Craig Havighurst

Music News Producer

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Sundays at 8 am, repeating Mondays at 9 pm.

Nashville is remembering two key guitar-playing sidemen who’ve recently died. Jimmy Capps, who passed away early this week at the age of 81, earned his way into the Musicians Hall of Fame for his work with the Grand Ole Opry and on classic country records. William “Bucky” Baxter, who toured the world with Bob Dylan and played with Steve Earle, Jean Shepard and R.E.M, died on May 25 at age 65.

America’s music venues have been shuttered since March due to Covid-19, but on Tuesday, virtually the entire music industry is voluntarily going dark in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The unprecedented work stoppage, promoted as #theshowmustbepaused on social media over the weekend, prompted industry figures from all sectors to speak out on behalf of racial justice during a weekend of demonstration nationwide.

Even before last weekend’s protests and melees around the nation, America’s political fault lines felt like grand canyons and open wounds. And while the caricature of the left-leaning folk singer is an ideologue who sings up-with-we and down-with-thee, an honest listen to socially conscious roots artists of the last few years is more likely to reveal despondency over our disconnections than scolding. If this is an emerging genre of radical empathy, this week’s String talks to the creators of two timely, important examples.

Val Hoeppner

It’s one thing to see America’s big music festivals cancel one after the other under the spectre of a viral pandemic. It hurts that much more when it’s your festival, and one that was just a fresh green shoot, ready for nurturing and another year of growth. But alas, 895 Fest, which would have taken place this weekend for the second time, is off. So we’re taking a cue from Merlefest and DelFest and going to the videotape, all weekend long. 

Years from now, when it all blurs together, Jason Isbell should easily remember the launch of Reunions, his seventh album as a band leader. The songwriter and his wife Amanda Shires walked out on the stage of the Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville on release night last Friday, waving to virtually no one in the cavernous room yet virtually to several thousand people around the world watching online.

Matt Spicher

Among country stars of a 1990s vintage, Pam Tillis has worked harder than most to stay open to new influences and change. Some of that expressed as a move to East Nashville in 2016. The proximate reason was that her husband and producer Matt Spicher has been a partner in a couple of restaurants over there, The Treehouse and The Pearl Diver. But the relocation came with some cultural reorientation as well.

DelFest, the annual gathering of eclectic roots and bluegrass hosted by Del McCoury’s family since 2008 in Cumberland, MD, isn’t happening this weekend as scheduled. But taking a cue from Merlefest, organizers will stream historic performances from tomorrow, 5/21, through Sunday. Besides the Del McCoury Band and the Travelin’ McCourys, you’ll see sets by the Trey Anastasio Band, Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings, The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush and Sierra Hull.

Franklin, TN-based Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival has become the latest casualty of the Covid-19 crisis. Organizers released a statement Tuesday morning announcing that the 2020 event, scheduled for Sept. 26-27 has officially been canceled. “While we are as disappointed as you are, rest assured we will be back in 2021 ready to deliver a festival that celebrates the healing power of music,” they said.

 

 

Every day, if you are even remotely near social media, you’re invited to tune into numerous live performances streamed on the internet, the only concert venue that’s open during the Covid crisis. But what if you’re the artist? How does every day sound to you? While most musicians are spacing out their appearances out of concern for over-taxing the audience, some have decided the daily stream has more upside than down. Songwriter and guitarist Josh Daniel of Charlotte, NC will go live today for his 60th day in a row.

David McClister

The four albums released to date by Nashville’s Lilly Hiatt offer up a three-hour journey of self-discovery and voice-finding as concise and inspired as any you could find. Between 2014’s debut Let Down and 2020’s Walking Proof, I hear her letting go of something and giving in to something, from the accessories of being a daughter of a major roots/country songwriter to vulnerable storytelling that dances on a knife’s edge between sweet pop and garage rock. I ask if my theory has any merit in Episode 129 of The String.

Katie Kauss

In her single “Good Ol’ Girls” released earlier this year, Nashville’s Jenee Fleenor sings of a little kid in Arkansas who starts fiddling country tunes learned by ear from her parents’ radio. In the next verse, she moves to Nashville at 18 years old, lands her first job and plays on the Grand Ole Opry stage in a matter of days.

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In the Covid-19 crisis of 2020 in the music world, the stages of grief all piled up like a chain reaction highway collision, with denial, anger, bargaining and depression all smashed together. Acceptance probably hasn’t fully arrived for most, but we’re now in a stage that’s more constructive and resolute. This edition of WMOT’s Covid Diaries talks with two business leaders and two artists to see how things looked to them as April gave way to May.

Rory Doyle

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, the 21-year-old phenom from the seminal blues town of Clarksdale, MS, had a career landmark evening Sunday as he celebrated winning five Blues Music Awards. Ingram’s eponymous debut recording was named Album of the Year overall, while also winning in the categories for Contemporary Blues Album and Emerging Artist Album. 

