Sitting in the lobby waiting for the doors to open at the Charlie Haden concert, I heard one older Québécois man bemoan the lack of real jazz at the Jazz Festival. Part of me wondered whether he even bothered to look at this year's program; another part of me wondered whether he knew what ticket he had just purchased. Judging by the steady stream of people leaving throughout the show, many concertgoers bought a ticket based on Charlie Haden's name, and not the content of his last record, Ramblin' Boy.
It's a pity, because the concert was a solid set of great music, played by some phenomenal musicians. The band was staffed by the best in Nashville's bluegrass and newgrass - Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Rob Ickes on dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Dan Tyminski on banjo, and Mark Fain trading off with Haden on bass - and the Haden offspring have uniformly moving voices. The triplet daughters in particular - Tanya, Petra, and Rachel - have a reedy blend that hearkens back to the family bands that populated the Midwest and South in the early 20th century, where Charlie's roots are.
The repertoire ranged from chugging bluegrass of opener "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" and "Old Joe Clark" (which Haden admitted to quoting in his bass solo on "Ramblin'"), the loping melancholy 3/4 of so many Anglo-American folk tunes and early country classics, and tunes dear to Haden's heart. There was a story behind many of the tunes: "Ramblin' Boy" was taught to him in his childhood home by Mother Maybelle Carter herself.
Son Josh Haden came out and sang his original "Spiritual," a plea to Jesus to not die alone that was immensely passionate. Charlie even sang backup in a thin, raspy baritone on Roy Acuff's "Precious Jewel." Tyminski did most of the male lead vocal work, with his traditional twang. The rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow" was true to his O Brother Where Art Thou? recording, with the other musicians chiming in on the responses.
Charlie reiterated the notion that good music is good music regardless of genre - a lesson lost on the exodus of purists.