Tuesday, June 6, 2017

JUNE 4, 2017
It was a rainy day, but oh, the evening! Some weeks ago, we noticed that there would be something coming up at the City Winery on Lafayette Street, right in the heart of Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. We called a friend, navigated the online ticket process (very easy, just give them your name when you arrive), and headed for Music City USA.
     The City Winery is in a divine old plumbing equipment warehouse. It's been completely renovated and spruced up to entice people from all over to eat wonderful food (and "Blue Suede Cake" for dessert) and try a vast number of wines from literally everywhere.
"Blue Suede Cake" and coffee
City Winery
 The warehouse look is gone. There are bars, a lounge, a big room, and all kinds of nooks and crannies in which people can gather to hear topnotch entertainers from Nashville and just about anywhere else you can think of. It's really a lovely venue with valet parking, if you prefer.
Gretchen Peters at City Winery
     On this particular Sunday evening, we came to see and hear singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters, whom we had never seen before. Renowned storyteller Minton Sparks introduced Gretchen to us there in the lounge. My word! Can this lady deliver a song about the realities of life? Oh, yeah, she can! She is a seasoned professional with a serious knack for nailing songs onto your soul. Her guitar work is perfect accompaniment to what she sings about. She has a rich music background and a bunch of fine recordings. We regret it took us this long to finally hear Gretchen. It won't be the last time. We've already spotted the fact that she'll be back soon...and bringin' more notables with her.  
Gretchen Peters at City Winery
    Gretchen Peters' program for the evening: Hello Cruel World, The Matador, Blackbirds (on a 'newish' album), Five Minutes (and oh, what can happen in that length of time), and she closed her portion of the show with Idlewild. Putting ideas and lyrics to music is such an art, a real skill. Gretchen Peters hits hard and tells it like it is. We're instant fans of her and her masterful work! There are YouTube videos and CDs for your listening pleasure.
     Minton Sparks came onto the stage accompanied by her long-time friend and very talented guitarist, John Jackson. John Jackson has a deep musical background and has worked with some of the very best names you would recognize. Poet, novelist, essayist and producer of CDs and DVDs, Minton wore what Mama might have called her 'Sunday dress' and low beige heels. On her arm was the well-known purse. Her ardent fans know the importance of the purse in Minton Sparks' show. We would dearly love to define what it is that Minton Sparks does, exactly, but she tells wonderful stories about life in the South, about Southern women, about church-goin' folks who are often nicer at church than they are at home, about a strip mall carnival, and just a simple question, 'Where you from?' Southerners know how to handle that one. She tosses in some University of Tennessee basketball and the late legendary Pat Summitt (tall, leggy country girls all wanted to play for Pat), along with the one about three aunts all hunched over down at the barn there at home. They're smokin' cigarettes and talkin' bad about other people. Can't you just see 'em?
Minton Sparks and John Jackson
at City Winery
"Her Purse"
     Minton opened with "Gold Digger," and you have already figured out that it's about a conniving woman. She followed with our personal favorite, "Her Purse". When Grandmother died, Minton got her purse. The contents were almost exactly the items that were in our own mama's purse. Almost. Our mom let us go through the purse during church to keep us quiet. Remember that? Minton's grandmother's purse had in it a little box of Chicklets, an open pack of Lifesavers, a comb, half a stick of gum, keys to the shed, little red plastic change purse that you squeeze to open and get the coins out and put in the collection plate, and the big secret that no one but Grandmother ever knew about: a secret love letter from a farmhand written long ago. There were powerful feelings in that love letter. Minton got an unexpected view into the soul of her newly-departed grandmother. We got the feeling that she was kinda sorry she found that letter.
     Minton took us to a scene at the Tennessee State Prison for Women where women are summoned by their numbers, not their names. State custody was rough on the little kids who had to play outside the prison on a seesaw or a swing. Her thoughts took her to the soulful "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" as she left us there deep in thought. John Jackson's artful accompaniment fits every Minton story perfectly.
     "Cluck, Cackle, and Peck" is about those three aunts sneaking cigarettes down at the barn at the home place. Minton moved around the stage like an old hen clucking, cackling, and pecking the ground. The women gathered down by the barn didn't spare anybody they knew: this one's big as a house, that one has dyed her hair and who does she think she's foolin', and that other one's husband is running around on her and she has no idea. Can't you just hear them?
     "Fight Club" is tough to hear. All in the name of religion and walking the straight and narrow, some women and their children received harsh punishment at home behind closed doors. It was 'corporal punishment and Bible verses,' and the treatment was known as 'spiritually justified ass-whippin's'. We have learned of late that this kind of thing went on in the homes of some of our own friends. It changes who they are.
     Moving right along, Minton Sparks has many more incredible stories about the lives of the very Southerners who are all around you right now. Not all are dark. How many are true? Well, we couldn't say. She dubbed the Mary Kay lady as the "Shepherdess of Skin Care" whose husband got mad when she would come home late. Minton even ran into Minnie Pearl (AKA Sarah Cannon) in a bar once upon a time and was dumb-struck by seeing the Grand Ole Opry legend. Minton told how it seems that we begin to tell these Opry stars (or any stars) some of the most intimate details of our lives, perhaps just to keep the conversation going. Why do we do that? "Vickie Pickle's Mama" at the local swimming pool is hilarious.  "Fill 'er up?" (gas station attendant) and "The Lunch Lady" are two favorites that we hope to hear again soon."The Carnival" story involves the handsome, flirty ticket taker (tan arms and a tattoo that said 'Mother'), and it reminds all of us women of Fair Park and the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Himalaya ride. "Wanna go faster?" Minton Sparks can jerk us right back into the 1950's and '60's and make us feel exactly what we felt back then. How does she do that? She's the best at what she does, and John Jackson ties it all together with his magical guitar and even a banjo or a resonator guitar now and again.
     Catch each of these fine performers again soon. You'll be glad you did! Thanks again to each artist for what they do!
Minton Sparks and John Jackson at City Winery
heading off the stage to meet-n-greet
For more information, touring schedules, and where to find their merch:
Nashville City Winery  www.citywinery.com  844.263.9050
Gretchen Peters  www.gretchenpeters.com
Minton Sparks  www.mintonsparks.com
John Jackson  Google this East Nashville treasure and read for yourself.

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