2016 was the whirlwind year that brought everyone from Margo Price to Maren Morris to
Amanda Shires to Kelsey Waldon to the forefront of the Nashville zeitgeist. Seeing as it’s already February of 2017, its high time we started zeroing in on that next wave of local acts poised for their own respective rise.
Luckily enough, this past Wednesday, The High Watt saw five well-positioned “candidates” (sorry for the political jargon), hit the boards and put on one of the most promising showcases of Nashville’s “next wave.”
Organized by ISA +JUDE, Nightingail, Whoa Dakota, Leah Blevins, Emma Hern, and Liz Cooper all got to play the role of “Girlboss” throughout an evening that was – in a word – exceptional. The lineup was loaded with up and comers that ran the gamut of genre, each highlighting the “girl boss” that informed their style the most.
First up in the five act slate was none other than Nashville’s foremost songbird, Nightingail. One of the sweetest and softest voices you’re bound to hear around town, it’s fitting that Nightingail’s girl boss would be none other than Billie Holliday. Still a relative newcomer on the scene, Nightingail’s oeuvre of work is one of impressive quality and depth despite its own youth. Songs like “Chestnut Tree” and “Green Coat” elicit visions of a tired lover, expressing breathy observations of adoration and animosity; a perpetual push-pull of sorts that pay simultaneous homage and criticism to past relations. All in all, her music does resemble Ms. Holliday, but throw in a little Feist and you’ll arrive at Nightingail.
Following Nightingail’s beguiling opening set, local power folk poppers Whoa Dakota. Sporting what she called a “Muppet” jacket in their first song, it didn’t take long for Whoa Dakota fronter Jessica Ott had to take a moment to let her muppet take a rest for the remainder of her set. Properly un-muppeted, Ott and her band continued on with their brand of power pop that was fittingly set in the style of Ms. Jenny Lewis. Even before the band went on the cover “Portions For Foxes” by Lewis, the resemblance in sound was uncanny. There’s not a ton of power pop happening in Nashville at the moment, so Whoa Dakota seems more than poised to fulfill that role quite nicely.
Falling smack dab in the middle of the lineup was none other than the imitable Leah Blevins. As soon as she set foot on stage and let out that soft withered warble, Blevins had the entirety of the High Watt enraptured. There’s an enchanting element of dust-bowl era Appalachia to Blevins’ voice. That being said, she is far from a novelty act trying to prey upon the American songbook. Her music is wholly and unequivocally her own, tales of heartsick torment and softened blows to the soul. Melancholy aside, Blevins certainly isn’t a dower presence when it comes to her live performance. She keeps it simple – prefacing songs like “Mexican Restaurant” with quick quips of “I like Mexican food, so I wrote this song.” Needless to say, there’s an inescapable charm to Blevins that will undoubtedly serve her well in the Nashville music community for years to come.
Batting cleanup in the lineup was Emma Hern, resident soul singer with a hell of a badass backing band. Of all the acts performing that evening, Hern’s proclaimed “girl boss” was arguably the most spot on, when she called out Bonnie Raitt. Hern’s vocal fortitude is one of enviable range – as we learned at Pilgrimage Festival – and as referenced earlier, her band is a force to be reckoned with. Barefoot and fully unfettered, Hern cavorted around stage with a presence that suggests brought about showmanship akin to Shania Twain or any other showstopper act. While Hern’s act was a barrage of visceral rhythms and soul, they managed to fit in a moment of tender sentiment in a song written to fellow musician Matt Lovell, who was grievously injured in a carjacking near Five Points (you can donate to his medical gofundme here, by the way). No matter what the future holds for Hern, the one thing that’s certain is that whatever she wants, she’ll get it, because nobody is stopping the force that is Emma Hern.
Closing out an already stellar evening was equally stellar Liz Cooper and the Stampede. Of all the acts that played that evening, Cooper’s was certainly the most vibe-y. That’s fitting for Cooper, seeing as her fronting persona is about as casual as it comes (and I mean that in the best way). After calling out her girl boss Joni Mitchell, Cooper added that she had a couple of “boss bitches” backstage as her Stampede came out sporting some might fine Goodwill dresses. Snappy dress aside, Liz Cooper and the Stampede continue to put on one of the tightest sets in Nashville, especially for a three piece. The convergence of psych, country, and rock n roll is a thing of beauty, where in certain instances the Cooper’s music serves as the imaginary bridge between Alabama Shakes’ Boys and Girls and Sound and Color. And to that point, it likely won’t be long until having the two uttered in the same breath isn’t out of the question.
So there you have it, the inaugural #Girlboss showcase by Isa + Jude was by far and away a success. When the future of Nashville’s “next wave” manages to cover as much genre ground as Nightingail, Whoa Dakota, Leah Blevins, Emma Hern, and Liz Cooper do, its safe to say that Nashville will be in more than formidable hands.