Settling into one of the only available chairs with my $6 lemonade, I arrived in time to catch the last couple of songs by Tucson's Kaia Chesney, who played a solo acoustic set that served as mere background music for those gorging on grub at nearby picnic tables and, unfortunately, not many others. Which was too bad, because the songs were lovely.
The rub for musical acts playing the Fourth Avenue Street Fair is that no one really goes there to hear music. It's just one mere element of the over-stimulation extravaganza.
J.P. Harris, a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Nashville, had a leg up on Chesney in the attention-grabbing department in the form of an electric three-piece band, the Tough Choices—and the decibel levels that came with it. From the opening song, "Bright Lights and Country Music"—one of several covers played over the course of two sets, joining originals from the band's recent debut album, I'll Keep Calling—it was apparent that none of that newfangled alt-country stuff would be emanating from the stage: Harris is armed with a rich voice built for classic Nashville country music, and that's exactly what the tight band—featuring a killer lead guitar player—played over the course of the next two hours.
There were trucking songs, divorce songs, road songs, lots of drinking songs, and a new addition to the country canon: a tattoo song. And by about the fourth tune, something funny happened: People started trickling in to actually listen to the music, and not just people with giant turkey legs in their hands. Little by little, people started dancing in the street on the particularly steamy, bright March afternoon. By the band's final song, the title track from the new album, the front of the stage was filled with two-steppers—and one couldn't help but get caught up in the moment.
J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices are scheduled to play at Club Congress at the end of June, and if they were that good out of their element, I imagine they'll be even better in their natural environment.