This is Why I Live in the City

Actually, this won’t be a manifesto listing all the reasons, complications and negotiations involved in a decision that big, but I just had the kind of night that can’t be had outside a city. Maybe specifically a small city. If I lived, as I used to, in the suburbs, I would have stayed home tonight. Maybe I would have caught a little television, fallen asleep in the chair.

View of the 2nd Floor, Preservation Pub, from the bar, Knoxville

But I do live in the city, write a blog and have great readers (some of them brothers-in-law) who give me tips about amazing music, good people and a life outside my small walls. Today I got a tip from said brother-in-law who is a very good song writer in his own right about two song writers in town and playing at the Preservation Pub in what has apparently been christened the “speakeasy room,” AKA “upstairs.”

Preservation Pub, View from the Stage toward the bar

The room has been advertised as “smoke free,” and I find this a stretch. No one smokes in the room, which is great, but, of course many people are smoking just below the floor and smoke doing what it will regardless of policy, arrives upstairs. Still, I appreciate the effort. It is more bearable for a longer period of time than the first floor for someone not used to inhaling the hazy carcinogens. The second floor is also beautiful. The ceiling is covered with gorgeous stamped-metal tiles, the floor is new hardwood and the tables and bar were made with wood from the floor joists. The stage is roomy and the entire room is built more for listening to music than the bottom floor ever imagined, though plenty of great music has happened over the years downstairs.

Jon Byrd with Amelia White, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, March 2011

Amelia White with Jon Byrd, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, March 2011

The entertainment for the night, playing a mercifully early shift (6:30 – 9:30) for aging working people like myself, was Jon Byrd and Amelia White currently of Nashville. Jon lived his early years in a place called Frisco City which sounds poetic and conjures up images of San Francisco, but which is, in actuality, a bend in the road in the deep woods of south Alabama.

Amelia White with guitar and harmonica rack, Preservation Pub, Knoxville

Amelia White, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, March 2011
Taking turns and sometimes singing together, the duo displayed their craft and their art to a small, but attentive audience that included Tim and Susan Lee (who I wrote about here). Amelia, who’s played the Blueplate Special and the Time Warp Tea Room, opened with a set playing on her 1979 Martin guitar, which she got when she was twelve. She later brought out a hollow body electric Guild guitar which she used to great advantage to attain a more ominous sound.
Amelia White, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, March 2011
Blessed with a delicate angel’s voice which she pairs with barbed-wire lyrics, her music evokes comparisons to other great songwriters such as Shawn Colvin, Mary Gautier and Marshall Chapman. The fact that the one cover song she performed was by Lucinda Williams is no accident. Her live sound is more folk than Jon’s (and that isn’t a bad thing for me, though Jon doesn’t want to be called a folk singer), but the most recent recording, her 2009 album Motorcycle Dream has a lot more bite than the work “folk” generally conjures. I particularly enjoy “Morning Song” from that CD and the edgy video for the title track is included below.
Jon Byrd, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, March 2011

Jon, who also has performed on the Blueplate, took the stage after Amelia and performed a range of songs which, as I mentioned, he politely requested not be called “folk.” I wouldn’t have, anyway. He has about as pure of a classic country sound as you’ll get on stage these days. Sometimes favoring Willie Nelson in vocals, the style reminded me more of Ray Price.

Jon Byrd, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, March 2011

Some of the highlights for me included “In a Perfect World” and “One Final Round” from his album “Byrd’s Auto Parts.” His soon-to-be-released CD will be titled “Down at the Well of Wishes” and includes favorite tracks “A Fond Farewell” and “Easy to be Free,” both of which he performed tonight. Amelia joined him for the new song “When It Starts to Rain,” adding a haunting harmony vocal to the chorus. I’ve included a video below that includes, of all things, a great cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” followed by his song “Reputation.”

Jon Byrd and Amelia White at the Preservation Pub

So, it’s Tuesday night, I have to go to work on Wednesday morning and I’m out listening to great live music. I could be watching American Idol, manicuring my lawn in the suburbs or going to bed early. Instead, this early spring Tuesday night contains the essence of why I live in the city.

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