At my first Nashville Boogie Vintage Weekender in 2017, I was just trying to find my feet in a world of rockabilly, western swing, and classic rock-n-roll. The Boogie is a unique experience that feels like you’ve traveled back in time with only brief whispers of the present piercing the realm of rockabilly music, pinup girls, and hot rods.
With my return to the Boogie this year, I noticed something new. The Boogie is also a rockabilly family reunion. A place where people catch up and new friends are made. A place where I saw more hugs than handshakes between artists and fans who traveled from Brazil, Canada, Japan, Sweden, France, and across the entire United States. But enough touchy sentiments and back to the music.
On Friday at the Boogie, I had spent the entire night at the glitzy, big-staged, ballroom of Opryland Resort. Saturday was to be (mostly) spent getting back to the grittier houses of rockabilly and western swing music at the part honky-tonk, part western dance hall, The Nashville Palace.
After a long night at the Boogie, which turned into an early morning for some of us, it was going to take a lot to drag the festival crowd out of their beds in time to see the very first band of the day take stage. The Boogie staff must have been keenly aware of this struggle when they scheduled Cherry Rat to start up the Palace stage at a shockingly early noon time slot.
The band, featuring a Brazilian pinup model with powerhouse vocals, a heavy helping of slap bass, and enough rock-n-roll guitar to take the place of two cups of coffee, Cherry Rat was just what we needed to jolt us awake. Competing against a car show, two other stages, and…noon…the Palace dance floor gathered one of its largest crowds of the day. Whether strumming on her guitar or working the crowd while strolling the stage, Cherry Rat kept the crowd rocking along, complete with plenty of dancing couples taking the floor.
One of the featured rising acts of the 2019 Boogie was The Lonesome Souls, with not only a Palace Saturday Set, but the opening spot for Sunday’s finale show. Blending traditional juke-joint country, a funky bass groove, and a California country edge, the band pulled a crowd from across the festival’s diverse musical interests. It was fun to watch the crowd grow as the band’s sound reached into the neighboring car show, enticing more and more people to join the party.
Building their music around a diverse cross section of rockabilly, rock-n-roll, cumbia, and Mexican influences, Moonlight Trio brought their self-described Cumbiabilly sound to the Palace. The set, featuring spanning guitar solos and fiery drum rhythms, provided a dance-worthy backdrop for the Palace’s day-drinking crowd.
Between sets at the Palace, the Weekender scheduled DJ sets which had the practical purpose of allowing stage and crowd transitions, but also allowed those that wanted to, the opportunity to use the spacious dance floor unimpeded by the concert crowds. Following Moonlight Trio, the Palace crowd got a taste of some of the other parts of the Nashville Boogie as we were entertained by Ms. Nashville Boogie Finalist Miss Mia’s Hula Hoop Routine.
And then Bloodshot Bill did his thing…
Going into the Boogie, I had heard that Bloodshot Bill’s solo shows were must-see. What I witnessed was foot-stomping drumming through the entire set, his guitar and vocals having a shouting match, and enough PBR drinking to feel like Bill was having his own party on the stage. Fortunately, a few fans joined him in a beer-chug challenge, so he wasn’t drinking alone. By far one of the fan favorites of the Boogie crowd, he had the Palace packed to hear him rage through a setlist that demanded your attention…and wonder if he was okay at the same time. I am not sure if there’s a thing called hardcore rockabilly, but if there is, Bloodshot Bill would be it.
As much as I had enjoyed a bit of day drinking at the Nashville Palace, the call of Deke Dickerson’s set at the Opryland Ballroom was too strong. A quick shuttle hop later, and I found the modern rockabilly master playing to a packed house. Dickerson, an old soul rockabilly guitarist with just a touch of classic country in his voice, makes you feel like you’ve jumped back in time and are living in the prime of the genre’s life. For his set, Dickerson pulled in guest artists with distinctly different styles. Classic country crooner Harmonica Sam was featured—doing what he is most famous for—playing the harmonica. While this sounds almost intuitive, Harmonica Sam shows his “Country Side” at the Boogie, and doesn’t usually get to show off his blues harmonica playing that has gathered him international fame. Likewise, Dickerson invited the ever-manic Bloodshot Bill to the stage, adding a hard-partying rock-n-roll insanity to the mix. Dickerson’s show managed to capture all the musical styles and energy of the Weekender in one extended set.
Proving once again that the Nashville Boogie is an international showcase, the Weekender next welcomed the Stompin’ Riff Raffs from Tokyo, Japan. Turning classic rockabilly and ‘50s rock on their heads, Stompin’ added elements of garage rock, touches of punk, and an electronic fuzz. Even after a full day of music watching, the band had the Boogie crowd jumping in place to the high-energy show. Featuring plenty of guitar solos, boogie inspired keys, and more theremin than I can recently (ever?) remember hearing, the Stompin’ Riff Raffs had an addictive sound that made their concert memorable.
It was almost time to call it a day…but not before I got my fill of classic country sounds with The Country Side of Harmonica Sam. Back at the Nashville Palace, it felt like the full Boogie crowd had come out to catch Harmonica Sam’s set. Bedecked in western style from head to toe, and with a crooning voice that harkens back to the days of real honky-tonks, The Country Side of Harmonic Sam was musical nostalgia. With a western drumbeat made for dancing, couples spun to the music behind the crowd amassed at the stage. It was the perfect way to wind down and catch your breath after a day loaded with music.
Before the 2019 Nashville Boogie Vintage Weekender was over, it returned on Sunday for one last all-star concert. With both Weekender attendees and stand-alone concert goers coming out for this show, it drew an impressive, ballroom-filling crowd. A little different from the rockabilly, western country, and rock-n-roll lineup, the Boogie’s final show featured the California country sounds of The Lonesome Souls, the almost psychedelic rock jams of J.D. McPherson, a slew of classics from the legendary Ronnie Spector, and a whole lot of quirkiness from the B-52’s. It really was an experience hearing several thousand people singing along to “Rock Lobster.”
For 2020, The Nashville Boogie will be making some format changes. First, the 2020 Weekender will be in October—(hopefully) helping avoid the brunt of the Nashville’s summer heat. Returning to its honky-tonk, dance hall, and hot rod garage roots, the 2020 Boogie will be housed at the Nashville Palace and neighboring Scoreboard Bar & Grill. Keeping it more intimate, the Boogie has also announced tickets will be capped at 1,000. You better get yours now if you don’t want to be on the outside looking in.
[Coverage and Pictures Provided By George & Sammi Maifair]