In honor of last week’s 40th anniversary of Jon Landau’s famous quote about Bruce Springsteen, let me say that “I have seen country music future, and its name is Greg Garing.” Really, this is just wishful thinking on my part that country music would shed its current tired face and go back to its great lost traditional sound. While most of what plays on country radio today makes Hank Williams roll in his grave, guys like Garing must make Luke the Drifter smile in heaven!
Music City history credits Greg Garing’s stand at Tootsies Orchid Lounge and BR49’s stay at Robert’s Western World as the twin forces that revived the Lower Broadway honky-tonk scene in the late 90’s. However, Garing took off to New York City which led to a regular gig there. In 1997, he released a brilliant solo record, Alone, on which added some slick modern touches to his usual traditional country sound. The record pretty much went nowhere despite making the New York Times top ten best albums of 1997.
The news broke a few weeks ago that Garing was back in town starting a Wednesday night residency at Logue’s Black Raven Emporium in East Nashville. I had the pleasure of attending the fourth night of his indefinite weekly run at this unusually accommodating venue.
The overall experience at the Black Raven proved to be as entertaining as the music. The vintage store on the corner of Gallatin Road and Trinity Lane was closed and dark when I arrived just before the designated 8:30 show time. My friend, who had been twice before, led me through the non-descript back entryway in to the parlor room that resembled a secret prohibition-era speakeasy. The first to arrive, we took seats on a comfy couch across from the classic wooden bar. We took in the eccentric décor of the room listening to the early sounds of Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson and Buck Owens spun by musically-erudite DJ Tim Buchanan.
As show time approached just after 9:00, we sat ourselves in back of the two rows of old wooden theater seats in the small adjoining music room. Off in the corner, with his back to the crowd of now about 40, Garing and the band did a brief warm-up to themselves. The room was dimly lit with exotic red florescent lighting although two of the four bulbs were not working. The stage was nothing more than a section on the floor marked off with tape. An old rug hung on the wall accessorized by dangling glitter streamers. The only amplification tonight would be two small vintage amps—one for a much-traveled pedal steel and one for the guitar of Nashville’s best, Kenny Vaughan, who walked in just seconds before show time.
It seems that Garing’s “friends” over this short run have included some of the town’s best players who can’t resist a gig as inviting as this one. Chris Scruggs, Chuck Mead and Vaughan have all made appearances. Tonight featured an unnamed veteran fiddle player making his debut as a “friend”.
The evening began with a three-song set from a couple (supposedly Garing’s neighbors) who just moved here from Wisconsin. They sang and played some original songs that stood out for their atypical song structures deviating from the tired, formulaic country sound. Leaving the stage, they crossed paths with Garing and his band who wasted no time getting started.
Watching the tall and lanky Garing sing without a microphone was like listening to the impassioned spirit of country music being reborn all over again. Backed by Vaughan’s elegant picking, a rhythm guitarist, the fiddler, and the pedal steel player (Billy Robinson), Garing worked his way through a 50-minute opening set of classic country songs that most of those in the room had never heard before. He alternated between guitar and fiddle taking stints at dueling with both the fiddle player and Vaughan, really getting a kick out of the latter. But, the real sight was watching Garing sing without an instrument, somehow managing to resurrect everything that has been lost from traditional country music.
Needing to leave, I missed the band’s second set which I hear went until around 11:30. While all 40 seats in the small room were taken, I still can’t believe how there wasn’t a line of people around the block wanting to get into this special show. Hopefully, the word will get out, and people will be crossing the river to hear the great sounds of Greg Garing. He deserves your attention. It’s a fresh and exciting journey back in time that you don’t want to miss.
- Mississippi River Blue (Jimmie Rodgers)
- Dark as the Night (Louvin Brothers)
- Please Don’t Let Me Love You (Hank Williams)
- Give Me 40 Acres (The Willis Brothers)
- I Could Never Do the Things He Did To You (Greg Garing)
- Liberty (instrumental fiddle tune)
- Bonaparte’s Retreat (Pee Wee King)
- Maiden’s Prayer (instrumental fiddle tune)
- Dig a Hole in the Meadow (Bill Monroe)
- Lonesome Road (Doc and Merle Watson)
- A Fool Such as I (Jim Reeves)
- Tennessee Border (Hank Williams)
Greg Garing—vocals, acoustic guitar and fiddle
Kenny Vaughan—electric guitar
Billy Robinson—pedal steel