Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Margaret Becker, Cafe Forte, 6/18/07

Margaret Becker has had a long and distinguished career in Christian music. When I first started discovering contemporary Christian music in the 80's, one of the first albums I bought was one of hers. Her appearance at Cafe Forte (held at Edgehill Studios Cafe) was one of the most personally inspiring evenings I've ever spent. Margaret's songs and her testimony about her career journey lit a fire of encouragement under all of us artists and non-artists. Her voice is a beautifully strong and expressive instrument.

Margaret's beginnings were rather humble...she worked as many as seven jobs in her native Long Island before going for her dream in Nashville. She paid some serious dues once here, living in precarious conditions and playing multiple roles from backup singer to merch person to driver in her early tours. Yet, early on in her journey when things were tough, she declared, "I came here to do what I'm supposed to do and until I'm told otherwise, I will proceed." Eventually, a chance encounter with someone she met while in college led to her getting a record deal.

Margaret told the crowd to be true to whatever their calling is and it was something that they MUST do if their passion is strong. The Dove award winner emphasized that it was not about how many numbers of people you play to and how many accolades you get...touching even one person is worth it all. Addressing the pitfalls that come with being an artist, she also powerfully reminded us that "broken bread feeds many."

I found Margaret to be one of the most approachable, down to earth of the established artists I've met in my time here, very generous with her time and her encouragement talking to people in between sets and afterward.

After this evening, I too felt more empowered to continue doing what I came to Nashville to do.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Corner Music Showcase 6/6/07

Amidst the throes of CMA week with a lot of events happening at the same time was a very charming evening of acoustic music at Caffeine in Music Row. Six unique singer/songwriter acts shared their music and their hearts at the first of a monthly series of faith-based songwriter events sponsored by Corner Music. Corner Music's Scott Oliver served as a supportive and entertaining host (pulling out quite a few musician jokes over the evening).

In the "small town" department, I either knew or met four of the six acts a short time before I realized they were all playing at this same gig.

I first met Jonathan Aaron Porter, of Lebanon TN, in the line at the door of the Bluebird Cafe about two weeks earlier. Newly graduated from ministry school, Jonathan charmed us with thought provoking songs about believers' roles as God's disciples. One of the most striking songs was "I See The Nails".

I met Irene Kelly a couple of nights earlier at Cafe Forte, where she led worship music for the organization's dedication service. This evening we got to see another musical side of her. Accompanied on bass by her husband Tim Gaines (a member of the Christian band Stryper), she showed vocally soft and strong edges. One set standout were "Bough That's Breaking", a song for the troops.

You might recall me mentioning how impressed I was with Brian James when I heard him briefly at Doak Turner's songwriter picnic. I was anticipating hearing Brian in a more structured set. He did not disappoint--he's got a sweet, clear voice and solid songwriting, particularly on "Fallen Angels" and a song he wrote based on the "footprints" poem.

One new person to me this evening was Kimberlee Dunbar, a gospel/jazz vocalist and founder of a new support organization called Christian Women of Entertainment. Despite still dealing with the effects of a vocal cord cyst which left her unable to sing for a year, Kimberlee sounded strong and showed great style and versatility. I particularly liked "In His Time" a song about awaiting God's timing rather than ours, and her fine take on the classic song "Smile".

Houston, TX native and music industry professional Stin Fox was the "fun guy" of the group. His amusing song "Gospel Hair" had the crowd laughing, but he also showed a serious side with "Symphony of Silence" where he asked to audience to remain silent for a moment at the end of the song.

Tara and Scott Oliver closed the show with some fine guitar playing by Scott and Tara's passionate vocal power. The duo spent many years performing at coffeehouses in Los Angeles, and one song this evening, "Georgia Brown" was dedicated to an older woman who had a rough go in life but was always in the audience to encourage Tara and Scott when they played.

On a personal and professional note, I was honored to be given an opportunity during the evening to tell the audience what it is I am hoping to do here in Nashville. To have that chance to speak to a group in the Nashville musical community after only being in town two months was beyond my expectations. I'm very grateful to Tara and Scott for their encouragement!

