The triple entente of groups that shared the stage at Skipper’s Smokehouse on Saturday night guaranteed worn boot soles and warm hearts with a country rock, bluesy soul, honky tonk and rockabilly buffet eagerly devoured by the crowd.
First up was Gainesville’s Nook & Cranny. The five-piece newgrass group — vocalist Dana Myers, Dobro guitar slinger Mark Archer, fiddler Andrew Cook, upright bassist Brian Turk and guitarist Scott Ashcraft — has a catchy, upbeat sound laced in country and rockabilly flavors. Myers held the audience rapt as she hit high notes and struck a tambourine, though it was Archer who cut the most fascinating figure as he worked through full-bodied Dobro solos that paired well with Cook’s bowed and scratched fiddle harmonies, which sometimes weaved in and out of Myers’ pretty falsetto.
Eilen Jewell’s lead guitarist Jerry Miller took the stage next, performing a set as frontman of his first solo venture. Jewell band members — upright bassist Johnny Sciascia and drummer Jason Beek — backed him up as he proceeded to mystify. Miller’s solo debut New Road Under My Wheels is instrumental, as is Miller’s performance, but the complexity of his picking added a vocal quality to his music, which navigates through rockabilly to jump rhythms to Western swing and back, and was a perfect warm-up for Eilen Jewell herself.
Jewell’s brilliant use of both her high and low vocal registers is impressive, and while she looks utterly unassuming, as soon as she starts singing, you quickly realize what all the buzz is about. She kicked-off her show with “Where They Never Say Your Name,” immediately immersing the audience in her sound, her sultry vocals slipping into the air and the grassy twang of Miller’s Gretsch guitar — an extra vocal harmony and lead guitar all rolled into one capably-played instrument — at just the right tempo to get people onto their feet.
The pace varied throughout, the setlist included originals from early recordings through her most recent LP along with select covers, and Jewell’s knack for going from upbeat to earnest proved refreshing in a live setting. She segued in and out of more traditional country and bluegrass offerings, through heel-stomping jump blues numbers like “Heartattack Boulevard,” catchy rockabilly and rolling Western-vibing roots ala “Queen of the Minor Key” delivered with Jewell’s characteristic lip snarl and wry sense of humor, and slower sultry-swaying amblers like “I’m Gonna Dress in Black” or more melancholic heartfelt odes such as the poignant “Santa Fe,” where she relives intimate experiences in her life as if they happened yesterday. Miller’s slide work added a weeping tone that, paired with Jewell’s yearning, soulful, gospel-flavored delivery, were enough to bring tears to the eyes, and those salty drops were likely flowing by the time Jewell started wailing on harmonica.
“If you haven’t got up and shaken something, yet, this is your chance,” Jewell said later before she and the band launched into “Shakin’ All Over,” Jewell transforming from mild to frenzied during a nearly 10-minute version of the song.
Jewell and band returned quickly to encore with Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” and her own number, “Thanks a Lot,” a fitting farewell to the fans who enjoyed the show that night.