In Nashville, everyone plays the guitar. There’s one on every corner downtown, being strummed by an old man with his cowboy hat set out for change. There’s one in the windows of each of the dozens of guitar shops scattered around the city, tempting the would-be musicians that move in weekly. There’s one in every bar, covering Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, taking requests for Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts, or resting on the knee of a young singer-songwriter with a southern drawl.
To be a guitarist, then, in Music City, requires a boldness that other disciplines do not. It’s an invitation for a town full of musicians to turn their eyes on just you and your instrument and to hone in on a solitary sound. For good guitarists, though, the guitar never feels solitary. It grows, it builds, it moves inward and outward with a fullness and richness that will make you swear there’s a second set of hands playing along offstage.
Friday night, Indi Go Artist Co-op played host to two phenomenal guitarists, local Nick Rudd and Nashvillian William Tyler. Each took on the lone performance with their own set of skills and style, and each was received with genuine appreciation from the twenty or so rapt audience members in attendance. The clean, bright gallery lights and shadows angling around the whitewashed bricks made for a still crowd, listening with a soft attention, toes tapping with barely perceptible motion. Despite the quiet atmosphere, they greeted each closing note with enthusiastic, long-lasting applause. It was a night of honest admiration of artistry, with the black-and-white sketches of the Co-op as a fitting backdrop.
Rudd is a talented guitarist, fingers moving with instinct and deliberation from string to string. He plays patient, thoughtful music, notes that move forward at their own pace, never rushing to the finish. His songs are instrumental music at its best—evocative, expressive. They are songs to pour your own thoughts into, to let slip into the corners of your own mind. Rudd has been playing guitar for 36 years and plays with local bands Ferrocene 3 and Water Between Continents. The songs he played Friday night are currently unrecorded, but he hopes to put together an album to showcase his solo work.
Where Rudd let the music do the talking, Tyler was a storyteller, giving us the backdrop on which his songs were written: the ghostly, shadowy woods of Missionary Ridge, a Chattanooga mountain home to a bloody Civil War battle; the brilliantly textured ode to Tyler’s lady; the violence and beauty of the cathedrals of Europe. Tyler tackled his songs with an effortless agility that was a delight to watch, his right fingers flying across the strings, rushing ahead, not caring if his left hand could keep up. He finished the show with a duo of songs accompanied by the sounds of a music box and white noise machine, adding layer upon layer of sound into a cacophony that broke to the pealing of guitar strings.
There’s something lovely and almost voyeuristic about watching a musician perform alone with his craft. Without words, there’s no need to emote, just a public act of turning inward, a moment of introspection played out in notes and chords. The small crowd made me wish for intimacy, want to pull our chairs in the circle, William and his guitar in the center, or to abandon the trappings of adulthood and squat on the floor around him, eyes closed, heads nodding along.