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An East Nashville Christmas

By Gary Wien

originally published: 11/21/2014
On December 10, four critically-acclaimed songwriters from Nashville will bring a little East Nashville Holiday spirit to The Strand in Lakewood. Amy Speace, Rod Picott and Doug & Telisha Williams (of Wild Ponies) will transform The Strand into The Bluebird Cafe. Rod Picott gives us the scoop on the show.

How did Decembersongs come about?
It was actually Amy Speace's idea. She did the tour a couple years running with Dan Navarro, Sally Barris and John Vezner. Incredibly talented people all of them. Last year, I think one of them couldn't do the tour so Amy decided to shake it up and bring a grittier version of the show. It might have been grittier than she expected asking me along but Amy is always game so I got the invite again this year as did Doug and Telisha Williams. It's a really great mix of talents. I do what I do, very narrative sort of stuff, Amy is an incredible singer and brings that elegant sense of musicality and Doug and Telisha are very fun with electric guitar and upright bass. Telisha has a beautiful authentic country voice. They have a nice energy to balance the coal in the stocking I bring.

How does the show work?
We each play a couple of our own songs accompanied by the others in the first set then we play the holiday set which consists of some of the prettier classics plus an original holiday song each of us wrote. It's a very fun show. It moves quickly and everyone onstage has a quick wit so it's pretty freewheeling and funny. The first set is our own songs, Then we Christmas the hell out of it!

What's East Nashville like?
East Nashville is the gathering spot for the bohemian types in Nashville including a lot of folks in the Americana scene. It's growing too quickly these days so artists are starting to get priced out but it's still quite eclectic and cool. Think Austin east of the highway and you're close to what it's like. Good coffee, art galleries, lots of bars, a few upscale restaurants, a used record store, used guitar store, an old fashioned hardware store where they still do window screens-it's that part of town. There are a lot of young people moving to East Nashville now. It's hip. It was rough back when I moved to town. People were incredulous, "You live across the river?!"

So, what's an East Nashville Christmas like?
It's a mix of old south, as Nashville still is in some ways, and funky sort of hipness. There are loads of musicians and artists in East Nashville so it's quite eclectic, funky and progressive. All good things except that a cup of coffee has gotten very expensive...though it's way better than it was 20 years ago when I moved to town.

Why do you think Christmas and holiday music is so universal?
Part of it is simple. It's a marker. It rolls around at the end of every year and no matter your religion or sense of spirituality I think it marks where you are in your life. Your sense of family, the people who are important to you, what has transpired over the year. Your losses are a deeper blue, your love has a deeper warmth. We all get a sense of our common humanity for a few moments. Hope lingers in the air. We see the possibilities of kindness and love and how the world could be if we were driven by the best parts of ourselves.

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There is no denying the melodies of those beautiful classics. They were written by masters in a time when musicality was prized and more sophisticated than it is generally now. The catalog of holiday songs is a world that's fun to explore for a few weeks then let go of and return to. Of course my own offering is titled, "Dad's Drunk Again on Christmas" so it's also a place to have fun with your own memories and stories.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

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