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Before the second to last song in her half-hour set opening for Bendigo Fletcher at The Basement East, Abby Hamilton stops for a second to readjust her capo a fret or two either up or down the neck, though it's hard to really tell which way because we're all just holding onto her words while she tells us a story about a cousin who, when she was growing up, Abby always thought was Dolly Parton.

Dolly Parton because of how long her nails were and how big and blonde her hair was, big and blonde enough to have stayed with Abby over the years and found a way into “Trailer Park Queen,” which, when she starts into the song, everyone at The Basement East has to wonder if Abby actually is related to Dolly Parton—if not also John Prine or maybe even George Jones too—because the stories in her songs aren't tied to just her story, or her cousin's, or even Dolly Parton's story, but to a story we can all share for a few seconds when she tells us about her cousin who “really is what country songs are made of.”

“Trailer Park Queen” leads into her last song of the night, “Big Time,” about not making it but faking it while living off of a diet of Tito's vodka, corn chips, and cigarettes, and trying to keep up the facade for everyone back home:

“Told Miss Patti that I’ve made the big time,

Got signed to a label in L.A.,

Told her stories of having a drink with George Jones,

She believed me 'til she found where he lay”

“Big Time” is a song that cuts through to everyone who's been there, even if it's been a long time since they've been there or if they haven't ever been there themselves, because Abby can bring them there in just a few seconds—because what Abby Hamilton songs are made of is a certain honky-tonk holiness, the sacred in the humorous, the funny and the infinite—because of the way she gets the seconds to last, whether she's telling a story behind a song or holding onto a last line as the band quiets down with the rest of us in The Basement East and all there is for a few seconds is her and her words:

“And you can't make a living off of royalty checks if nobody's cutting your songs”

2/16/22 at The Basement East in Nashville, Tennessee

Photographs by Emma Delevante

Words by Sam Farahmand

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