“Honey, where did your heart first break?
They tell me that’ll take you to the same mistakes
Over, and over once more
To get your attention
If your pride don’t drive you right out of town
And you don’t wanna keep your head down
Well I guess you better stand up straight
And set your intention
You came to me, sweet honey
Someone who cares
I was putting on airs”

Erin Rae, “Putting On Airs”

One of the most terrifying and delightful things about running this series is that I truly have no idea what’s going to happen on any given night. One lure of live music is that each moment, no matter how well rehearsed, is at the mercy of the universe, and we’re all just sitting together waiting to see how it shakes out. And we dare to hope, just a little, for magic.

So when things go a little big sideways – like, say, the show presenter has a family emergency at curtain and makes the room wait half an hour to get going – it can feel like the vibe might get lost. But then you bring in the professionals.

We don’t often have two different artists in an evening, because I never book opening acts. If someone is making the effort to travel to Memphis, I don’t want them to have to split the pot. But when we have the good luck to have a preassembled tour come through, it’s always a pleasure to hear the folks our selected artists have thrown their lot in with.

I knew we were in for a real damn show with The Kernal and I was 100% correct. “Shit-kicking cerebral” might not be an Americana Music Awards category, but if it were, The Kernal would sweep. The set was like watching a Tom Robbins novel come to life.

When Erin Rae took the stage, she began by playing completely solo. It was a stark contrast from The Kernal’s romp, but the room was just as drawn in. It’s hard to describe anything without drawing comparisons to known entities, which is why writers often struggle to accurately convey Erin’s sound. (Here, watch me do it, too.) Her Jackson, Tennessee lilt and literary focus on small town life might lead some to assume she’s classically country, but there’s a fiercely independent streak in her voice that defies easy labels.

She brought the band out and moved through a collection of tracks from her breakout 2018 album, Putting On Airs. The record’s lush depth came through beautifully live, but with the added dimension of Erin’s performance.

Our audience is always respectful and attentive, but there’s a particular hush that falls when an artist just locks in. Erin’s gentle manner comes across as soothing, but once you’re drawn in, the sharpness of her writing puts in its sweet hooks.

There is an honesty in Erin Rae’s songs that goes deeper than truth. She can capture the emotional weight or unforeseen consequence or nearly forgotten detail of an experience that never happened but feels torn from a page of your own diary. And when she does choose to share a piece of her own story, she holds it up to the light like a flawed but precious jewel.

This night, like every other show, was an experiment in unpredictability, but we left with something certain: a new connection with these astounding artists and an even greater belief in the magic of the unknowable.

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