Foes of capital punishment packed the 3rd & Lindsley club in Nashville on Monday night (Dec. 19) for an evening of music that featured Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell in a rare appearance together.
In addition to the former husband-and-wife team and their singer-songwriter daughter, Chelsea Crowell, the lineup also boasted Ranger Doug Green of Riders in the Sky and his son, James Green; Gail Davies and her son, Chris Scruggs; and John Hiatt and his daughter, Lily Hiatt.
The event was sponsored by Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
In the audience were Paul House and Michael McCormick, both of whom were exonerated of murder after having spent years on Tennessee's death row.
It also happened to be House's 50th birthday, and the audience sang "Happy Birthday" to him. He passed 23 of his birthdays as a condemned man.
Cash told the crowd she agreed to play the show for two reasons: her opposition to the death penalty and "because my daughter asked me."
She and Crowell, who were married from 1979 to 1992 and who collaborated on a series of country hits during the 1980s, traded good-natured jabs throughout their hour-long set.
Cash complained that the guitar Crowell loaned her didn't sound as good as her own, and he asked if she thought he was trying to sabotage her.
After Crowell wowed the audience with "It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long," the more reserved Cash lamented, "How do I follow that?"
Looking somewhat abashed, Crowell replied, "I thought I'd get the joke out of the way so you could break our hearts."
And that's what she proceeded to do, singing her mournful "September When It Comes," the only song she ever recorded with her father, Johnny Cash. Chelsea sang her grandfather's part.
Cash began the segment with her self-penned 1981 hit, "Seven Year Ache." Then came Chelsea with the 1950 Hank Williams groaner, "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)."
Each time it came his turn, Crowell rolled out one gem after another, most from his own catalog. Among these were "Come Back, Baby," "Closer to Heaven" and -- with Cash accompanying him -- "No Memories Hangin' Round," her first chart hit in 1979.
After the last note died away on that one, the two embraced.
Cash called Hiatt to the stage to accompany her and Crowell on her 1987 chart-topper, "The Way We Make a Broken Heart." Hiatt wrote the song and recalled that he was touring in Italy when Cash and Crowell called him "at 3 in the morning" to tell him the single, which Crowell produced, had gone No. 1.
One of the most affecting performances of the evening came with Cash's rendition of "The World Unseen," from her Black Cadillac album of 2006 that memorialized her father, who died in 2003.
Chelsea held up her end of the show with such dynamic sallies as "Where the Hell Is Robert E. Lee" and Harlan Howard's "Above and Beyond," which her father took to No. 1 in 1989.
The Cash/Crowell clan encored with Crowell's "I Ain't Living Long Like This," a No. 1 for Waylon Jennings in 1980, and Johnny Cash's 1958 classic, "Big River."
The Greens, who opened the show, and Davies, Scruggs and the Hiatts, who next took the stage, treated the crowd to a series of country standards when they weren't singing their own material.
The Greens started with "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face," the lament Bill Anderson wrote for the Louvin Brothers and which they charted in 1962. Later on, they did another Louvins tune, "My Baby's Gone," a Top 10 tune from 1958, and Mac and Bob's ancient Civil War weeper, "When the Roses Bloom Again."
Davies and Scruggs resurrected the Everly Brothers' 1959 pop hit, "Take a Message to Mary," and Scruggs captured the spirit of the concert with "Long Black Veil," the Lefty Frizzell hit, also from 1959, that tells the tale of a man executed for a crime he didn't commit.
Scruggs drew some of the heaviest and most sustained applause of the evening, starting with his slashing "It Ain't Right" and continuing through such tender fare as "Old Souls Like You and Me" and "Listen to the Old Man Sing."
Davies came through magnificently with "Right by You," "Someone Is Looking for Someone Like You," her 1979 hit, and the thought-provoking "Can We Be Saved."
Hiatt was predictably cool and in charge, rasping such lyrical poems as "Crossing Muddy Waters," "Lift Up Every Stone" and "It Feels Like Rain."
His daughter was impressive, as well, whether it was belting out her resolute "People Don't Change" or conjuring up fond images of her grandmother in "I Knew You Were Coming."
Apart from his journeys through country music with his son, Ranger Doug trotted out some fine compositions of his own, as well, notably the gently reassuring "I Always Do" and the throat-surfing showpiece "Jessie, the Yodeling Cowgirl."