by David Klein
If Night 1 featured Yep Roc’s biggest names, and Night 2 emphasized the label’s power-pop predilections, Night 3 was all about roots: Triangle-area roots and roots music in general. As such, it featured the showcase’s folksiest between-song patter (discounting Robyn Hitchcock’s trademark parallel-universe digressions on Night 1, which comprise their own own category).
Early on, Jim White introduced “If Jesus Drove a Motorhome,” about being stuck behind Jesus in a traffic jam, with a laconic but brilliantly observed yarn about life in his heavily Pentecostal homeland, Pensacola, Fla. His rendition of “My Brother’s Keeper,” the tale of an old friend who became a shut-in, was a poignant standout of this stalwart player’s set.
The rest of the evening was punctuated by words spoken in earnest tribute to the label and the sharing of telling details. After opening with a stirring take on the title track of her latest, Traveling Alone, Tift Merritt told the tale of the battered looking acoustic guitar she played (it was a gift from Chris Stamey, the Zelig figure of Yep Roc Records, who attended all three shows but did not perform).
John Wesley Harding extrapolated on the Minus 5’s impromptu backstage discussion that led to the choice of the band’s covering Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues,” along with recounting the elusive lyric that they consulted Google to resolve (the line was, oddly enough, “I’ve got the Revolution Blues”). That cover, it should be said, provided the evening’s most incendiary single performance. Young wrote the song about Charles Manson, and Scott McCaughey delivered the lyrics—like the strangely ominous vision of “ten million dune buggies comin’ down the mountains”—with passion and precision. And this is no easy song to sing: Yo La Tengo opened with it last month at Hopscotch, and I was struck by the bright new galaxy to which The Minus 5 took it.
After the good-times rock of The Minus 5, the country-and-western tone of the evening returned with an impressive set by Chatham County Line, who were joined for one song by the headliner, John Doe, who was clearly having the time of his life. As someone who was pretty unfamiliar with CCL, I was completely taken by their spine-tinglingly gorgeous harmonies, which called to mind the Everly Brothers, and the palpable spirit of togetherness their presence imparts. They returned to provide backing for Tift Merritt, with whom they have much shared history. That sense continued when she was joined by John Howie Jr., an event that was greeted with rapture by knowing audience members.
Somewhere around midnight, a dapper John Doe, looking every bit the distinguished country gentleman, came on to perform a solo acoustic set. I must confess that I only caught the first part of his set. (It’s the playoffs, and I’m from New York, OK?) However, area music aficionado Jonathan Lee provided me with the essential details of the rest of the show: Doe went electric with help from the Sadies, along with Merritt, who joined him for a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Stop the World and Let Me Off.” The Sadies’ closing set featured Scott McCaughey and included a cover of Love’s “A House is Not a Motel” (a request by label co-founder Glenn Dicker).
As the set built to a final cover of Spinal Tap’s timeless “Gimme Some Money,” Dicker was right up front and rocking out, just like any other extreme fan who was reluctant for the evening to end. Seems apt for a label that makes no bones about being, first and foremost, fans.