Jonny Fritz lifted more spirits Sunday night than any Nashville preacher could have managed.
For a special one-off show, the artist formerly known as Jonny Corndawg reunited with his old sidekick Joshua Hedley for a night of laughter (and occasional tears) at Nashville’s Basement, a venue Fritz has played innumerable times throughout his career. It was a joyous event, and it felt like getting a dose of the old-time religion, of the sort that involves snake handling and speaking in tongues.
Two years ago Fritz moved to Los Angeles after living in Music City off and on for the past decade. Sunday’s show felt like a homecoming of sorts, with Fritz even remarking at one point that “this feels like home.” And though the part-time leathersmith and occasional American Songwriter contributor espouses a “don’t look back” philosophy, there was a hint of nostalgia in the air for the left-of-center Nashville country scene of the mid to late aughts.
It’s been nearly a decade since we first made the acquaintance of Fritz, back when he was a raw-boned Virginian with a shaved head who bore more than a passing resemblance to a young Billy Bob Thornton. By then he had recorded a few DIY albums, traversed India on a mystic pilgrimage and written a series of “marriage songs” in the midst of a Yerba Matte binge in Argentina. Naturally, we became fast fans. In fact, he may be the only man on Earth we’d send to interview David Allan Coe.
For Sunday night’s show at the Basement, Fritz played mostly stuff from his latest album, the Jim James-produced Sweet Creep. He also dipped into his back catalog for old favorites like “Trash Day,” “Silver Panty Liners” and “Chevy Beretta,” a cult classic he played as early as 2009 at the Basement with Caitlin Rose (who was in the crowd Sunday night) and John McCauley of Deer Tick.
Hedley, who recently signed a solo deal with Third Man Records, did time as Fritz’s fiddle player for years and his playing Sunday night was just as poignant as we remembered it. On stage, the Florida native is like Sancho Panza to Fritz’s Don Quixote, and a better match of performers is not easily imagined.
Wearing tinted glasses and a leisure suit with a front pocket overstuffed with $2 bills, Fritz spun various tales of misadventure throughout the night, including one about going on a Tinder double date with Robert Ellis in downtown Nashville. Another yarn involved his guitar-making father, who, in his previous career as a helicopter nurse, once arrived on the scene to treat a man who’d had his throat slashed in a case of mistaken identity. “Now, that’s a bad day,” Fritz quipped, speaking about the victim.
Before Fritz took the stage, Hedley played a solo set on acoustic guitar. “It’s good to not be playing for tips, for four hours,” he said, referring to the years he spent playing at Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway. Hedley’s songs are sad as shit, and he warned that anyone in the crowd who was experiencing depression issues might want to leave. The Florida native, who’s also collaborated with Alabama rapper Yelawolf, played a set of originals and covers, including two Mickey Newbury numbers.
One of Hedley’s own tunes, “Don’t Waste Your Tears,” recalled Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times” in its sad beauty. Before playing another original, “Broken Man,” Hedley told a story about a gig in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman came up to him after the show and told him that the song had made her cry. When she asked him what it was about, he said, “a one-night stand.” She just got disgusted and walked away, he said.
Editor’s note: Shortly after this article was published, Joshua Hedley tweeted: “Just to clarify; I love playing at @RobertsWWorld for tips and I’m doing it tonight and every Monday at 10pm til I die or get fired.”