamie O’Neal, KS Rhoads and Stephony Smith at the Listening Room at 9:30 p.m. on March 31.
  • Bobby Braddock, Marc D. Sanders, Matraca Berg, Roger Cook at 3rd and Lindsley at 6:30 p.m. on April 1.
  • Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette, Bruce Gaistch and Dennis Morgan at 9:30 p.m. at Douglas Corner on April 1.

That just scratches the surface. You’ll find a full schedule on the Tin Pan South site.

 

Mountain Tough concert to help Gatlinburg

Americana Music News – We’re proud that our friends and colleagues at WMOT and Music City Roots are playing major roles in this Saturday’s “Mountain Tough” fund-raising concert  in the wake of the devastating fires in Gatlinburg. The official announcement:

WMOT_rev2All week, artists and radio stations have been signing on to support Mountain Tough, an all-day, free musical celebration and fund-raiser in Gatlinburg on Saturday, Dec. 17 from 10:00 am until approximately 9 pm. The event is being produced by Yee-Haw Brewing Co., Ole Smoky Moonshine, Music City Roots and the Gatlinburg TN Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Donations are all going to the Sevier County Community Fund.

The full show will be carried all day by flagship broadcaster WMOT / Roots Radio, 89.5 FM serving Middle Tennessee from the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University. Other stations committed to broadcast or stream Mountain Tough include: Knoxville country powerhouse WIVK, Knoxville indie/Americana station WDVX, Nashville public radio station WPLN, University of Tennessee stations KUTK and WUOT and Chattanooga’s WUTC.

In addition, NPR Music affiliated World Café and the VuHaus digital music video service will host the video stream of the show produced and served by Music City Roots of Nashville.

Most importantly, the talent lineup continues to take shape. Nationally renowned duo The Secret Sisters signed on in the last 48 hours. Other artists committed include: Sam Bush, Jason D. Williams, Derek St. Holmes, Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Mead, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Shannon Whitworth & Barrett Smith, Sarah Potenza, Firewater Junction, Greg Reish, Chelle Rose, Carl Anderson, R.B. Morris and Mo Pitney. Zac Brown Band will take the stage last at about 7:50 pm.

Celebration of songwriting at Tin Pan South

By Ken Paulson

Wayland Holyfield and Dickey Lee

Wayland Holyfield and Dickey Lee

The Tin Pan South songwriters festival in Nashville this week offered up five nights of remarkable performances by some of the country’s best songwriters, but an early show on Thursday at the Station Inn featuring three veteran performers and writers was among the most memorable.

I’ve just finished reading The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, a book by John Seabrook that documents how today’s songs are engineered rather than created. There’s a new hook every few seconds because the formula demands it. Every generation complains that “all these new songs sound the same.” This time they’re right.

That’s why the performance at the Station Inn was so special. Buzz Cason, Dickey Lee and Wayland Holyfield have had hits spanning five decades, fueled by inspiration, happenstance and creativity.

Buzz Cason

Buzz Cason

Cason’s “Soldier of love” was covered by the Beatles during the BBC sessions and his “Everlasting Love” has become a pop standard. But he explained that his professional breakthrough came just by mimicking the goofy doo-wop vocals of Jan and Dean, and then submitting the songs to the duo. The result: “Tennessee” and the Top 25 single “Popsicle.”

 Dickey Lee had a successful career as a recording artist and performed “I Saw Linda Yesterday,” his hit from 1963.  But the emotional stakes of that song were trumped by his biggest hit, “She Thinks I Still Care,” a classic in the hands of George Jones. Lee said the song was inspired by a girl who broke his heart.

Holyfield played “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” his first hit as a songwriter and a big record for Johnny Russell. But the highlight of  his performance was “You’re My Best Friend,” a Don Williams hit that Holyfield dedicated to his wife.

And so it goes. The hits of the past were inspired by lost love. Found love. And an impulse to get Jan and Dean to record your songs.

No algorithms. No product. Just art, creativity and fun.

CTM writers at Tin Pan South

Song Suffragettes at Tin Pan South

 

Opening night at Tin Pan South

Tin Pan South 2016 preview

By Ken Paulson

Mac Davis and Bobby Braddock at Tin Pain South 2011

Mac Davis and Bobby Braddock at Tin Pan South 2011

Tin Pan South, one of Nashville’s best -and most economical – music festivals begins Tuesday, April 9, the first of  five nights of songwriter showcases.

This annual event brings together songwriting legends (Bobby Bare, Mac Davis, Bill Anderson) and songwriters dominating the charts today (Luke Laird, Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Jessi Alexander.) It features legacy artists (Dickie Lee, Buzz Cason) and current stars (Will Hoge, Kacey Musgraves.)

