Welcome back, Music City Roots.
Debuting in 2009, the popular live weekly roots music broadcast emerged from a two-month hiatus to bring its road show to the Opryland area’s venerable Nashville Palace honky-tonk Thursday night for a special Americanafest 2018 performance. And what a show it was.
Several hundred fans packed the joint, a mix of lanyard- and wristband-wearing Americanafest attendees, tourists and townies witnessing a wide-ranging musical bill that included hit singer-songwriter Lori McKenna (“Girl Crush”), East Nashville rock phenom Aaron Lee Tasjan, British country soul singer-songwriter Yola Carter, and Nashville-based singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons.
Now simulcast on emergent Americana radio station WMOT-FM, Music City Roots temporarily closed shop in mid-July as a deal to move permanently to a new SoBro site fell through. The show’s past homes were The Loveless Barn and Franklin’s The Factory.
Here’s hoping Music City Roots visits Nashville Palace frequently as its leaders eye construction at a Madison site for a permanent home.
Music City Roots’ easygoing nature and segmented showcases, interspersed with live advertising spots and interview segments, shares similarities with the Grand Ole Opry. One of the show’s pure joys is experiencing the interplay between regular host Jim Lauderdale, an Americana and country music star in his own right, and former longtime Opry and now Music City Roots announcer Keith Bilbrey, as well as onstage interviewer and show historian Craig Havighurst.
“This man puts the ‘quaish’ in loquacious — Keith Bilbrey!” Lauderdale quipped.
“Craig Havighurst — he has more questions than a season of ‘Jeopardy’!”
The merriment is as tightly scripted as can be realized with so much onstage maneuvering between set changes.
Certainly Tasjan, who has showcased at several Americanafest sites this week, drew a goodly piece of the crowd. The young folk-rock singer-songwriter-guitarist and band have been riding a building wave of excitement and critical acclaim the past year or so, culminating in the just-released album “Karma for Cheap.”
Comparisons to late ’60s-era Lennon-McCartney Beatles tunes and the era’s British Wave bands bear consideration — Tasjan certainly dressed the part Thursday, with his John Lennon-esque oval-shaped shades and scarf.
Guitarist Brian Wright nicely knitted the sound together, alternating between guitar and synthesizer within the same songs. To these ears, the results more closely align with early David Bowie, with a Jeff Lynne-Traveling Wilburys-style vibe.
Highlights included “Heart Slows Down” and the set-closing “End of the Day” off the new LP, the latter a progression of glorious retro minor chords motoring the tune.
“Thanks y’all. Peace and love,” said Tajsan, moving across the stage to be interviewed while flashing twin peace signs. So very Sixties, that.
McKenna followed with a sparkling sampling of her tunes, capped by the set-closing “Girl Crush,” the Little Big Town smash that ranks among the monster country hits of recent years.
Born and bred and still living in Massachusetts, McKenna commutes to Nashville once or twice a month to write with other songwriters. She name-checked one of her more notable collaborators, fellow “Girl Crush” writer Liz Rose, who was in the audience.
The five-piece band adds plenty of muscle to McKenna’s straightforward singing style, which is aptly captured in her recently released album, “The Tree.” “I’m from Massachusetts! I’ve never been in a room like this before,” she said, gazing out at the attentive crowd. “It’s amazing!”
We’re hoping to hear much more from the opening two acts in the future. Yola Carter grew up in rough circumstances in Bristol, U.K., and her mid-tempo songs were powerfully delivered in a voice ranging from a husky purr to a squall.
Opener William Fitzsimmons and his two bandmates created lush, atmospheric folk music. He’s recommended for fans of Iron and Wine and other top-drawer indie folk-rock acts that are more magical mood than recognizable lyrics.
AMERICANAFEST® 2018 continues through Sunday at various Nashville venues. View the full schedule on NowPlayingNashville or download the app from the AmericanaMusic.org website for the latest information.