Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Summing Up The Year...

Someone who had read my "year end wrap" over at my "Ponderings" blog suggested I ought to do something similar here as well. OK, I will give it a shot.

Looking back over my postings, I've had a pretty amazing year. I took in a lot of awesome shows, both in the singer/songwriter and Christian/gospel circuits. I got to witness some special things I never did before, such as a television show taping and a recording session. I found a venue I made a "second home" (the Commodore Grill...the Bluebird's probably the third). I discovered many great new talented people, including some whose music profoundly impacted my soul and strongly reinforced the reason for doing what it is I do.

Speaking of what I do with this blog...well, let me do just that for a moment. I've been reading "Make Me A Star" by Anastasia Brown. It's an interesting, uncomplicated book. One of the things she mentions is people who always tell an artist he/she is great, when it may not be an honest opinion. I've been very blessed that 99% of those who follow this blog understand what I'm trying to do. But, I've also heard of the 1% who think "yeah, she tells everyone they're great whether they are or not."

In fact, I am quite judicious about what I write in the Blend. I have been to many, many more gigs than what I've written about here. I write about something if I am moved in a special way to. I've heard people who are ready for that major artist cut. I've also heard those I feel may be best going for carving a niche on their own. But I tell you this: when I go to a writers night or a show and you are playing, you will get a smile from me and you will get my attention. I love music, I love musicians and I believe everyone deserves a certain amount of respect for going for their dream and expressing their heart in their music. Above all, I believe that everyone needs encouragement. I'm not in the dream busting business just because I write a blog. There are plenty of critics out there and I don't aspire to that job. First and foremost, I'm a person and a fan. That's the level I relate on and whenever a writer comes up to me and says they've noticed my energy and support and it's made a difference to them, it never gets commonplace and I will never, ever take it for granted.

And you know something else? I'm looking forward to even more in 2009 as I begin my second year of living in Nashville. I love this town...and I love y'all. Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

December 2008 - Oh What A Night: Commodore Grille 12/19/08

I got to the Commodore early to hook up with my singer/songwriter friend Brandon Maddox before he left town for the holidays and to hear the first round which was to include a newer such friend, Adam Foster. Unfortunately, Adam was ill and couldn't be in the round with Mareesa Frank, Adam Lewis and Beth Browne. However, I had absolutely no complaints about his replacement.

George Adams, he of the 21 star review I wrote back in October in this blog, happened to be there and was invited to substitute in the round. Though he may have felt he was rusty, that's not what I, my friend and others thought. Even if I did agree, I'd say "so what?" To hear acoustic guitar versions of "Turn The Knife", "Change of Heart" and "Stronger Than Words" (which, yet in that form, did to me what it does to women I know who've heard the song--made me cry) was a special treat for me. I still say in whatever shape, George has one of the greatest voices in this town. As guitarists in rounds often fill in parts for one another, he also did some nice backup vocal work for his fellow participants (as did Beth Browne for George's songs).

All of the others in the round, Mareesa, Adam and Beth, shined brightly as well in their vocals and songwriting. Mareesa is a strong young talent to watch as a singer/songwriter/pianist, Adam is a very solid vocalist and writer, and Beth is a powerhouse vocalist (and congrats to her for having songs recently chosen for a movie).

If that was not enough, another round of magic followed which was full of family. Brother and sister duo the Roys, Elaine and Lee, played with Michael Bonagura and Kathie Baillie (Baillie and the Boys) and their daughter, Alyssa Bonagura, who was home from college in England. (Thus, with her wit matched with our British host, Lorna Flowers, there was lots of English humor during the round.) The camaradie between the Roys and the Bonaguras was warmly evident and the music, well, it just was wonderful. I'd heard the Roys before on the radio and was impressed--and I certainly was hearing them live as well.

It must be a very special experience for any set of musical parents to watch their children's talent flourish with the apple not falling far from the tree. It must also be a thrill for those parents to play music together with their talented children. The pride that mom Kathie, dad Michael and daughter Alyssa had in each other when performing together or separately was obvious and lovely to watch and hear.

I also caught a small portion of what I'm sure was another fine round with Graham Rogers, Susan Suruda, Mark Carson and Kathy Hudson. This entire evening was right up there with the one I raved about at the Commodore in November.

Forgive me if I'm self-indulgent, but the most personal highlight for me that evening didn't come from the music on stage. That was when Mareesa Frank of the first round told me "you're a great listener" and how much it meant to have people paying attention. It's what I pray I give to the singer/songwriters in this town, and it's what keeps me preaching this message of encouragement.

I couldn't have asked for a better unexpected early Christmas gift than this evening. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Brief Roundup...

Well, for a gal who never liked to drive when I was back in St. Paul, my little car and I have sure been hitting the road around here lately! I'll just briefly mention a few items on spots I've been recently:

- The Commodore Grill hosted a very successful benefit on December 3 for Character Counts, a fine organization which aims to educate children about good character and ethics, and helping youth understand choices and consequences. The evening was full of great songwriters, such as Pam Belford, Thom Shepherd, Ben West, Steve Goodie, Lorna Flowers and many others. The place was packed all evening so I thought it would do well donation wise, and well it did: the evening raised $5,000 through a silent auction, door prize raffle sales and other donations.

