As I acknowledged the paper plate donning this phrase on the front door and the faint rumblings from inside The Station Inn, I knew I would soon be deep in the throes of a full-on bluegrass jamboree.
The Lexington/Nashville-based bluegrass band The Wooks were set to unleash their powerful sound to the delightfully congested crowd within the hallowed 12th Ave. walls, celebrating the release of their new album, Flyin’ High, which officially dropped February 25th.
Immediately upon shuffling inside, my olfactory senses lit up, as the smell of piping hot pizza rushed through my nostrils and straight to my brain, nearly triggering an uncontrollable drool. Looking in front of me, nearly if not every table had full pies, half pies, slices, wadded up napkins, empty pitchers, full pitchers, Coronas- you get the idea. That’s the Station Inn for ya.
The thought of finding a seat was laughable, so I assessed the jam-packed room and eventually found a reasonable standing nook by the bar. Shortly after I arrived, the guys would nonchalantly take the stage and start unraveling, plugging, arranging, and assessing. (not necessarily in that order)
The crowd did let out some howls when this took place, and the joyous cacophony continued until it was time.
And then it was time.
A most familiar bluegrass groove got underway, with the crowd full of cheers, claps, and foot stomps for the first little bit. No intro, no fanfare, just right to shredding. These guys were alright in my book. From stage left to right was George Guthrie (banjo, vocals), Harry Clark (mandolin, vocals), CJ Cain (guitar, vocals), bass player whose name eludes me, and Allen Cooke (dobro). The bass player would be filling in and not a regular member of the band.
I didn’t recognize their first track, but the second one was indeed the title track of their record, “Flyin’ High.” The song is loaded with roots charm, and very much emanates some (The) Band vibes. It’s heartfelt storytelling and a resonating message definitely strikes a chord. The accompanying music video offers a nostalgic animation that has a quality wholesomeness, offering the stylings of mid-20th Century cartoons.
After uproarious applause fell on behalf of Guthrie’s lightning pickin’, the following tune is prefaced by Clark. “This is a cautionary tale about being with wild women. This one’s called ‘Little Sandy Queen.'”
It was around this point I recognized the versatility of the band, as Guthrie, Clark, and Cain all switched off on lead vocals throughout. The true sign of a dynamic and (pun intended) high flyin’ band. It’s not just a bunch of guys crouched over instruments while one “leader” takes the reigns. The leadership wealth was well-distributed amongst these Wooks.
The guys would continue to blaze through songs in the already toasty Inn, and at one point Clark said, “This is a song about my dog,” as he tuned his mandolin. A guy let out a bit of a half-(or fully) cocked holler, to which Clark stated, “I’ve got some family in the crowd.” (Clark would say the dog line again later in the show, and follow it with, “She doesn’t like me calling her that, though,” as he acknowledged what I gather to be his significant other, and maybe made up for it shortly after.)
As of this writing, I can’t recall if this was the tune about the dog, but a notable recurring line that resonated shortly thereafter was, “Enjoy the things that make you smile / They’ll be gone for good in a little while.” Either way I’ll be damned if it didn’t tug at the heartstrings of the crowd and get them pondering. (myself included)
Every so often, the large hanging dinner bell would bellow out a booming ring right at the close of select tunes, driving the crowd deeper into a feverish frenzy, as it did at the close of this number.
Behind me I noticed some younger folks snapping selfies under the Miller Lite neon light with the old show posters in the backdrop. I smiled as I thought about all the bullshit we’ve endured and the simple pleasures in life that were taken away from us during Covid. It was nice to see these commonplace happenings taking place again, though of course it’s been trending that way, thank God.
But then I noticed they were taking too many selfies, and then I remembered just how goddamn annoying it is. The bastards.
Meanwhile, the guys would continue to get spacey with their bridges and melodic interludes during songs. The band was no stranger to the cosmic, semi-psych jams within songs, this much was clear.
Around this time, I noticed a few gentlemen around me donning Western wear, which of course is par for the course ‘round these parts. One particular fellow who was large in stature stood next to me as we watched.
After “Mudfish Momma” and a Tom Petty tune the bassist introduced, Guthrie dedicate the next song to Willi Carlisle, who was the towering gent next to me. He gave out a modest yet excited holler, and would proceed to “be that guy” as he said while he recorded the song on his phone. He nudged me and said, “I wrote this song,” like a proud parent watching his child perform on stage.
The Wooks would go on to knock out a Tyler Childers tune and of course their epic version of The Band’s “Atlantic City” before wrapping things up with my absolute favorite song of the night, a cover of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues.” This one had me belting the lyrics out in pure elation.
The band would pop out after a quick break for their Encore of all Encores with John Prine’s “Illegal Smile.” This would carry out the night on a most nostalgic and sentimental note, the kind that might bring a single tear to the cheeks’ of the late songwriter’s fans. It was a beautiful ode to wrap up the evening, and with a final look around to the now dwindled crowd, I made my escape through the back door. The first thing I saw was a beer and a butter knife, and I wondered what it all meant.
It was yet another electric Saturday night jamboree within the sacred Station Inn walls, and The Wooks put on a hell of a show in support of Flyin High’. It’s safe (and cheesy) to say, the guys had the audience “flyin’ high” when they hit the bustling Nashville streets afterwards.