Americana Showcases: John Fullbright and Billy Joe Shaver

John Fullbright

Night two of the Americana Music Festival in Nashville provided another stellar opportunity for roots music lovers at the Cannery Row complex of Mercy Lounge, High Watt and the Cannery Ballroom. Highlights of Thursday’s (Sept. 13) lineup included the legendary Billy Joe Shaver and newcomer John Fullbright.

Fullbright’s set at Mercy stood out for its spiritual focus and concise sound. The Okemah, Okla., native wastes nothing in his writing, making sure each song is vibrant and clear. He showed that right from the start with “Gawd Above,” a bluesy number that imagines God having a little fun at the expense of us puny humans. Fullbright is also a multi-talented performer and, on top of his soft but powerful voice, he added guitar playing, harmonica fills and deft piano work. The focus on soul-saving continued with “Jericho” and the clawing desperation of “Satan and St. Paul,” while the jaunty piano tune “Fat Man” spoke out against greed and “the people that own the most but seem to do the worst.”

Later on, Fullbright decided to do a Charlie Louvin tune, and he seemed to hold a special place in his heart for the recently departed icon. After relating a few words of advice Louvin gave him (“Don’t drink before you go onstage”), Fullbright delivered a heartbreaking rendition of “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing,” as his lead guitarist somehow made a Fender Jaguar sound like a steel guitar. Fullbright ended the powerful set with “Moving,” which he dedicated to another singer from Okemah, Woody Guthrie.

“If Woody teaches us anything,” said Fullbright, “it’s to stop worrying and do something about it.”

That sentiment certainly rang true with Shaver, as well. The tough Texan took the Mercy stage before Fullbright and wasted no time jumping into his bag of favorites like “Heart of Texas” and “Georgia on a Fast Train,” shadowboxing, dancing and smiling the whole time. He stopped in the middle of “Honky Tonk Heroes” to teach the girls in the audience how to punch and later on showed off a little air-hogtying. Getting into his two new songs, “Wacko From Waco” and “Get Go,” he told a little story of the 2007 incident involving a bar, a challenge and a gun that would lead to his arrest.

“This feller shot at me almost three times,” he said. “So I shot him right between the ‘mother’ and the ‘f*****.’”

He slowed things down a little for “Fallen Angles Fly” and “Live Forever,” a touching ballad he wrote for his late son, Eddy, and ended his night with “Try, Try Again.” The song featured Shaver preaching a little of his own personal gospel and could easily be the motto for his life of ups and downs.

The high-energy Turnpike Troubadours kicked things off earlier in the night, but I was inclined to catch the California rockers Delta Spirit at Live on the Green, a free concert series held each fall in downtown Nashville. They made the most of the huge crowd of thousands on the lawn and served as openers for the Wallflowers.

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