Americana’s sweethearts: Local songwriters let the love flow at the Southern

Tara Mills, Holly Renee Allen, Sally Rose and Terri Allard (with Jimmy Stelling on banjo and Sonny Layne on bass) fill your world with love as the Country Sweethearts onstage at the Southern on Saturday. Photo: Martyn Kyle Tara Mills, Holly Renee Allen, Sally Rose and Terri Allard (with Jimmy Stelling on banjo and Sonny Layne on bass) fill your world with love as the Country Sweethearts onstage at the Southern on Saturday. Photo: Martyn Kyle

The room will be filled with love long before the first guest arrives at the second annual Country Sweethearts Valentine’s Day show at the Southern on Saturday. The women on the bill, Terri Allard, Holly Renee Allen, Tara Mills and Sally Rose, have such affection and admiration for each other that it’s impossible to be in their presence without falling in with their loose, generous camaraderie, a vibe that emanates when they sit together onstage, trading songs and banter.

The show reunites the lineup of Allard, Allen and Mills with Rose joining them for the first time, and the bonus of hearing these songwriters together is the exchange of discovery between the fans. “It’s so organic what happens onstage with us and then the audience is having a good time,” said Allard. “Judging from last year’s show, it was a great opportunity for people to hear different songwriters they may not have heard before. Just sitting in and having a great time with this wonderful music community is so much fun.”

Mills booked the 2014 show along with the Southern team and had no hesitation in bringing it back. “We got a great response last year,” she said. More importantly, Allen stressed, “we had fun.”

Despite holiday tradition, the concert is not just for couples, and is intended to be inclusive with “songs of love, loss, heartbreak, marriage, divorce, functional relationships and dysfunctional relationships,” according to Rose, who sent a message to her fan base that read, “We’ll all be your Valentine, if you don’t have a Valentine.”

Mills agreed. “This is not just for couples —bring kids, the whole family,” she said.

Individually, each of these women is nurturing a career on the Central Virginia music circuit: Allard is a veteran fixture on the scene with a pile of accolades, including a Washington Area Music Award for Best Country Artist and co-writing credits on a song with Mary Chapin Carpenter. Her polished folk-country voice has made her a popular local player and although her busy schedule—hosting her own TV show, “Charlottesville Inside-Out” and serving as the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Music Resource Center—has taken her away from touring, Allard still plays often, and is usually found on the bigger stages in town.

Allen is a solo act from the Shenandoah Valley who spent time in the music clubs of Nashville and Atlanta before returning to Virginia. She plays bluesy, soulful country rock and ballads full of romantic notions and road wisdom, often shaping rough-edged stories into unabashed beauty. Allen is effusive about the support she receives from peers in the community, naming Allard, Mills, Andy Gems and Ashley McMillen as key players in developing local talent.

Mills started playing regularly after college and her bluegrass-inspired music has landed her band numerous festival gigs and made her a notable name in the region. Her well-crafted songs are lively, poignant and evoke her thoughtful, graceful presence.

Rose is a bright, bubbly frontwoman. There’s no getting around the earnestness and giddy charm that pours out with every word. “I’m going to say way too many embarrassing things,” she lamented about sitting in the round among her songwriting peers. But the music Rose makes is mature, artful, spirited and spiritual.

There’s not an official song list, but the bill promises love songs old and new, and of course every one of these women has a catalog full of offerings.

“Love lost is the easiest subject to write about when you’re a songwriter,” said Mills.

When it comes to favorites, the choices are as individual as their personalities. “The one song that jumps out is a song called ‘You and Me’—it’s different from other songs that I normally play,” said Mills about a recent composition. “It’s written in B minor and it’s a positive love song.”

One of Allen’s tunes was inspired by a complicated crush that resulted in her song “First Time Love Kinda Thing,” which she intended to shop to Jason Aldean, but serendipitously ended up recording as a duet with Shawn Mullins, the source of inspiration. “He and I have been friends forever, but not romantically involved for a very long time,” said Allen.

Rose cites young love in her namesake song “Witchbaby,” an ode to “that long drawn out history with your first love that never goes away…There’s something about your first love that haunts you,” she said.

Allard can’t resist the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris version of “Love Hurts.” “My husband and I sang it at our wedding reception,” she said. “We’ve always loved singing that song.”

The Sweethearts plan to play originals, as well as covers and hinted that they have a surprise in store for the audience. But most importantly, they plan to send you home filled with love.

“I want people to leave the show with a smile on their face,” said Mills.

“I want them to feel relaxed, warm, happy,” said Rose. “We are all enjoying this together.”

Saturday 2/14. $12-15, 8pm. The Southern Cafe & Music Hall, 103 S. First St. 977-5590.

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