IF YOU GO
What: Nightfall concert series featuring Hayes Carll.
When: 8 p.m. today; Amber Fults opens at 7.
Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Market and Cherry streets.
Venue website: www.nightfallchattanooga.com.
Amber Fults is a local indie pop singer/songwriter and leader of the band The Ambivalent Lovers. She was one of the semifinalists of this year's McKay's Road to Nightfall competition. For more information, visit reverbnation.com/amberfultsandtheambivalentlovers.
Forget greener grass; the wrong side of the tracks was always a more appealing target of lust for singer/songwriter Hayes Carll.
Growing up in a predominantly white, suburban community in Texas, the teenage Carll was wild with envy for the free-spirited itinerants featured in the books of Jack Kerouac and the songs of Bob Dylan, John Prine and Kris Kristofferson.
When he was old enough to set out on his own, he chased after his dream, adopting a vagabond lifestyle that showed him how the other side lived.
"I just saw that there was a big world that I was only seeing a small part of, and that bothered me," he said. "I spent a lot of years bumming around with shady folks trying to achieve my dream of becoming an alcoholic womanizer who could hustle you in a game of pool."
The benefits of that experience can be heard in Carll's songs, which deliver pointed, witty observations about life and politics in a twangy drawl that echoes the outlaw-country attitude of artists such as Kristofferson and Steve Earle.
Tonight, Carll will take the stage at Miller Plaza as this week's Nightfall series headliner.
Although he sings about the recession, political disagreements and lost love, Carll said humor has been among his most valuable tools since he started singing in dives on the Texas coast.
By putting a sarcastic, witty spin on sometimes-polarizing topics, he said he feels free to follow a narrative that might otherwise alienate him from his audience.
"[Growing up] I enjoyed stuff that could rock and was deep but that had a wink and a smile to go with it," Carll said. "If you're telling a story, there's a viewpoint and an opinion, but when you use humor, you can say, 'Look at this. Isn't it silly or ridiculous?' without running everyone off."
Whether his audience is laughing or thoughtful by the time he leaves the stage tonight, Carll said, he hopes he manages to put words to things his listeners never realized they needed to hear.
"I always think about the effect songwriters had on me, that thing of someone articulating something you feel and being able to pin it down," he said. "To be able to connect with people that way is a thrill because I know how it felt when people did that for me."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...