Brian Boskind

A short book could be written about recording artists name checking other artists in song, whether in tribute or rebuke. Lynyrd Skynyrd dissed Neil Young. Bob Dylan celebrated Woody Guthrie. But it’s still striking when Sarah Siskind devotes a whole song to four different musical heroes and influences. “I heard the sound of Dolly sing, and I breathed in every note,” she recounts, followed by verses about epiphanies with gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, Irish songwriter Paul Brady and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.

Emily Beaver

Musicians with a personal sound and a will to elude genre classification are not exactly a rarity, but it’s hard to find one with a method as thought through as the young Paul Burch. “When I got to Nashville, I was so not into modern music,” he says. “I didn’t really listen to anything other than what Lambchop made in the basement and records made before 1950.” Lambchop is the long-running, roots rock art collective led by Kurt Wagner that took Burch in as a fellow traveler in the 1990s. The rest of it was a kind of mind-clearing asceticism.

Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, now in its third location in 21 years of business, has come to symbolize what’s best about modern Music City. It’s a trend-setter, a hang-out and a venue where bands from in and out of town introduce new music to the world. So anything that threatens the record store’s well-being is taken gravely seriously by the music community, and the coronavirus shut-down is such a threat.

Kristin Barlowe / Ed Rode

A few years ago, the fabricated verb “adulting” blew up and went from mildly amusing to ubiquitous and annoying in no time. This meme-as-word chafes because it trivializes the consequential, transitional stages of independence, marriage and children. It’s a lot more interesting when these explosively emotional and nuanced journeys are chronicled by artists, especially country songwriters, especially women who have lived it, as featured on this week’s String.

Jefferson Ross

Working from home is nothing but natural for Thomm Jutz. In March, coronavirus forced the songwriter, artist and producer to cut short a UK tour with East Nashville’s Eric Brace, but being settled in since then with his wife, his library, his guitars and his studio is just fine by him. The traffic of world-class artists coming to his Mt.

The trade associations that support roots music are putting a hopeful, constructive face on the year ahead, even as they grasp for information that could help them foresee a return of the concert and festival business. Reassurance is in short supply though. In a livestreamed panel discussion last Friday, the heads of the major folk, blues, bluegrass and Americana non-profits said they’re working together to identify new business models that could make the industry better for all involved on the other side of the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s been quite a month. Four weeks ago, musicians began to see the swirl of news reports and rumors about Covid-19 coalesce into a harsh new reality. It was as if the business had a stroke. Concerts and shows of all sizes were cancelled, and here four weeks later there’s still no clarity on when or how they will resume. To track this unprecedented event, I’ve been talking to a variety of people in the music scene about their experiences so far and how they’re adjusting. We’ll periodically present edited highlights from those interviews.

Neilson Hubbard by Ed Rode

In some careers, your title is conferred on you by authoritative figures or institutions on a date certain. But others are self-appointed and self-anointed, hopefully with some humility, after an indeterminate period of apprenticeship. That’s the story for a lot of music producers. It’s a career into which one mostly slides over time. Producers tend to be musicians with a variety of aptitudes - for drawing out musical elements, for getting people to work together, for honing an esthetic idea and much more. They have to good at the big picture and the details.

Getty Images for Americana Music Association

In the latter half of 1997, John Prine spent a string of Nashville afternoons with his friend and record producer Jim Rooney in a suite at Spence Manor, the funky tower hotel on Music Row with the guitar-shaped swimming pool. They were doing what passes for work in Music City, listening to and comparing thoughts about vintage country music duets: George Jones and Melba Montgomery, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb. And older records still, with Kitty Wells and Red Foley, or Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper.

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John Prine, one of the most influential songwriters in American history and an icon of roots and Americana music, has died at age 73 following more than a week of intensive care in Nashville for COVID-19. He burst onto the songwriter scene as a fully mature artist in 1971 with a self-titled album full of masterpieces, endured through two bouts of cancer, and enjoyed a late career celebration for his incisive, charming 2018 album The Tree of Forgiveness.

Two years ago, a book of biography, art and musical manuscripts was published under the title John Hartford’s Mammoth Collection of Fiddle Tunes. Assembled by his daughter Katie Harford Hogue and musicologists including MTSU Center for Popular Music Director Greg Reish, it was the first-ever public documentation of John Hartford’s prolific composing, culled from 68 hand-written journals spanning 22 years. Now, the same team has brought some of those tunes to a recording.

Laura Partain

In early 2019, Caleb Caudle arrived in Nashville with his wife/manager to settle into a new home and a new chapter in Music City, but it was as if he’d already been here for years. The singer/songwriter didn’t have to set out on a five to ten year plan to build a support community and artistic respect. Instead, he celebrated his arrival by nipping off to the Cash Cabin, one of Nashville’s most storied and exclusive recording sanctuaries, to cut an album with the help of some elite musicians.

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