Sunday, July 29, 2007 Fan Festival

As promised, here are a few notes on the Fan Festival concert series of the past week. I went to two of the five nights of the concerts (Thursday and Friday), held at River of Life Church in Smyrna. Both had very strong lineups.

Thursday had Mercy's Mark, TK and McRae, Everyday Driven, the Prophets, Johnny Minick and friends and Ann Downing. I'd been particularly looking forward to seeing Ann Downing. I first saw her on the Gaither video "What A Time" doing "Jacob's Ladder". I thought, who is this vivacious woman? (I must note that I've only been a Southern Gospel fan about six years, so I learned about the Downings, Speer Family, etc. long after the fact). Thus I became one of her "FANNtastics". "Ann D" closed the show in her very personal style...and yes, she did "Jacob's Ladder". Johnny Minick, who pastors the church hosting the Fan Festival, brought with him Alison Durham Speer, Mike Allen (who also sang with the Prophets) and his son, Aaron Minick, who's been gathering quite a buzz with his big band style.

Friday's lineup was equally impressive: the Freemans, Blackwood Gospel Quartet, Joyce Martin-Sanders, Sharron Kay King, Sunday Edition, the Quicks and the Pathfinders. Joyce Martin-Sanders looked and sounded vibrant. The Freemans were great crowd pleasers. I was new to the Quicks, but enjoyed their Manhattan Transfer-like arrangements on a couple of songs. I had not heard Sunday Edition (Deon, Chris and Amy Marie Unthank) before, either...I was very impressed with their performance, enough to buy a couple of CDs and make note to see them again in the future.

I wish I'd been able to attend the last day's concert with the talent contest. I would recommend saving up gas money and gearing up for the rush hour traffic to do this again next year. It's a great series of gospel music concerts that's worth supporting.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Christ Church Choir concert 7/19

July is a wild month for gospel music fans in Nashville...even more so if you're an artist seeking to learn more about your musical craft. There are three music schools that take place over the month: Christ Church music conference, Steve Hurst school and Stamps-Baxter school. All three of those include concerts. I heard so many great things about these shows from people in past years, so I hoped to be able to take in some of those now that I'm here. Unfortunately, this year it was hard to get timely information...many of those concert lineups seem to be secret or are not widely publicized, so I was a bit disappointed to learn after the fact I missed some folks I really wanted to hear.

I did catch one well publicized concert by one of Nashville's greatest musical treasures: the Christ Church Choir. The choir gave us a preview of its upcoming release, "He Still Leads", due in January. As always, it's a treat to hear the choir tear it up and watch choir director Landy Gardner boogie down and get totally absorbed in the music. I also found his testimony on seeking God's direction and the steps that brought him where he is today quite inspiring. The Christ Church choir is known for having superb soloists and there were many, standouts among them Gaither video favorite Joy Gardner, daughter Dionne Gardner Dismuke, Maurice Carter and Christ Church Pastor Dan Scott. Dan Scott in particular impressed me at Mark Lowry's Senior Trip in Asheville last year and I promptly bought his CD. I would go hear him in a solo concert anytime.

Before the Christ Church portion of the concert, there were sets featuring vocal group Higher Ground, the Voices of Lee and Gordon Mote. I knew Gordon has a new CD out, so part of my reason for going to this show was to hear him and get the CD. Gordon told the audience he was working through some laryngitis, but you'd hardly been able to tell. Gordon did the title track of the new release "Don't Let Me Miss The Glory"(which earned a standing ovation), "Adoration", backed as on the CD by the wonderful Voices of Lee, and always crowd-pleasing favorite "Old Gospel Ship", where he cuts loose on piano. But country radio, listen up: Gordon has a potential smash hit on his hands with the song "Wake Up Dancin". I heard this song about a year and a half ago as a demo on one of Mark Lowry's website shows, and I told Gordon then I thought this song could do big things. I'm glad he recorded this one...we'll see what happens.

The fun continues for Southern Gospel fans with the Fan Festival. I'll report on one of those concerts in the coming week.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday at Doak's: Boomer and a Room Full of Daves

Some items from one of my favorite monthly events, Doak Turner's 3rd Sunday gathering of songwriters (and those of us who love them):

First, an item for the "who knew?" department. Growing up in the mid 60s and being a loyal 16 magazine and Tiger Beat reader, amidst a lot of coverage on the Monkees, I often read about some fellows closely associated with them, the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. The act was fronted by Michael Martin Murphy (later of "Wildfire" fame) and Boomer Castleman. I also do remember their hit "I Feel Good (I Feel Bad)". Boomer Castleman is now in Nashville and I got to meet him at Doak's gathering. He was really surprised that I remembered the Lewis and Clarke Expedition connection (and thanks, Boomer, for saying I wasn't old enough to remember, but really, I am). I mean, how cool is being able to meet someone you read about back in the 60s? Boomer is quite active these days, and this article will bring you up to speed on where he's been and what he's doing now.

Making the rounds, including a refuge into the air conditioning, I listened to some excellent songs by a roomful of Daves (Dave Saunders, Dave DeMay, Dave Stone) and Bill Luigi. I ran into or heard some folks I remembered from past gatherings: Joe Hrasna, Brandon Maddox, Jesse Goldberg. I also heard many talented people in the rounds outside, such as Gary Lynn Williams from TX, Don Gaylord...those were a few names I caught; unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to get all the names straight in that large a gathering.

