Now that the holidays are in high gear, the only things more common than low, low prices on 60“ flat-screens are all those Christmas shows. Along with TV classics like Rudolph and The Grinch and some bizarre new ones (Christmas Gangam Style anyone?), Middle Tennessee stages are filled with a wide assortment of live extravaganzas. The biggest has to be the Rockettes with their elaborate Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the the Grand Ole Opry House.
But for musical locavores who prefer hot pickin’ to high kickin’, the choice is clear - celebrate Christmas the old-fashioned way, just like our cave-dwelling ancestors used to do, with “An East Nashville Christmas” at Bluegrass Underground.
Dec. 8, a host of up-and-comers and best-kept-secrets from Nashville’s hippest neighborhood will make their way to Cumberland Caverns for a holiday revue. There were 75 local musicians involved with the spanking-new An East Nashville Christmas CD, a benefit for The National Health Care For the Homeless Council produced by former BGU sound engineer Phil Harris. However, due to the space limitations of Wally’s Jeep, the show will feature only seven of those acts.
And in keeping with East Nashville’s independent streak, none of that seven fits into any easy musical categorization. The show will be divided into two sets and while the album mixes acoustic and electric sounds, the BGU “East Nashville Christmas” concert will be all acoustic.
The first half opens with some string wizardry by fiddle masters Christian Sedelmyer & Rachel Baiman, followed by Jeff & Vida, who are familiar to bluegrass fans nationwide due to their relentless touring schedule, but they’re not a pure bluegrass band. For the CD, they sing the Hawaiian Christmas classic “Mele Kalikimaka,” a hit for Big Crosby & the Andrews Sisters.
Todd Grebe & Cold Country are up next. Todd grew up south of the North Pole in Alaska, hence the name of his hard-edged country/bluegrass band. For the East Nashville project he sings “Let’s Make Love For Christmas.”
Closing the first half is Grace Adele. She’s a little bit country, but unlike the Osmonds, she’s also a little bit classic Tin Pan Alley, so she fittingly contributes a cover of another tropical-themed Bing Crosby/ Andrews Sisters classic, “Christmas Island.”
During the intermission, why not get some Christmas shopping done underground? The East Nashville Christmas CD will be available, along with the usual Bluegrass Underground swag. The shopping calendar already has Black Friday and Cyber Monday; think of this as Subterranean Saturday. And you can honestly tell your loved ones on Christmas morning, “I had to go to the ends of the earth to get this for you.”
The second half will feature the East Nashville Christmas house band, with bassist Mike Bub, drummer Jon Ranford, and hot pickers Christian Sedelymyer on fiddle and Ethan Ballinger on mandolin and guitar. First act is the duo of Derek Hoke, a hardcore honky tonker, circa 1958, and Jen Duke, a singer songwriter who fuses folksy Americana with classic torch singing. For the album they sing “Winter Wonderland.”
Next up, gospel-singing powerhouse Mike Farris returns to the Volcano Room to light up the place with Julie Lee. Mike is one of the great vocalists of our time and was one of the highlights of the debut season of Bluegrass Underground on PBS. Julie Lee has had songs recorded by Alison Krauss (her cut of Julie’s co-write with John Pennell, “Jacob’s Dream,” is devastating, even by bluegrass’ usual standards for child mortality). With her band the Baby Daddies, she mixes bluegrass, country, blues and rock, but for her East Nashville Christmas track, she sings with Mike and Rod McGaha on the old spiritual, “Go Tell it On the Mountain.” Saturday, they’ll be telling it under the mountain..
Closing the day is The Danberrys - Dorothy Daniel and Ben DeBerry. A 24/7 duo, married since 2006, they mix traditional mountain tunes like “Shady Grove” with rock-edged originals like “Tennessee Central 509“ for an edgy, bluegrass blend all their own. For An East Nashville Christmas, they go deep catalog with “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”
And speaking of deep, along with great local music for a great cause, the show will also feature Middle-Tennessee’s deepest Christmas tree, 333 feet down. Let those Rockettes try to compete with that!
- Larry Nager