The songwriters rounds encompass a wide range of themes – “A Little Chick on Pick Action” anyone? – but the overall quality is always high. Some shows that we found particularly intriguing:

Tuesday, April 5, 6pm | $20 Bluebird Cafe
Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Buddy Cannon, special guests

Tuesday, April 5, 6pm | $20 The Country

Jessi Alexander, Cary Barlowe, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Thompson

Tuesday, April 5, 9pm | $15 Whiskey Rhythm Saloon
Keith Burns, Jim Peterik, Collin Raye, Joie Scott, special guest

Wednesday, April 6, 9pm | $15 Station Inn
Chuck CannonLari WhiteLee Roy Parnell

Wednesday, April 6, 9pm | $20 Bluebird Cafe
Mac Davis, Scotty Emerick, Leslie Satcher, Special Guest

Thursday, April 7, 6pm | $20 Listening Room
Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird, Lori McKenna, Special Guest

Thursday, April 7, 6pm | $10 Station Inn
Buzz Cason, Wayland Holyfield, Dickey Lee

Thursday, April 7, 9pm | $15 Douglas Corner
Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette, Bruce Gaitsch, Dennis Morgan

Thursday, April 7, 6pm | $15 Bluebird Cafe

Pat Alger, Don Henry, Livingston Taylor, Jon Vezner

Friday, April 8, 6:30pm | $20 3rd and Lindsley
Granville Automatic (Elizabeth Elkins & Vanessa Olivarez),
Travis Meadows, Angaleena Presley

Friday, April 8, 6:30pm | $15 Listening Room
Jeff Cohen, James T. Slater, Kim Richey

Saturday, April 9, 6:30pm | $15 Station Inn
Marti Dodson, Will Hoge, Tony Lane, Jason Mizelle, Special Guest

Saturday, April 9, 6:30pm | $20 3rd and Lindsley
A Benefit for Bonaparte’s Retreat
Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack, Colin Linden, Brandon Young, special guest, hosted by Emmylou Harris

Saturday, April 9, 9:30pm | $25 3rd and Lindsley
Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves, Josh Osborne

The full schedule can be found on the Nashville Songwriters Association website.

At long last: ZZ Top live in La Grange

 by Paul T. Mueller

Legendary Texas blues -rock trio ZZ Top made a little history over Labor Day weekend. On Saturday, September 5, after more than four decades of touring and performing, the band played its first-ever show in La Grange, the south-central Texas town that lent its name to one of the band’s biggest hits.

Anyone who came to the Fayette County Fairgrounds expecting nuance from the Top probably left disappointed. But let’s face it, it’s unlikely that many in the huge audience – one unofficial estimate put the crowd’s size at 30,000 – were expecting any such thing. The trio – guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard – is known mostly for pounding out unpretentious, blues-based boogie dealing

ZZ Top in a Grange

ZZ Top in La Grange

with a variety of non-cerebral topics. That’s what the fans came for, and they got it. The band delivered a well-paced, 80-minute show featuring most of its best-known songs, plus a couple of covers. All of it was done with style and a refreshing absence of synthesizers and theatrics – if you don’t count a live buzzard perched atop a cow skull behind the drum riser.

Of course the set list included “La Grange,” a hit from the band’s 1973 breakout album Tres Hombres. The riff-heavy rocker is an ode to the Chicken Ranch, a brothel that operated for decades on the outskirts of town until it was shut down after an investigation by a flamboyant Houston TV news personality. The story was immortalized, if that’s the right word, in the musical (and later movie) “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

The opening act’s set featured several power failures, but ZZ Top’s performance was unmarred by such glitches. The sound, at least at a distance of 100 yards or so from the stage, was loud but not painfully so, and very clean. The band led off with “Got Me Under Pressure,” from 1983’s Eliminator. A parade of hits followed, from the earlier stuff – “Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” Cheap Sunglasses” – to the MTV hits of the ‘80s, including “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” Newer selections included “I Gotsta Get Paid,” “Chartreuse” and “Flyin’ High” from the band’s most recent collection, 2012’s La Futura.

One unexpected bonus was a creditable rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” accompanied by images of Hendrix on two large onstage video screens. That was followed by the classic “Catfish Blues,” also recorded by Hendrix. Both gave Gibbons ample room to demonstrate his still-excellent blues chops, backed by the seldom flashy but always solid rhythm play of Hill and Beard (still the only band member who does not sport a beard).

The main set ended with a vigorous workout on “Tush,” an anthem about simple pleasures from 1975’s Fandango!. After a short break, the band returned for a one-song encore tailor-made for Labor Day weekend – a Top-ified blues-rock take on the classic “16 Tons.”

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2015 Americana Music Awards nominees announced

The Americana Music Association announced this afternoon the nominees for the 2015 ama_logo_button_redAmericana Honors and Awards. The winners will be announced at the association’s annual conference, set for Sept. 10-15 in Nashville.
2015 Americana Honors & Awards Nominees
Album of the Year (Award goes to Artist and Producer)
And The War CameShakey Graves; Produced by Alejandro Rose-Garcia and Chris Boosahda
Down Where The Spirit Meets The BoneLucinda Williams; Produced by Lucinda Williams, Tom Overby and Greg Leisz
Metamodern Sounds In Country Music Sturgill Simpson; Produced by Dave Cobb
The Way I’m Livin’Lee Ann Womack; Produced by Frank Liddell
Tomorrow Is My Turn – Rhiannon Giddens; Produced by T-Bone Burnett
Artist of the Year
Rhiannon Giddens
Jason Isbell
Sturgill Simpson
Lucinda Williams
Lee Ann Womack
Duo/Group of the Year
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
The Lone Bellow
The Mavericks
Punch Brothers
Shovels & Rope
Emerging Artist of the Year
First Aid Kit
Houndmouth
Nikki Lane
Doug Seegers
Shakey Graves
Instrumentalist of the Year
Hubby Jenkins
Laur Joamets
Greg Leisz
John Leventhal
Stuart Mathis
Song of the Year (Award goes to Artist and Songwriter)
“Dearly Departed” – Shakey Graves; Written by Alejandro Rose-Garcia and Esme’ Patterson
“East Side Of Town” – Lucinda Williams; Written by Lucinda Williams
“Terms Of My Surrender” – John Hiatt; Written by John Hiatt
“Turtles All The Way Down” – Sturgill Simpson; Written by Sturgill Simpson
“You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had” – Steve Earle & the Dukes; Written by Steve Earle

This just in: 2015 Americana Music Festival line-up

ama_logo_button_redThe  Americana Music Association has just announced its initial artist line-up for the 16th annual Americana Music Festival and Conference, set for September 15 – 20, 2015, in Nashville.

