Thursday, May 31, 2007

WSM: An Intimate Evening With Eddie Stubbs and Joe Nichols

I have yet to be lucky and have a winning lottery ticket or something big like that (I play rarely, folks), but sometimes I win these smaller things, like tickets to last night's event at the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. It was one of Eddie Stubbs' monthy "Intimate Evening" live radio broadcasts, this one with Joe Nichols.

Having lived in St. Paul, I've attended many a live Minnesota Public Radio broadcast, including "A Prairie Home Companion" episodes. But I must say the audience had probably as many laughs here as they would at that show...Joe is quite a character, with many quick quips, humorous anecdotes and mugging for the audience during commercial breaks and when his songs were played from the studio. He talked a lot about the early days in his career, mentioning that he played regularly at my favorite downtown Nashville restaurant, Rippy's (where I had dinner before the show). Joe and his guitar player, Brian Spradlin, treated us to a couple of acoustic performances of Merle Haggard tunes, "That's the Way Love Goes" and one other which I forgot the title of, earning them a standing ovation.

Joe very graciously did quick meet and greets during the breaks. Eddie Stubbs is also a true gentleman and a real pro, doing sausage commercials off the top of his head (the tall thin announcer got a laugh from the audience when he mentioned the sausage came in low fat "if you're watching your figure, like me") and making the whole thing look relaxed and easy.

If you're in the Nashville area, these shows are fun events to be able to attend if you can. can give you info on how to win tickets. Some advice: wear comfortable shoes--there is a lot of standing and waiting in line before the show. And, check out parking options, as the lots around the Hall of Fame can be a bit pricey.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

ITR at the Bluebird Cafe: Michael O'Brien, Morgan Cryar, Sean Smith, Brad Reynolds

A few days ago, I heard Morgan Cryar's beautiful song and one of my favorites, "What Sin" on my cable TV music channel. Later on, I went online and checked out the Bluebird Cafe calendar and found that he was appearing in an early show in the round along with Michael O'Brien. Well, I thought, maybe I ought to check that out. I added this show to my calendar on short notice.

Longtime Christian music fans need no introduction to Michael O'Brien or Morgan Cryar. Both are accomplished songwriters and singers (Michael also is known for his tenure in NewSong). I was not familiar with Brad Reynolds and Sean Smith...but read on for more on those guys.

You could say I was "up close and personal" with these four fellows, as my table was practically right in the round itself. So close, really, that I could have been taken for a participant, but fortunately for the guys and the crowd, I wasn't. :)

A large majority of the songs centered around marriage and family. But it wasn't all bliss. Sometimes marriages hit rocky roads, or divorce happens, or parenting becomes a challenge. Michael, Brad, Sean and Morgan showed the joys and the tough parts about being spouses and parents in their songs.

Michael, on keyboard, did many of the songs from his latest release, "Something About Us", a jazz-flavored collection focusing on his 18 year marriage which almost came to an end years ago. One of the most powerful performances of the evening came when he played "If Ever I Forget", noting that God delivered him from addictions years back.

Morgan played some of his newer material (we didn't hear "What Sin?", though, because he didn't have the guitar part worked out.) One of the standouts was "Broken Lilacs" co-written with Michigan songwriter Chuck White (who I met in the line to the door earlier in the evening). Morgan also brought up his 17 year old daughter Tilly to do one of her songs. Chuck had given me the buzz on her when we spoke, and he was correct...Tilly is a talented writer and singer already with a Norah Jones type vocal feel. Apples don't fall very far from the tree.

Brad Reynolds, who organized the round, is a fine guitarist who backed the other writers often in the set and a creative and clever songwriter, with "Jesus Is My Locksmith" and "Backwards World". He brought up a friend, Suzanne Carr, to sing a song originally pitched to JoDee Messina, "Starting Over". This one sounded like a hit for somebody to me.

If you've not heard of Sean Smith yet, I guarantee you that you will soon. This Cumming, GA artist is the whole package...great singer, excellent songwriter, humble heart. He was a heart-grabber, with songs like "A Lifetime's Worth", written for his wife, and "If Sierra Can Smile" about a child with leukemia. His album, "Real", is excellent--one of those you just know when you listen to it that you're hearing something special. Sean has already won a few independent artist awards for this album. I predict we'll see him on the stage of the Dove awards before long.

It was quite evident that all four of these artists had great respect for one another, and humility about the gifts that God has given them.

Following my instinct was a good thing. It turned out to be one of those "I'm so glad I moved here" evenings which further defined why I wanted to come to Nashville.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

3rd Sunday at Doak's

A couple of people directed me to an event well known to the songwriting community in Nashville: Doak Turner's 3rd Sunday get-together. I made plans to come by there to try to meet some songwriters, find out how to best support them and hear some great music. There is also lots of great food there, too.

