Beyond Words
(from April 2011 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine)
By Marshall Chapman

Every now and then, something happens in Nashville that could only happen in Nashville. Take what happened last week. I was asked to be the guest host for Music City Roots, the wildly popular radio show that’s broadcast Wednesday evenings live from the Loveless Café Barn. This particular episode was to be a celebration of Jewly Hight’s new book Right by Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs, which profiles eight singer-songwriters. Three of the eight—Mary Gauthier, Elizabeth Cook, and Abigail Washburn—were slated to perform that night, along with emerging artist Bailey Cooke. I was told I would open the show with a song, then banter around with announcer Keith Bilbry and Jewly before leading everyone in a grand finale known as the “Loveless Jam,” which would be a song of my choosing.

Since I had never hosted anything of this magnitude before, I quickly—before I could change my mind—e-mailed the show’s producer. “Count me in!” I said, going on pure instinct. “And we’ll do ‘Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)’ for the closing jam.” I then clicked “send,” thinking, Maahshul! Do you even know the words to “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)”? Girl, what have you gotten yourself into? I vaguely remembered singing “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)” in a lounge in the early ’70s. Or did I? It was so long ago, I wasn’t really sure.

During the intervening weeks, Jewly Hight asked me to interview her about her book. Mary Gauthier sent me the original lyrics to “Stay All Night,” which included a verse I’d never heard: Grab your partner / Pat her on the head / If she don’t like biscuits / Feed her cornbread / Girls around Big Creek/ ’Bout half grown / Jump on a man like a dog on a bone. This whole thing was starting to feel like an Estrogen Romp Fest, which was fine with me. Then I heard the Doobie Brothers had been added to the lineup. The Doobie Brothers?! Okay! Bring on the testosterone! Then I heard Jewly, Abigail, and Elizabeth Cook would be clogging (Yes, clogging! Wearing those shoes with metal taps on the toes and heels!) during the grand finale. I’m thinking, the Doobie Brothers? Three fiddle players who’ve never played together before? Cloggers? And I’m supposed to lead everybody in this? And what about Bailey Cooke and Mary Gauthier? Will they be singing a verse? How on earth is this going to work? Truth is, I never found out, because, with all that was going on, there was little or no time to rehearse.

As usual, all my worries were for naught. According to those who were there, the show was “one for the ages.” And the grand finale? It was pure Fellini does Nashville.