- I also had another opportunity to check out Alex Harvey and his band this past weekend, this time at Puckett's in downtown Franklin (which was a challenge to navigate due to construction and other events). Alex, harmony singer Gineille and the band are very effective in creating community with their audience. They give an open, passionate, honest performance. I personally also admire how Alex doesn't end the evening without strongly proclaiming his faith. You'll get into the groove with the hard rocking tunes and cry in the same places that touch your heart no matter how often the story's been told. That's what brings people back over and over again.

- On Sunday I was very kindly invited to a party/house concert by Terri Lynn, a well loved blues singer in this area who is celebrating the release of her CD, Blue Storm. Terri Lynn and her band literally rocked the house with "cool blues". Yet another navigation challenge there: I thought I wouldn't get there at all as I got tangled up in the Donelson Christmas parade twice, and no one was going anywhere across the parade route for an hour!

- After the party, I had plenty of time to make it down to the Bluebird Cafe. I planned to check out writer's night featured writer Steve Leslie, who I met last week while he was being interviewed on Radio Free Nashville and heard a week or so before at Fiddle and Pick. I got into the line and just about everyone I stood near buzzed about the early feature act, Tin Cup Gypsy. I gathered they had quite a following. Once I got inside and heard them, I found out why. This family trio made up of husband and wife Jonathan (also guitarist for Sara Evans) and Cassandra Lawson and brother Jordan Lawson (fiddle player for Josh Turner--I knew he looked familiar!) fuse acoustic Folk, Rock, Jazz, and Bluegrass with strong harmony vocals, fine original songs and inventive covers (like Fastball's "The Way", for example) and great musicianship. Tin Cup Gypsy have obviously bonded with their fans and they've got a new one in me...they are also three of the sweetest people I've ever met.

Writer's night at the Bluebird consisted mainly of the annual tradition of featuring many of the Bluebird employees who are singer/songwriters with their turn in the spotlight. I was impressed with all of them. I will certainly take special notice of them next time I'm there with a bit of encouragement as well as in tips. Steve Leslie, as mentioned earlier, closed the show. He was quite warm and entertaining, choosing to do newer material over the better known songs he's written for folks like Darryl Worley and George Strait.

This weekend was all about hospitality..that which was shown to me at the shows or kind invitations that got me there. That's why I love this town.

PS: Prayers continuing to go up for popular singer/songwriter CJ Watson, recovering at home from quadruple bypass surgery. There will be a benefit happening for him at the Listening Room on February 2 with performers to be announced, so stay tuned to various websites for more details.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shantel Adams, Ben West, Scott Jarman, Denise Benson, Bluebird Cafe 11/25/08

I am always surprised and flattered when people I haven't met before find my blog and tell me they've read it. I'm also humbled when people extend to me special invitations to their shows. So it was when Shantel Adams invited me to hear her in a Bluebird round. I already knew two of the other writers in the round, Scott Jarman and Ben West. When Denise Benson arrived, I realized I'd met her previously as well.

Native Canadian Shantel Adams was the new one in the group to me. She's had some successes with charting songs in Canada and is currently doing well with a Canadian Christmas song. She has a lovely gentle voice with, as was pointed out in the round, an Anne Murray type quality. Her songs received a most favorable reception from the crowd, among those being a beautiful Christmas song called "Thank God For Christmas", "He Sure Cleans Up Good" (on which she was joined by co-writer Janice Gilbert on vocals), "That Makes You You", and a fun tune a lot of us can relate to which urged us to "just say no to your high school reunion." Shantel is certainly one to keep an ear out for.

Two words aptly describe Kentucky guy Ben West: country gentleman. He's a traditionalist all the way and a charming entertainer. He amused and enlightened us with his autobiographical tunes "Cause I'm Country" and "This Hat Ain't No Act", "Grinnin From Gear To Gear", and touched us with "Nothing To Lose" about leaving home to make it in Nashville.

Dallas, TX native Denise Benson showed us some very strong material, starting us out with the very fun "Hunk of Bubba" and "I Must Be in Texas" (because there was salsa at the buffet). One inspirational highlight was the song co-written with Brandon Maddox, "Enough Grace".

Scott Jarman, who I run into often at songwriter events and rounds, is a solid singer/songwriter. Unfortuately, I didn't hear most of his song titles. Memo to artists: help out us bloggers, writers and fans and tell us the names of your songs! I really liked the first love song he did, as well as one he set up with a Civil War metaphor.

Overall, a very nice evening of good songwriting. As always, my good wishes and prayers going up for these folks hoping to get hit cuts in this town.

Monday, November 24, 2008

John Heinrich, Steel Guitar Demonstration, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 11/23/08

The very best thing about what I do here in supporting artists is watching the circle expand. Here's how this one went. I met artist manager extraordinare Judy Whiting on Nashville Music Pros. Virtuoso sax player and steel guitar player John Heinrich is her client. So, Judy invited me to John's steel guitar demonstration this past Sunday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Before that all happens, I met Judy and John for the first time at the Radio Free Nashville station after John's interview.