Being that I was not a songwriter, I sort of started out being a fly on the wall. This may shock some people, but I'm kinda shy in groups where I am new. (Of course, I am always pretty comfortable near a food table.) It's hard for me sometimes to just go and say "hey, I'm Wendy". I didn't know if people would get why I was there. Then, the song rounds started and I went in and eavesdropped on a couple of groups. Oh my goodness. This songwriting talent here is just as incredible as I'd imagined. And there are also a lot of very good singers among these writers. When somebody very kindly passed me a guitar, then I got to tell people that I was an interloper who was there to show support and encouragement.

I tell you what, I would go and hear many of these folks at a gig if I could. There were so many that I didn't catch a whole lot of names (so if I gave you a card and you see this, get in touch and remind me who you are!). One young singer/songwriter who impressed us was Brian James, originally from Seattle who's been in Nashville for a couple of years. Go to his MySpace page (linked above) and you'll hear a song I liked a lot "Room To Breathe". In the small world department, I also hooked up with and got to hear Tara Oliver and her husband Scott. Tara found me online and wrote to me about her music as I was just firming up my final move details, and I left off telling her I'd send her my contact information after I moved...but I forgot to. So I was glad to meet her here and be reminded of that. Tara will be playing at a Nashville singer/songwriter event at Caffeine on June 6 which I plan to be part of and report back on. I also met Kat the photographer/songwriter who I met on MySpace and who invited me to come to Doak's place, and of course Doak himself who was ever sweet and welcoming. OK, I'll quote his response when I told him my reason for being there: "It's better to be a musician supporter than an athletic supporter."

In the course of the afternoon, my question of "do these songwriters here need encouragement?" was answered "yes". I think I have a stronger heart for them now than ever before. Go and hear as many of these artists as you can. They will grab your heart in an instant.

Getting caught up: Michael English, The Herricks

There are a couple of gigs I have been to over the past couple of weeks or so that I haven't covered in other blogs, so I will get started with those to catch up. (I'll explain off the top here that I'm going from memory of a couple of weeks back and don't have any notes to refresh me, so this won't be as detailed as it could have been had I started this blog earlier. My apologies.)

One of the prime attractions to me for coming out here is to see some of my favorite Christian/Southern Gospel artists in their own concerts (outside of Gaither Homecomings, for example). A couple of weeks ago I heard that Michael English was appearing at a church in Nashville, so off I went. For those who have seen Michael in larger concerts, this was an opportunity to hear him in a more intimate concert setting. His well-celebrated vocal power was in full force, and I particularly enjoyed his blues/soulful arrangements of "Blessed Assurance" and "Old Gospel Ship". He also sang "Mary Did You Know" (I must confess: back in the day, before I even heard of Mark Lowry or Buddy Greene, I thought Michael had written the song, as he was the first I'd ever heard sing it). But I'm sure both writers would be very pleased with the kind words Michael had for the song. Michael walked us through some of the phases of his career and shared a bit of his testimony from his compelling biography "The Prodigal Comes Home." He also turned the stage over for one song to a friend of his, Christopher Lee, also a solid singer. They later paired up for a powerful rendition of "I Bowed On My Knees". Acknowledging being in a different stage in his career than years ago, Michael told the crowd he feels better equipped for ministering in music now. Certainly worth the support and encouragement---Michael will be touring with Avalon this fall.

MySpace has also been a good source for finding new artists. I do try to check in with my growing "friends" list to see if they are playing locally. A couple of weeks back, The Herricks were playing the Sunday featured spot at the Bluebird Cafe so I went to check them out. Twin brothers Kevin and Kerry Herrick and their sister, lead vocalist Donna (also backed this evening by Michael Bongura of "Baille and the Boys" fame) turned in an excellent set of country and bluegrass originals. The early Sunday spot at the Bluebird is a short one leading into Writers' Night, but the crowd demanded an encore. The group went back to its Southern Gospel roots and offered up a finely sung acapella number. This is definitely a group to keep an ear open for in the future.

Yet Another Blog!

Yes, I have begun another blog! Continuing the tradition of "Wendy V's Local Blend" during my Minnesota years, I'm starting up "Wendy V's Nashville Blend". Here I will talk about artists I've seen in Nashville at venues or events. Not just a coffeehouse blog this time, but this will cover a wide range, such as singer/songwriter shows at places like the Bluebird Cafe, gospel concerts at churches, etc. I will talk about gigs I've been to with better known musicians, but I plan a large focus on those people may not know yet or don't hear more about.

This won't be a gig listings blog because there are a lot of people in this town doing a great job of that. I just want to continue being a beacon of light and encouragement to musicians who need it. Hopefully, even though the playing field is much bigger here, I'll be able to serve the same purpose in some way as I did in the Twin Cities.

So, please stop by and check out who I've seen!