Corner Music's monthly faith-based showcases will be held at different venues around Nashville. Contact the Olivers for further information.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cafe Forte

Since one of the main purposes of what I hope to do in Nashville focuses on encouragement, I went to check out a group of kindred spirits who came highly recommended to me. Cafe Forte is an organization with the purpose of encouraging and edifying songwriters who are Christian and believers working in the music industry. The leaders of Cafe Forte, Jeremy and Kenya Whaley, Julie Branham and Irene Kelly, are dedicated to the goal of supporting each other in artistry with an emphasis on building relationships. More than just a musician showcase, its weekly programs feature such things as industry professionals sharing their experience or songwriters sharing the craft behind the song.

Cafe Forte celebrated its first anniversary this month with a lovely dedication ceremony and some great worship music. You can certainly sense something exciting and fresh taking place, and the deep love and caring that the artists and other attendees have for one another. I was very warmly welcomed and perhaps I'll be able to offer them some of what I do in the way of encouragement in the near future.

Cafe Forte meets every Monday from 7-9 p.m. at Edgehill Studios Cafe, 1201 Villa Place, in Nashville near Music Row.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bluebird Cafe: Steve Craig, Ron LaSalle, Paul Neilsen, Kathy Ashworth 6/2/07

Songwriter Steve Craig was one of those I met a couple of weeks ago at the aforementioned Doak Turner's 3rd Sunday songwriting gathering. So, when he e-mailed me about a gig he was doing at the Bluebird with three other songwriters, I decided I'd drop by. It was yet another enjoyable evening discovering new singers and writers.

What I've liked about many of the singer/songwriter "round" events I've been to thus far is that there is a lot of camraderie and humor among the artists. No one really takes him or herself too seriously, and that aspect makes for a more entertaining show for the audience.

A lot of the audience came in support of Steve Craig -- it looks like he's got a pretty good following. He shared a lot of new songs he hadn't played before crowds, though I did recognize a couple from the round I listened in on at Doak's gathering. Now, as a listener who is not a practicing songwriter, I listen with the perspective of "could I imagine hearing these songs on the radio?" Steve has the knack for placing memorable hooks in his songs, so I think he's got a good chance of meeting this goal in the future. Strong bets would be his songs "Closer Than You Think", "Way Too Many Tears" and a touching song written to encourage a friend, "If You Could See What I See".

Kathy Ashworth provided a lot of the humorous songs to the round. She zeroed in on a couple of topics that the women in the audience strongly related to --the love (and buying of) lots of shoes, and the bigger your life gets, also the bigger your purse gets ("Little Purse Girl"). She did a song she had Kenny Chesney or Jimmy Buffett in mind for, "Local Wherever I Go" which had the audience spontaneously joining in on the chorus (hmm...sounds like a hit in the making?). I also liked one song about life's blessings, "Upside Down", and a song she brought up a friend, Michael Scott, to sing, "Little In Love".

Originally slated for the round as Kathy's accompanying guitarist, Paul Neilsen proved to be a fine fill-in participant(replacing Amanda Hunt-Taylor, who had to cancel). Paul did some fine songs which he co-wrote. Perhaps the biggest hit with the crowd was a suggestive song which turned out to be about a guy wanting to come back as his wife's cat, because of all the attention it gets. Paul also did some excellent guitar work throughout the evening. One thing I admire about these players is their ability to just drop in these great licks, whether they've heard these songs or not.

Ron LaSalle is a rock/blues style singer and songwriter, with a big strong voice that reminds you of Bob Seger. He's an engaging storyteller, having the crowd laughing over one song's account of "giving away a house" (a/k/a divorce) and the unsuccessful attempt to get the house back. His crowd favorite was an ode to midlife crisis, complete with audience participation on the chorus, called "Let's Not Act Our Age."

One friendly reminder to artists: be sure you tell us before the evening ends if you've got a website, MySpace page, etc. so we can continue to keep track of you and hear you again if you're playing in town. I'm one of those who is proactive about hunting down this info, but others may forget to do so afterward--so make sure you don't miss out on the support.