Nightfall’s Miller Plaza stage and Riverbend’s Coke stage would seem to have very little in common. But putting size aside they both demand outsize dynamics for the music to have any hope of transcending the footlights.
Many of the people at Nightfall can’t even see the stage and the setting offers a myriad distractions. It doesn’t have to be loud, but it must be dynamic. Simple struts like “Y…,” well maybe not that, but something in that spirit will probably work, but a little musical heft never hurts.
Over the next month, the five acts playing in the Plaza promise to rise to that challenge albeit with distinctively different shows beginning with a couple of bands who have a reputation for throwing an excellent party. Both (6/29) and Dirty Bourbon River Show (7/6) come from towns with a penchant for bacchanalian revelry.
Imagine the Clash, twenty years later, as a bunch of Belfast boys still kicking over the traces of their native culture with fierce punk-inspired energy, that’s The Young Dubliners. Their sets are a grab bag of traditional Irish songs so familiar almost everyone will recognize them along with originals that mix the rousing spirit of backstreets Belfast with the exuberant thrust of American rock ‘n’ roll. Founding member, Keith Roberts, calls it “…the result of Irish and American guys coming together and drawing from a little of everything.’’
Singer and multi-instrumentalist Noah Adams met drummer Dane “Bootsy” Schindler in New Orleans in 2008 and soon after they were playing together as Buck Johnson and the Hootenanny Kid. Within a few months they’d added singer and trombonist Big Charlie and saxophonist Matt Thomas to the lineup, and by the Summer of 2009, bass player Jimmy Williams had enlisted and the swaggering ensemble began developing the “authentic, New Orleans-fueled world music mashups with gypsy gumbo horn beats, barb-wire ballads, and barroom shanties” that make up their sets these days. Part New Orleans’ marching band, part 19th century street circus, like The Young Dubliners they celebrate the essential spirit of their hometown with a cacophonous combination of old and new sounds drawn from the Crescent City’s century long musical legacy.
The show set for the following Friday (7/13) may well be one of the best shows of the season. Rowdy Rhode Island rock ‘n’ rollers Deer Tick who promised “One night with me /Is gonna mess you up,” are making their Chattanooga debut. Dripping with Stooges-inspired-in-your-face attitude on the drolly titled Divine Providence album, they’ll be bringing the kind of heat guaranteed to get even the much-talked-about downtown hipster skeptics shaking their butts in the sun. You doubt it? Listen to “Something To Brag About”—two minutes of the grimiest garage boogie since Johnny Rotten stopped spitting on the Queen.
Chuck Prophet is coming in from San Francisco for a show on the following Friday (7/20). While Deer Tick evoke vintage, East Coast CBGB’s punk, Prophet is West Coast urbane —more Tom Petty than Tom Verlaine. A successful writer for everyone from Solomon Burke to Jim Dickinson, he’s been compared to Ray Davies and Leonard Cohen. His songs often have a sardonic, Dylan-in-the-mid-60’s-feel. Take “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat,” a song from his newest album, Temple Beautiful, a paean to his storied hometown. It’s a farcical fictional mash-up in which the legendary baseballer is paired with a famous mid-century San Francisco stripper, cult leader Jim Jones and concert promoter, Bill Graham. Delivered in a sly, Petty-like slur over a rolling bass-driven shuffle it’s smart pop with a kick and some fine shimmering guitar.
For the final Friday in July (7/27), Van Hunt is bringing his raunchy rock and funk to Miller Plaza—a show that may well deliver what Charlie Wilson only promised when he played the Coke Stage at Riverbend. The Ohio-born singer has had some of the same problems as Prince and Sly Stone before him in that his muse often takes him into places record companies fear to tread. But while the edgy funky crunch of a song like “Eyes of Pearls” on last year’s What Were You Hoping For album suggests Prince in his sloe-eyed tempter phase, the song that precedes it, “Moving Targets,” is a sweet, Smokey-style falsetto soul ballad. And while the slinky slither of “North Hollywood” suggests a Lou Reed/Curtis Mayfield mash-up, and the Clinton-esque “Plum” has a vintage Funkadelicized shiver, the slow burning “Seconds of Pleasure” suggests Hunt hasn’t entirely shucked his earlier lover’s rock.
And each show has a great opening act—local, maybe you have seen them recently, but many haven’t and if you take a flier and get there early for any of these shows, you will not be disappointed.
Richard Winham is the host and producer of WUTC-FM’s afternoon music program and has observed the Chattanooga music scene for more than 25 years.