“You can call my rock in the morning
Call him late at night
He’s always with me
And all my battles he’ll fight
When I’m in trouble
I can call him on the line
He put a telephone in my heart
And I can call God anytime
– “Elijah Rock,” credited to Jester Hairston
About a week before our show with Liz Brasher, I looked around 11 W. Huling’s cyclorama at the spectacular audio set-up assembled by a very generous member of our folk community and had a daunting thought. I knew enough about professional gear to know that I had no business even turning on that system. I had no choice. After 29 shows of doing nearly everything myself, I needed real, true, professional help.
It was a lucky coincidence that Beale Street Caravan had asked to record our first show with this new equipment, and even luckier that their engineer, Kevin Houston, was willing to run our live sound, too (and therefore mixing the sound for our video feed, which was also getting a significant upgrade). As soon as I saw Liz Brasher and her band — Gerald Stephens, George Sluppick, and Todd Kerstetter — roll in with a full drum kit, four guitars, and two keyboards, I realized how much better this show was going to be because I wasn’t controlling the whole thing (literally or figuratively).
It was freeing, really, and it gave me the chance to focus on the things I’m better at. Which is exactly what makes a tight band so incredible. As a series, we’ll always have a place of honor for the solo singer-songwriter, but there’s an equally amazing vibe when a group of artists builds something spectacular together.
Liz and the boys kicked things off with the juxtaposition that defines so much of her work – a slinky, bluesy shuffle into the spiritual. She connected immediately with the crowd, which featured a ton of local artists who were spending one of their rare Friday nights off not just as supportive peers, but truly as fans. The sold-out room almost had a conspiratorial air, because it really didn’t seem fair that we got to have such a close, connected experience with that much talent and it sort of felt like we were getting away with something.
Coming back after the set break, Liz stood alone onstage with her Mule Resonator and performed a rendition of “Jolene” that wasn’t so much sung as it was radiated from her being. The band returned afterward and the second half of the evening continued swinging from the soulful to the saucy, running right up to a finale rendition of “Elijah Rock,” a traditional spiritual that in this group’s hands sounded anything but traditional. Unable to accept that the night was ending, we had the very rare appearance of a Folk All Y’all encore. When we finally let Liz off-stage, she mixed joyfully with the crowd and made everyone in attendance feel like the appreciation for her was thoroughly mutual.
As a new Memphian, Liz has barely crossed the line between hometowner and visitor, but it’s clear that she’s already been enthusiastically welcomed by this community. Part of the reason for that is how beautifully she melds the sacred and secular influences that define so much of Memphis’ culture. But the larger part, I believe, is that she chose us. Someone with those gifts and the whole world open to her decided that our place is the best place. And that makes us love Memphis even more. I know Liz gets an incredible reception wherever she goes, but I hope she feels how much we’re all rooting for her and how grateful we are that she’s defining our future.
(Turns out I needed more help with the video, too, so our clips are still limited to my phone recordings. But we’re working on it!)
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