For a first-time production called Scruffy City Roots, the first installment of the new concert/broadcast series at the Square Room wasn't scruffy at all. A sold-out crowd of 400 people turned out for the slick debut of the ongoing series and got a polished and professional—and also inspired—two-plus hours of musical entertainment. (Even more tuned in for WUTK's live broadcast of the show and live streaming at scruffycityroots.com, and if you missed it, there will be plenty of opportunities to catch portions of the show online and on television this spring and summer.)
Nashville folk singer/songwriter/whistler Rayland Baxter, the son of Bob Dylan's former steel guitar player, started off the evening, followed by fellow Music City up-and-comers Delta Rae, whose percussion-heavy gospel-country-funk came off as a combination of the Band Perry and Stomp. The headliners were a confederation of top local players—guitarist Mike Seal, bassist Robert Richards, steel guitarist Tom Pryor, fiddler Todd Gladsen, saxophonist Jason Thompson, and drummer Chad Melton—backing Jill Andrews, Erick Baker, Robinella, and the Black Lillies' Cruz Contreras, who served as bandleader. The group ran through a number of original songs as well as a whole bunch of covers, including the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie," Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me," and a stark rendition of "Knoxville Girl," with Gladsen on lead vocals, that made you think you could actually stand to hear the song again.
The Scruffy City Roots series is produced by the organizers of the similar Music City Roots series in Nashville. The Knoxville show will bring Scott Miller back to town once a month as host, with help from WUTK's Benny Smith; Metro Pulse's Jack Neely interviews the artists between sets. The monthly series continues on Thursday, April 19, with Langhorne Slim, Callaghan, and Mariah McManus. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 the day of the show. For more info visit scruffycityroots.com.