Nashville has a tenuous relationship with free shows and outdoor concert series, especially when the two are combined. Live on the Green is only the latest in a series of events dating back years which has included the good (Uptown Mix), the decent (Dancin in the District) and the ugly (the incredibly weak Downtown River Jam). The concept is the same as the rest—every week, locals gather downtown to check out some free tunes and a healthy dose of corporate sponsorship, happily forking over hard-earned cash for beers that would cost half in any other situation. Or at least that’s the theory.
In Nashville, we’re saturated with live music, so it takes more than just the novelty of a free show to get us out of our houses and down to downtown, where attempts at parking in a lot that won’t dock you $10 have sent grown men to tears. You need to have a great artist to bring them out, and Live on the Green hasn’t exactly succeeded with most of their shows. Unless you’re fueled by nostalgia, The Toadies isn’t exactly must-see headliner material. Not to mention the rain that plagued two weeks of Live on the Green performances.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings defied the mediocrity of the festival and was everything that a free show in Nashville needs to be.
If you’re not familiar with Miss Jones, you certainly know her band if not by name. The Dap-Kings are the house band of Daptone and the backing band for Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album. They’re a throwback to soul’s height and are responsible for how well executed Winehouse’s sound was. Whether she admits it or not, thought, Winehouse owes a serious debt to Sharon Jones.
Jones, by all accounts, ignited the soul revival movement in the mid-nineties and made way for a score of mostly British, mostly forgettable knock-offs like Winehouse, Duffy and Adele. Her voice pays tribute to James Brown, Tina Turner and the godfathers/godmothers of funk and soul before her, but with enough personality infused to keep it from sounding like a tribute band.
If there’s one thing about a Sharon Jones show that sets it apart from others, it’s her ability to make everyone in the crowd feel like she’s singing right to them. Her cult of personality is so incredible that she sweeps you into the moment and never lets go, sometimes literally.
Three songs into the Dap-Kings’ set, Jones pulled Belmont student Stephen Stallings out of the crowd and sang to him like we all want to be sung to, whether we’re willing to admit it or not. There’s something to be said for the passion and energy Jones and the Dap-Kings put into their performances. You can tell that even though they may be performing the same set they did the night before, they aren’t going through the motions. Every performance feels like they’re doing it for the first time.
Much of her set consisted of new songs, off an album that will be released sometime in the near future. Based off her live performance, title of godmother of soul is still unquestionably hers and her next record will be as good as, if not better than, 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights.