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Mark Knopfler Navigates a New Course in Nashville

by Rich and Laura Lynch

The legendary award-winning guitarist Mark Knopfler is no stranger to the Ryman Auditorium. He and his superb 10-piece backing band returned to the revered room to showcase songs from his latest Down The Road Wherever on Tuesday, September 03, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Mark Knopfler Navigates a New Course in Nashville
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Knopfler at the Mother Church of Country Music.

The venue was originally constructed by Capt. Tom Ryman - a riverboat captain in Tennessee who commissioned the building to hold large scale tent revivals. Like Ryman the navigator, the musician best known for his work in Dire Straits has successfully charted a solo career ever since walking away from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted band he helped put on the map.

Knopfler is quite familiar with Nashville, too, largely in part to the friendship he developed with this town's certified guitar expert - Mr. Chet Atkins. The pair worked on several projects together notably the "Chet Atkins & Friends" PBS televised special from 1987 and 1990's Neck and Neck - a collaborative album by Atkins and Knopfler. Mark recalled how Chet took sympathy on him early on for his being a fingerstyle player and something of an outlier in the rock world because of his approach to the instrument that was heavily influenced by Music City's most famous picker.

That fingerstyle form from the rock god that inspired a generation of guitar players was on display early and often in Nashville. The notable notes dropped like heavenly dew in the one time church during the opener "Why Aye Man" from 2002's The Ragpicker's Dream.

Mark Knopfler Navigates a New Course in Nashville
The latest solo album from Mark Knopfler.

Songs three through five raised the bar and featured another navigationally themed "Sailing to Philadelphia" the title track from his critically acclaimed second record. "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Romeo and Juliet" - both beloved and expansive Dire Straits classics - had the Ryman faithful convulsing in ecstasy. So much so that when Knopfler took a seat following the powerful three-pack to slow the pace Nashville paid their respects to the guitarist by giving him two extended standing ovations.

Several of the new songs document Knopfler's brief rough road to fame when he eventually scored with Dire Straits - a band he co-founded with his now estranged brother David and mates John Illsley (bass guitar ) and Pick Withers (drums) who he was unwilling or unable to join at their 2018 Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "Matchstick Man" is a memory that poignantly captures Mark Knopfler as he was, and as he remains, "a young idiot with a guitar and a bag, climbing up into trucks and hitchhiking" on a wintry day in England.

"I got a lift up the old A1 and he (the driver) let me off at a high crossroads in the Midlands. The sun was shining, there was snow everywhere and I could see for miles. There was nothing moving anywhere. I'm standing there with my guitar case and bag and this realization of what I'd chosen to do with my life. To me, it was exactly what I wanted to do. It's just a snapshot of me then. From the air I would have been a tiny matchstick figure in this vastness of snow with his dream of being a musician."

Mark Knopfler Navigates a New Course in Nashville
The Ryman retains its place as one of Nashville's greatest rooms.

Knopfler's band, most of whom have been working with him for more than two decades included: Guy Fletcher (keyboards), Richard Bennett (guitar), Jim Cox (piano), Mike McGoldrick (whistle and flute), John McCusker (fiddle and cittern), Glenn Worf (bass), Danny Cummings (percussion) and Ian Thomas (drums). New additions include Graeme Blevins (saxophone) and Tom Walsh (trumpet).

They thrilled throughout the night and all players received generous time to shine in the spotlight. The unit was adept and flexible on a variety of styles from the upbeat "Postcards From Paraguay" polka to the #1 rock standard of the MTV-era "Money For Nothing". Mark jokingly covered his ears as he exited the stage after this first energetic encore as if to say - "enough of this racket".

Here's what we do know in terms of where Knopfler and company is going. This run of dates on Down The Road Wherever will culminate on September 25 with a much anticipated concert at MSG in New York City with support from Bonnie Raitt. Perhaps a return to the glorious Garden stage will light a spark of nostalgia. Maybe a quick phone call could repair much of the well-publicized Dire Straits damage and drama that has accrued over the years and give the boys another shot at printing money - and lots of it - simply by playing music. We can still hope but Mark Knoplfer fans are sure to follow him wherever he goes regardless of what the future holds for the man and his music.

Mark Knopfler Navigates a New Course in Nashville
Mark Knopfler put some tasty slide work on display at the Ryman.

Related Links: For more information on MARK KNOPFLER and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links -- Mark Knopfler | Ryman Auditorium


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