The Week That Was: Vacation Roundup

Back in Knoxville this week after a much-needed and music-filled vacation. I know some things did not run smoothly here while I was gone, but all the scheduled posts went up on time. The other tech aspects I’ll look into more this week. If problems persist, I’ll move my files to a different host.

As for the vacation… The unofficial start to the trip took place last Friday night in tiny corner of Knoxville called the Pilot Light. The Pilot Light is a small, dark, pit in a part of Knoxville referred to as “The Old City.” These days the club acts mostly as a punk and metal venue. Friday night it hosted blog favorite and Grammy nominee Tift Merritt.

On Saturday, Tift and her band played the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. Friday night’s surroundings were decidedly less glamorous. Despite the drawbacks of the venue, however, it was one of the more enjoyable Tift Merritt shows I have attended (six in total). My wife and I got there early and were able to grab spots right in front of the stage in the center, and the small room meant a small crowd of mostly attentive, die-hard Tift fans. It made for a very intimate setting that seemed to energize the band and make it easy for them to play off the crowd… and in the crowd. As part of the encore Tift, bassist Jay Brown, and guitarist Scott McCall (drummer Zeke Hutchins rounded out the band) actually left the stage and waded into the crowd for an acapella version of “Supposed to Make You Happy” sans amplification. Throw in a blistering version of “Broken,” a finale of “Still Pretending” with Tift encouraging all the couples in the audience to slow dance, and a solo piano performance of “Good Hearted Man” (a song my wife and I used in our wedding)… and it was a pretty good night.

Here’s a live track from Tift’s 2005 concert recording Home is Loud.

Tift Merritt: Supposed to Make You Happy (Buy Album)

The vacation began in earnest on Sunday with a trip to Kentucky to visit some family and play a little golf. I grew up in Paintsville, KY… just a few miles from the birthplace of Country Music Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn and that now famous “Cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler.” Remarkably, in all my years of living there I had never visited, or even seen, Loretta’s childhood home. That changed Wednesday afternoon. Drive a few miles off the main road, another mile or two down a dirt road, then a little further on a twisting one-lane strip of blacktop, and you’ll see Loretta’s birthplace still looking mostly as it did when she was born in 1935. If you stop at the old general store at the mouth of the hollow, Loretta’s brother will take you to the cabin (pictured above) for a guided tour. We didn’t take the tour, but we did drive past the house to have a look. As we were driving by, XM’s classic country channel was playing a Loretta tune… a happy little coincidence.

Since most of you probably have heard “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the song that immortalized the cabin on the hill… here is one of my favorite classic Loretta Lynn cuts.

Loretta Lynn: Fist City (Buy Album)

Thursday, it was off to Asheville for the Old 97’s at The Orange Peel. First off, The Orange Peel is a great place to see a show… just a truly great club that should be checked out if you’re in the Asheville area.

It was our first time seeing the Old 97’s, and the show was all we expected it to be. The band brought a high level of energy right from the start with Phillip Peeples providing a solid rhythm on the drums, Ken Bethea’s guitar ringing out like a siren, Murry Hammond keeping the beat on the bass and providing backing vocals (lead on a couple of songs), and front man Rhett Miller playing the part of the rock star. Miller has a certain captivating energy when he’s on stage that commands the audience’s attention throughout the show. That was never more on display than at the end of the night.

During the closing song of the main set, something happened that cut all power to the stage… and is wasn’t coming back. The show should have been over, but Rhett stayed on stage alone with his guitar and banged out acoustic versions of fan favorites “Timebomb” and “Niteclub” from 1997’s alt-country masterpiece Too Far to Care. The room was really too big and noisy for such a thing to have worked, but it did. The crowd gathered tight around the stage and sang along with Rhett as he wailed about getting drunk and burning the nite club to the ground. It was a unique experience and one I’m glad to have attended. A lot of bands would have simply walked away when the power blew, but Rhett stayed around and gave a crowd hungry for an encore exactly what they wanted.

Here are the studio versions of the two encore songs. “Niteclub” seemed an appropriate way to end the evening.

The Old 97’s: Timebomb (Buy Album)
The Old 97’s: Niteclub (Buy Album)

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