On Friday night at Little Harpeth Brewery, acoustic bluegrass ensemble Hawktail celebrated the release of their much anticipated sophomore LP, Formations. Supported by Paper Wings, an up-and-coming indie folk duo, Hawktail offered music fans a sense of warmth, community, and momentum on an otherwise rainy and cold Nashville night.
“Did anyone travel far tonight?” asked Paper Wings’ Wilhelmina Frankzerda to a crowd that would continue to grow in size until Hawktail’s taking of the stage some thirty minutes later. The question was met with a couple of enthusiastic uproars; enough to denote that this was more than just any old Friday night of local music.
Paper Wings’ hypnotic, prancing vocal harmonies left those standing up front so focused on the performers that you could’ve heard a pin drop. Even among those who hung back to sip drinks at the bar, all that could be heard was a quiet, respectful murmur.
It was clear people were here to listen.
“Tonight just feels very community oriented; like we’re one big family,” said Frankzerda. This was no exaggeration. Frankzerda went on to recount her experience of meeting the entirety of Hawktail as a seven-year-old at Shasta Music Summit in California. “We all met at these music camps growing up. We just kept seeing each other at festivals or other camps and then eventually we all kind of came to the same scene here.”
The familial atmosphere of the evening was evident off-stage as well. Free boxes of pizza sat by the water cooler in front of a huge stack of board games. Children scampered past my knees to get a hold of construction paper and crayons, their presumed grandparents watching from a seat at the bar, next to a group of college kids, alongside younger parents in their 30s.
Hawktail’s jam heavy, folk instrumentals seem to have a mass appeal that spans generations.
Without warning, the energy in the room shifted in the direction of the stage.
“How’s everyone doing?” asks Hawktail’s guitarist, Jordan Tice. The crowd cheered and began migrating towards the band, packing in the standing room directly in front of them.
“Thanks for being here. This is slightly more people than we expected,” laughed Tice.
The crowd grew quiet and focused. The fiddle cued the beginning of the first song, its melody gradually added to by guitar, mandolin and standing bass. Bathed in pink light, the band communicated through improvisation, gesturing to one another with little grins. Bursts of excitement erupted from the crowd as the jam began gaining steam. Their first two songs were met with thunderous applause.
“Those first two were from an album we put out last year,” Tice said over the applause. “It’s dead to us now because we have a new record out. It’s called ‘Formations.’ It came out two weeks ago and now we’re about to play a bunch of songs from that.”
People cheered and smiles sprung on the band’s faces. This was undeniably the main event.
It began to dawn on me just how complex Hawktail’s music really is. Fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, mandolinist Dominick Leslie, along with Tice are without a doubt masters of their respective instruments.
After learning from Frankzerda of the band’s initial connection at Shasta Music Summit, I found myself much more tuned in to what was happening on stage emotionally. This was a group who had spent their whole lives communicating with one another through their instruments. Their music was effectively a language only they were capable of speaking. As Haas would build a fiddle solo, guitarist Tice would pick up on where she was moving the improvisation and lean towards her side of the stage. Leslie and Kowert would follow suit without even having to notice Tice.
The communication I witnessed was astounding, and I wasn’t alone. People were floored by how fluidly songs would transition; joyously exclaiming as they recognized what was being played next.
“There’s a pretty big Nashville constituency that follows them around,” said Frankzerda. “It’s a pure, supportive energy that’s all about the music.”
This was clear in the crowd all around me.
Despite the fact Hawktail’s songs don’t have words to sing along to, fans still hummed the melodic hooks to many of the tunes off the band’s newest album. These dedicated, focused listeners were reacting to even the subtlest of changes during the improvisational passages, causing a realization within me that it was no coincidence the Grateful Dead was being played over the house speakers leading up to Hawktail’s set.
I imagine the number of dedicated Hawktail fans (Hawk Heads?) is only bound to increase. The experience of getting to see Hawktail at Little Harpeth was another reminder of why Music City deserves its name. The environment created by Hawktail’s melodic instrumental was warm, inviting, and above all, brought out people who were there for the music.