On the latest installment of their current Club Crawl tour, Hayes Carll and Parker Millsap camped out in Nashville for five nights — well, technically, it was four plus one in Cumberland Caverns. First stop, the Loveless Barn for Music City Roots on March 5. Now, it’s worth noting that the Barn is a tough room. These are music lovers first and fans second. If they aren’t familiar with the songs, they seem to, at least, appreciate the craftsmanship and technical skill on display.
And so it was that they hooted and hollered and rose to their feet for Millsap’s first offering. The deliberate, swampy blues of “You Gotta Move” wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of True Detective and, with his gospel wail of a voice, Millsap called forth all manner of spirits, holy and otherwise. Thing is, he was just getting started.

Backed by Michael Rose on stand-up bass and Daniel Foulks on fiddle, Millsap felt his way through “The Villain,” a song that is all the more emotive and effective live. It’s also a song that could easily serve as a companion piece to Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You” nearly 40 years on. From there, Millsap launched into the gritty swagger of “Disappear” before hitting the Religious Fanaticism Suite of “Old Time Religion” and “Truck Stop Gospel.” Not at all unlike a revival tent preacher, Millsap put his whole body into the performance and he was, once again, met by a zealous crowd response.
Two acts later, Carll sauntered onto the Music City Roots stage to offer evidence of how he had “overcome privilege to become a country singer.” Though the Barn was not a natural habitat for the whiskey-voiced Texas troubadour, he offered up a fine handful of tunes in the tradition of John Prine, Lyle Lovett, and Robert Earl Keen. Supported by multi-instrumentalist Scott Nolan and percussionist Mike Meadows, Carll eased into things with the boozy saunter of “Chances Are” before eventually amping it all up with “I Got a Gig” and “Stomp and Holler.” Equal parts sensitive raconteur and sardonic barfly, Carll closed his somewhat restrained MCR set with one of his finest compositions to date, “Beaumont.”
Flash forward to March 8 at the Basement, and a whole other scene unfolds. Millsap stepped up alone to start the night. As he howled out “You Gotta Move,” a hush fell over the crowd. This kid definitely knows how to stop a drunk in his tracks, at least until they down the next one. With more stage time, Millsap stretched his wings a bit, interacting more with the crowd and digging deeper into the album for cuts like “Quite Contrary” and “When I Leave.”
He also did magnificent solo renderings of “The Villain” and “Disappear” along with a new tune, “Heaven Sent,” which he wrote for and dedicated to a friend who had suffered through the all-too-familiar strains of being gay in small town America. Again, Millsap rounded out his full-throated performance with the one-two punch of “Old Time Religion” and “Truck Stop Gospel.” Not sure how anyone left that room not converted.

To be sure, though, this was a Hayes Carll crowd through and through. From the opening strains of “Hey Baby, Where You Been,” the beer cans and voices were lifted in unison. Carll hit on cuts from across his catalog, “Bible on the Dash,” “The Magic Kid,” “It’s a Shame,” and, of course, the tender-hearted “Beaumont.” Lacking a female counterpart to sing “Another Like You” with, Carll tempted fate and invited an audience member to give it a shot. The first verse was fun enough, but then the wheels came off and Carll finished it up on his on. He also used his whiskey-stained, road-worn voice to great effect on contemporary classics like “Stomp and Holler,” “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” and Nolan’s “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” all of which are about as close as you can get to perfection in the bar tune genre.
No question, the Basement was Carll’s natural habitat and his easy-going, well-paced performance proved it. From poignant ballads to roof raisers, Carll continually displayed his agile craft when it comes to songwriting. Coming back for an encore, Carll and company barreled through “KMAG YOYO” in what could have easily been the show closer. Despite a 6 am departure time the next morning, they kept on going with “Little Rock” and a couple other cuts before finally calling it a night.
And what a night it was.