T for Texas, T for Tennessee
The New York Times once wrote that Nashville was like Austin’s cousin had it been raised by a stricter father. It’s a sentiment I regularly revisited as I traversed Music City last weekend.
I was there to celebrate my brother’s graduation. A lot of downtime goes into weekends like that; a lot of driving to restaurants, sitting on front porches, and looking for good places to grab a beer. When that wasn’t happening, I’d walk into my brother’s bedroom while he was packing up his stuff and yank his keys off the desk – tell him I was going for a drive to see what was happening around town.
Austin and Nashville share a striking number of similarities – that giant Baptist Healing Trust building watching over Charlotte Street not being one of them. Houses look identical. The same could be said for the streets, which come tree-lined and densely packed.
Drive around the 12South neighborhood and you’ll think you’re in Hyde Park. Cruise across the river into East Nashville and you’ll see a lot of our east side: artsy modern homes next to dilapidated houses; taco spots built into concrete fixture holes in the wall; jean jackets, jean shorts. And the same general sentiment concerning nightlife.
I first heard about Nashville’s Natural Child in 2011, when the then-threepiece rock troupe teamed up with ATX’s Strange Boys for a 7-inch single courtesy of Scion – the car. The former’s contribution, “The Jungle,” shook from the same lazy porch swing that Strange Boy Ryan Sambol had ridden on 2010 effort Be Brave.
Natural Child came into my life again this South by Southwest during a Birdcloud set at Gypsy Lounge on the festival’s first night. I was standing with a colleague admiring the Nashville duo’s fuck-it-all string shimmy when Natural Child singer Seth Murray came up behind us to tell us they were friends.
“Pretty wild girls,” he said. “We’ll be back around town with them in May.”
Tuesday’s four-band bill at Red 7 marked the culmination of that reunion. Slated behind Lubbock highwaymen Rattlesnake Milk and local howlers the Bad Lovers, the two Nashville bands brought what felt like a hometown crowd to the Seventh Street venue. Roughly 200 Austin night-owls showed up, many staying until the final curtain call.
They cheered, they danced, they sang along to songs. You don’t usually see that scene on a Tuesday night, especially from a couple of Nashville acts who probably couldn’t rob enough piggy banks to put up for a tour bus. Or even a glass of warm tequila.
Birdcloud mandolinist Mackenzie Green received her wish quite quickly when her request for “some shots puhleaaase” returned three fold with a tequila and two whiskeys. The dyad remains simple but inherently likable – like a more charming Those Darlins with trashier mouths. Together with guitarist Jasmin Kaset, the two sing about snail trails and genital rashes.
“I want to sleep with both those girls,” that same colleague confided to me side-stage just a few seconds before the girls broke into the sprightly “Warshin My Big Ol Pussy.” Who could blame him?
Newly minted as a fivepiece after the March addition of a keyboard player and pedal steel guitarist, Natural Child closed out with an hour-long set that sided closer to Texas honky-tonk than Tennessee commercial country – more distant from the rough-around-the-edges rock & roll pervading last year’s Hard In Heaven than ever.
“They’re called the Natural Child Family Band now,” Dumb guitarist Corey Baum told me at the bar. “Everything’s different.”
Then the band broke into Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” the old ode Willie Nelson brought to Texas in 1984. Baum split towards the front of the stage, one fist raised proudly in the air.
I stayed in the back and watched Murray riff Chuck Berry styles on “B$G P$MP$N.” Nobody was heading towards the exits, not even after Natural Child up and left the stage.
Austin’s earned a reputation of late as a city that expects its encores whether the crowd deems the band inspiring enough to clap about or not, but this round proved different. Chants of “one more song” bounced off Red 7’s concrete walls before Natural Child returned for two more. The first song resonated on these streets more than the next: Doug Sahm’s “(Is Anybody Goin’ to) San Antone.”
It was perfect – spot on – and at just the right time in the evening/morning (1:30am). Natural Child had delivered to its horde of believers in Austin. Two proud music cities never seemed so close.