last night in live music: robinella
Nashville is a music town, but not in the same sense that Austin is a music town. It is, instead, a company town, which means, among many, many other things, the live music that gets played here is usually performed by those who have hopes of getting involved in The Industry, or those who already are. So there are a lot of open-mic nights and collaborations by session players. On your average Tuesday night, though, you don't have a choice of six bands you'd like to hear like you do in Austin.
That said, there are some newer venues in town that are attempting to create and maintain a more interesting live music scene to support touring artists who have few, if any, connections to Nashville. Last night, my sister and I headed over to one of those places, the Mercy Lounge (it's in the same building as the old Cannery Ballroom), to see Robinella. The venue is fantastic - Calexico and Iron & Wine played there last Friday and my gosh I wish I'd been there to see it. The room can't hold more than 300-400 people.
But enough about that. On to the music. What a show. The great opening set by Jay Clark featured his song "Regurgitate" ("about the only Yankee I ever dated") with the memorable line: "I'm gonna regurgitate all this pride that I have swallowed" and then moved on to some songs with the CC String Band and Robinella herself.
Robinella's set was really good. Her stage banter is limited and silly, which gives one the impression that she's a fourteen-year-old girl, but then she starts singing and you'd swear you were in some smoky jazz club in the West Village circa 1941. Her songwriting is incredible, and you get the feeling that this is what would happen if that jazz club were dropped in the middle of the Smokey Mountains and made to listen to WDVX for twenty years. Which is, more or less, what happened. She has a new album coming out in February that is supposed to be more pop-based, but everything we heard was the same unmistakable sound that's made her name in the past.
Robinella has not, as the new name would suggest, dropped the CC String Band. They're still there and the group backed her with its unmistakable blend of jazz and east Tennessee mountain bluegrass influences. The "CC" stands for Cruz Contreras, Robinella's husband and mandolin player. His brother, Billy, plays fiddle. After the introductions, my sister leans over and says, "You know. I went to school with Candice Contreras, and she had a kid brother who was a fiddle prodigy." We went up and talked to Billy after the show and sure enough. He's an incredible musician who's played with Mark O'Connor, the Texas Playboys, and Blue Merle, all at the ripe old age of nineteen. It was the perfect ending to a great night of live music. Definitely check out Robinella if you get the chance; they play every Sunday night in Knoxville and tour a bit as well.