It’s always an extraordinary week of music and one of the best festivals in Nashville each year.

You’ll find conference and wristband information at www.americanamusic.org.

 

The roster so far:
Anderson East
Andrew Combs
Anthony D’Amato
Banditos
Barna Howard
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Billy Bragg & Joe Purdy
Birds of Chicago
Brian Wright
The Bros. Landreth
Caleb Caudle
Caleb Klauder Country Band
Carly Ritter
Carsie Blanton
ChessBoxer
Christopher Paul Stelling
The Contenders
Corb Lund
Crooks
Darlingside
Dead Winter Carpenters
Dom Flemons
The Dustbowl Revival
Emma Swift
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
The Freightshakers
The Grahams
Grant-Lee Phillips
Guthrie Brown & The Family Tree
Hackensaw Boys
Halfway
The Hello Strangers
Henry Wagons
honeyhoney
Horse Feathers
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Hugh Bob and the Hustle
Jackie Greene
James McMurtry
Joe Pug
John Moreland
John Paul Keith
Kingsley Flood
Kristin Diable
Kristin Andreassen
Laney Jones and the Spirits
Lee Ann Womack
Legendary Shack Shakers
Lera Lynn
Leyla McCalla
Lilly Hiatt
Liz Longley
Los Lobos
Low Cut Connie
Lucette
Lydia Loveless
Martin Harley
Mary Gauthier
Nikki Lane
Nora Jane Struthers
Nudie
Oh Pep!
Packway Handle Band
Patty Griffin
Pokey LaFarge
Porter
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
Ray Wylie Hubbard
River Whyless
Sarah Borges
Sean McConnell
Shemekia Copeland
The Show Ponies
Session Americana
Steelism
The Steel Wheels
Stephen Kellogg
The Stray Birds
Tall Heights
The Vespers
Water Liars
The Whistles and The Bells
Whitey Morgan and the 78s
The Wild Reeds
William Elliott Whitmore
Whitehorse

 

Interview: Hemming on Sail Across the Sun

By Ken Paulson

Hemming may well have been the youngest artist on the Sail Across the Sun cruise (other than the School of Rock students), but won over audiences in her shows in the ship’s atrium.

Hemming

Hemming

Hemming is the alter ego of Candice Martello, a singer-songwriter based in Philadelphia. Her appearance on  Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project gave her solo career a jump start, and a debut album is in the works. She cites Cat Power and M. Ward among her influences.

We spoke with her just before the cruise ship left Miami.

Her thoughts on her music and emerging career:

Review: Sail Across the Sun cruise 2015

By Ken Paulson

Train’s Sail Across the Sun cruise runs on two parallel tracks.

On one, it’s a floating music festival featuring Train, the Wailers and emerging acts like Striking Matches.

Pat Monahan of Train

Pat Monahan of Train

On the other, it’s a fanfest for those who love Train, which means three crowd-pleasing concerts by the band, Q&A and photo sessions, podcasts, wine tastings with the band’s Jimmy Stafford, and even “Trainaoke.”

Surprisingly, it all works.

Not as music intensive as some other Sixthman music crusie offerings,  the five-day cruise supplements the music with cooking demonstrations and comedy. They could use a few more musicians; by the fourth day you’ve seen some acts three times.

Calling Train the headliner of the cruise is an understatement, Lead singer Pat Monahan is the ringmaster, visible throughout, and even hosting the karaoke contest.

This kept the Train fans very happy, and they returned the goodwill when Monahan’s voice gave out before the band’s final show.

“My voice is broken,” Monahan said, explaining that other artists on the boat and even a Trainaoke finalist or two would fill in for him. Monahan gamely stayed on stage, exhorting the crowd and keeping the show moving. It was Train’s greatest hits (and Journey and Led Zeppelin covers) sung by both some talented and some overmatched vocalists, but the audience wasn’t fazed,  standing and cheering until the end.

Other highlights from the cruise:

A Great Big World

A Great Big World

– We saw Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World pick up their Grammy in Los Angeles just four days before the cruise and it appeared the euphoria hadn’t worn off. Their shows were joyous, reflective and often funny, with three sets spread throughout the ship, including an acoustic set the final night.

– Andy Grammer and Ingrid Michaelsen both drew big and enthusiastic crowds for their consistently smart and engaging pop performances.

– Striking Matches’s new album Nothing but the Silence is due in March  and their energetic performances on board showcased their always-strong material. Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis are best known for writing songs featured on the Nashville TV show; it’s good to see them record on their own.

