Roadrunner Reports: Santabellum

- June 7, 2011

The CMA Festival, a tiny Elvis and a song for New Mexico

Nashville -- In a few days, Mari and I will be wading through Tennessee mud and eau de patchouli at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. One of the country’s largest music spectacles, the four-day event will draw more than 100,000 spectators and features a passel of blockbuster acts, including Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic, Black Keys -- oh yeah, and about 100 other music artists. When it comes to large music festivals, Mari and I like to say that we don’t go for the acts we already know about, we go for the ones we don’t. In other words, there is no better way to discover new music.

But today, Bonnaroo is little more than a distant psychedelic dream. A bigger musical force is at play here in Nashville.

Music City’s annual Country Music Awards Festival is a culmination of the world’s biggest country stars, which officially begins this Thursday, June 9. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little pre-party -- in fact, it’s a metropolitan bash -- one that leaves tourists giddy and locals rolling their eyes at traffic stops. Jet black tour buses lined Nashville’s famed Lower Broadway strip (known as Honky-tonk Row), mysterious vessels of fame, glamour and talent. This week will see performances and celebrity sightings of some of the biggest names in country music, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Sugarland, Clint Black, Lady Antebellum, Reba...the list goes on and on.

Meanwhile, inside some of Music City’s most storied saloons, some of the most talented and (some might say) underrated musicians were in fine form. Mari and I score a front-row table inside Robert’s Western World, a longtime hangout for honky-tonk and classic country musicians and their aficionados. John England & the Western Swingers have performed every Monday since July 2001, wowing audiences with their country-meets-jazz musical prowess and Southern-fried charm. This Monday was no exception. As the seasoned veterans (whose collective resume includes Patsy Cline, Vince Gill, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Van Shelton, Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, Chet Atkins, Bill Monroe, Tammy Wynette) worked their way through the American country songbook, they discovered who might have been their youngest and smallest fan of the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, Ssay hello, Tiny Elvis... (video of Tiny Elvis)

During a set break, Mariann approached John England and upright bassist David Martin, asking for permission to record some video of a few songs. Turns out Carolyn Martin, bassist David’s wife, is the 2008 and 2010 Western Swing Female Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists, and will be performing with her husband at this year’s Buckaroo Ball, in Santa Fe on June 17, 18. The boys in England’s band obliged and gave permission to video their next song. As it turned out, veteran pedal steel player Tommy Hannum has penned a song about Albuquerque and dedicated it to Mariann. (video Old Town)

Finally, we witnessed some of the finest honky-tonk saloon two-steppin’ we’d ever seen, courtesy of local favorite Bart “Dancin’” Hansen and his partner...(video Dancin’ Hansen)
Next entry: Dollywood.