Marshall Ruffin at Pure Life, 21 January 2017
For the last couple of years, I’ve attended shows at Pure Life Studios. I’m amazed and blessed to have such a great place for live music right in my own neighborhood. Nashville is full of listening rooms, and I’ve been to quite a few of them, but they’d be hard-pressed to honor live music the way Pure Life does.
Any Pure Life event starts out with food. An hour before the show starts, guest chefs offer an excellent meal at a reasonable price. On this night, I had two perfect bratwurst from Holloway’s. If you’ve never had fresh fried pork skins seasoned with salt and vinegar, they will truly change your life. I am serious. Next time, I’m taking home two big bags of them.
It’s when the music starts that I love Pure Life the most. Some venues call themselves “listening rooms,” but Pure Life truly is a place where people come to listen carefully to original songwriting. The crowds are enthusiastic, and always fall silent when an artist takes the stage—even the capacity crowd that came out for Nick Mayfield, who opened with a delightful three-song set for headliner Marshall Ruffin.
Maggie said as she introduced Marshall that, when she first opened Pure Life as a music venue, she made a list of artists she’d love to have play. “Back then, I told myself, ‘If I could just get Marshall Ruffin, I’d feel like I’ve made it.’ And I still feel that way.”
With just his guitar and his soaring, aching voice, Ruffin transported his audience into the not-so-far-away stories in his songs. “My heart and my marrow,” he sings in “Pine,” and suddenly we feel that longing in our own bodies. Ruffin sings about the tragedy of the British ship HMS Terror, lost in 1813 while searching for the Northwest Passage, and rediscovered in 2016. Constant rolling guitar licks mimic the steady lapping of waves and wind against the ship as encroaching winter ice pulverizes the hull and kills the crew. The occasional surprise of a minor 6th or 9th slipped into an otherwise major-chord song felt like the sudden beauty that peeks out at us in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow. The notes and subtle guitar flourishes feel like tiny jewels glinting in the sun along the spare, quiet, foggy shore of the sad, complex world of Ruffin’s songs. His a cappella “Mama,” as fine a revenge song as has ever been written, stunned listeners first into silence, then into applause.
Sitting there in the middle of an old Persian rug, Marshall Ruffin kept the Pure Life audience spellbound for two hours. None of us wanted the magic to end. He’s in the process of recording a new album, however, and needed to save some of his haunting, faraway voice for the next day’s sessions. Rest assured that it won’t be much longer before this award-winning Atlanta favorite is well-known outside of Georgia.
But the image of Ruffin and the well-worn guitar case and suitcase behind him, vibrantly-colored rug under his feet onstage—that’s what stays with me. He and they sit close together, slightly mismatched, yet belonging together. This spot at Pure Life is where love and music live. They travel out into the world with artist and listener. Yet they will always return home.
Y’all come out and experience Pure Life for yourselves. I’ll see you there.