John Oates has the same kid smile and curly mop of thick, brown hair you remember from his Hall & Oates videos, but he also has a new sound that had the audience at Nashville's historic Station Inn hollering in the hardly-even-any-standing-room space.

Although John didn't hit the stage until almost 40 minutes past his scheduled midnight show, his energy seemed sky high as he was joined on the stage by Jon Randall Stewart (who produced Dierks Bentley's 'Up on the Ridge' album), the renowned Sam Bush, and the band 18 South. Anyone who expected to hear John play the pop songs he has made famous with musical partner Daryl Hall may well have been surprised as he rocked the house with what he called urban folk that ranged from songs made famous by Curtis Mayfield to somewhat obscure '70s folk groups.

"I can't believe I am at the Station Inn," said John, smiling broadly at the audience. "Thank God music is alive and well somewhere in this world -- right here in Nashville."

Although John still performs with Daryl, he's almost better known in music circles for his collaborations with other artists. It's grown even stronger in the years since John founded The Aspen Songwriters' Festival. Such notables as Jimmy Wayne, Tift Merritt, Sam Bush, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, and even Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs will gather from September 16 to 19 for a mix of performances, story-behind-the-music tales and more.

In introducing John to the audience at the September 10 show, Jedd Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, spoke of his excitement at meeting John and learning of his reverence for Americana, folk and country that culminated in the Aspen Festival.

"I'm so grateful for his spirit and the songwriters' conference he does in Aspen," said Jedd.

To John, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the festival was a natural outgrowth of his interest in songwriting.

"The concept was to tell the story behind the songs," John told The Boot as he sipped coffee in a hotel lobby the morning after his show. "Audiences know the songs but they don't know the the context of the songs, how the songwriters envisioned them."

Consider songwriters Peter Woolnough Allen and Jeff Barry, who co-wrote 'I Honestly Love You,' made famous by Olivia Newton-John. It wasn't until Jeff performed the song at the Aspen Festival that he was able to relate how the two songwriters had imagined the tune as from a man's point of view.

In a twist on the same theme, John took songs that had influenced him as he matured into a songwriter and revisited them for his new album "Mississippi Mile."

"I don't want to ape the original, but I wanted to re-imagine them," says John. "Some developed from happy accidents."

He mentions wanting to record 'Deep River' made famous by Doc Watson, noting that he was "never going to do as well as I wanted to, in this lifetime, anyway."

After continually tweaking it, John's co-producer Mike Henderson told John that it was an entirely new song with roots leading straight back to the original.

As John worked through his Station Inn set, the passion in his vocals belied the affection he had for the songs ranging from 'Please Send Me Someone to Love' written by Percy Mayfield and made famous by B.B. King to 'Dance Hall Girls,' recorded by the Duhks. The audience grew progressively animated as John and the players -- who had only rehearsed the tricky material once before the show -- broke into inspired ad hoc jams while rolling through the set.

Not bad for someone who said he came to Nashville in the '90s "with every intention of writing a country song until I was informed I had no idea how to write a country song."

"What a lot of fun this is," John told the cheering crowd at one point. "We have to do this again sometime."

A gambler would wager that John's next Station Inn show -- quickly scheduled for the early morning hours of September 11 -- would be even hotter than the first.

John has a series of solo and Hall & Oates concerts scheduled. For a full list of dates and cities, check here.

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