We here at Jasper are stoked for the 2015 Jam Room Music Festival, a free all-day concert that is celebrating its fourth year on Main Street this year. But rather than us telling you how awesome some of the bookings are, we thought we'd ask some community figures about their personal experiences with some of the bands booked. We started by asking American Gun's Todd Mathis about his history with Nashville singer/songwriter Cory Branan, one of the most celebrated under-the-radar Americana acts around.
The first time I heard the name Cory Branan was in the song “Tears Don’t Matter Much” by Lucero. Ben Nichols sings:
“Cory Branan’s got an evil streak
And way with words, that will bring you to your knees
He can play the wildest shows
And he can sing so sweet”
Not long after, while browsing around Acme Comics, Randy Dunn suggested I buy The Hell You Say, Branan’s debut album from 2002. I listened, thought it had some good songs, “Ms. Ferguson” and “Skateland South” being my favorites, but was overall unimpressed. I thought Lucero was much better and the production on the album was scattered. Sometime later in 2005 (the exact dates from those days blur) I saw where Cory’s manager, Brian, was looking to fill some tour dates and I decided to try and help out. The Whig had just opened so I asked Phil Blair if I could book Cory to play there. Phil agreed and I got in touch with Brian and we booked the date. I lugged my band’s PA equipment down the stairs to the Whig, set it up and had it ready. I sent out emails to Uncle Gram (at WUSC) and rounded up as many of my friends as I could and Cory played for the first time in Columbia.
After seeing that show I realized why Ben Nichols had thought enough of Cory to put him in a song. Cory was great live, and it was just him and a guitar. Charismatic, spastic, tender, and thoughtful were a few of the descriptions that ran through my mind. His debut album had not done him justice. (And actually, none since have done justice to the live show.) This guy was madly talented and anyone that saw him had to crack a smile at some of his stories and tunes. There were maybe 20 people in the audience that night, but I think everyone had a good time. Cory drank some whiskey and followed me back to my house where I left him sleeping the next morning. I went to work and was surprised to get a call from Brian (the manager) that afternoon asking if I had Cory’s phone. I found it on the back of the toilet and Fed Exed it to Cory’s next show.
About a year or so later (again, timeframes here blur) I booked Cory again in Columbia, this time being at New Brookland Tavern. I got Rob Lindsey to open, and I think I played a few songs too, and we had a better crowd. Things were going pretty good that night until soundman Benji had a heart attack and died in the club. Cory’s set was cut short and we all moved to the Red Tub where most sat in disbelief. It was a pretty sad scene, Benji being such a great, nice dude. Again, Cory came back to the house, and again, I got a call later in the evening asking about Cory’s phone. I found it under the guest bed.
After those two shows in Columbia, Branan didn’t need my help booking him anymore. He moved on to a better booking agency and traveled back through Columbia a few more times where he always played amazing live shows. I even caught him in Nashville once with a full band and a near-packed house, something he hasn’t quite been able to do here in Columbia. I’ve suggested Cory to the powers that be for the Jam Room Music Festival since its inception and was thrilled to see him on the bill this year. I’m sure more than a few folks will come away saying, “Dang, that Cory Branan guy put on a hell of a show.” -Todd Mathis
Here's a link to Todd's new project, Interruptions of the Mind, along with some Cory Branan tunes: