Evenings like Monday night are why you move to Nashville. Or at least scrape together the funds to visit. It’s because of guys like Charlie Worsham, who threw an all-Lynyrd Skynyrd party as the latest installment of his Every Damn Monday residency at the Basement East and proved why Nashville is the most vibrant music hub in the U.S. right now.
On a single stage, you had a diverse group of musicians united by the common denominator of Skynyrd. The songs of the Southern-rock titans bonded the musicians as kids, whether they heard it in rural Mississippi, like Worsham and Randy Houser, or on the coast of Maryland, like Brothers Osborne. That country duo’s guitarist John Osborne was one-third of the house band’s three-guitar attack, joining Worsham (his old mate in the band KingBilly) and Sadler Vaden, the Americana guitar hero of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, in re-creating the magic of Gary Rossington, Allen Collins and Ed King – and, later, Steve Gaines.
Over 80 or so minutes, the guitar men and the rhythm section of drummer Tucker Wilson, bassist Matt Utterback, and keyboardist Billy Justineau welcomed an array of guest singers to interpret some of Skynyrd’s most requested gems. Will Hoge roared against the Record Man in “Workin’ for MCA,” honky-tonker Kendell Marvell drawled out “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” and A Thousand Horses’ Michael Hobby gritted his teeth through a fierce “Saturday Night Special.” The beauty of the lineup lay in its equity: each artist, whether a known country-radio hitmaker like Houser, whose “Simple Man” was enormous in the intimate club, or the journeyman Chris Hennessee, who deftly handled “I Ain’t the One,” was afforded a chance to own their moment, backed by a ridiculously tight band that would give the current touring lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd a run for their moolah.
Some of those Skynyrd Today members even popped up, including backup vocalist Carol Chase and piano man Peter Keys, who all but stole the show with his showboating, quick-fingered playing on Ward Davis’ freewheeling “Call Me the Breeze.” TJ Osborne also captivated, commanding the sold-out room with a version of “Tuesday’s Gone” that made for another “Only in Nashville” moment – where the reigning CMA/ACM Duo of the Year pop up at the club down the street to play songs that, as his brother John said, made him feel “13 all over again.”
Of course, there can be no Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute without “Free Bird,” the fully expected but no less satisfying encore. As the cast returned onstage to lead a crowd sing-along, Worsham, Osborne and Vaden sharpened their knives, anticipating the climactic solo duel that was to come. And then it was on, with Worsham channeling Allen Collins (and later Ricky Medlocke) on his Gibson Explorer and Vaden working his way around the fretboard, before Osborne wrapped it all up with a rhythmic breakdown.
Sweaty and spent, Worsham – who, if he were a lesser man, could be bitter by the way his A-plus album Beginning of Things has been ignored by the industry – was beaming, organizing a grateful group bow from his core players that reminded us all why we find the drive to leave the house on a Monday night. To witness something spectacular.
“I Know a Little” – Sadler Vaden
“You Got That Right” – Charlie Worsham & Sadler Vaden
“Workin’ for MCA” – Will Hoge
“The Ballad of Curtis Loew” – Kendell Marvel
“Saturday Night Special” – Michael Hobby
“I Ain’t the One” – Chris Hennessee
“Simple Man” – Randy Houser
“Call Me the Breeze” – Ward Davis
“Tuesday’s Gone” – TJ Osborne
“Sweet Home Alabama” – Ashley Ray & Honkettes
“Free Bird” – All