The evening kicked off at the High Watt where a future star in Americana made his festival debut. Emerging from the amazing creative and developmental ground of East Nashville, Aaron Lee Tasjan played a solo set that was one of the most entertaining performances of the week. The lead guitarist in Elizabeth Cook's band, Aaron is a cross between a young Neil Young for his guitar playing skills, and a young Bob Dylan for his songwriting. Proudly flouting the rules of the Music Row establishment, Tasjan is right at home in Americana performing his style of music and writing songs that are true to his heart. Songs like "Move to East Nashville and Write a Song About a Train" show the depth of this singer-songwriter's talent, as virtually every song is a story with meaning. This is a young man who's star is on the rise.
Next up over at the Mercy Lounge was a true living legend. Prior to his 9:00 set that evening, I had the good fortune to sit in on an interview with Billy Joe Shaver at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The writer of every song on Honky Tonk Heroes, one of the most successful albums in the 1970's by Waylon Jennings, Mr. Shaver remains a creative force to this day. The interview at the Hall of Fame brought forth stories of a man who has lived a remarkable life that has been anything but simple. As listeners, we are all beneficiaries of his experience. Mr. Shaver's performance contained the bulk of his standards, including "Georgia On A Fast Train", "Old Five and Dimers Like Me", the aforementioned "Honky Tonk Heroes", and perhaps the finest song he has ever written and recorded, "Live Forever." Billy Joe Shaver has recently released a new album, Long In The Tooth, and you can find it in your local record store now or on his web site. Look for an album review in the near future.
The final performance of the evening at the Mercy and the 2014 festival was from Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys. Chuck first gained national prominence in the early 1990's as one of the founders and lead singers for BR-549, a group that would be considered Americana before there was such a label for the genre. While BR-549 plays the occasional gig, Chuck has long established himself as a strong solo act with an incredibly talented, solid backing band. Performing an energetic set of straight-up rockabilly and country, Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys were the perfect act to close off the festivities at the Mercy Lounge. The band turned in a killer version of the old Del Reeves classic, "Girl On The Billboard" and performed tracks from his latest Plowboy Records release Free State Serenade, including "Neosho Valley Sue" and "The Devil By Their Side." If the mission for Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys was to leave the crowd wanting more and looking forward to next year, it was clearly mission accomplished.