John Heinrich is an extraordinary talent who plays many instruments besides steel guitar and saxophone. He's also a cool, humble guy. In his demonstration he gave us the history of the pedal steel guitar, the lap steel guitar (most commonly used in Hawaiian recordings) and the dobro and showed us how they worked. Of course, he played a couple of songs on each instrument. He invited any brave souls to come up and try the steel guitar (one did...certainly not me. I've never played a "normal" guitar, never mind working up the nerve to attempt pedal steel!). Now John made us promise not to tell this, so you didn't hear it from me. He did one song on pedal steel I hoped he would play, which was his arrangement of a modern jazz classic. (Hint: you can hear it on his MySpace profile.) As someone who is basically a fan first and never played an instrument for any length of time, I have to appreciate the opportunity to take a look through the window of a musician's world this way. It's very enlightening and gives you a greater respect for the entire creative process.

Again, one other cool thing about this event is meeting new people and especially those for the first time in person that I've communicated with online for awhile. And, to have these people accept what I do and include me on these and other events is very gratifying.

When the circle expands, it's a joyful thing.

What a weekend. I'm a blessed gal to be in this town.

Friends of Pegram Park Writers Night, Fiddle and Pick, Pegram TN 11/22/08

The only time I'd been to Pegram before this night was when I was driving in the area I moved to this past summer. I missed my turn and kept going...eventually I found I had crossed counties and arrived in this little town. I found out later that Pegram was home to this lovely place called Fiddle and Pick. It's housed in a restored 100+ year old building which had served a number of purposes but is now a place which celebrates traditional music and offers instruction and workshops on fiddles, banjos, mandolins, guitars and similar instruments. Fiddle and Pick has a homey, country store atmosphere with excellent sound quality.

Many wonderful songwriters graced this writers night benefiting the Friends of Pegram Park. For me it had a combined intimate feel of a house concert and a CLC writers night I recently attended. By and large these writers have had cuts by major artists or are touring artists themselves. The half hour sets offered a variety of styles from folk to Americana to jazz.

Joe Doyle had cuts with many hit artists, including "In Pictures", a #1 song by Alabama. He played electric and acoustic guitars instead of his usual piano. A set highlight was the song "Tacklebox" recorded by Luke Bryan. The charming Steve Leslie admitted to being a little nervous without a set list, but did a fine job nonetheless performing among others, one song which was covered by George Strait. Laurie McClain, accompanied by Fats Kaplan on mandolin, is an alluring singer/songwriter who performed thoughtful songs off her lovely new release "Ascend", including one very cute song about a UFO landing, "Somewhere In Kentucky".

K Squared (Karen Angela Moore, vocals, Kent Gunderson, guitar) offered up an upbeat jazzy set of original material. Kim McLean, Devon O'Day and Mark Elliott, who tour together often, teamed up for a great set trading off songs and backing each other. Mark did a few songs from his latest album, "Good Life". Personal set highlight for me was Kim and Devon doing the hauntingly beautiful "Baruch Ha Ba" (Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; this can be found on Kim's marvelous CD "Soul Solace". You'll be blessed.) Wrapping up the night was Jeff Miller, a fine singer/songwriter and technical guitar virtuoso who created sound effects with his guitar. He's much like northern Minnesota artist Michael Monroe who I heard often in the Twin Cities.

This was for sure one of those warm fuzzy evenings. There were some familiar faces in the crowd and on stage at the show, and I made a few new friends among the players before the night was out. Some were so kind to share their product with me upon finding out I write this little blog. And a special shout out to Mark Elliott, who went above and beyond after the show to give me a "personal by request" performance of a song of his I enjoy called "Baseball and Beatles" from his "American Road" CD.

How lucky can a gal get, anyway? I am thankful to be in this town.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Alex Harvey, Puckett's After Hours, Leiper's Fork, 11/14/08

In October I was sitting in the studio at Radio Free Nashville waiting to do my radio show. "Geo On the Radio" was on tape that day as he was away. It was a replay of the show where Alex Harvey, writer of "Delta Dawn", "Reuben James", "Rings", and many others was his guest. Besides being a superb songwriter, Alex is also a person of faith. Geo and Alex may not have realized it, but God showed up during the interview in that small studio. I laughed, cried and praised God right along with Alex as I was listening. After that, I did my best radio show ever to this date.

For that reason, I couldn't wait to have a chance to hear Alex Harvey live. I had a feeling I was going to get my socks blessed off. It was a dark and stormy night, though the drive to Leiper's Fork wasn't quite as scary because I had the sense to make a test run to Puckett's that morning to see where it was. Normally I'd stay home on these kind of evenings, but I sure was glad to have ventured out.

Alex and his wonderful hard rocking band played to an intimate crowd of folks who appeared to be regulars at his Puckett's After Hours gigs. But even this first timer soon felt as if I were one, too. His songs and performances were powerful and passionate throughout the entire evening. For the first part of the show it was up and fun, with songs like, "Reuben James", "$5 Fine For Whining"...and then, zing. Alex got you in the heart with complete honesty and bearing his soul.

I've spent years going to dozens of Southern Gospel and other Christian music concerts and coming away strengthened in my faith. But I tell you, what Alex shared was ministry in one of its most effective and, again, powerful forms. He told stories of tragic circumstances surrounding his family members (particularly in a moving setup to "Delta Dawn"), but did so packing a punch of a testimony of faith in a God that restores and sustains. Indeed, you could easily feel the love and joy from his faith and for his audience from the stage (and I loved watching the whole band join hands in prayer before the show started). I'm told he often leads worship for churches. That should be a great experience.

