Grammy Award winner Rodney Crowell will headline the eighth annual Gathering in the Gap Musical Festival, to be held May 17 at the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap.
The festival, which celebrates the rich tradition of old-time, Americana and bluegrass music in Southwest Virginia, will also feature performances by The Black Lillies and Dave Eggar & Deoro.
Crowell has played the part of the wiry guitarist in Emmylou Harris' first Hot Band, the young protg of Guy Clark and Mickey Newbury, the icy cool country star and Grammy winner of the 1980s, the longtime professional partner and husband of Rosanne Cash, the Cherry Bombs bandmate of Vince Gill and Tony Brown, and the comeback kid of the 2000s, whose incisive, quasi-autobiographical album cycle secured him a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association.
In 2010, Crowell took a notion. He called up most of the band that had played with him on his 1988 commercial breakthrough album "Diamonds & Dirt" and got them together in a recording studio. Bass player Michael Rhodes, drummer Eddie Bayers and guitarist Steuart Smith had become Nashville session royalty. Crowell had become one of the most admired songwriter/artists in America. But even they didn't often take the opportunity to record like they did then — in a circle, facing one another and truly hearing each other, with no headphones or glass walls to separate them, cutting live as a band, with the honesty and no-fixes spontaneity of the records that first inspired all of them as teenagers.
Crowell and his old friends laid down a lot of great music in a timeless rocking country vein, but before a full album's worth of material was finished, other projects intervened. Crowell made the album "Kin" with his literary confidant, author Mary Karr, and a host of top roots and pop vocalists. Then came "Old Yellow Moon" with lifelong friend Emmylou Harris, which led to a triumphant tour and a Grammy win for Best Americana Album. But eventually, that unfinished project beckoned, and after the band regrouped and it was all pulled together, Crowell realized he had something special.
He called it "Tarpaper Sky," an allusion to the rickety house with a bad roof in which he spent much of his Houston childhood.
Helmed by the production team of Justin Niebank, Steuart Smith and Dan Knobler, the album is a rich sonic experience, with guest vocals from Vince Gill, John Cowan, Ronnie McCoury and Shannon McNally, plus instrumental contributions by Nashville's finest, including Jerry Douglas, Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin and Steve Fishell. The continuity comes from that core of musicians and old friends with whom Crowell made some of his career-defining music.
Crowell's remarkable story wasn't unknown during the years he achieved fame as a country music radio star, but it took on a vivid, cinematic quality with the publication of his 2011 memoir "Chinaberry Sidewalks," which lays bare the details of his Houston childhood, marked by poverty and tumult. His father, volatile though he was, pulled Crowell into country music, taking him to seminal shows and recruiting him to his hillbilly band.
Crowell began to write songs in college and in 1972, moved to Nashville, where he was drawn to a bohemian community of future legends that included Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
Crowell's suspicion that he was born to be a songwriter bore fruit in that fertile ground. Some of his greatest and most beloved songs came early in his Nashville career, including "Til I Gain Control Again," "I Ain't Livin' Long Like This," "Song For The Life" and "Ashes By Now." So his reputation as a songwriter grew substantially, even if his own recording career required patience.
He released four albums before "Diamonds & Dirt" fulfilled the commercial promise that so many had seen in him, producing an astonishing five number one singles in succession.
Crowell has conceded he didn't accept or handle well the fame that came with that radio success. But if his prickly and independent spirit alienated him from some parts of the radio industry, it led him back to the artist's path. And while some wondered for a time in the late 1990s if Crowell's best work was behind him, a little down time gave way to a trio of semi-autobiographical albums in the 2000s that redefined his legacy. "The Houston Kid," "Fate's Right Hand" and "The Outsider" were uniformly praised as his most revealing and musically complete albums. Crowell believes with these projects he finally hit his stride as a singer and performer.
Recent years have seen Crowell pursuing the directions he felt he needed to go, from spontaneous recording sessions with old friends to collaborations with admired colleagues.
In addition to the featured Main Stage performances, Gathering in the Gap will include an annual songwriting competition, workshops, musical competitions, jams, a children's area, and the "Stitch in Time" Quilt Show. Antique, food, and craft vendors will also be on hand.
Tickets for the festival and its workshops are available through the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park. Festival admission for adults is $15 in advance and $20 the day of the event; children 12 and younger are admitted free with paid adult admission.comments powered by Disqus