The music business goes pretty dark during “the holidays,” but expect the floodgates of new releases and great shows to open up again as soon as this weekend, when The Travelin’ McCourys play 3rd & Lindsley on Saturday night with rising guitar ace Billy Strings. We collected everything we’ve heard about roots music events and albums of note coming early in the new year, and assembled this curated list. Always best to be prepared.
The Eighth of January Old Time Music Weekend, Pegram TN, Jan. 10-12
The Fiddle & Pick, aka the Musical Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee, is a neighborly, oft overlooked hub of entertainment and education for those attracted to the old-time and traditional roots of bluegrass music. This is the non-profit’s seventh annual winter gathering for workshops and jams. Registration has closed for those educational events, but the public is invited to the kick-off concert and picking party on Jan. 10. Suggested donation of $15.
Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw, Bridgestone Arena, Jan. 12
Busloads of superstars will jockey to prove how much they love 85-year-old Willie Nelson on a gala night in Nashville’s biggest indoor venue. Among the performers scheduled: Alison Krauss, George Strait, John Mellencamp, Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson and Lee Ann Womack. Tickets are still available, and the show will be filmed for later broadcast on A&E.
WHO KNEW with Patterson Hood and more at the City Winery, Jan. 23.
Nashville’s mind-expanding speaker/panel series WHO KNEW will present what it’s calling its most important and socially relevant event yet. The night is dedicated to the inspiration for and implications of a single song, “What It Means,” from Drive By Truckers' 2016 album American Band. Songwriter Patterson Hood and others will perform. An on-stage panel conversation about music, race, civil liberties and gun violence will feature Hood, southern music business powerhouse Bertis Downs, MTSU’s Ken Paulson, songwriter Chastity Brown and others.
Lucy Negro Redux - with music by Rhiannon Giddens - at TPAC Feb. 8-10
Banjo playing, songwriting star Rhiannon Giddens is taking on all kinds of new challenges in the wake of her solo Grammy nominations and her MacArthur fellowship. Here, she’s half of the composing team for a world premiere by The Nashville Ballet based on a book by Nashville author Caroline Randall Williams. The subject is a speculative but deeply researched take at fleshing out the personhood of the “Dark Lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Ballet director Paul Vasterling took the book as inspiration, commissioned the music and choreographed the production. With the music performed live on stage with the dancers, this ought to be a fascinating marriage of roots and fine arts.
Big Ears Festival, Knoxville, March 21-24
Following its Nashville launch, Lucy Negro Redux and Giddens will travel to be part of the ultra-eclectic lineup at Knoxville’s decade-old Big Ears, a unique boutique festival covering the outer reaches of popular, folk and experimental music. Besides its long standing emphasis on the avant-garde, the fest keeps attuned to its Appalachian region with a selection of roots artists seasoning the mix. This year you’ll be able to hear contemplative songwriter/composer Gabriel Kahane, haunting folk duo Kieran Kane and Rayna Gellert, newgrass explorers Punch Brothers and old-time renewalists Uncle Earl. Banjo star Bela Fleck performs solo and in a high-strung duo with the remarkable Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda. English folk legend Richard Thompson plays a new song cycle about those killed in action during World War I.
A Mother-load of Rootsy Ryman Shows
Americana music at the Ryman is nobody’s idea of headline news, but the winter months are especially attractive, with some multi-night engagements by the genre’s stars. The scarcest tickets in town are for Kacey Musgraves, playing four nights from Feb. 27 to March 2. And who knows, by then her Golden Hour might have won the Album of the Year Grammy. Before that, The mighty soul blues of the Tedeschi Trucks Band will ring from the rafters for three nights starting Jan. 31. Dawes plays two evenings, Feb. 9 and 10. Alabama soul revivalists St. Paul & The Broken Bones play Feb. 7 and 8. Other shows of note: Gregory Alan Isakov debuts 1/10, Greensky Bluegrass on 1/17, Aaron Watson on 1/24, I’m With Her (and Mipso) on 2/22, Blackberry Smoke (and Will Hoge) on 2/23. Info and tickets here.
Albums With Which To Chill
It’s cold. Stay inside and listen to records. Among the most anticipated releases in the coming weeks: Blues guitarists Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson team up on Amour, an album billed as “songs of sentimental, romantic love,” coming Feb. 8. Hayes Carll returns with What It Is on Feb. 15, an album co-produced by Nashville’s Brad Jones and Carll’s sweetheart Allison Moorer. The 12 songs include the newly released single “None’ya” and a sardonic look at politics called “Wild Pointy Finger.” After a hiatus where solo projects were pursued, bluegrass and mod string band Della Mae retooled in 2018 for tours and composing. On March 1, they’ll release The Butcher Shoppe EP, named for the Music City studio where it was made. Ohio married duo Over The Rhine has been at it for 30 years, and their newest arrives March 15, titled Love & Revelation. Son Volt is said to be steering back to its folky/country origins and a political righteousness on Union, coming March 29.
People Powered Box Set
Just in time for a dozen or more Congressional investigations, Smithsonian Folkways will release a monster anthology of righteous, conscious folk called The Social Power Of Music on Feb. 22. Over four discs and 83 tracks, starting with “We Shall Overcome,” the annotated set “is powerfully ambitious, tracking the way humans use music, in protest, religion, gatherings and social movements,” according to the label. Listen for songs in at least 15 languages, from the familiar (i.e. Pete Seeger) to indigenous groups from around the world.