Friday, 29 July 2016

East to Knoxville and Asheville - Tuesday 12th to Thursday 14th July 2016

Greg Payne and the Piedmont Boys
Back in 2009 the inaugural trip to Nashville saw a trip out west to Memphis, so it was only appropriate to venture east this time and sample the delights of Knoxville and Asheville. Three significant music events were witnessed on this leg of the tour which sandwiched visits to the other ‘villes’ on this Southern road trip namely Nashville and Louisville. So enough town namedropping and some focus on the music sampled as we headed to the Smoky Mountains region.

The major music highlight of the time spent in the thriving East Tennessee metropolis of Knoxville was a mere yet splendid hour during the recording of the WDVX Blue Plate Special. This is a daily music show which is broadcast at noon from the Knoxville Visitor Centre. This visit saw two contrasting artists play a live set of around half a dozen songs interspersed with chat from the show host Red Hickey. Up first was Nashville-based artist Charlotte Berg who was fortunate to be aided by a band for this and her later show in town. Charlotte possessed a folk-pop tinge to her sound and played a few songs from her new record. During her chat she revealed that piano was the instrument of her musical schooling and that she was heading over to Europe for a few dates shortly. The exposure of this live radio show with an assembled audience is just the type of platform artists such as Charlotte need to promote their material.

Charlotte Berg
Midway through the show, a very quick set up and the Piedmont Boys were in place to change the tempo and style of music. Led by and technically named Greg Payne and the Piedmont Boys, this combo from Greenville South Carolina knew which way their country music bread was buttered and played it hard, fast, true and authentic. They probably only know one way and that was fine. It would be great to catch more of this band, but their show that night was miles away in Johnson City. Check out their latest record and the appropriately titled SCARS AND BARS with songs such as ‘Rice, Beans’ and ‘35’ featured during this radio showcase.

Time spent in Asheville North Carolina was a little longer than Knoxville and ironically two gigs materialised from artists who have been active in the UK recently. The second level of irony is that both latest albums from Austin Lucas and Danny Schmidt had been reviewed but the subsequent touring shows were not attended. So in a quirky slice of fortune, back to back nights in the delightful town of Asheville at the gateway to the Smoky Mountains corrected this omission.

Austin Lucas
The Austin Lucas gig was first up and held in the Mothlight which is your typical late night venue solely focussing on music in contrast to the many restaurant combo places housing bands. Austin was on tour with his buddy Matt Woods and had just played to a packed crowd in Atlanta the night before parking up in Asheville. Maybe it was a Tuesday, but in line with quite a few low key gigs back home, barely thirty people frequented a sizeable venue. However Austin had a solution by the time his set began at eleven! Those remaining after sets by opening artist JW Teller and Matt were requested to gather in front of the stage and Austin proceeded to do a sterling job in creating an intimate performance. His loyal canine companion Sally was introduced to the audience along with her responses to different songs. The highlight from Austin’s set was the amazing opening track from BETWEEN THE MOON AND THE MIDWEST with ‘Unbroken Hearts’ still remaining one of the best country songs of the year as we head into the second half.

Danny Schmidt 
Twenty four hours later and literally just a few minutes stroll up the road from the Mothlight, Austin-based singer-songwriter Danny Schmidt had a date at a totally contrasting venue in the ISIS Music Hall. This was back to the dinner venues and what was billed as an early evening intimate show in the bar. Between the hours of seven and nine, Danny showed why he one of the finest songwriters on the folk circuit with an incredible literate knack of using lyrics to spin an avalanche of gold plated songs. Danny reached deep into his back catalogue to share a wealth of material, but it was three songs from his latest album OWLS which hit all the right buttons. ‘Faith Will Always Rise’, ‘Bad Year for Cane’ and ‘Cries of Shadows’ are pristine examples of song writing magic and illustrate a writer in touch with his inner sanctum while being blessed with the talent to eloquently spill out these thoughts. While touring and song writing will always be in Danny’s blood, time will shortly be spent supporting his new family and the immediate career of wife and fellow musician Carrie Elkin. Mind you there is much more of Danny Schmidt to come especially as his life evolves.

This trip out east from Nashville yielded some great results from a musical perspective. The abiding memory though was Austin Lucas referring to Asheville as a ‘leftist Mecca among a sea of red’. He couldn’t have put the vibes of this North Carolina town any better after spending a brief time there. 

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