Taking in David Graham and the Eskimo Brothers in Nashville

As I mentioned in my previous column, this week is part two reflecting on our quick stop in Nashville.

The Cliff Waddell band I wrote about last column was fabulous and very authentically country. We continue to chat with them and plan to see them again next time we travel south.

They were followed at Layla’s Honky Tonk by a Hillbilly Trio, David Graham and the Eskimo Brothers.

Joni and I were preparing to leave after Cliff’s set when a gentleman that assumed the seat of our Arkansas friends encouraged us to stay. He suggested that we, “stay for one song and I guarantee that you will stay for the set”. He was not wrong.

They were incredible performers, not just as musicians but as entertainers.

When I looked up the band for this column I stumbled across this quote: “David Graham (Portland, OR) has become known as one of Nashville's can't miss live entertainers over the past Decade. His honky tonk trio has honed their stage show and sound from nearly 300 shows per year and thousands of hours in the Music City honky tonks in a variation of high energy ensembles.” He lives up to that billing.

David does not look like your preconceived Hillbilly; he is heavily inked and looks more like a punk rocker. It’s fun when people challenge stereo types.

From the second the trio hit the stage we were spell bound. Their musicianship was tight, fun and demonstrated a great deal of skill and talent.

The banter by David and bassist Joe Fick vacillated between fun and hilarious.

They were quite obviously having a great time on stage.

Joni and I spoke to the musicians through the evening and their drummer was newer to the trio Joe and David have worked together for some time.

Joe plays the double, or upright, bass and has a mean slap bass! In the video I included he also stands on his bass, balancing there while he continues to play. We witnessed him doing that and it was great fun.

He and David also played their instruments behind their heads. I have seen musicians play guitar behind their heads before, but I have never witnessed a double bass being played that way and it was both entertaining and impressive.

As we watched these two entertain, I couldn’t help think of Bob Seger’s line from Turn the Page, “Out there in the spotlight you're a million miles away Every ounce of energy you try to give away As the sweat pours out your body like the music that you play”.

I can only imagine how exhausted the musicians are at the end of the performance. I know for us it was a wonderful experience.

Between the music, the performance and the entertaining banter and even a light sprinkling of education about the history of Honky Tonks and Hillbilly music.

Once again, Hillbilly music isn’t something I would have sought out prior to this experience but I both enjoyed the music and appreciated the talent.

I would definitely look for more music like this. As a matter of fact, Joni and I switched our radio to a Willie Nelson station for the drive home and enjoyed the country, folk and hillbilly selections on there.

There is a great deal of information online about the history of Honky Tonks and Honky Tonk music, so I will summarize what I discovered with what I found most striking.

The bars were originally considered bawdy or rough establishments dating back to the late 1800’s.

Part of the etymology, or history of the word, is thought to come from the use of old piano’s that were not maintained in bars with keys that didn’t function and poorly tuned strings. This led to musicians banging on the keys and treating the piano as more of a percussion instrument.

Tootsie’s and Layla’s are two of the oldest honky tonks in Nashville and David mentioned several times that they are a dying breed in that town as more and more establishments are purchased by corporations or established names in country music and catering to the contemporary pop country that, in his opinion, lacks the soul of the established forms of what we would call classic country.

The newer bars often use DJ’s for their evening entertainment and this is the antithesis of what Nashville was built on.

So, if you go to Nashville, seek out and support a true Honky Tonk establishment and get an authentic experience.

Finally, what is a Honky Tonk hero? In Nashville, musicians are not paid to play at bars, they survive solely on tips.

There is an established tradition of a pail for tips and playing requests for a donation.

Every hour the musicians take a short break as a member of the band moves through the bar with the pail.

This gives the band a bit of a breather, generates income and is a great chance to actually chat with the performers.

If you feel so inclined you can buy a round for the band, which makes you a Honky Tonk Hero. No cape required.

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