Here's a Zen riddle.
How do you sell out and not sell out?
How do you pull a guitar?
The answers, Grasshopper, were to be found Tuesday at the annual Millions of Pennies for Kids Guitar Pull, sponsored by radio station WKXC-FM (99.5).
The concert featured a grab bag of country artists - Trace Adkins, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Mark Chesnutt, Lonestar, Cyndi Thompson and Blake Shelton - performing hits (and occasional misses) au natural, armed with only acoustic guitars. The show was a remarkable lesson in possibilities. Not only did it allow Augusta audiences to be a part of that rarest of local beasts, a sold-out show, but it also spoke volumes about the power inherent in country music.
Listing to this music, stripped to its essence, it's evident that country music is continuously capable of re-invention. That's because, before the swelling string and studio chicanery that have become hallmarks of the Nashville sound are added, each piece of country music starts life simply, as a delicate interplay between the human voice and the natural sound of an acoustic guitar.
It's an atmospheric sound, capable of giving even a barn of a room like the Bell Auditorium the illusion of intimacy. Tuesday, with the auditorium lighted with fractured light spinning off the polished faces of acoustic guitars, there was a sort of campfire feel, and the performers onstage became buddies rather than A-list artists who would retreat to a fleet of limos and tour buses after the show.
The high point came as Cyndi Thomson, who announced that the guitar pull would be her last live performance, sang her final numbers. Launching, albeit in a quiet, acoustic kind of way, into I'll Be Seeing You, off her debut album My World, Ms. Thomson bade fans farewell in the best way she knew how. Although the song was written as a contemplative love ballad, and Ms. Thomson has shied away from saying she is quitting (she called her exit a "permanent break") the song sure felt a lot like somebody saying goodbye.
The Guitar Pull was not, however, a show without flaws. Although Mark Chesnutt's Eddie Cochran rockabilly strum, Trace Adkins' classic country delivery and Blake Shelton's concise picking are tailor-made for the guitar pull format, a full band like Lonestar seems out of place. For one thing, including them on the bill means diluting the purity of the pull, by including electric keyboards and drums, both of which are neither acoustic or guitars. Having a full band in the lineup also means including songs that are neither stripped down nor simple. In fact, they serve as a reminder that the new Nashville sound is more polished pop than rustic roots music. It's hard to have that harsh reality crashing an otherwise beatific party.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.