If I think back on when the first time I saw Rayland Baxter play, I wouldn’t be able to place where it was, exactly, but I would almost certainly be able to say with whom he played. It was The Kingston Springs (RIP), sometime during the Feathers & Fishhooks era of Rayland Baxter, back when showing up on Critter’s Galaxy was the ultimate Nashville badge of honor. My best guess at what the occasion for seeing Baxter and his cohorts would be that old Dollar General sponsored Riverfront series, Nashville Dancin’.
The same series saw the likes of The Lonely Biscuits, Daniel Ellsworth & the Great Lakes, and Sol Cat (more on them later), only to become a thing of the past as Nashville’s downtown Riverfront Park became the primary locale of virtually every festival in town. And therein lies our parallel focus for this write-up/pseudo-semi concert review - the admirable continuity and tenure of Rayland Baxter and Okey Dokey.
It’s interesting to consider the “ascent” of Rayland Baxter, who has long been one of the most seemingly amiable and carefree entities in Nashville for years now. To certain extents, he seems like the ultimate ambassador for Nashville living. One of the rare natives in town, Baxter is far from the type to boast or promote such a fact (something we all could probably learn from), instead opting to endorse and champion any and all who enter his world, which in turn brings us to Okey Dokey.
If by chance, you’re visiting the site for the first time, just know that on more than a few occasions, I’ve taken the time to eulogize Sol Cat, a once promising band that has luckily led to some excellent offshoots, namely Okey Dokey. Throughout Sol Cat’s toothsome career, there were more than a few changes, and certainly some (perceived) strife, but all throughout, the constants of Sol Cat seemed to remain in Baxter’s (and in turn, Nashville’s) atmosphere.
Ultimately, Sol Cat finally gave up the ghost (but not for lack of valiant final efforts, go listen to their final two EPs), but those aforementioned constants - Johny Fisher and Aaron Martin as founders - pulled through to create Okey Dokey. Fast forward to Baxter’s two-night Wide Awake release residency at The Basement East, an evening that prior to entering the doors, I assumed would be filled by Nashville “old heads” from the early 2010s old guard, but as you might have surmised, it (relatively) far from what was anticipated.
An aspect of Baxter’s steady tenure in Nashville has been his unique standing amongst the younger show going set. Not the thirty and under crowd of semi-contemporaries and aspirants, but rather, the under twenty-one crowd. I remember the last time Baxter played Live On the Green in 2016, marveling at the fanatical horde willing to stand in open sun at three in the afternoon to watch Baxter place his wares on display. I chalked it up to his having once been a teacher or something irreverent like that, but after seeing all the “youngbloods” front and center last night, it’s apparent that Baxter simply connects with that set in an enviable way.
Subsequently, such an observation makes Okey Dokey an excellent pairing for a bill, as the songs off Love You, Mean It and Besides are playfully astute, appealing to the melodically inclined youngins as well as the (occasionally) hypercritical old heads. Realistically, you’d probably be hard pressed to find anyone within the sold out Basement East crowd considering any sort of malicious criticism toward Baxter or Okey Dokey outside of questioning the decision to hold only two nights of Wide Awake festivities in Nashville, as I’m almost certain at third night could have, at the very least, been entertained. Both put on shows well worth viewing (as expected).
Whether it was Aaron Martin of Okey Dokey impishly cavorting about on stage, Jeremy Clark playing with both bands, cameo appearances from the great Katie Schecter, or Rayland Baxter casually poking fun at his sustained climb in Nashville through the need for multiple guitar changes, it became apparent that while the evening had been set to celebrate Baxter’s release of Wide Awake, the evening was secondarily a homecoming celebration for two of our city’s finest purveyors of Nashville verisimilitude and inclusivity. If ever there were a Mount Rushmore of Nashville, I’d be willing to argue both Baxter and Okey Dokey would have a fighting chance to be featured (even though Nashville’s Mount Rushmore would probably have closer to sixteen faces as opposed to four, but that’s for a different write-up). The point is, Rayland Baxter and the Okey Dokey crew are Nashville’s thruline of what is, was, and will continue to be exciting in Nashville.