– John Driskell Hopkins, a founding member of the Zac Brown Band and co-writer of the band’s hit “Toes,” writes and sings highly melodic and accessible country and folk. His sets drew heavily from his fine 2012 release Daylight, including “She Don’t Love Me Today,” a funny and inspired song about the realities of marriage.

The Wailers

The Wailers

– We first saw Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers on a Cayamo cruise about five years ago,  and his solo performances this year were engaging  and intimate, even when he played  on the pool deck.

– The Wailers shouldn’t bother playing on land. Their set – laden with Bob Marley classics – is ideally suited for a cruise. There’s a younger generation of singers fronting the band, but the legacy remains intact.

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Review: Cayamo 2015 may have been best yet

By Paul T. Mueller

You’re never going to get more than 2,000 music lovers to agree on everything, but there seems to be something of a consensus that this year’s Cayamo cruise was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, editions in the eight-voyage history of the festival-at-sea.

Cayamo, a production of Atlanta-based Sixthman, sailed from Miami on Jan. 17 aboard the Norwegian Pearl, its home since 2010. The event featured calls at the Caribbean islands of St. Barts and St. Croix, but the real draw, as always, was the music, which began before the ship left Miami and continued nearly nonstop, almost to the minute the Pearl returned to its home port a week later.

This year’s headliners, all veterans of previous Cayamos, were Lyle Lovett (with his Acoustic Group), John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and Richard Thompson (as part of his Electric Trio). The next level consisted of a large group of talented musicians and bands, including Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Shawn Mullins (the only artist to have participated in every Cayamo), Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves, David Bromberg, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, John Fullbright, The Lone Bellow, Elizabeth Cook and many more.

New this year were five “Soundcheck Artists,” chosen by passenger vote before sailing from a group of 25 nominees. This group comprised Birds of Chicago, the Black Lillies, the Dusty 45s, the Michelle Malone Band and Amy Speace, who was backed by two of her East Nashville neighbors, Tim Easton and Megan Palmer.

The lineup also included one notable “stowaway” – the eccentric but brilliant Todd Snider, who caused a furor by backing out of last year’s Cayamo at the last minute. Finally aboard, he made his first appearance at a midnight show halfway through the week.

In addition, many passengers, not content with merely watching and listening to professionals make music, brought their own instruments aboard. Individuals and groups could be found picking and jamming at all hours in various corners of the vessel, but particularly in an area known as Bar City.

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

All of this added up to far too much music for any one person to take in, even given the abbreviated sleep schedule that’s an integral part of the Cayamo experience for many. Schedule conflicts also got in the way, despite Sixthman’s commendable efforts to program shows and stages so as to distribute the crowds as evenly as possible around the ship’s several performance venues. As great a show as one might be witnessing at any given moment, something equally excellent was more than likely happening somewhere else at the same time.

As the Pearl left the dock a couple of hours behind schedule, Birmingham, Ala.-based St. Paul & the Broken Bones kicked the party on the pool deck into high gear with their high-energy blend of rock and soul. “I know it’s early,” said lead singer Paul Janeway, “but we gotta let it loose!” Nearly a week and dozens of shows later, Cayamo drew to a close with a “No Sleep ‘til Land Jam” that lasted into the small hours just before docking. It was hosted by the Austin-based Band of Heathens and featured guest performances by a great many of the artists aboard.

This kind of collaboration is a longtime hallmark of the Cayamo experience, and it was much in evidence all week. Almost anyone was liable to show up at almost any gig, to lend a hand on an instrument, sing a verse or provide backing vocals.

There were a few glitches – the presence of some much larger vessels at Norwegian’s main terminal left the Pearl with a smaller and less efficient temporary terminal (actually a large tent), which led to long and frustrating lines at both ends of the cruise. Still, it was hard to find anyone with anything really negative to say about Cayamo. A week at sea in the sunny Caribbean, dozens of world-class musicians performing almost nonstop, thousands of kindred spirits in the audience (including, for many repeat cruisers, old friends from previous Cayamos), and all the comfort and convenience of a major-label cruise ship – all of that adds up to what many call the Best Vacation Ever – until next year’s edition.

Still to come: More detail on the week’s shows, big, small and in between.

Cayamo finale: Elizabeth Cook, David Bromberg

By Paul T. Mueller

Friday, Jan. 23 found the Norwegian Pearl in the home stretch of its return to Miami. The end of the Cayamo music cruise 2015 was just around the corner, but the day’s full schedule of music was an effective antidote to any possibility of negative thoughts. Who has time to mope when there are shows to get to?

Elizabeth Cook’s 12:30 set on the pool deck was a lively mix of the spiritual and the secular. The former was represented by several songs from her 2012 EP Gospel Plow, including the title track, “Hear Jerusalem Calling” and “Jesus.” The latter included “It Takes Balls to Be a Woman,” “El Camino,” “Goin’ Down” (with a vocal assist from Todd Snider) and “Methadone Blues.” Cook cut a fashionable figure in her hipster/hippie garb, while Snider went casual as always in cut-off jeans and a white undershirt, topped off with a jaunty nautical cap.

