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  • Writer's pictureRobin Pearl

Episode Three: The Western Beat Is Born

Updated: Apr 15, 2019

The Block family ‘front porch hang’ moved to the Sutler, on 8th Avenue in Nashville, in 1995 and became known as Billy Block’s Western Beat Barn Dance. Every week, the future of Americana showed up to either play or listen. This continued for nearly twenty years at various clubs across town. Aside from the Grand Ole Opry, Billy’s show became one of the longest running in Nashville.

Billy Block Show poster from August 2004, featuring Rodney Crowell, Kevin Welch and many more country music legends.

Author and music historian Peter Cooper said of the show, “Elizabeth Cook, Lucinda [Williams], Alison Moorer, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, the people we consider the bedrock of Americana, Billy was foundational to those people coming together.” Which is why, when Billy passed away in 2015, so many of these artists attended his funeral, held at the Mother Church, the Ryman. As they had for his weekly shows, many of them not only attended but performed, noting that Billy was looking down and loving the fact that he was headlining the Ryman, just for one night of celebration.

Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller sing together for the first time while honoring their dear friend Billy Block at his memorial service on March 23, 2015 at the Ryman.

Before Americana became the recognized genre it is today, it was also referred to as Alt-Country or Roots Music. When interviewed for the Tennessean at the time of Billy’s passing, Rodney Crowell said, “Billy was the heartbeat of alternative country sensibilities in Nashville, there wouldn’t be any East Nashville hipster community without his enthusiasm for all things cool, especially in music. He was father, husband and friend, and we won’t soon see his likes again.”

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