It seems like a good time to be reflecting on reasons for gratitude, and I have plenty. I’ve got a job that gives me a chance to talk to and write about creative people and keeps me continually discovering music and arts of all sorts. And I’m so thankful we have a community with such a thriving cultural scene that seems to keep getting better.
If you are a country music fan living in the La Crosse area, you have a lot to be thankful for right about now. Our new music festival, Country Boom, looks like it’s going to get off to a great start. Tickets could go on sale as early as next week, though there’s no word yet on headliners.
I can’t remember a month that looks like December in terms of the wealth of country music acts to be seen, and it starts off with a bang on Dec. 1 with the return of Josh Thompson to the Cavalier Theater.
Thompson is a Wisconsin native (he’s from Cedarburg) who has made a big name for himself in Nashville both as a songwriter and performer, with rootsy outlaw-ish country hits like “Way Out Here,” “Won’t Be Lonely Long,” “Blame It on Waylon” and “Cold Beer with Your Name on It.” He has the distinction of being the only musical act to completely sell out the Cavalier Theater on the first day tickets were on sale.
That was three years ago, and things have cooled off a little for Thompson, so there are still some tickets to be had — but not that many, so don’t be surprised if they’ve sold out by the time this Friday night show rolls around. He’s got two local supporting bands that will be fun to see ripping it up on the Cavalier stage: the venerable El Caminos (offering “Waylon to Van Halen”) and the Burnin’ Whiskey Band.
On Dec. 14, The Brickhouse is bringing in another popular country band, Parmalee, featuring the Thomas brothers, lead singer Matt and drummer Scott. This band had great success in 2013 with its first album on Stoney Creek Records, “Feels Like Carolina,” with hits including “Carolina,” “Close Your Eyes” and “Already Callin’ You Mine.” The band released the follow-up to that album in July, “27861,” which is the ZIP code for — no, not Nashville — Parmele, N.C., the band’s hometown.
Parmalee has a slick, harmony-rich, pop country sound with a rock edge, with songs that don’t pummel you with the typical beery bromides, and The Brickhouse will be a great place to see the band. Nashville up-and-comer Kasey Tyndall also is on the bill, along with our own Jake Beyer, singer for the Burnin’ Whiskey Band.
Craig Campbell, who has country top 40 hits to his credit including “Keep Them Kisses Comin’,” “Family Man,” “Fish” and “Outskirts of Heaven,” is coming Dec. 16 to Features Sports Bar and Grill in West Salem, which recently hosted a show by the fantastic Love and Theft. He’s doing an acoustic set at Features, with a local duo — Bjorn Berg and Steve Lowe from Blue Collar 40 — opening the show.
Who’s on Third, which recently hosted a fun set from singer/songwriter Jessica Rose, is bringing in another country crooner, Heidi Raye, who will be in town on Dec. 4. Raye has been writing songs in Nashville since she pointed her Honda Civic south and east from her home in Dawson Creek, British Columbia (that’s in Canada) back in 2010. She has written more than 200 songs since then, most recently on behalf of Harlan Howard Records.
This summer she released an EP, with the recording overseen by Grammy-winning producer Chuck Ainlay, who has produced albums with Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits (voting for the band every day to make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) as well as David Nail, Miranda Lambert, Jewel and the Pistol Annies as well as doing engineering and mixing for a who’s who of Nashville music icons, from George Jones to Taylor Swift.
Ainlay signed up to produce Raye after seeing her perform at — where else? — Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Café, and getting a chance to see her in the cozy confines of Who’s on Third should be a treat. It’s a Monday night, but she starts her hour-long set at 7 p.m., early enough even for old coots like me.
On Dec. 7 at Jake’s Northwoods in Sparta, you can get to see three ace country songwriters, with our own Pat Watters joining Nashville recording artists Rick Monroe (“This Side of You,” “Great Minds Drink Alike”) and Brecken Miles, a Wisconsin native whose hits include “I’m Good with That” and “Sandbar.” The night promises great music, and it’s for a great cause, too, with proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Of all the music going on in December, I personally am most thankful for the Hayes Carll show, coming up Dec. 16 at the Cavalier Theater. For me, he belongs in the company of the great Texas troubadours like Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Guy Clark and Bruce and Charlie Robison. Carll and Todd Snider both infuse a lot of their work with sarcastic humor, which I love.
Carll picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song in 2016 for his “Chances Are,” which was recorded by Lee Ann Womack, and he kind of ran away with the hardware at the 2017 Austin Music Awards, getting honors for musician of the year, songwriter of the year, best song, best male vocals, best folk performer and best album art.
He’s had a ton of other well-earned accolades over the years, too many to list them all here. I will note that his 2011 album, “KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories,” was listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 50 country albums every rock fan should own, and one of the songs from that album, “Another Like You,” was honored as American Songwriter’s Song of the Year.
One more thing for which I’m thankful: The music shared with us all by Mel Tillis, Della Reese, David Cassidy and Malcolm Young, all of whom died in the past week. Young’s passing was especially tough as he was relatively young at 64, and I’m not sure he was given proper widespread appreciation in his lifetime for his role in the music of AC/DC.
On stage, Malcolm hung back, playing rhythm guitar while his younger brother, Angus, hammed it up as one of rock’s most flamboyant lead guitarists. But Malcolm was the genius behind the songs and the riffs, the heart of one of rock’s most successful bands.
At 5-foot-3, Malcolm was wee like me, but he’s one of the giants I always looked up to when it comes to guitar heroes.
Rock on …