Isn’t life a mystery
This little ball of mercury
You push it ’round your open palm
Look for a space where you belong
You can’t hold it
No matter how you try you can’t let it go
No, you can’t hold it
Its too big for you to hold onto
Its holding you
Its holding you
– Myla Smith, “You Can’t Hold It”
There’s a funny juxtaposition between house show host and house show artist. Typically, those of us putting together these events have a limited reserve of time and space and resources to offer up to the cause, so we host far fewer concerts than a regular venue. In my case, it’s been 6-8 a year, so each show is deeply memorable, and I instantly take on a maternal pride and protectiveness toward every artist that plays for us. On the flip side, most of the musicians who come through are touring full-time, so this is just another stop in a long string of dates; we’ve had guests who’ve had more shows in the last month than I’ve had in three years. Therefore I try to strike a balance and not overwhelm our artists with my big gushing heart and appreciation for their time here, acknowledging that this is just a regular night at work for them. For this show, however, there were two strikingly different dynamics at play on-stage, plus my own inherent weirdness, and everything came together in a big ol’ musical lovefest.
Myla Smith has more than made a name for herself in Memphis and beyond, but she’s taken a hiatus from the touring grind since the birth of her son 16 months ago, so in that way, this show was as much a stand-out in her calendar as it was in mine. On the other end of the spectrum, Haley Grant and Kaylee Jasperson, who make up The Harmaleighs, have been on a seemingly non-stop trek to support their previous album and promote their newest, which they only paused touring for a week to record. Their Folk All Y’all debut wasn’t even their first show of the day.
I always feed my people, but every artist is different as far as when they want to eat – some graze before the show, some wait until after, some take their dinner to-go. But on this night, all three artists sat down together to eat and talk before playing, and a feeling of community was already in place before the first guest arrived. (The mini-bar in the green room may have helped, too.)
I think it’s fair to say that more of the local audience was familiar with Myla’s work, but The Harmaleighs kicked off the show with the first single from their new release, Hiraeth, and the room was instantly transfixed. This was the first time we’d had two acts that weren’t actually touring together, so I’d been a little unsure of how the vibe would work, but as soon as Haley referred to Myla as “a beautiful gem,” I knew it was all going to be just fine. Armed with electric guitar and bass, The Harmaleighs crafted a set highlighting their indie-fuzz-folk sound, wry lyricism, and gorgeous harmonies, all delivered with their road-refined rapport.
After a break, Myla took the floor and, whether she meant to or not, made it clear that this pause in her musical process is definitely temporary. The natural ease and deep connection of her performance are the hallmarks of a true artist, and while it may not be her primary focus as she’s keeping a small human alive, it is an undeniable part of who she is. Which is lucky for us, because the world needs more Myla. Her compassion and wit and capacity for a no-nonsense Southern takedown (even of herself) shape her songs. When they take flight with her honey-soaked voice, they don’t just make you feel good – they make you feel right.
From 11-year-old superfans to retired folks taking a shot at something new, the audience was treated to a semi-chronological tour of Myla’s discography, with the longest visit around her 2013 release, Hiding Places. The night felt like an opportunity for her to flip through old photo albums and point out her favorites, although there was no sign of dust on anything she chose. As the evening came to a close, it felt like the ending of a movie or book that you’re not quite ready to let go of, but feel lucky to have found in the first place.
Booking this concert didn’t follow my usual pattern. I’d sought out a show with Myla because I knew Memphis missed her, but the addition of The Harmaleighs was an unexpected but serendipitous development. Although I imagined the combination would work well, I had no idea what a perfect pairing they’d make and the collective joy they’d bring to our guests. I hope they all enjoyed their time with us as well, because no matter how many shows they play, they’ll always be part of the Folk All Y’all family.
If you attended (or performed at!) this or any Folk All Y’all show, please tell us about it in the Guest Book.