A postcard from Gig City
Sometimes everything unfolds just the way it should. I arrived in Chattanooga on Saturday with A) plenty of time to check into my hotel downtown and B) warning from my team that parking at Coolidge Park would be more trouble than it was worth. So I opted to walk to the Gig City Roots venue, and I’m really glad I did.
It was a beautiful late afternoon – shirtsleeve weather in mid October. And as I reached the Walnut Street Bridge, I became acutely aware that while I’d been in Chattanooga before – mostly to eat a meal on the way home from Atlanta – I’d never seen it with clear eyes and time to take it in. To my right was the simply staggering modern/classical contrast of the Hunter Museum of American Art. To my left was a sweeping vista of river and hills from a dizzying height. Ahead of me was the elegant ironwork of an 1890 bridge that was now serving its city as a pedestrian way and a park in the sky. Groups of students were cheering rowing teams as they flew across the water a hundred or more feet below. The classic Delta Queen riverboat decorated the far side of the river, and the North Side of Nooga looked inviting with its parks, sports fields and busy-looking neighborhoods.
With that perambulation as overture, I arrived at the park to find preparations well underway for Gig City Roots, the closing event of RiverRocks and a classic community concert with one big bonus – an ambitious video production and Internet hookup with bandwidth deeper than the Tennessee River. It opened as planned, with our musical host Chuck Mead in duet performance with the legendary T Bone Burnett. Sounds easy, except Burnett was in Los Angeles, coming over the gigabit-per-second Internet connection that’s been laid into the infrastructure of Chattanooga. They were in synch and in harmony, on a connection that would otherwise have taken a satellite to pull off.
Then we flowed on with the show. As the sun set, we were treated to a completely fresh and emotionally charged vision of Americana. Roy “Futureman” Wooten took the stage with his Circle of Harmony group, consisting of a small string section, a steel pan/drum player and a banjo player. Of course! Futureman, resplendent in his signature tri-corner hat, conducted with drum brushes while playing a couple of cajòn with his feet and hands. This was composed music with some improv as called for, and it climaxed with a true mashup (not a medley but simultaneous) of “Amazing Grace,” “Simple Gifts” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” The strings yearning together in the balmy October air was enough to make anyone weak in the knees.
Things rocked up after that, with a great set from Chattanooga’s own Nim Nims. They mingled tangy melodies with angular ideas, laid over superb power pop. I hope to see them again for sure. Then gears were shifted again, like unto a mountain bike, and on stage came Doyle Dykes, another near-Chattanooga guy whom we Nashvillians know as a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. I play finger style guitar a little, and I’ve spent many hundreds of hours on it, so I have a visceral feeling for how complete and accomplished Dykes is. His energy level is astounding. His speed, ridiculous. Especially cool were his duet tunes with his son Caleb. Top-notch instrumental music, and the world doesn’t get enough of that.
The show rounded out with two artists who could be an impressive double bill at a high-dollar theater. Todd Snider is the barefoot poet laureate of acidic wit, and his set rocked hard with Dan Baird as his guitar-slinging wingman. The final artist of the evening pushed the reactor core close to meltdown. Jason D. Williams (whose most recent album was produced by Snider) played the piano like it was a boxing speed bag and sang like it was his last night on Earth. He’s truly a man possessed when he’s on stage, and the vintage rock and boogie that flowed forth clearly gave the large crowd the musical capper they were looking for.
Musical host Chuck Mead led the assembled artists and musicians in an all-hands jam – a tradition from our Music City Roots show back in Nashville. But then the night truly ended in the most spectacular and spiritual way – with a purifying fire. Andrew Nigh builds wooden sculptures specifically to immolate them, and when dancers twirled with fiery batons around the center of the park and the sci-fi artwork was set ablaze, it was cathartic, lovely and unifying. Too bad we can’t do that inside the Loveless Cafe Barn.
Thanks Chattanooga for a truly beautiful setting and for all the community support. That was some kind of field trip.
Craig Havighurst Blog