The Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival billed its early show at 3rd and Lindsley nightclub Thursday night as “Robert Earl Keen’s The Party Never Ends.” True, that, when it involves anything having to do with 62-year-old Keen.
The quirky Texan, who rates a glowing profile in the current Rolling Stone magazine, most often packs the Ryman Auditorium in his full-band Nashville concerts. He ranks as one of the biggest names in the Americana-folk-country genre without having anything in his lengthy songwriting catalog that resembles a hit record. That’s if you don’t count the Texas anthem “The Road Goes On Forever” and his irreverent “Merry Christmas From the Family,” which his legions of devoted fans surely do.
Keen sat quietly on a stool on stage left, looking bemused when he wasn’t amusing and enchanting the crowd and his fellow songwriters with songs such as “Feelin’ Good Again,” “I’m Comin’ Home,” and “Village Inn.”
The rest of the songwriters round — Matraca Berg, Waylon Payne and Adam Wright — more than held their own. The onstage banter came easily, with Berg often the center of attention.
Best known for teaming with Deana Carter on Carter’s No. 1 hit “Strawberry Wine,” the Nashville native and consistent hitmaker enchanted the crowd per usual, whether she was wearing her reading glasses to point out the location of the emergency exits, to asking for her adoring husband’s help on remembering names.
Said adoring husband, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ageless wonder Jeff Hanna, popped up on stage to accompany on a borrowed guitar or sing harmony for “Strawberry Wine” and other tunes often enough that he could have had his own stool.
“There’s a whole lot of not sucking tonight,” mused Payne, who was celebrating his own birthday this night as well as accomplishing six years of being drug-free.
Payne’s clear, commanding voice delivered a number of winning songs, including “The Bottom,” while Wright fought through a sinus infection to add his own deft guitar playing throughout the set as well as deliver his own literary-themed tunes.
Payne ended his part of the round with “Hollywood,” a co-write with Wright and Lee Ann Womack on Womack’s latest well-received LP. Wright followed suit by closing with his “End of the End of the World,” also from Womack’s latest album.
The 26th annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival continues through Saturday at various Nashville sites. Download the festival app to customize your schedule.