I‘ve always struggled with the idea of whether or not you have to be unhappy or suffering to make great art. I know it’s why so many musicians and writers have denied themselves the most basic of human comforts – love, children, a life without addiction – out of fear that contentment would lead to creative complacency. As I’ve gotten older, I realized this is an immature notion – you don’t need to depend on trying circumstances for material, it’s how you digest even the most mundane moments of existence (and translate that into art) is what sets us apart.
What stuns me most, however, about Nick Beaudoing’s Runner of the Woods is how he was able to make a record, Thirsty Valley, during a very difficult time in his life, but not offer a set of songs completely soaked in tears. Though he’s now East Nashville based, he wrote the record while his mother was in a coma back in his hometown of Dallas, hitting the studio in between hospital visits. Yet, somehow, this isn’t a record about grief. With a voice that occasionally evokes a twangy Jeff Mangum without all that torment, he offers joyful moments (“Good Things Will Come”) and light, contemplative ones laced in love (“Eastern Time”). It’s one thing to not need a crutch of sadness for your art, but it’s a great feat to turn sadness into an album not consumed by it, either, catching the more complex picture of how we actually process these emotions. Sometimes, it’s just by writing a good country tune.
For his Nashville Five, we had Nick list his often hilarious 5 Things Nashville Could Probably Do a Little Better – and you can catch Runner of the Woods tonight at the Basement East for his album release show, along with the ever-excellent Derek Hoke.
5 Things Nashville Could Probably Do a Little Better by Runner of the Woods :::
I’m a Dallas native, but I’ve also lived in New Orleans, Montreal, and New York City. For this stage of my life, Nashville is the best fit. If, like me, your dream was to be a songwriting dad who fishes out of a kayak, there is no better place on Earth. That said, here are five things Nashville could do a little bit better.
- Highways: I don’t know who is responsible for Nashville’s spaghetti bowl of highways, parkways, and pikes but engineering was probably “not their thing”. Whatever lane you’re currently occupying is the wrong one. It disappears without warning or is exit-only, leaving you with seconds to cross over to the opposite side. There’s no time to relax before it erupts into a baffling web of interchanges. Think fast or you’re off to Clarkesville, maybe forever. Some on-ramps give you only a couple of yards to reach 70 miles per hour before merging into herds of eighteen wheelers. Good luck! To sooth your nerves, there is a digital sign over the highway that displays a running death toll for the year and puns about safety.
- Drink Pours: Whenever I order a bourbon and the bartender or server asks if I “want a double”, I know to be nervous. This means someone behind the bar is under strict orders to measure a single ounce shot with absolute precision. I really appreciate a bartender who eyeballs a drink pour that errs on the side of being a little generous. Whenever that happens, I tip in kind. The sight of a bartender squinting with concentration at a one ounce jigger makes me sad. The same goes for bars that serve you a spritz of IPA in a tiny tulip glass. It’s not that precious. For an honest pint glass of beer – something that you won’t be embarrassed to hold in your hand – it’s hard to beat the Village Pub. Good bourbon pours can definitely be had here, but I’m reluctant to blow their cover.
- Rivergate: Abandon all hope, ye who enter.
- High-End Restaurants: My wife and I are sometimes at a loss when choosing a restaurant to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. For special occasions, our favorite places are Eastland Café, Rolf and Daughters, Epice, and Pinewood Social. Straying from these reliable choices can be disappointing – there are plenty restaurants in town where the food and service don’t justify the exorbitant prices. Your meal arrives arrive cold, undercooked, and/or wrapped in bacon for some reason. I know I’m not the only guy who feels this way. Sometimes a rotisserie chicken from the Turnip Truck or a bowl of gumbo at Bro’s Cajun Cuisine (on Charlotte Pike) would have been much more satisfying.
- Wine on Sunday: I was happy to vote in favor of selling wine in grocery stores, but it still doesn’t mean we can buy it on Sundays. I don’t exactly trust Piggly Wiggly to stock the good stuff, but hey, it’s a start. Someday we’ll get there. A bottle of wine and a home-cooked meal on Sunday night is such a wonderful way to begin the week. Woodland Wine Merchant is my go-to because their selection is second to none. Walking out of that place with a bad bottle of wine is impossible.