I got a chance to see some great live music this year, so while we’re all posting our favorite albums of the past year I thought I’d add my 2 cents on the favorite shows I saw.
The World Famous Headliners OK, admittedly, my ranking here is actually based on two sets I saw them perform, one at The Rutledge for the Americana Music Festival, and the other at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. They say they’re Nashville’s best rock and roll band, and I think that pretty well sums it up. The set I saw in Nashville was pretty darn good, with Pat McLaughlin sitting in a chair that I’m pretty sure was destroyed by the end of the night from his energy, but their opening performance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass overshadowed everything in a half mile radius.
The Bottle Rockets Brian Henneman and the crew played a raucous set at the Old Settler’s Music Festival in Austin this past spring. This is a great band to see live because they adapt so well to their setting. They can do high octane electric rock and roll for an outdoor festival, and they can play to the room in a club. Ballads and hard-driving rock and everything in between, with self-depracating humor built from being on the road together for 20 years, they practically define blue-collar band.
New Riders Of the Purple Sage Hah! I’ll bet you didn’t see this one coming. Frankly, neither did I. A buddy and I went to see New Riders at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz the night after Thanksgiving, mostly as just an excuse to go have a beer and see some live music. I was amazed at the show. Although they physically look like they’ve been playing rock and roll for 50 years, their voices have held up very well and the musicanship is still alive and kicking. Guys like this are who put the twang in rock and we’re all the better for it, so check them out if they get to your town.
Sara Watkins Another standout performance from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Sara has such an incredible stage charisma and she used it to advantage at the smallest stage in the festival where she had the crowd eating out of her hand. I also saw her at the AMA Festival doing a taping for XM Radio where she had the quote of the entire event. Following Richard Thompson playing guitar as only he can, she quipped as she picked up her fiddle, “I sure hope he can’t play one of these.”
Heartless Bastards I saw Erika Wennerstrom and her band at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz this spring. Even though I’ve seen them before, you tend to forget that wall of sound comes from just 4 people. It’s driving, intense music, and it sounds better when the speakers and amps are called sound reinforcement, not home theater.
Richard Thompson Although I just saw him play a couple of songs during a showcase, and a couple of songs at the AMA Awards, hearing 1952 Vincent Black Lightning in an intimate venue was truly memorable.
Corb Lund It says a lot when a lone singer-songwriter can keep a big post-awards crowd at the Mercy Lounge entralled, but Lund did just that this fall. And a performance of he and Hayes Carll doing Bible On the Dash is not to be missed.
Gaelic Storm I’ve seen them the last couple of years at the Old Settler’s Music Festival and both times they owned the crowd. It’s happy, fun, party music that’s basically Celtic rock, and they’re the masters of doing it live.
Click here for more Twangville Best of 2012 coverage.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.