Acoustic Sunday with Tom Paxton, Three Women and the Truth 

Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton

Folk music icon and 2009 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Tom Paxton says he doesn't mean to preach. He just tries to hold a mirror up to the world. "I'm not a propagandist. I never have been," Paxton says. "I just try to reflect the world I see around me."

Though he has written his share of incendiary folk songs — such as "If the Poor Don't Matter" and "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation" — Paxton believes in the importance of seeing the whole spectrum when it comes to songwriting. "I write all kinds of songs," he says. "I write songs for children. I just finished a love song this afternoon."

Paxton recently wrapped up a tour in celebration of his 80th birthday — and more than 50 years in the music business as a songwriter, performer, and supporter of music education — from his beginnings as a frequent performer in New York's Greenwich Village, where in 1962, he recorded his first of more than 60 albums, to his more recent songwriting workshops as part of Warren Wilson College's Swannanoa Gathering. "I turned 80 on Halloween, and within two weeks, I heard myself described as spry," Paxton says. "You know you're old when people describe you as spry."

click to enlarge Kathy Mattea
  • Kathy Mattea

Paxton credits Pete Seeger and Seeger's group the Weavers as being early sources of inspiration. "My model has always been the Weavers. They were the ones who inspired me," Paxton says. "They didn't shy away from singing songs about the world around them, but they also sang lullabies and songs of family.” It's that spirit of unprejudiced observation that fuels Paxton's songwriting engine. "I'm looking for an idea, and any idea can be a good idea," Paxton says. "I wrote a song about the firemen on 9/11, who ran up the stairs when everybody else was running down."

Paxton, along with his band the Don Juans, will play a benefit concert for Indie Memphis, dubbed Acoustic Sunday Live, on December 17th at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts downtown. "I'm having as much fun now as I've ever had," Paxton says, "and it's all because I'm hanging out with these two friends from Nashville, John Veznor and Don Henry, who call themselves the Don Juans." The Acoustic Sunday event seems to represent something of a Tennessee truce between the often differing musical styles of Memphis and Nashville, as many of the performers at the Indie Memphis benefit have made Tennessee's state capital their home. Also performing will be the Nashville-based Three Women and the Truth: Gretchen Peters, Kathy Mattea, and Mary Gauthier.

Bruce Newman, Indie Memphis board member and host of WEVL's popular Folk Song Fiesta program, conceived the event as a fund-raiser and a showcase. "I've been doing these concerts as fund-raisers for different organizations since maybe the late '90s," Newman says. "When I started on the board of Indie Memphis a year ago, I thought that [it] would be a good beneficiary of a fund-raiser." And Newman says asking Paxton to participate was a no-brainer. "I had him in Memphis for a Woody Guthrie tribute," Newman says. "Then I had him in Memphis to open the Rose Theater at the University of Memphis.

click to enlarge Mary Gauthier
  • Mary Gauthier

"I know Mary Gauthier and Gretchen Peters," Newman says. "I thought it would be cool if we could split the bill up with Tom and then have [them] do this thing called Three Women and the Truth, which is basically songs about what it's like to be a female in a fairly male-dominated business."

Describing themselves as "three women, three guitars, and the words, music, and hard-won wisdom of three lifetimes spent in pursuit of the song," the women can boast multiple Grammy nominations, a CMA Song of the Year, and accolades from No Depression magazine, The New York Times, and Bob Dylan.

"I'm looking forward eagerly to coming back to Memphis," Paxton says. "I'll be as spry as ever."

Tom Paxton and the Don Juans, Three Women and the Truth featuring Gretchen Peters, Kathy Mattea, and Mary Gauthier at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts, Sunday, December 17th at 7 p.m.

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