Jay Meehan: Splendor on the grass
April 8, 2014
The closer you look at the lineup the Park City Performing Arts Foundation released last week for their Big Stars, Bright Nights outdoor concert series at Deer Valley, the more interesting it gets.
Although certainly weighted more-heavily toward the country end of the overall musical genre pool, for the most part the acts in question bring to the table everything from blues to rock to jazz to bluegrass to classic country to pop to soul.
Being of a somewhat quirky persuasion when it comes to the performing arts, I found myself immediately drawn to a couple of the more esoteric bands on the schedule, Punch Brothers and Trampled by Turtles.
I thought it especially interesting that the PCPAF was able to nail down Punch Brothers, my favorite among the many side projects of mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, during the same year his first band, Nickel Creek, was hitting the road for a reunion tour.
No doubt, as their show draws closer, the highly eclectic jazz/classical/roots musical output of Punch Brothers will be put further under the microscope in this space. They are some interesting cats and deserve closer examination than this overview will allow.
Trampled by Turtles is another roots music outfit, but, although featuring instrumentation similar to Punch Brothers, their musical approach, more of a bluegrass-rock, is quite different. Where PB could be said to take your brain to grad school, TBT is more like an elongated recess that serves comfort food. Both are about as much fun as outdoor music enthusiasts can safely absorb in one day.
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I suppose this is as good a time as any for me to "come out" as a member of that inexplicable clan of died-in-the-wool Merle Haggard fans that somehow got strung-out on the nighttime TV musical soap opera "Nashville." As with most addictions, the first one was free.
All it took was one hit of the T Bone Burnett influenced soundtrack and, from there, week-in and week-out, I just had to have more. Even now, with T Bone no longer affiliated with the show, I find myself with the "urge" to check in on the trials and tribulations of the fictional Nashville musical tribe.
Which brings us to an act on the schedule that goes under the moniker "Nashville Café." I’m not sure all the info on this show is in quite yet, but a glance at the PCPAF website features a photo-collage that seems to hint that Chip Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne, Clare Bowen, who plays Scarlett O’Conner, and musicians who play two young sisters will be on the bill.
The thought in this corner, however, is that, by the time this tour rolls into Park City in late August, additional members of the cast who have joined up for other stops will also be on board. One thing is for sure! All these singer-songwriter-musicians are quite talented and no matter how they assemble these shows, they will be well worth checking out.
Since we’re talking Nashville, a town that over recent years has lost much of its luster, at least among serious roots music fans, it should be noted that a few of its once-biggest stars can put together bands that can get as "rootsy’ as all get out. And that brings us to Vince Gill with The Time Jumpers.
This is the same great off-the-charts guitar-slinger and vocalist Vince Gill I first experienced up close and personal out at ParkWest as a member of the country-rock band Pure Prairie League. At the time, I thought he was on his way to becoming a rock star. Shows you what I know.
Anyway, that was nothing compared to wonderfully effortless western swing music I’ve caught on TV specials and videos featuring Vince Gill with The Time Jumpers. This is a swing that is much more nuanced and "seasoned," if you will, than that put out by such classic-renaissance outfits as "Asleep at the Wheel," one of my all-time favorite ensembles.
What we’re talking here is "chemistry!" You know, like The Stones or The Chieftains or The Band. These longtime Nashville studio musicians are always on the same page and what they do, arrangement-wise, is quite infectious. Even at a ballad-tempo, they swing — you dig!
There are other big names on the schedule, of course, with the likes of The Bacon Brothers, Dierks Bentley, Kix Brooks, Five For Fighting, and another act I can’t wait for, Muscle Shoals with Lisa Fischer, are being featured.
Once again, it’s time to tune-up your low-rider chairs, fluff up your blankets, put your cooler through a few practice runs, and, basically get your outdoor concert game-face on. It doesn’t get much better than live music outdoors in the Wasatch Mountain summertime.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.