The talent lineup set for next Saturday afternoon at the City Winery, including Jason Isbell, Gretchen Peters and Buddy Miller, would be a can't miss Americana card in any event. But since it's the second annual Urban Campfire, you are on the bill as well. At least if you want to be.
The concept is like nothing else in Music City. You bring your guitar or other acoustic instrument. You’re greeted not by an usher but a Chord Coach who sees if you have any questions about the pre-announced songs or making sure you’re tuned up. Then the stars and a house band, led by veteran guitarist Mark Stewart (Paul Simon) and dobro master Jerry Douglas, play on stage, and you join in from the seats, guided by lyrics and chords projected on big screens.
It evokes the sing-alongs of the folk music revival and the picking party environment of bluegrass music, except it’s much more.
“One of the misconceptions is that it's a folk or bluegrass only setting, and it's like all kinds of tunes,” says Jerry Douglas, co-music director. This weekend’s set list for example includes “Jolene” from Dolly Parton, “Dixie Chicken” from Little Feat and “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. All are the suggestions of the artists themselves. “We do songs that inspired people to want to play. That's what we ask of the artists that come in. Pick a couple of songs that you remember really giving you fire, making you want to play.
The Urban Campfire was born in New York City in 2012, says its producer Rebecca Weller. She was inspired in part she said by a childhood memory of seeing Pete Seeger bring a crowd of strangers together in song. “And that feeling of being buoyed and being part of this community honestly was something that imprinted me for life and helped drive my mission to create participatory experiences for people,” she told WMOT.
When Urban Campfire expanded out of New York, Nashville was first on the list. Last year, Keb Mo, John Oates, Mary Gauthier and others led the music. This year’s lineup is rounded out by folk singer Amythyst Kiah and indie songwriter Nicole Atkins.