Amy Speace’s final show in the Spinnaker Lounge featured several songs from her new CD That Kind of Girl – the spiritually themed “Three Days,” the lonely love song “In Chicago,” the sad breakup song “Raincoat” (“You were my raincoat/Now you’re the rain”), a post-breakup song (“Epilogue (I Don’t Know How To Stop Loving You),” and the title track, a rueful reflection on the stories we tell ourselves. Backed by Tim Easton on guitar and Megan Palmer on fiddle, Speace also played a few older favorites, including “The Killer in Me” (with a guest appearance by guitarist Stuart Mathis), “Hunter Moon,” “In Salida,” “The Sea and the Shore” and “Vertigo.” There was also a nice rendition of “The Fortunate Ones,” which Speace dedicated to the audience.

David Bromberg

David Bromberg

David Bromberg’s final set, in the Stardust Theater at 3:00, was a varied show that included some solo work, some full-band efforts, and a couple of tunes by band members. From the opener – blues standard “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” – Bromberg moved on to a long rendition of his comic breakup songs “I’ll Take You Back.” Things got a little more serious with “The Fields Have Turned Brown” and a twangy rendition of “Last Date,” but slid back into comedy with “The Holdup,” a crime-caper tale co-written with George Harrison. Bromberg accompanied “Kaatskill Serenade,” on the surface a retelling of the Rip Van Winkle story, with an explanation of how the song is also about alienation, both personal and in a wider sense. Guitarist Mark Cosgrove took the spotlight with a skillfully flat-picked “Alabama Jubilee,” followed by some fiddle tunes featuring himself and Bromberg on guitar, accompanying fiddler Nate Grower. Bromberg closed the set with “Bring It On Home,” including a long discourse on the nature of true love and how he lost it and found it again, and returned for a full-band acoustic encore of “Roll On, John,” featuring Cosgrove’s fine mandolin playing.

Other Friday performers included Lisa Mills, winner of the open mic competition for songwriters, playing in the Pearl’s open-air Great Outdoors venue (backed by Richard Thompson’s rhythm section, bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome); Kristy Lee and Dirt Road Revival, bringing the rock and soul to the pool deck with help from Shawn Mullins, and The Lone Bellow, getting assists from John Fullbright and Brandi Carlile in the Stardust.

Shawn Colvin’s 8:00 Stardust show consisted largely of songs by her large cast of guests, to whom she lent her fine voice and acoustic guitar, as well as Steuart Smith’s electric guitar. The set included Rodney Crowell performing his “The Rock of My Soul”; Jim Lauderdale’s rendition of Gram Parsons’ “Sin City”; Brandi Carlile helping out on “Calling All Angels” and the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care”; Buddy Miller doing “Let It Be Me” (made popular by the Everly Brothers) and “Poison Love”; Lucinda Williams singing Parsons’ “Hickory Wind”; Richard Thompson with his “A Heart Needs a Home” and a cover of the Animals’ “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”; the Louvin Brothers’ “My Baby’s Gone,” featuring Luke Bulla, and Colvin with her “Diamond in the Rough,” getting assistance from Keith Sewell.

Michelle Malone kept the energy level high on the pool deck with a mostly electric set at 10:30. Highlights included “Weed & Wine,” a lament for lost youth; “Chicken Lickin’ Boogie,” featuring Jimmy Galloway on guitar; a vigorous rendition of “Preacher’s Daughter” that included an extended acoustic guitar workout by Malone, and “Feather in a Hurricane,” with help from Kristy Lee and the Black Lillies’ Cruz Contreras.

Rodney Crowell’s 11:30 Spinnaker set was a loose and joyous affair featuring a crowd on the stage and a bigger one in front of it. It was standing room only as Crowell and a plethora of guests – Joanne Gardner, Luke Bulla, Shawn Colvin, Steuart Smith, Keith Sewell, Dave Jacques and David Bromberg, among others – ripped through a rich and varied set list. Highlights included Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel”; a lively rendition of the Staple Singers’ soul hit “Respect Yourself”; a happy sing-along version of “Like a Rolling Stone,” featuring nice solos from several guests and enthusiastic audience participation, and Crowell’s own “Ain’t Living Long Like This.” After a crack about “long solos and sloppy endings,” Crowell summed up the show as “11 fast songs and one ballad” – the latter being his closer, a moving rendition of his “ ’Til I Gain Control Again.”

At that point, with disembarkation only hours away, many Cayamoans had had about all the musical fun they could stand. But others who weren’t done partying headed for the Atrium and the “No Sleep ’Til Land Jam,” led by the Band of Heathens, which continued well into the small hours of Saturday morning.

Cayamo Day 6: Shawn Colvin, Tim Easton, Black Lillies

By Paul T. Mueller

On Thursday, Jan. 22, the Norwegian Pearl, having left St. Croix the previous evening, was heading north and west through the blue Caribbean, on the homeward leg of the Cayamo music cruise 2015.

Days at sea mean days with more music, and one of the first shows scheduled was Amy Speace’s 11:00 a.m. set in the Spinnaker Lounge. And an excellent set it was, beginning with the title song from 2013’s How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat.

Amy Speace

Amy Speace

“I come from a long line of sailors and priests,” Speace said by way of explaining the prevalence of nautical imagery in her songs. More of her sharply observed and carefully written songs followed, backed by Tim Easton’s guitar and Megan Palmer’s fiddle – “Ghost,” which she said was written for her grandparents; “The Killer in Me,” a song of dysfunctional love; “The Sea and the Shore,” a sad and beautiful ballad that Speace said was “No. 1 for about two weeks on the radio in Serbia – take that, Lyle Lovett!”, and the uplifting funeral song “Hymn for the Crossing,” which Speace said she wrote with Irish singer Ben Glover the day after Pete Seeger died. She closed with a heartfelt rendition of “The Fortunate Ones,” featuring Easton’s fine acoustic guitar.

