There’s a little part of me that will always have the folks at Barking Legs Theater to thank for my introduction to what I would consider “good music.” Before I attended UTC in 2001, I was listening to some pretty dumb stuff: top 40 radio, classic rock (think Steve Miller Band and The Beach Boys), and I was going through a weird showtunes phase that I really can’t remember, probably for the best. By 2003, I was working at WUTC-FM under the wings of Richard Winham, Tommy Cotter and Mary Anne Williams. Josh Daniels would sometimes give me a mixed tape or tell me what to listen to. This job led me to be a volunteer with Bruce Kaplan, Ann Law and George Bright at the Barking Legs Theater. Throughout my volunteering, I gained access to hundreds of once-in-a-lifetime shows. Here are five.
The first time I saw Beppe Gambetta, I wept when he sang Norman Blake’s “Church Street Blues.” The song has the following lyrics: “I got myself a rocking chair, to see if I could lose … those thin dime, hard time, hell on Church Street blues.” For some reason, this Italian flatpicker, singing in his broken accent, brought me immediately home to my farm in Limestone, Tenn. I’ll never forget that first concert, and this song continues to be one of my favorites. Check out “Church Street Blues” on Gambetta’s 2002 album, “Blu Di Genova.”
This was going to be such an intimate performance that Andrew Bird decided to do two separate shows in one night at the Barking Legs in 2005. He was visibly tired when he arrived in the afternoon, but once onstage, his intense passion for music kept his body from crumbling. I remember the shows, but more importantly I remember being asked by Kaplan to go on a “taco run” to La Michoacana on East Main Street. That’s right, I got tacos for Andrew Bird. Sure, this was before he became a huge indie rock superstar, but I distinctly remember chatting about touring, the weather and everything but music while we snarfed down delicious, authentic tacos. I’m sure he remembers this night. His latest album comes out Nov. 12.
Before Kaki King there was Preston Reed-who actually taught King much of what she now uses as a hybrid guitar style. I’ve seen Reed several times at the Barking Legs with maybe 20 or 30 other people in the entire room. He is a huge man, but his songs are listful and among the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Reed plays with such a passion, and one song in particular has stuck with me for almost 10 years. A tune called “Love in the Old Country” (see the video below) conjures images of an old Italian village and a small child riding a bicycle in a piazza. Reed said at the time that he “accidentally wrote the soundtrack to a forgotten Federico Fellini film.” It’s been one of my favorite songs since.
I would consider Johnson City’s famous band, The Everybodyfields, to be one of my favorite bands, period. Now defunct, David Richey, Jill Andrews and Sam Quinn comprised a band I would travel long distances on a Tuesday night to watch without even thinking about it. I always felt a sort of kinship with the band-they were singing lonesome, bittersweet tunes about the South-because of where I grew up in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee. Songs like “Nubbins” and “Good to Be Home” (see playlist below) are still favorites. I also think the band was ridiculously stoned during several of these performances, which made for interesting stage banter. Check out the solo efforts of both Jill Andrews and Sam Quinn.
There I was, sitting just a few feet away from a man considered to be one of the best guitarists in the entire world. Adrian Legg would occasionally perform at the Barking Legs, and his performances always made me take my own guitar and shove it into the closet for a few weeks afterward. The man is just, simply, one of the most amazing talents I will ever witness. And all of this at a tiny venue in a bad part of Chattanooga. Start with “Guitar Bones” and branch out with Legg. His sound is much more impressive when you can watch him perform.