If you love great songwriting and a tight band, and want to get a big blessing, do check out Alex Harvey live. And, if you really want to be ministered to, get his album "Galilee".

Praise God for this town.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Commodore Grill, 11/7/08: Voice and Spirit

The Commodore Grill is fast becoming my place of choice to check out writers nights. The renovations have made it a songwriter-friendly room and a great atmosphere to check out people you've heard before and meet new ones. Indeed, I have heard many, many rounds with singer/songwriters I have loved dearly. But the two rounds I attended last night were two of the best and most memorable I have heard in this room...both of them so for different reasons.

I first came across Rory Partin a couple of years ago when he brought his big band to the "don't tell the preacher" dance at Mark Lowry's first Senior Trip. He did a great job with bandleading and singing standards. I was delighted and interested to hear that he also has the singer/songwriter side so it was a nice touch to hear him in this setting. He described some of his songs as not "Nashville" but more R&B. Combined with his wife, Jeni Varnadeau, an equally charming songwriter (both backed by guitarist Jordan Jamison) and Treva Blomquist (filling in for two artists who needed to cancel due to illness), who was also enjoyable, it was pure magic to hear these folks interact and to experience some truly great powerful singing. Fortunately, it was a Friday night so the round went on for about an hour. It wasn't long enough...I hated to hear it end. Rory, Jeni and Treva are now on my radar for the future.

The next round, with Denny Martin (who I last saw supporting Alan O'Day at the Bluebird Cafe), Kira Small, and Justin Spears, may have received some of the "fairie dust" left behind from the previous group. There were many good musical moments here, too--Kira and Justin did a fine job on their songs and Denny's. But this one was mostly about heart. Denny is the embodiment of the joy and the spirit of making music. It's the feeding of the soul, the giving and receiving of energy between audience and performer...and in fact, Denny acknowledged feeling just that after one of his songs.

Excellence is great. We heard that this evening. But sometimes it's about spirit, and if your heart is open to receive, it can fill you the same way as that voice that knocked it out of the park. In my world, they can, and will, co-exist.

I shall not lose my sense of wonder. I love this town and all its artists going for the joy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Marty Stuart Show Taping, RFD-TV Nashville, 10/20/08

To me, Marty Stuart is the hottest guy in country music. (For the record, his wife, Connie Smith, agrees with me. She told me that when I met them both at the Eddie Stubbs Intimate Evening radio show taping.) I think so not only because he looks fine. He is also an artist of integrity with superb musicianship who has proactively done so much to further the cause of traditional country music and be an encouragement to those who have paved the way. That should hopefully make him an eventual shoo-in for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a taping of the Marty Stuart Show at North Star Studios. My understanding was it started in the morning, so I arrived, was instructed where to park and told to walk to some path where I would see people waiting to get in. All I could spot was the two front doors. I went in, gave my name to the front desk person, was told to go through and went looking for some direction. I saw Marty out in the hallway looking like he was headed for the studio but I didn't think it would be all that cool to follow him or even ask "hey, do you know where the studio is?". Eventually someone found me wandering about and began to help me find where I was supposed to be to wait with the others. But the person at the front desk said my contact had me set up to go straight into the studio. I felt like a VIP! I didn't even have a clue going in...I was just winging it, this all being firmed up for me just earlier that morning! (I found out later on that even the beautiful young lady helping us out with audience applause was clued in advance to who I was!)

I found the studio and went in. There were only a handful of others in the audience seats. I got a seat right in front and watched guest John Anderson, banjo player Leroy Troy, Eddie Stubbs and Marty and the Fabulous Superlatives. It seemed as though they were taping in segments. After a while they called a 15 minute break and so, still puzzled by the small turnout, I started to go in search of the ladies room. At that point came an influx of people through the doors. At that point I realized it was a rehearsal I was sitting in on! Duh! The nice people sitting around me did not sell my front row seat for $100 as they hoped to and saved it for me as I headed for the restroom. Then the real taping began and it was great fun.

After a lunch break, we lined up for the second taping. Unfortunately, none of us made it in for that rehearsal, but that was okay...I had a conversation with a lovely lady who works backstage hospitality for the Opry while waiting. The second taping had the Old Crow Medicine Show as the guests. The highlight of this show was a cool number led by Superlative guitarist "Cousin" Kenny Vaughn with everyone getting in on the act.

"The Marty Stuart Show" follows a parallel format to the Porter Wagoner shows of the 60s and 70s. Marty and the band start off the show, followed by a guest. As Porter had Dolly Parton as the regular female singer, here it is none other than Connie Smith. Comic relief is provided by old time banjo player Leroy Troy of Goodlettsville (recall that Speck Rhodes did so for Porter). Also like Porter's show, a gospel number follows...the ones Marty and the Fabulous Superlatives taped for these two shows were awesome. WSM's beloved Eddie Stubbs is the show announcer. All of Eddie's fans will be delighted that he gets much "face time", and we even get to hear him jam on fiddle with the Old Crow Medicine Show.

There were some very nice people on the crew helping us with warmup and encouraging us to be enthusiastic and all while instructing us with various applause sound levels (similar to a couple of the Gaither Homecoming video tapings I've attended).

I hated to have it all come to an end...what a great experience. The show begins airing on November 1 with a regular Saturday evening half hour time slot of 7 p.m. Central time on RFD-TV. Here's a clip to hold you until then.