 

Lucinda Williams played another fine set in the Stardust Theater beginning at 1:30. After opening with a solo acoustic rendition of “Passionate Kisses,” Williams brought out her band for a string of old and new tunes. These included “Metal Firecracker,” “Right in Time” and “Drunken Angel,” all from her breakout Car Wheels on a Gravel Road collection; “Cold Day in Hell,” a bluesy kiss-off song from the new album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone; “I Lost It,” featuring an excellent solo by guitarist Stuart Mathis; and “Are You Down,” featuring a jazzy intro and an instrumental break that drew applause from Willliams herself. Other highlights were a duet with Jim Lauderdale on “Jailhouse Tears,” a stark, almost harsh reading of “Unsuffer Me,” and rocking treatments of “Essence,” “Joy” and “Get Right with God.” “This goes out to all of you,” Williams told the crowd before launching into a vigorous romp through Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Shawn Colvin’s 3:00 p.m. show in the Spinnaker consisted of well-chosen and beautifully executed covers. With stellar assistance from guitarist and part-time Eagle Steuart Smith, Colvin more than did justice to songs including Steve Earle’s “Someday,” Graham Nash’s “I Used to Be a King,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest” and the Eagles’ “The Best of My Love.” Reportedly also performed, but not witnessed by this reviewer, were renditions of The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood,” Emmylou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl,” Tom Waits’ “Hold On” and several others.

 

Tim Easton and Megan Palmer played a third “guerrilla set” in Bar City at 5:00 p.m. This time, Palmer divided her time between fiddle and piano, another instrument on which she is quite proficient. Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and Easton’s “Don’t Lie” found Palmer at the keyboard and Bruce Lebovitz, a passenger and an accomplished player, taking over the fiddle duties. Palmer and Lebovitz brought a twin-fiddle approach to a couple of songs, including “Factory Girl.” Easton took over the piano for a rendition of his “Festival Song,” featuring a snippet of “Come Together” and some lyrics customized for Cayamo, and singer-songwriter Nellie Clay joined the group for her “Wichita Was a Bust.” The set closed with a rousing take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “How You Want Your Rollin’ Done,” again featuring Palmer on the piano.

Todd Snider drew a big crowd to his 6:30 show on the pool deck, backed by Elizabeth Cook’s band plus guitarist Jason Wilber from John Prine’s band. Seemingly as much at ease in the daylight as at midnight, Snider put on a loose and funny show, with more music and fewer stories than at his show the night before.                   The set included originals such as “The Last Laugh,” “Is This Thing Working?,” “Easy Money” and “Good News Blues.” There were also some fine covers, including the blues classic “I’m Ready,” “Enjoy Yourself,” Texas singer-songwriter Rusty Wier’s “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance” and Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia” and “Sea Cruise.” Snider dedicated his last song, “Come from the Heart,” to Texas songwriter Guy Clark and Clark’s late wife, Susanna, who wrote the song with Richard Leigh.

The Black Lillies came to their 8:30 set in the Atrium ready to rock and ready to bring the crowd with them. They brought plenty of energy and excellent musicianship to their own songs, including “Smokestack Lady” and “40 Days and 40 Nights” (an account of the band’s first national tour), and to covers including the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up, Little Susie” and the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” (with Michelle Malone plus two band members, Trish Land on tambourine and Ben Holst on guitar).

Seattle-based band The Dusty 45s kept the Atrium rocking during their 10:30 set, with charismatic front man Billy Joe Huels pushing the pace with almost unbelievable energy. With Huels alternating between guitar and trumpet, the band ripped through some older material – “Devil Takes His Turn,” “Why Darlin’ Why” – and newer songs such as “Chase Your Dream,” “Two Beers in Texas,” “32 Quarters” and “Walking in the Rain.” There were also some nicely done covers, including Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey,” John Prine’s “Glory of True Love,” the 1930 tune “Bye Bye Blues” (dedicated to guitarist Jerry Battista’s father) and “Misirlou,” made famous by surf-rock king Dick Dale.

The Throwdown

The Throwdown

As Thursday turned into Friday, the “Throwback Throwdown” got cranked up on the Pearl’s pool deck. A large cast of musicians, loosely led by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, spent the next 90 minutes or so doing honor to songs from the past. Highlights included Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It,” getting the soul treatment from St. Paul and the Broken Bones; Fats Domino’s “I Lived My Life,” featuring Miller and Lucinda Williams; Jim Stafford’s “Swamp Witch,” performed with appropriate drama by Shawn Mullins; a convincing rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Lookin’ at Country” by Kacey Musgraves; Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” sweetly done by The Lone Bellow; Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” featuring the powerful vocals of Humming House’s Leslie Rodriguez and nice guitar by Davis Causey, and the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” by the Black Lillies. John Fullbright showed his range with a powerful take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs” and a quieter rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “If You See Me Getting Smaller,” which left the often raucous pool deck in dead silence. The big finale was an all-hands-on-deck jam of the traditional blues “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.”

