There are two kinds of TV personalities Nashville is absolutely thick with: singing competition alumni, and Nashville stars. Both sets of singers and/or actors turned out Friday night for a tribute to Taylor Swift… or, actually, 1989 — as in, the album of that name, and the music of Swift’s actual birth year, too.
Swift was not on hand for the salute; she’s in Los Angeles prepping for the Grammy Awards. But mom Andrea Swift received a line of young and mostly female visitors on her behalf at Nashville’s City Winery before the show. And it was Mama Swift who was one of the first on her feet leading the one standing ovation of the night, after American Idol season 8 winner Kris Allen delivered a knockout version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” Although the 26-year-old Isaak smash has long been part of Allen’s touring set, he assured the audience he was trying to filter it through a Swiftian sensibility.
If this had been an actual singing competition, Allen would have had strong competition in the finals from Nashville’s Layla Grant, aka Audrey Peeples, who proved she may be the most underrated talent on that series as she sang the most underrated song from 1989, “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” Is it too late for a do-over of Jem and the Holograms so Peeples can be a legit star?
Peeples was one of two Nashville cast members who headed directly to City Winery from the set, even as an emcee provided updates on the prognosis for their arrival. The other was Sam Palladio, who indulged a long-term fantasy by jumping behind the drum kit at show’s end for “Another Day in Paradise,” a Record of the Year Grammy winner when Taylor was a tot.
“When you get to sing and perform on screen all the time, sometimes you long to be oat the back of the stage. And I play a little drums. So when 1989 came around, I was on a bit of a Phil Collins kick… I was digging my Genesis and my Phil Collins. So when they said ‘Would you like to take part?,’ I said, ‘I wonder if 1989 worked out for Phil Collins.’” (Forgive him for not remembering; Palladio was turning 3 at the time.) “And it obviously did, because we’re going to do a song that was actually No. 2 in 1989” — he was speaking of its chart peak in his native England; “Paradise” was a No. 1 in the U.S. — “and I’m going to try a little drumming and singing. So if it goes terribly wrong, I’ve got no one to blame but me.” It didn’t.
Back in the land of 1989: The Album, The Voice was doubly represented with strong Swift covers from a couple of former contestants. Jeffrey Austin, a Team Gwen player who finished in the final four less than two months ago, made onlookers wonder if he might have gone even higher if, on the show, as here, he’d taken on 1989’s emotional closer, “Clean,” which found him adding shivery, Sam Smith-ian high notes that were not part of Swift’s electro-balladic original.
Caroline Glaser, meanwhile, a Team Blake candidate from season four, uncovered all the acoustic beauty latent underneath the production of Swift’s prescient pre-breakup anthem, “Wildest Dreams.”
Idol season 9 runner-up Crystal Bowersox raised some eyebrows among the Swift faithful when she admitted that she was probably the only person in City Winery who had yet to hear 1989 in its entirety, though she said she adored the tune she was covering, “This Love,” the album’s sole traditionally rendered ballad. Bowersox’s unfamiliarity with the material manifested itself when she had to stop several times to be reminded of the lyrics, though there was no doubt that, had she had a little more rehearsal or a Teleprompter, she could have nailed Taylor the same way she nailed Janis Joplin once upon a time.
They aren’t quite TV stars, but Louisa Wendorff and Devin Dawson are YouTube sensations, thanks to some Swift covers that got the social-media seal of approval from the superstar herself. They reprised their medley of “Blank Space” and “Style,” currently up to 29.5 million views on YouTube, suggesting that mash-ups are another thing that will never go out of style.
Other highlights from representatives of the Music City rock and singer/songwriter scenes included Heather Morgan’s delightfully Dolly-esque “I Wish You Would,” the duo John and Jacob (who also backed Palladio) rocking out with a ska-flavored full-band version of “I Know Places,” Jill Andrews getting woodsy with an emotionally tentative “Out of the Woods,” and various guests’ period-fixed covers of the Cure, Richard Marx, the Pixies, and Paula Abdul. Olivia Lane earned credit for combining both of the night’s conceptual conceits, making a sprightly medley out of Swift’s “How You Get the Girl” and Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.”
Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode) — The Railers
Blank Space — The Railers
Style — Alanna Royale
Love Song (the Cure) — Zeke Duhon
Out of the Woods — Jill Andrews
Here Comes Your Man (the Pixies) — Matthew Perryman Jones
I Wish You Would — Heather Morgan
Right Here Waiting (Richard Marx) — Marc Martel
Bad Blood — Korby Lenker=
Straight Up (Paula Abdul) — Elise Davis
Wildest Dreams — Caroline Glaser
King of Wishful Thinking (Go West) — Angel Snow
How You Get the Girl/(S)He Drives Me Crazy (Fine Young Cannibals) — Olivia Lane
This Love — Crystal Bowersox
Clean — Jeffrey Austin
Wicked Game (Chris Isaak) — Kris Allen
You Got It (Roy Orbison) — Griffin House
Blank Space/Style — Louisa Wendorff and Devin Dawson
All You Had to Do Was Stay — Aubrey Peeples
I Know Places — John and Jacob
Another Day in Paradise (Phil Collins) — Sam Palladio
Shake It Off — ensemble