After these last few days, how can I tell you how much I love this town?

Monday, October 13, 2008

George Adams, 10/18/08, VFW Post 1970, Nashville

For close to 20 years now, I've been actively supporting local musicians where I've lived (and encouraging others to do the same). I'm particularly talking here about those who have not yet experienced significant national fame and exposure. Since I've been doing this, I've found support falling into three different levels.

The first is where you go to a venue (or here in Nashville, most commonly the writers nights) and you hear some fairly strong people whose names you make note of to possibly see again when they turn up in lineups. The second is where you find those who stand out in particular and you make a point to go to their gigs fairly often.

The third level is the one people like me wait for...which is finding the diamonds. The ones that make it quite clear to me why I started and continue to do this whole support thing. The ones I become on fire for and write blog paragraphs and emails galore about, telling the world how amazing they are and why you should think so as well, or perhaps got lucky enough to be entrusted to promote them. Or, there's just something about their music that just makes "the wow" impact on you from the get-go. You can't always explain why in words. I noted once that sometimes you don't pick singers...they pick you. In this category in the Twin Cities, it was TD Mischke and Michael Loonan, who kicked this whole thing off for me in the first place. Sean Smith is another who could possibly fit into this category.

Welcome the newest addition to this third group--George Adams.

I found George as a result of my Radio Free Nashville stint, most specifically hearing his music on "Geo On the Radio", the show that is on before mine. I found some sample tracks and one full track on his MySpace and was completely blown away. That hasn't happened since finding Mark Lowry eight years ago...and the rest was history there. This guy has one incredible voice; if you've spent any amount of time in my blogs on or my website, you know how I feel about truly great voices. Plus, the songs, all originals, are great. George's monthly gig at the VFW Post 1970 in West Nashville went on my calendar and I became even more pumped for the gig after finding some short video performance clips.

What I heard on George's website was confirmed live. As far as I am concerned, he has the best voice I have heard in this town since I came here. In a smoky little VFW post hall with a "Cheers" like bar, he managed to outsing just about every less than superstar level male artist on the radio today and hold his own with all the rest. Now, I tend to avoid smoky places like the plague and my bedtime is usually long before the midnight closing time. But, I knew in short order I wasn't going anywhere after hearing just a couple of songs.

When I was driving out to do my radio show Saturday, I was listening to "Geo on the Radio" and heard him play "Everything That Glitters" by Dan Seals. He noted that he often performs it live. As I was listening to the cut, I said "yeah--that would definitely work for him". I asked George to do that song, and it was just as awesome a performance as I'd imagined. He also did "Life's Highway", "Somewhere In My Broken Heart" and several other covers that either made you forget or not care that someone else did them first because he made them all his. That of course is what a true artist does. I might also add he is a charismatic performer and his bio is accurate in that he has an entertaining way with an audience, all developed with years of performing around Nashville and elsewhere.

All I can say is, what a find George Adams is. This radio gig has its perks. I call these things as I hear them. Go to his websites and hear what I'm talking about. Then go hear him for yourself. He plays what he likes, and I like what he plays. So far, so good.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Silver Stars - Ryman Auditorium 10/4/08

I had a week off from my radio show due to some required training. That gave me time to head downtown and check out the HealthSpring Silver Stars finals at Ryman Auditorium. It being a "baby boomer" talent contest, it was certainly of interest to me in light of my radio show being titled and themed, Never Too Old.

I high-tailed it down there as fast as I could so I could make it to the pre-show meet and greet, in hopes of meeting my idol, Brenda Lee, who was one of the judges. Alas, I was too late--she'd just gone backstage. Lucky for me, though, I managed to spot Billy Block. Billy was heading up and hosting this event...no surprise, with all the good he's done for showcasing talent in this town. I introduced myself and told him that like him, I also have a show on Radio Free Nashville. I explained I ran late to the event because of FCC training I was doing and asked if I'd missed Brenda. Well, he was kind enough to go find her and bring her to the door for a quick meeting. She was as sweet as I'd imagined. Billy Block, you rock--I can't thank you enough.

If ever an event was an example of the power of encouragement, this was it. There was so much joy and love going out to and from that stage. For some of the performers, the opportunity that Silver Stars provided them was nothing short of life-changing.

Opening up were four of the honorable mention winners: pop singer Sandy Merrill, charming spoon player Lucius Talley, yodeler Bonnie Bishop (beating a doctor's prediction of six months to live with a cancer diagnosis!), and gospel singer Clara Copeland, who brought the house down.

The competing finalists performed their numbers. Husband and wife Charles and Vonnie Garrett, performing separately with "Georgia" and "Misty" respectively; singer/songwriters Terry Pinnegar and Boomer Castleman each did an original song (Boomer is familiar to many folks as one half of the duo Lewis and Clark Expedition with Michael Martin Murphy in the '60s and the composer of the Monkees tune "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round); pianist Darlene Shadden did "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"; Brenda Lee sound-alike Elsa Childers covered Patsy Cline's "She's Got You"; Hank Sasaki charmed the crowd with his autobiographical "Cowboy From Japan".