Cayamo day 5: Brandi Carlile, Todd Snider, Kacey Musgraves

By Paul T. Mueller

Wednesday, Jan. 21 found the Norwegian Pearl docked at St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many Cayamoans strolled off the ship to explore the island or just hang out on a nearby beach. One was Doug Seegers, the once-homeless Nashville country singer who’s made an unlikely comeback with the help of Cayamo stalwart Buddy Miller, singer-songwriter-producer Will Kimbrough and others. Seegers spent some time busking in front of one the shops that line the waterfront, reportedly collecting about $150 in his guitar case with a sign reading, “Can’t afford the boat.”

Back on the Pearl, the music started at 4:00 p.m. with a pool deck show by Kacey Musgraves. Rising star Musgraves, a small-town Texan relocated to Nashville, has plenty of attitude and some serious chops to go with it. Her Cayamo sets drew largely on her 2013 CD Same Trailer, Different Park, but on this sunny afternoon she also found space for a bit of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” with its catchy chorus, “Every little thing’s gonna be all right.”

The second “guerrilla set” by Tim Easton and Megan Palmer got going at 6:00 in the Bar City area. This one was heavy on Easton’s older tunes, several played by request, including “Carry Me,” “Broke My Heart,” “Bitters Past” and “Poor, Poor L.A.” There were also nice renditions of “The Young Girls” and a new song, “Elmore James.” The duo closed with Easton’s “Don’t Walk Alone,” featuring guest vocals by Nellie Clay.

Atlanta-based folk-rocker Michelle Malone played another strong set in the Spinnaker Lounge starting at 7:00. Malone led off with an acoustic version of “Shine,” from her 2012 album Day 2. She described it as a song about gratitude, a common theme among several Cayamo artists throughout the week. Alternating between acoustic and electric guitar, and throwing in some harmonica along the way, Malone showcased compositions that included the raucous barroom tale “Tanya Tucker”; the hard-luck ballad “Ramona,” featuring guitarist Davis Causey; the socially conscious “Immigration Game,” with help from Kristy Lee and Shawn Mullins, and the Beatles’ classic “Eleanor Rigby,” in a dramatic arrangement that blended jazz, blues and soul.

Seattle-based singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, a veteran of six previous Cayamos, took the Stardust Theater stage at 8:00 for her first appearance of this year’s cruise. Sometimes solo and sometimes accompanied by her band – guitarist Tim Hanseroth, bassist Phil Hanseroth, cellist Josh Neumann and drummer Brian Griffin – Carlile seemed even more animated than usual, possibly thanks to pent-up energy. Her set included her familiar hits “The Story” and “Caroline.” There was also a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” with a guest appearance by fiddler Luke Bulla, and some newer originals, such as the beautiful and hopeful “The Eye” and “The Things I Regret,” from her upcoming CD The Firewatcher’s Daughter. Kanene Pipkin, Zach Williams and Brian Elmquist of The Lone Bellow joined Carlile for a reprise performance of “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” which they performed at Sunday’s gospel show, but the effort fell just short, with Carlile’s vocals not quite blending with the trio’s. Carlile closed with a dramatic, high-powered rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Some might have wondered why an artist of Carlile’s ability would choose for her finale a song so strongly associated with another band, but there was no denying the enthusiastic response it received.

Noah Gundersen, another singer-songwriter from Seattle, played the Spinnaker lounge at 9:00, with a set that included at least a couple of covers (Neil Young’s “Down By the River” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”) along with several original songs, including “Dying Now” and “Cigarettes.” Backed by a strong band that included his sister, Abby, on fiddle, Gundersen demonstrated a dramatic vocal style and well-written lyrics.

The Spinnaker took a turn toward hard country with Doug Seegers’ 11:00 p.m. show. Fiddler Barbara Lamb provided expert accompaniment on tunes including “Angie’s Song” and “Baby Lost Her Way Home Again.” Jim Lauderdale lent vocal assistance on “I Met Jesus in a Bar”; David Ball’s “Honky Tonk Healer” got the Texas two-step treatment (Seegers spent some time living in Austin), and Seegers went slow and soulful on Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind.” Seegers introduced “Will You Take the Hand of Jesus” as his response to many good changes in his life in the past year. Some of those, no doubt, were thanks to the next song, “Going Down to the River,” which became a hit in Sweden after a Swedish documentary filmmaker discovered the struggling Seegers in Nashville.

One of Cayamo 2015’s high points occurred at midnight in the Stardust Theater, with the appearance of singer-songwriter Todd Snider, barefoot as usual. “I’m a little late,” Snider told the large crowd at the “stowaway” show, announced only earlier in the day. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get out here.”

This was a reference to his very late cancellation of his scheduled Cayamo appearance last year, reportedly for medical reasons. Hard feelings remain in some quarters, but the audience seemed to be in a forgiving mood – not that Snider seemed to care about forgiveness. Snider is a very talented songwriter and a gifted performer, and he brought his “A” game this night. The show featured a mix of stories, personal philosophy and enough songs from Snider’s extensive catalog to satisfy any but the most demanding fan.

