by Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots Producer
I think it’s fair to say that in general you can’t understand the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly until you’ve been to Monteagle. So arriving on Friday afternoon was a revelation. The woodsy grounds were deep green after a rainstorm. The homes were classic American dwellings that would have suited Mark Twain ever so nicely. And then the venue – the Assembly Hall – turned out to be one of the more dramatic and eye-popping spaces I’ve ever seen.
It was like a giant instrument, with tightly joined wood on floor, walls and gently arched ceiling. I told somebody it was “tongue-in-groovy” and I’ll stand by that. It was also beautiful and resonant, and when the music started, the place glowed with sound and warmth. Huge sliding shutters along both walls were open to the night breezes. Fireflies danced in the misty evening outside. If you were to combine the Ryman Auditorium, the Carter Fold and glamping, you’d get this place.
And the music was sublime – a master class in tone. Ashleigh Caudill’s banjo and crystalline voice chimed together in a solo set. I heard many poetic lines like “melodies dance from branch to branch” in “A Dream” and her balance between old Appalachia and hip New Nashville was just perfect. I can’t wait to hear her again. Then, as if the evening wasn’t woody enough, we enjoyed a set from Woody Pines, troubadour extraordinaire. He offered classics like his take on “Satisfied” and original songs that reflect his well-traveled eyes and ears.
Truly mystical and magical was the duo called The Tattletale Saints. Cy Winstanley’s Telecaster paired perfectly with Vanessa McGowan’s acoustic bass, and their voices locked together every bit as gracefully. They touched many moods in six songs, and the frequent comparisons one reads of Cy’s vocal and song shaping talents to Paul Simon became readily apparent. This is sophisticated and timeless stuff. We already knew about the wonderfulness of Ben Sollee. His cello and his pal Jordan Ellis’s percussion gave us our final and perhaps most air-shaking woody tones of the night. Whether it was a beautifully dissonant harmonic idea on the instrument or a polyrhythmic groove or a spiritual nuance in one of his many fine songs, the set elevated an already charged night. Jim Lauderdale led the musicians in a show closing jam of “Working On A Building.” It was strictly metaphorical in this case. We found our building and we wouldn’t change a thing.