After Margo Price sold out The Southern Café and Music Hall, her show was moved to The Jefferson, where she performed on Saturday, February 25, along with Jonny Fritz.
Fritz, originally from Esmont Virginia, took the stage in a bright orange suit and gold-sequined shoes, accompanied by fiddle-player Joshua Hedley. He started his set with “Happy in Hindsight,” a melancholy reflection on art and anxiety from his most recent album, “Sweet Creep.”
“I’m only ever happy in hindsight / I only want what’s not in store / I wanted one like the one he had / but the lady said they don’t make ‘em anymore,” he sings, as he strums an acoustic guitar.
Musically, the songs are simple in their live arrangements; Fritz strums the same few chords in eighth notes as Hedley provides some skillful solos. In Fritz’ own words, it’s “the same song 15 times […] but the words are different and the titles are different.”
Throughout the show, Fritz shows himself to be a uniquely quirky lyricist. Many songs are irreverent embellishments of true events, as in “Stadium Inn,” based on a real one-star Nashville hotel, with all the raunch and voyeurism that entails.
Fritz’ music has soul, but also a sense of humor, as in “Dog on a Chain,” a playful spin on a country-blues cliché, which he originally recorded under the name Jonny Corndawg.
“My owner is a man / who works way too hard / but I need attention and exercise,” he sings before the song’s dog-howl chorus. For an extra bit of icing on the cake, Hedley ends the song on a whiny fiddle slide.
On Fritz’ last song “Are You Thirsty,” Price accompanied him on drums, showing her talents as a multi-instrumentalist—though for her own set, she keeps to guitar and tambourine.
Price has been working in Nashville as a songwriter and performer for 13 years, but only broke into the mainstream last year with the release of her first record as a solo artist, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.” The album has received widespread critical acclaim, but Price remains an outsider in the eyes of the country music establishment.
“This Town Gets Around” is an extremely candid look at her difficulties with the industry. “This is a song I wrote about the assholes,” she explains on stage, though of course Nashville has its share of nice people.
“When I first came here the streets were paved with gold / and you can walk that road, I’ve been told / but I won’t put out or be controlled / I don’t write the shit that gets bought or sold,” she sings.
Price came with a full band, featuring Jamie Davis on lead guitar, Kevin Black on bass, Luke Schneider on pedal steel guitar and Dobro, Micah Hulscher on keys, and Dillon Napier on drums.
The influence of classic country on the group is unmistakable. The set is full of honky-tonk piano, pedal steel guitar, and twangy guitar leads. But Price and her band are far from genre purists; after a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Red Bandanna” they play George Harrison’s “Behind that Locked Door.” Throughout the set, the keyboard player switches between organ, Rhodes piano, synthesizer, and accordion.
For all her difficulties in Nashville, Price is committed to sharing the spotlight with other artists on the come-up. In the middle of her set, she brings Hedley back on stage and hands off her guitar to him—as it turns out, he’s also a talented singer.
One of the most striking things about the show is that you can feel it pulling from the fringes of the larger underground country scene. At one point she performs “It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding a Horse,” written by friend Steven Knudson, an unknown Nashville songwriter. Don’t be fooled by the clever title and refrain; they don’t do much to take the edge off a heavy ballad about substance abuse.
As an original songwriter, Price has her own unique voice. A standout example is the combination origin story and mission statement “Hands of Time.”
“I want to buy back the farm / and bring my mama home some wine / and turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time,” she sings, between verses on stages of her life: how her father lost his farm, how she moved to Nashville and worked hard jobs to get by, even how she lost her firstborn child. Her brutal honesty and earnest delivery are powerfully moving.
In her style and song choice, Price aligns herself with the outlaw country movement of the 70s and 80s. She closes the show with a lively cover of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” most famously recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1979. Here Hulscher plays a buzzy bass synth over Napier’s hi-hat rhythms, as Price dances back and forth across the stage.
It’s strange to see the set end, as Price brings the band up for a bow. Her encore feels more like a warmup for the beginning of a 3 hour bar set.
This is the thrilling contradiction of the show. Price’s energy and her band’s would have been much too big for The Southern, and it almost overpowers the Jefferson; it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Price taking on larger venues in the future. And nobody will be able to say she hasn’t earned it.