Winning finalists were third place winner "Uncle Doc Wilhite", reviving the spirit of Uncle Dave Macon; second place, pianist Jeannie Gleaves, who had a ton of audience support, playing a Gershwin medley. The winner was Thomas Maupin, a buck dancer accompanied by an old time trio (his banjo-playing grandson was as much of a showman himself!). In doing some research, I found one MySpacer who called Thomas "the king of all buck dancers."

It is clearly high time that this stigma regarding baby boomer agers, whether it be in the performing arts or in the job market, not being as viable as their younger counterparts, come to an end. We need to view more with our spiritual eyes and less with our physical eyes, and completely open our ears and hearts and let the gifts of this generation touch and enhance the world. This event showed without a doubt that it can, and should, be done. Bravo, Billy Block and bravo, HealthSpring.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Writers Night Weekend

I was supposed to be in Louisville, KY this weekend at the National Quartet Convention (Southern Gospel music gathering). But in my present situation, it's not a wise thing to be spending big dollars on a hotel room, so I had to cancel those plans. Just as well, as it turned out. I got to make a dream happen and start a radio show (go to this blog for the details). Also, there were a couple of events here at home that would have been going on at the same time as NQC that I just didn't want to miss.

9/12/08 - Bluebird Cafe

This was one gig I really didn't want to leave town to miss. Steve Craig once again put together a fine round of folks with Elizabeth Runde, Clara Oman and Tom Shinness.

I've said before that I think Steve's one of the top songwriters I've heard in town. He is also a fine accomplished singer. Whether he sang his compositions himself, or handed a song over to Elizabeth or to Katha Harris, a new singer who joined the round on two songs, they were well interpreted. I hear Steve often at either these gigs or at Doak Turner's monthly get together, so I am probably more familiar with his songs than some of the audience and at this point have some favorites to look forward to. A couple of those had a fresh spin with the additions of Tom and Katha. "If You Could See What I See" had a lovely break with Tom on cello. "Frequent Liar Miles", which Nikki Cole sang at Steve's last Bluebird round, was also enjoyable as sung by Katha.

I too share Steve's obvious admiration for Elizabeth Runde's talents. Her voice combines vulnerability and power in a sweet package. This was evident in one of Steve's newer songs, "Snowed In" and a song in which the night wouldn't have been complete for me without her singing, "That's A Different Story." I also really enjoyed the vocal harmonies that Steve and Elizabeth added to each other's solo turns.

Simply put, Tom Shinness is an extraordinary musician. His expertise is to mix elements of the many instruments he plays with one another to create an unique effect. One of his showcased instruments is a 1913 guitar harp with 10 bass strings. On this one, he did "Echo Song", in which he put the instrument through an echo effect ("that way, I don't have to play as much", he joked). He also played a guitar with a drumstick inserted in the neck to create a Japanese music effect. On top of all that, he's a good singer and enjoyable songwriter. (I had the pleasure of hearing Tom for two nights in a row--more in the next section.)

Clara Oman is a singer/songwriter/pianist who has had some success in overseas markets. She brought a very tasty jazz/pop/Broadway feel to her songs, vocals and piano style. Her humorous song "Percy the Priest" showed off her jazzy vocal phrasing. My favorite of hers (and judging from crowd response, also of some who were more familiar with her) was "Forgetful Me", which had a nice melody and again, very well sung.

The highlight of this evening, though, was the instrumental duet by Steve and Tom on Steve's composition "Storm In the Desert". Steve is a classically trained pianist, but this was the first time I'd ever heard him play. Accompanied by Tom on cello, Steve displayed another superb dimension to his talent. This piece was incredible and it held the audience spellbound.

After this round, then I was off to...

9/12/08 The Commodore Grill

... to hopefully be in time to catch a round with two other new songwriter friends I met at the Bluebird a while back, Mike McQuerry and CJ Garsee (readers will recall that evening here). I got there early enough to hear part of a very good round featuring Susan Shann, Gary Gulburgh and Michelle Dawn. Mike and CJ were joined by Leslie McDaniel and Monty Warren. All four were very good and I was glad to get to hear more of young CJ's talent (and thanks, my dear, for taking my "request" to do the touching and powerful "I Was Left".)

I was going to stay just a short time but ended up staying two hours. There's something about the Commodore that makes me feel like I belong. Once again, I felt so much fellowship and warmth from the other songwriters, those I already knew and some I met for the first time, to even the wait staff.

Eventually, I did have to go home, so I left a tired but happy and lucky gal to have experienced such a great musical evening in two spots.

9/13/08 Christ Lutheran Church Writers Night

It seems that every time the CLC writers night comes along, it happens on a date where I am originally scheduled to be someplace else but something falls through and it doesn't happen. And every time, it proved out that the writers night is where I really belonged in the first place. This evening was no exception.

Randi Perkins started off the evening with two songs from his new CD "Life Is Good". I've waited for this one to come out and earlier this year I was lucky enough to sit in on a recording session for some of the instrumental tracks. This is a lovely album and you will be hearing more about this one (for starters, Randi will be the first guest on my radio show on Saturday the 20th between 3-4 pm).

This was the evening for father-daughter combinations. The "newgrass" duo of Sisters Grimm (Jordana Greenberg on violin and Rebecca Reed-Lund on banjo) were joined by Jordana's father David on guitar and vocals. David wrote all the songs they performed that evening (and he was a very witty guy!).