The list included “Good Fortune,” “Play a Train Song,” “How Do You Know It’s Too Late,” “Greencastle Blues,” “Too Soon To Tell,” “Stuck on the Corner,” and, after a long story about meeting Jerry Jeff Walker, a nice rendition of Walker’s hit “Mr. Bojangles.” After asking for audience requests, Snider dedicated his next song to everyone who got mad at him for canceling in 2014 (“I was in a card game – I couldn’t get out of it”) and then played “Alright Guy” from 1994’s Songs for the Daily Planet. After closing with the bouncy 1949 tune “Enjoy Yourself” (“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”), he returned for an encore consisting of “Statistician’s Blues,” “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat the Devil.”

Cayamo Day 3: Richard Thompson, John Prine, Rodney Crowell

By Paul T. Mueller

Legendary British folkie and guitar monster Richard Thompson played the first of his three sets at 1:00 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, in the Norwegian Pearl’s Stardust Theater. Backing him in his Electric Trio were bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome, and the result was for the most part a thunderous affair – too loud for at least a few attendees, in fact. But the musicianship was excellent as expected and the sound was clean, as the trio ripped through such Thompson favorites as “Sally B” (with a little Pete Townshend jump at the end), “You Can’t Win” (featuring an extended solo), the jazzy “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven,” and “Wall of Death,” another long jam. There were also some new songs – “Josephine” and “Amsterdam,” both acoustic tunes, and “Guitar Heroes,” a tribute to Thompson’s role models. Called back for an encore, Thompson showed his country side on “Tear Stained Letter.”

Rodney Crowell, a second-timer on the cruise, followed with an excellent set featuring guitarist Steuart Smith. Crowell opened with a new song, “East Houston Blues,” before moving on to more familiar territory, including “Sex and Gasoline,” “Moving Work of Art” and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” He described the inspiration for a couple of songs dealing with HIV, both from his fine 2001 album The Houston Kid, and then played both – “I Wish It Would Rain,” mostly as a solo effort, and “Wandering Boy,” accompanied brilliantly by Smith. The anthemic “Still Learning How to Fly” and the sing-along favorite “Pancho and Lefty” followed, and Crowell finished with the moving “Til I Can Gain Control Again.”

Lyle Lovett’s Q & A show Monday at 5:00 was a mix of music and dry comedy. The questions, from audience members, covered such diverse topics as Lovett’s recovery from injuries suffered during a run-in with a bull some years ago (he had high praise for his doctors); his experiences as a young artist playing in New York; what it’s like to have legendary drummer Russ Kunkel in his band, and even a question about how he stays so fit, from guest vocalist Shawn Colvin. The music included a fine rendition of “Friend of the Devil,” which Lovett recorded with Kunkel for a 1991 Grateful Dead tribute album; “Sleepwalking,” in response to a question about its enigmatic writer, Willis Alan Ramsey, and the inevitable “If I Had a Boat.”

Monday evening’s “Blind Faith” show was one of the week’s highlights. Admission was restricted to Cayamo 2014 passengers who put down deposits on this year’s cruise before the lineup was announced. Monday’s performers, whose identity was kept secret right up until showtime, turned out to be veteran singer-songwriter John Prine and rising country star Kacey Musgraves. It was an inspired pairing – each brought an impressive list of songs and the chemistry between them was (to borrow a word from the loquacious Jim Lauderdale) palpable. Prine’s selections included “Spanish Pipedream,” “Fish and Whistle,” “One Red Rose” and “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” (complete with a funny story about a fan who misheard a lyric as “happy enchilada”). Musgraves’ offerings included “The Trailer Song,” “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow” and a couple of new songs, “Biscuits” and “Pageant Material.” Most were funny and all carried a serious message along with the wordplay. Prine and Musgraves teamed up on the Prine classics “In Spite of Ourselves” and “Angel from Montgomery,” but the best moment might have come when Musgraves sang her own “John Prine,” in which she confesses a desire to “burn one with John Prine,” and Prine followed with his pot paean “Illegal Smile,” with help from the audience on the choruses. It was a classic Cayamo moment. Prine closed the show with a nice rendition of his environmental anthem “Paradise.”

A quick visit to the pool deck found Lucinda Williams and her band finishing up their show with a soulful reading of Gregg Allman’s “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” followed by the rocking “Joy” and “Get Right with God.”

Soundcheck winner Amy Speace played the first of her three sets in the Spinnaker Lounge. She wisely brought along two of her East Nashville neighbors and friends, guitarist Tim Easton and fiddler Megan Palmer, and they did a fine job on such excellent tunes as “The Fortunate Ones,” “The Killer in Me” and “Hunter Moon.” Many of Speace’s lyrics deal with relationships, often troubled ones, and her sharp writing and world-class voice make for an emotionally moving performance. The seemingly omnipresent John Fullbright put in a guest appearance for the lovely “The Sea and the Shore.” Speace ended her set with “Hymn for the Crossing,” a funeral song, but one with a joyous message. “Don’t need a golden box for my bones/Don’t need your weeping and wailing,” Speace sang. “Don’t need my name carved into stone/Just sing me a hymn for the crossing.”

Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Michelle Malone has a reputation for being a fiery rocker, but she’s equally at home with quieter material. Toward the end of her Monday night Atrium show she performed a cool, jazzy take on the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” taken from the introspective Acoustic Winter album from last year. Things got livelier with the new song “When I Grow Up,” a fun and hopeful anthem; the Stratocaster-fueled “Teen Lament,” on which she got help from Black Lillies frontman Cruz Contreras and Alabama singer-songwriter Kristy Lee, and “Feather in a Hurricane.”

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