Fave5 with Allison Russell
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print issue of Quench Magazine.
Allison Russell’s young daughter is pestering her for a bobby pin. It’s not enough to derail the conversation we’re having, but it is enough for the Montréal born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter to shift gears towards the then recent news about the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a residential school in Kamloops B.C.
“That was announced on the day of my Grand Ole Opry debut,” she says. “I was wearing a pretty vintage dress, having my hair done, and was totally checked out of the news cycle when a friend told me about it. Ever since I’ve been thinking a lot about ongoing struggles, and the toxicity and insidiousness of white supremacist ideologies that are the underpinnings of all of it. We have so much work to do.”
In truth Russell (who first popped up on the musical radar with the band Po’ Girl in 2000) has been thinking about such matters for some time now, as evidenced by a number of the songs on her debut album Outside Child. A heady mix of country, r ‘n’ b, soul and folk, the record may have been born out of personal or societal trauma but it’s not about trauma; in fact, it’s about hope and resilience, as shown by album closer Joyful Motherfuckers, or the unblinking, soulful Nightflyer.
Russell, who with husband (and Birds of Chicago co-founder) JT Nero moved to Nashville a couple of years ago, is raring to get back into performing. Here’s a list of five of her favourite venues in her newly adopted home:
THE RYMAN/GRAND OLE OPRY
“I got to perform at the Ryman for the first time with Our Native Daughters (a singer-songwriter supergroup that also features Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, and Leyla McCalla) during Americana Fest in 2019 and it was amazing. It was a really beautiful, powerful moment to get to be a part of that. Just a few days ago on May 28, I played the Grand Ole Opry and it was a surreal and dreamlike experience. They have a piece of the stage from the original Ryman, and it just sort of felt like stepping into a circle of music in history and creativity that felt really beautiful and uplifting. It felt especially good because they’re starting to be more open to sharing that space with folks that look like me.”
DEE’S COUNTRY COCKTAIL LOUNGE
“There’s a place called Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, a tiny little hole in the wall where I’ve seen some of my absolute favorite shows. Actually, my first indoor show since the pandemic was as part of an all-vaccinated, private crowd to see Margo Price record a live set, and it was so joyful just to go. It felt like life was returning. It’s a dive bar full of characters in a suburb of Nashville called Madison, and they’ve been supporting musicians and writers in this town for a number of years.”
“I have to mention Musicians Corner, a free concert series in Centennial Park. We’ve played it as Birds of Chicago, and it was actually where I had my first (solo) show back on June 11th. It’s this beautiful outdoor amphitheater with wonderful sound, and it’s an expansive and inclusive event. I just love when music is free, and when kids are able to go. So, so often children are shut out of these musical events just because they’re 21 plus, but this is free for anybody at any age.”
“There are City Wineries in a lot of cities like New York and Atlanta, and a great one in Chicago, and I really appreciate them because they pay musicians really well. They’re selling wine and food but they also have beautiful stages with terrific sound. The one in Nashville is great as well, with fantastic programming and diverse artists represented, lots of women especially. I feel like they’re creating a community in a really beautiful way and supporting the arts and artists. They have an amazing green room, which really makes a big difference in our lives. Our daughter loves a good green room.”
“Last, but definitely not least, is the Blue Room, which is part of Third Man Records. It’s probably my favorite room, and maybe my favorite Birds of Chicago show ever. It’s totally genre fluid and amazing. I love their label, too, I think they have some really interesting artists. During the senate election (of 2020) we had a telethon there for the Democratic candidate, Marquita Bradshaw. Her run was historic and we just couldn’t get the numbers; convincing Tennessee to vote for a Black woman was hard, but I’m hopeful for the future.”
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