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Who’s On Stage? Previewing WMOT’s Roots On The Rivers 

Roots on the Rivers at Two Rivers Mansion.
John Partipillo
FR170895 AP

It’s not easy finding that magical mix of place, time and lineup for a quality music festival, but our WMOT team is led by veterans who’ve been putting on great events for a long time. So when WMOT cooked up a partnership with Two Rivers Mansion and the under-rated first weekend of June (always getting overlooked in the shadow of Memorial Day), things locked in. I remember sitting in my folding chair last year listening to The Shootouts and thinking that everything had fallen into place. And that I would remember this moment - surrounded as I was by a caring, musically curious community.

We’re back for more memory-making on Saturday, with a lineup that largely celebrates classic and core artists from the roots and Americana scene in Nashville, and I’ll tell you about them below. But there’s more. This year marks our first “Busker’s Alley” to keep the music flowing between sets. There you’ll hear Darrin Bradbury, Chloe Kimes, Sarah & Shannon, Denitia and WMOT's own Family String Band. You’ll have a vendor/community row to browse. And as with any good festival, food and drink trucks will be on hand. But I’m the music guy. So let’s quickly preview who these folks are in case you’re not already up to speed.

Elizabeth Cook emerged as a distinct and fresh hillbilly voice from Florida by way of East Nashville just about the time I started covering roots music full time in 2000. An indie solo album helped her land a major label country deal. But that wasn’t the right home for such a free-thinking, self-directed artist, and she found a much more amenable platform with Thirty Tigers, releasing bold albums like her classic Balls. And she’s never stopped touring and being her engaging and whip-smart self. Actually, she stopped a bit this winter when she was laid low with pneumonia, but since then she’s rocked the Outlaw Country Cruise, the Caverns Sessions in Pelham, TN, and Cain’s Ballroom and Gruene Hall with Morgan Wade. Her most recent album Aftermath is her most daring and surprising yet.

Chuck Mead is in some ways East Nashville’s counterpart to Elizabeth Cook, in that they’ve both been torchbearers for uncompromising music in the 21st century and vibrant, defining personalities in the Americana story. Chuck of course broke out as a lead singer and charismatic stage presence for BR549, the band that defined the Lower Broadway revival of the late 90s. His solo career has been rich as well, with four varied albums of vintage rock and roll and country music that convey life’s ups and downs with a mix of sincerity and levity. In the last couple of years he changed his power trio’s name from the Grassy Knoll Boys to the Stalwarts, implying perhaps a more serious mission to stand guard for the good stuff.

Devon Gilfillian, depending on the point of view you take, is a natural inheritor of Nashville’s golden era of Jefferson Street soul and R&B or an eclectic unicorn of the new Music City - a powerful singer and songwriter with a sound all his own. He came to Nashville a decade ago from eastern Pennsylvania with a psychology degree and a gift for making music. His self-released EP earned him industry buzz and a major label deal with Columbia. Now on the Concord Fantasy label (with Allison Russell), he seems in his element. His 2020 cut-by-cut cover album of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On was a stunner. He’s been touring recently behind his year-old album Love You Anyway, which AllMusic says “balances love ballads, message songs, and escapist jams.”

Raleigh, NC’s Chatham County Line formed in 1999 as part of a bluegrass boom inspired by Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury, but as time went on, the quartet took their string band instrumentation to new places on the strength of Dave Wilson’s songwriting and a desire to grow. When banjo player Chandler Holt retired in 2020, they took their longest strides so far, adding electric guitar, drums and steel guitar. As I document in a new profile, the band followed its swooning and lovely Strange Fascination (2020) with the new Hiyo, their most adventurous album yet.

Jaime Wyatt brought real life outlaw drama (up to and including incarceration) to her debut album Felony Blues in 2017 and cathartic personal transparency to her 2020 follow-up Neon Cross, which was produced with Shooter Jennings. With those discs, the Pacific Northwest native established herself as one of the truth-tellers of 2020s country music and a heart-rending voice to be reckoned with. Late in 2023, she built on her reputation with the atmospheric and funky Feel Good. Whether it’s confronting her past life of addiction or her current life as a queer woman in country, she’s a riveting storyteller who keeps it real.

Mary Gauthier is one of Nashville’s all-time greats, a voice of conscience and integrity who unburdens herself fearlessly, with magnetism and lyrical grace. As depicted in her must-read memoir Saved By A Song, she overcame dislocation and abandonment as an orphaned child then substance abuse as an adult to start a wildly successful career as an artist in her 30s. She’s released eleven carefully crafted albums over her 25-year recording career, including the Grammy nominated Rifles & Rosary Beads, a collaborative project with war veterans. She’ll perform with her partner, the gifted Jaimee Harris, who released the enthralling album Boomerang Town early last year.

Our day begins with Farmer Jason, the agrarian alter ego of Jason Ringenberg. It’s sometimes hard to believe the fellow we see entertaining kids of all ages is the same fellow who revolutionized hillbilly rock and roll in Nashville’s electric 1980s with the Scorchers. What the kids don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org