Lee Ann Womack was lucky enough to have Buddy Miller and several others sit in for part of her set, and she’s smart enough to have returned the favor for Buddy Miller, one of Nashville’s favorite sons. Americana Music Association Executive Director Jed Hilly introduced Buddy Miller as the “greatest rock and roll guitarist,” but that’s selling Miller a little short. He may not be a household name in cities like Detroit, but guitarist/producer/songwriter Miller (Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin, Linda Ronstadt, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alison Krauss, Richard Thompson, the Wood Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the McCrarys, Ralph Stanley, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Lee Ann Womack, John Fogerty, Rodney Crowell, Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson and his old friend, Jim Lauderdale) is an industry legend in country and rock, and probably gets as many Thanksgiving dinner invitations as anyone in Music City.
Even though scheduled for 11:30 PM, Miller played to a packed Cannery Ballroom. Kicking it off with “Gasoline and Matches,” penned by Miller and his oft-co-writer/wife Julie Miller, and made famous by Leann Rimes (among others), Miller was joined by Lee Ann Womack and another co-writer, Jim Lauderdale, as well as enjoying backup vocals from Regina McCrary, of the McCrary Sisters, in the course of the set.
Miller plays only about five gigs of his own a year and he’s penned hundred of songs, so he fluffed the beginning of his and Julie’s “Don’t Tell Me;” rather than follow the show business practice of soldiering on until everyone was back on track, Miller halted the song and rebooted the moment, saying “I screwed up the beginning, and I respect you and like this song too much to do it wrong.” He asked Lee Ann Womack (who does plenty of gigs which include the song) for help, and their duet was perfection.
The band loved ripping through “[Take Me] Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go,” which Robert Plant and his Band of Joy often performed, but the somber ballad “Wide River to Cross” also hit home with the over-50 audience. In a memorable performance, the highlight for me was the gut-wrenching “Chalk,” from the Buddy and Julie Miller album of the same name. Lyrics like “All I did was help you tell a lie…All our words are written down in chalk, out in the rain on the sidewalk” just beg to add the writer to the “greatest songwriter” category, alongside the “greatest guitarist” description.