Ashley McBryde’s Lindeville: Flagrant Feminism En Fuego (Live Review)

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Photo of Ashley McBryde by Catherine Powell

Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville
Ryman Auditorium
Nashville, Tennessee
Feb 15, 2023

Like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the fans came in drag – literally, dripping sequins and marabou, and full-on low rent trailer park chic with rump-revealing cut-offs, cheap fake fur “leopard” coats, homemade tank tops and lotsa rayon nighties. Yes, it was camp, but also love as Arkansas songwriter Ashley McBryde delivered her first night of an ambitious live staging of the quirky, genius small town reality masterclass Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville.

And what a night it was! When you write as incisively as the young woman lifted into the public eye by Eric Church, who pulled her out of a packed arena-audience to perform her “Bible and a .45,” that polish she gives the foibles of white trash can turn naugahyde into fine Italian leather and rhinestones into Tiffany’s best diamonds.

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Photo by Catherine Powell

From the scene setting open, the cover’s little girl in the red dress seated centerstage with a book, as a “voice” read her a story about small towns, this more than a live rendering of a concept album. Yes, there would be costumes, songs in the same order as the record, even a Lake Woebegone narrative from What The Fuzz radio host Storme Warren, helming the erstwhile AM WTF-Radio. But really the night was about the euphoria of good friends making a crazy review that celebrated the best of the worst of where so many come from.

From the revving “you gotta see this…” gossip freight train of “Brenda Put Your Bra On,” which introduced not just a beaming McBryde, but a blazing red-haired, high pony-tailed Caylee Hammack and the inimitable Pillbox Patti in a gen-u-wine patent pleather (yes, [P]leather!] mini dress with mutton-puffed sleeves, they established a femme-centric take on how the SPAM sizzles. It’s three gals talking about the cheap whore who couldn’t be trusted anywhere who’s about to get busted with someone else’s man – and they spare no details as they “hey, y’all, oh HELL…”

Band leader John Osborne (of award-winning Brothers Osborne) drove hard, knowing the three vocalists had the power and bite to cut through fat slabs of electric guitar and a rhythm section of Quinn Hill on drums and Caleb Hooper on bass delivering pounding hangover backbeats. Adding a pianist who hit all the bar-room styles and a pedal steel player who sobbed and lacerated, the playing was as potent as the tropes being detonated onstage.

Not that everything flew like their brakes were cut. “Brenda” was followed by a skinny dude onstage being heckled by an equally scrubby woman in one of the aisles – bringing the action into the house – as Aaron Raitiere delivered the quiet, almost spoken lament “Jesus, Jenny,” which served as both the exhale of the guy who either loves that crazy, decaying party girl, or just picked the wrong skank to sleep with at a house party one weekend. Either way, the regret, tenderness and embarrassment he feels for the woman was delivered as a complicated cocktail of compassion that’s easy to miss if working in caricatures.

If there’s a triumph to Lindeville, it’s that McBryde takes the caricatures and injects so much humanity into every stereotype “liberal” East and West Coasters hold near and dear to dismiss these “deplorables;” McBryde delivers a rebuttal that could build bridges and help them win elections. Recognizing the flaws of have-nots, the ones born without privilege, making the best of the lower third of American economic reality, she dials into the places where their heart, grace and zero bullshit swallowed is on full display.

And the humor she injects never comes at the expense of her characters. These songs serve as vignettes and scenarios, but also deliver pathos without getting saccharine. She uses details to anchor reality in a way you can’t deploy a passive/aggressive “Bless their hearts.”

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Photo of Ashley McBryde by Catherine Powell

T.J. Osborne – who moonlighted in the gas station cover-all’d uniformed radio commercial bluegrass band on upright bass – brought his sonorous bass for a solo on “Play Ball.” An homage to an older guy who could be found down at Dennis Linde Park, life wisdom threaded through the first dinners at the Golden Corral and wives lost to cancer. 

Dignity, kindness, concern for each other transcend petty judgements – and that was a driving force no matter the scenario being unpacked. The hot girl whose beauty’s fading, now facing life in “The Girl In The Picture” says as much about empty dreams as John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” spoke to the hollowness of (Many)women’s married life.

“Gospel Night At The Strip Club,” complete with glorious drag queens working the aisles,  provided the night’s pivot. An acoustic guitar witness and cinema verite rendering of a place salvation was theoretically most needed – beyond lines capturing what it takes to get by, there’s true divinity if one thinks about what Christ was truly preaching. With a chorus of “Jesus loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers… Hallelujah… Would you recognize him if he bought you a beer?,” there is much to reckon.

Not that McBryde seeks to preach. “Gospel Night” explodes into a brazenly full-tilt version of Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved.” Full-throated, guitars screeching, it’s the catharsis of every girl bar singer trying to shake off the things that drag her down and kill her hopes. Overheated in the right way, it de-accelerates into four-part harmony with Connie Harrington – clad in a sequins and a biker jacket – that reminds listeners there’s more talent where you are than most bother to recognize.

Only the quiet, then building “Bonfire At Tina’s” could crest on that wave. A solidarity anthem of all the betrayals of small town women “who ain’t built to get along,” they list all the crap they face – intoning “light it up” like an “amen” after each – as they come together to commiserate, smoke some smoke, and remember “you burn one, you burn us all.”

Flagrant feminism en fuego. Gloria Steinem might choke, but the power is obvious — and the truth is undeniable. If we want solidarity, we must include those who embody the polemic. Tolerate, understand, embrace. Crazier things have happened.

“Lindeville,” the y’all sing benediction, offers more than final summation. With the brick wall backdrop lowered to reveal a dark blue sky covered with stars, the dreamy acoustic guitar-grounded lullaby homages small towns where not much happens, people rarely leave and tough stuff  goes down. To hear McBryde gently deliver this prayer for what people flying by on the interstate miss, she makes a better case for unity than all the screaming politicians and talking heads combined.