I also had the pleasure of meeting renowned songwriter Marc-Alan Barnette, a regular organizer of the event along with Doak, who like so many of the songwriters here each month, went out of his way to make me feel welcome and take an interest in what I'm doing and why I'm there. He also premiered a new song, "Chicks and Salsa", co written by Marc-Alan, Desiree and Adriann Corso of Canada and Clifford from California.

A few other notes on some songwriters at the gathering:
"Simpli Lauri" Merrow has a new CD, "Leave the Porch Light On", with CD release shows at Music City Bar and Grille on July 20th and the Broken Spoke on July 21.

And, congrats to Doak Turner--a song he co-wrote, "Talkin' Part", recorded by Ryan Weaver, is starting to get some country radio buzz. Well deserved!

As I noted before, this is one of the nicest events in town and I sure look forward to doing this every month, even when I can only put in a few hours. Great music, great people, great food. Can't ask for much more than that.

Uncle Dave Macon Days

This weekend I headed out to Murfreesboro and checked out the Uncle Dave Macon Days festival. Set in an old fashioned village, the event features bluegrass and old time music competitions and impromptu jams, plus lots of craft and food vendors.

But, I blew my chance to learn to become a banjo picker. I happened to meet up with the person teaching the workshop and arranged to stop by. However, because I somehow had it in my head it was happening at noon, I got engrossed in the mandolin competition (my favorite instrument) and went for chow after it was over. Then I happened to look at the sheet and saw the banjo workshop was at 11. I hurried over to where I thought it was, but found a locked door. Oh well. If it had been a mandolin workshop, I'd have been there a half hour early. Maybe it's just not in the cards for me to actually be a musician...guess I'll continue applauding.

I circled the grounds over and over looking for the WSM booth, but no one could tell me where it was. I was hoping to get my "Stubbs" shirt, but no luck. Then it started getting too hot and too crowded to hang out for long, so I headed out. But if you love bluegrass and old time, it's a nice place to check out some good music and encourage some up and coming players.

Friday, July 6, 2007

July 4th week: Eddie, Marty, Connie and Vince

After attending two events in Nashville this week, one fact seems to be abundantly clear. Eddie Stubbs is the king of this town. And rightfully so.

Eddie is the consummate professional, a torchbearer for the pioneers of classic country music, and as you'd find when you meet him, a perfect gentleman. For all of this and more, he's very highly respected by artists and fans alike. He is showered with accolades regularly by many artists, especially the folks he appeared with this week, and takes them all with class and humility.

I went to my second of his monthly "Intimate Evening With Eddie Stubbs" live broadcast on WSM, this one celebrating the 10th wedding anniversary of Marty Stuart and Connie Smith. It was another evening of fun and laughter and tracing two distinguished careers. Marty is a musician of integrity and, like Eddie, a champion for the cause of remembering the legends of country music (evidenced by his new book of photos and his memorabilia exhibit "Sparkle and Twang"). I had the chance to hear and meet Connie last month at CMA Fan Festival. Marty described her best: "My baby is an American essential!" One fact I did not know until that evening was that Marty and Connie co-wrote my favorite track of his, the duet "Farmers Blues" with Merle Haggard.

One very entertaining moment was when Marty did his best to distract Eddie as he was doing one of his off the top of his head sponsor spots. Yet, despite all of Marty's efforts (including showering Connie with kisses), the unflappable Stubbs didn't miss a beat.

During the autograph breaks, I got my picture taken with Marty and Connie. I declared Marty the hottest guy in country music and Connie wholeheartedly agreed with me. I also got to meet other folks in the audience that evening: Joanne Cash and Dr. Ray Yates of the Nashville Cowboy Church, and country music historian Robert K. Oermann.

Now that I've been to a couple of these "Intimate Evenings" I've begun to spot some regular faces in the line before the show. One person even shared her cookie with me. These are really fun events to go to if you win tickets and a great deal all around.

Eddie was also featured at another event, a Bluegrass concert featuring Vince Gill and Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys. Mandolin bluegrass legend Jesse and his band did a fine opening set which featured a guest appearance by Vince. Jesse also threw in a few amusing rooster and chicken stories (making sure to note these were not the sponsored Springer Mountain Farms chickens he was talking about!).

With the exception of "Go Rest High" (done as an encore by audience request), there weren't any of Vince's greatest hits in his set. Vince's roots are in bluegrass and he played many songs he loved when he was a young picker (covering much of his "top 9") and songs from the bluegrass disc of his well-received "These Days" collection. Regarded by many as an ace guitar player as well as a great singer, Vince played mandolin all evening and showed some fine skill.

Of course, an evening with Vince Gill wouldn't be quite complete without some of his trademark humor, and there was much of that throughout the evening. The highlight for me was the story of how he and his young bluegrass band opened for KISS in the 70s for $100. It was a disaster, with the band being booed off the stage after two songs. But the group did not escape notice from a reviewer. The review noted the opening act's mismatch with the rock band, and mentioned that group member Vince, upon leaving the stage, told the crowd which part of his anatomy they could kiss.

Vince brought in a special guest musician for one number: none other than Eddie Stubbs. Eddie played fiddle in Maryland as a member of the Johnson Mountain Boys, and fans here got a taste of that. Eddie received a rousing ovation.

Next time I go to an "intimate evening" broadcast, I'm getting me one of those "STUBBS" shirts.