For the second night in a row, I got to hear Tom Shinness and his musical magic. This evening he was joined by his lovely and talented daughter Jasmine, who played just about every instrument Tom played aside from the harp guitar (which Tom did bring with him and play), including guitar, upright bass and cello. She is also a very fine songwriter with a lovely smooth jazz vocal style. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Many people were familiar with Aubrey Collins. At only 20 years old, she's racked up some impressive accomplishments. She was featured on NBC's Most Talented Kid and ABC's The One: the Making of a Music Star. Most recently, she spent a year as lead vocalist with Trick Pony and is now co-writing with notables such as Sheree Austin. Randi mentored her for a number of years, so this show was a homecoming of sorts for her. She talked about the challenges of songwriting and performing, and her "excuses" if her songs didn't come over as expected. None of those excuses mattered--this young lady's enormous talent is quite evident.

To sum up this weekend: this town is rich in talent. All are in various points on their musical journey. Some are close to where they want to be, others are still waiting. But all of them bring something valuable about who they are as artists to the table, and I think Nashville is a brighter place for having them here. That's why I love this town.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Debi Champion Writers Night, Commodore Grill 9/9/08 (Wendy V's Birthday!)

It's going to be an active week on the "Blend", y'all. Three events are on my schedule this week and here's the first of them to talk about.

With this night being my birthday, I decided there was no better way for me to celebrate than to go to a writers night...so it was off to the Commodore Grill. I came better prepared from the last time I went to the Commodore Grill writers night. This time I did my homework and got the names of the lineup from MySpace (and added a few of those artists to my page ahead of time to get familiar with their music and their faces). Another lesson learned from last time was to sit near the speakers so you can hear who's who up there.

Debi Champion is a great host who takes great care to let you know who's up there. This evening we got the pleasure of hearing her play as well. And, she's as dear a person as you can imagine. I just met her for the first time that evening and got several hugs for my birthday. Later on she also had the crowd sing happy birthday to me. (That was very sweet, as were the pieces of chocolate cake I got from her and Brandon Maddox, who stopped by to join me. Thanks, guys.)

Here's the lineup of those I heard play: Melanie Sue Mausser, Ben West (a real sweetie of a country gentleman who recognized me right away from MySpace and gave me warm happy birthday wishes), Kyle Ryan, Daniel R. Ziemba, Stephenie Hargrove (with Jamie Dickinson), Jarod Doucet, Greg Jones, featured artist Michelle Little (co- writer of "The Storm" for Travis Tritt) with Tim Smith, Darren T, Laura A and Andy, Nashville Independent Music showcase with Debi, Ronny Criss and David Ryckman; Dana Romanello, Joel Turner, Dan Hutson and Corey Crowder.

I enjoyed every last one of these writers...I heard a lot of strong vocals and songwriting in their three song rounds. Again, as I often do, I notice a nice camaraderie within these sets as artists encourage one another or check in with a guitar lick that fits nicely into the song. One particular moment that came to mind was the loud cheer that went up in the room when Greg Jones announced he had finally gotten a cut (with Carolina Rain). Debi amazed me with how many of these artists' songs she knew enough to fit in some good harmony vocals from back at the sound board.

I'm here to tell you that from my view, Nashville is a town full of love. I haven't been here all that long, yet people who didn't even know me until that night showed lots of that love to a birthday gal. Thanks, everyone. I love you all...and I love this town.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tokens, "The Politics of Jesus" 9/2/08

What started out as Lipscomb University professor Lee Camp's "crazy idea" is turning out to be one of the hottest tickets in town. "Tokens" is becoming so popular that it had to expand to a second performance for its third outing, "The Politics of Jesus", due to a quick sellout. Another sign of the show's rapid growth is that it's also now a paid admission show (the first two shows were free admission).

Camp noted "why anyone would go and do something as stupid as talk about religion and politics in the buckle of the Bible belt while the fall conventions are in full swing is beyond me...but it sounded like a good idea when we were planning episodes." "The Politics of Jesus" took a thoughtful and often satiric look at the contrast between Christianity and politics.

The house band for Tokens expanded in name and personnel. Now referred to as "the most outstanding Sinai Mountain Boys", the band (bandleader Jeff Taylor, Buddy Greene, Aubrey Haynie, Chris Brown, Byron House, Pete Huttlinger) welcomed the addition of Bryan Cumming on sax and percussion (I also heard Bryan the previous Friday evening in Bellevue Park, playing as part of the "Wanna Beatles"). The band more than lived up to its "most outstanding" reputation throughout the evening.

Derek Webb, Buddy Greene and Odessa Settles provided the other musical highlights. Odessa in particular rocked the house with a spirited song, "Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind Stayed On Freedom)", and earned a standing ovation singing "The Lord's Prayer". The only thing missing for me musically this time out was the informal vocal groups that were a wonderful part of the last two shows...but that's a minor quibble.

The Tokens Radio Players (Lee Camp, Merri Collins, David Fleer and Barry McAllister) are academics by trade, but their characterizations and humor are as entertaining as any you'd hear on "A Prairie Home Companion". They poked gentle fun at politics and Christianity with new audience favorite segments as "Dear Preacher Man", "Adventures of Jane", and "Tales of the Ancient Near East" ("did he say the enemy peed or planted weeds on the land?").

