You may have not known his name or who he was, but it would be hard not to notice the tall, lanky, dreadheaded dude in big white glasses behind the drums backing up a dozen or so different independent country artists from Nashville over the years as they toured through your town, and doing his level best to not just keep the beat, but bring the energy to country and Americana shows that may not be the same without him.
His name is Jerry Pentecost, and perhaps you’ve seen him playing behind J.P. Harris, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Jonny Fritz, Caitlin Rose, or most recently Amanda Shires in concert, or maybe behind scores of other acts in Nashville, especially at places like Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway, where local bands are tasked to play for three straight hours for tips on a regular basis. He may not look like your stereotypical country drummer, but Pentecost has a repertoire of scores of classic and traditional country covers in his arsenal. Call out an older country song and he can probably play it, as well as holding down the original sets by scores of Nashville-based artists who’ve required his services out on the road for many years.
It’s side musicians like Pentecost who help bring you the music, but go unceremoniously unheralded compared to the stars whose names are prominently displayed on the marquee. But during the 2017 installment of AmericanaFest in Nashville last week, Pentecost got a big boost in recognition and prestige.
Chosen to be the drummer of the renown Americana Music Awards house band, Jerry Pentacost had the priveledge to play behind such acts as Van Morrison and Lori McKenna, and share the stage with Larry Campbell and The McCrary Sisters. If you want to know who is respected as a musician in Americana music, look no further than the Americana Awards house band, which has housed such greats as Buddy Miller, Don Was, and Dave Cobb over the years just to name a few.
It all fell into place after a period where Pentecost didn’t even know if he wanted to play drums anymore.
“Amanda Shires sent me a text message asking me if I wanted to put a band together for her,” Pentecost recalls. “And at that point I wasn’t even playing drums. I was so burnt out I just didn’t want to do it anymore. It was taking the fun out of it. Nobody was paying attention. It couldn’t be life or death for me anymore. I needed to start thinking about other options.”
Amanda’s offer for Pentecost to not only be her drummer, but assemble and lead her band is what gave him the drive to stay in the game. Then while playing an Americana event in New York with Shires, Pentecost ran into the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, Jed Hilly, as well as Americana producer Michelle Aquilato. Jerry was surprised the principals of Americana even knew who he was, let alone wanted to employ his services.
Pentecost was first asked to be in charge of assembling the backing band for an event the Americana Music Association was doing at the Country Music Hall of Fame for Mike Judge’s new animated series, Tales From The Tour Bus. Pentecost would put together the players, and Americana would provide the singers. That’s when Pentecost got a phone call that up’d the ante even more.
“Buddy Miller calls me and says, ‘Hey man, Buddy Miller here, not sure if you’re aware of me or what I do, but I wanted to see if you’re available on the 13th for the Americana Music Awards,'” Pentecost says. “I mean I dropped my phone. So in a matter of two weeks I went from not knowing if the AMAs even knew who I was, to all of a sudden being the house drummer for them. It was mind boggling. I’m still speechless.”
The day after the Americana Music Awards, when Pentecost was leading the band at the Tales From The Tour Bus event at the Hall of Fame, Jerry found out just how many people had noticed his presence at the awards.
“I talked to Vince Gill, and he said, ‘Man, you did a good job last night. And I was like, ‘That’s Vince Gill.’ And Paul Franklin was like, ‘I was impressed.’ This is stuff I’ve been dreaming about for years, just to be able to consider these people my peers. I’ve been putting my time in for 17 years now. And who knows, maybe nothing comes from this. But I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything in the world. I’m super grateful and thankful.”
Pentecost has already been an unofficial part of the AmericanaFest festivities for the last few years as the host of the official/unofficial Americana Music Awards afterparty at Robert’s Western World right across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium where the Americana Music Awards are held. Just as the old greats used to amble out of the Ryman after Grand Ole Opry shows to drink at Tootsie’s, so do many of the performers and dignitaries after the Americana awards.
Without an ounce of pay, and appearing out of the respect they have for Pentecost, performers such as Jason Isbell, Steve Earle, and many more have played Pentecost’s shindig after the Americana Awards the last few years. This year the performers that showed up to sing classic country covers in front of Pentecost’s all-star band included Chuck Mead, Lilly Hyatt, Cory Branan, Leigh Nash, Derek Hoke, Tommy Scifres, Whiskey Gentry, Ron Pope, Emma Swift, Chance McCoy of Old Crow Medicine Show, Robyn Hitchcock, BJ Barham of American Aquarium, and Brian Ritchey among others, and stealing the show was Yola Carter, who belted out incredible renditions of “Pancho & Lefty” and “Two More Bottles of Wine” for the Robert’s crowd.
“We don’t do anything after 1989,” Jerry Pentecost explains. “I specifically love to stick to 60’s and 70’s stuff myself. 70’s George Jones is probably my favorite. These songs became hits for a reason, and I’d like to show some respect and preserve that. Growing up in the 90’s, country was Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks and all that. No offense to them, but I didn’t get it when I was 15. I grew up in a typical black household where we listened to Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Sam Cook.”
But it was when Jerry started working for Jonny Fritz many years ago that he found a passion and a skill for playing drums behind classic country music. “I’m born and raised in Nashville,” he explains. “A lot of people don’t know that. I never left. I was born in Baptist Hospital. And I feel like I was supposed to be here. It just took me a while to figure that out.”
Now he’s quickly becoming one of the most recognizable drummers in independent country and Americana music. Jerry Pentecost also DJ’s in Nashville during his dead times between tours, and regularly organizes local events that showcase many of Nashville’s finest independent and Americana acts playing classic country music.
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Below are some pictures from Robert’s Western World’s Americana afterparty, 2017. The house band for the event was Kristin Weber on fiddle, Adam Meisterhans on lead guitar, Jared Manzo on bass, Robbie Crowell on keys, and Whit Wright on pedal steel.
NOTE: Apologies to performers or musicians who participated in the afterparty, but were not pictured or mentioned.