John Hiatt recently noted the changes to the Nashville he moved to 50 years ago, noting that he hasn’t been downtown much over the last 10 to 15 years.
“I didn’t realize you could get here on the hot tub bus,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd during his performance at the Ryman Auditorium with the Jerry Douglas Band to promote their new record, “Leftover Feelings.”
The Ryman Auditorium — the “Mother Church of Country Music” — has become an oasis in the heart of a rapidly changing Nashville. Amid the gentrification and the bro-co scene that has turned the Broadway area into a southern Times Square, you can still close the doors, sit on the hard wood pews, and immerse yourself in the music of some of our country’s greatest performers.
And that’s what happened on this first day of October, with Douglas and his crack four-piece band opening and then playing in support of Hiatt’s 19-song career spanning set. The dobro master, who has appeared on more than 1,600 albums and is perhaps best known for his work with Alison Krauss and Union Station, was as well received as Hiatt. Personal favorite: A cover of “Hey Joe,” which Douglas described as a song written by “the best bluegrass songwriter and guitar player I know” — Jimi Hendrix.
Hiatt opened with a new song, “I’m Gonna Get It for You,” then quickly moved into a Leftover Feelings standout — “Long Black Electric Cadillac.”
Following a sweet “Perfectly Good Guitar,” Hiatt brought irony into his set for a second time, proclaiming “This one’s for Chuck,” as he broke into “Slow Turning.” The song namechecks Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died earlier this year. The irony: Hiatt’s no-frills stage did not include a drummer.
After a tender “Crossing Muddy Waters,” the title cut from the first album Hiatt recorded without a drummer, he quickly moved into “All the Lilacs in Ohio.” Douglas drew strong applause for his dobro solo on the cut, the only song Hiatt re-recorded for “Leftover Feelings.” (Apparently Hiatt was not satisfied with the version of “Lilacs” that appeared on his 2001 album, “The Tiki Bar is Open.”)
Two cuts from the new album, recorded in Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B, followed with a sweet “The Music is Hot” and the plaintive “I’m in Asheville,” which includes a reference to “leftover feelings.” On the latter, Douglas moved to the resonator guitar for the first time, a highlight of the evening, and stayed with it during “Your Dad Did,” another personal favorite. (As a parent who had three kids in a single calendar year, I will always identify with Hiatt’s on-point lines: “But all hands fold/as the two-year-old says grace/She says help the starving children to get well/But let my brother’s hamster burn in hell.”)
“Your Dad Did” served as the midpoint of the show and, as good as things were up to then, that’s when the show took off. The audience clapped along during the Hiatt-Douglas duet of “Lift Every Stone,” a gospel-like tune that felt just right in the Mother Church. Douglas’ solo on “Feels Like Rain” made you wonder why these two greats had not performed together until now.
Earlier in the show, Hiatt noted that he didn’t know Douglas well when their managers recommended during the pandemic that they make an album together. As it turns out, the two only live a mile from each other, which made recording easy despite the protocols seemingly ignored by everyone outside the Ryman.
Hiatt, who was seemingly hoarse as the show started, saved his voice for the final third of the show. With his daughter, Georgia Rae, in the audience, he told the story of dealing with her infant colic during the “Leftover Feelings” standout “Little Goodnight,” before moving onto the well-received set of late 1980s songs that have become a staple of every Hiatt show.
Three of the songs — “Thing Called Love,” “Memphis in the Meantime,” and encore opener “Have a Little Faith” (performed solo by Hiatt on acoustic guitar — are from 1987’s “Bring the Family.” That was the album, shoved into my hand by a critic at the Houston Chronicle, that made me a Hiatt believer.
Almost 35 years later, I remain one of the converted. John Hiatt’s songs have carried me through two marriages, four children, and the ups and downs one faces in a constantly challenging adulthood. Seeing and photographing him perform in the Mother Church is a night I will never forget.
Find John Hiatt music and tour dates and the album here: https://www.johnhiatt.com/john-hiatt-with-the-jerry-douglas-band-leftover-feelings
Find Jerry Douglas info here: https://jerrydouglas.com