The featured author interviewees were Randall Balmer (God in the White House), Steve Claiborne and Chris Haw (Jesus For President) and Jim Wallis (God's Politics and the Great Awakening). The full interviews are now available on the Tokens website. Other segments from the show should be posted there in a few weeks.

As I predicted in my first write up on Tokens, the show is now needing a bigger venue due to its growing popularity. "The Christmas Revolution", set for December 9, will move to the Collins Alumni Auditorium at Lipscomb University.

Lee Camp continues to bring a great mix of brilliant thinker and multi-talented entertainer to his hosting duties and vision for Tokens. Way to go, Lee--you've got a well-deserved hit on your hands and I can't wait to see how the show keeps developing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Commodore Grill 8/14/08 (Deb Ziems' Birthday!)

I first met and heard Deb Ziems a year ago at the JPF showcase at Lyrix. It was her birthday and she gave me beads. It was hard to believe a year had passed since then. When I got her MySpace invite to come down to the Commodore Grill, I decided to stop by. It had been a while since I've gotten out to a writer's night other than at the Bluebird, so I went to wish Deb well and also see the newly remodeled venue. The outside of the Holiday Inn is still a work in progress, but indoors it's looking and sounding good, the food is great and the waitstaff is very attentive.

Deb was gracious to invite me to sit with her other friends and her magnificent birthday cake. I met some other really nice folks and other artists. Deb started the evening with a very fine solo set (although she wanted some others on stage with her!).The lineup included many new to me artists and a few familiar faces.

Since the main mission of this blog is to bring recognition to these singer/songwriters, sometimes the toughest part for me with covering writer's nights which feature many artists is getting down all the names of who is playing when. Often times, people just get up on stage and don't introduce themselves or no one does it for them. I appreciated that Debi Champion, who ran sound, introduced everyone frequently, but from where I was sitting I still missed hearing a few names. This is where MySpace really comes in handy. I went to Deb's page and saw that among the friends on her page were some of the artists who played that evening. Then, I went to those artist pages and found some of the others they played with. (Of course, I added as many as I could find to my page!)

So with all that out of the way, let me give you the names of those I know that I did hear when I was there. In the "those I've heard before category" besides Deb were Scott Jarman, Frank Knapp and David Seger (I know I heard David somewhere--hopefully I will remember where!). "Heard of but not heard live" before were CJ Watson and Don and Karen McNatt. I recognized Don right away because I often watch his songwriters show on local cable. I'm sure I watched it while I've visited town before I moved, because I recall thinking "wow, if I lived here, I could see these shows all the time!" So of course, now I do and I do. Accompanying CJ was Jeff Jergenson, who was a member of the Dillards and who blew us away with his playing. Others new to me were Mike Mayo, Vickie Raye, Lisa Shaffer, and Jon Eben. My apologies to any whose names I didn't get or who I may have missed after I left. It was a musically solid evening.

I've got a birthday coming up next month (the 9th). I can't think of a better way to spend it than to go to a writer's night here in town, so that's what I plan to do.

Thank you, Deb, for your hospitality and for introducing me to all the great new artists and people I met and heard that evening. It was a sweet evening and it's a sweet town.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

SoGospelNews.com Fan Festival 7/24/08

One of my annual concert "must-dos" every year is the week long series of concerts which are part of the SoGospelNews.com Fan Festival at River of Life Church in Smyrna. If I could, I would have gone to each one. But with having just moved and getting settled (and yeah, gas price consideration, as I'm a little further now from the Smyrna locale), I had to choose just one evening this year. I went with Thursday's lineup, which for me held three "get me in the door" artists: Beyond the Ashes, Sunday Edition and Johnny Minick and Friends (Alison Durham Speer, Aaron Minick, Mike Allen); and those I hadn't heard before, Eighth Day and Brothers Forever.

Before the concert, I was talking with Chris Unthank of Sunday Edition and also one of the event organizers, about the diversity and style of all the acts on the evening lineup. Indeed, each one was effective and unique in how they ministered musically.

Trio Eighth Day, consisting of husband and wife Scott and Joni Robinson and Dave Mann(who did a standout solo on Dottie Rambo's "Sheltered In the Arms Of God")did well with upbeat gospel songs.

You can't go wrong with perennial crowd favorites Pastor Johnny Minick, son Aaron Minick, Alison Durham Speer and Mike Allen (also joined on one tune by Johnny's wife Sherry). This popular combination earned several standing ovations.

Beyond the Ashes is a fairly new trio that I first heard at their showcase a few months back at Edgehill Cafe. Emotional and passionate in expressing their faith in song, these guys continue to grow and get stronger. Group leader Anthony Facello is a powerful tenor who reached out and engaged the audience. They will have a new CD release very soon.

After hearing Sunday Edition for the first time at last year's fan festival, I went to their product table and bought everything they had. Chris, Amy Marie and Deon Unthank were smoking red hot this evening as well. Chris and Amy Marie are two powerhouse singers who when tying in with Deon for family harmonies brought it with a soulful stir. This group is the best kept secret in contemporary Southern Gospel as far as I'm concerned.

Brothers Forever were up to the task of following Sunday Edition's strong performance with a contemporary progressive gospel flair and original material with great hooks ("I Feel A Blessing Coming On").

The evening even had a little comic relief by Al Mahan as a chubby Elvis impersonator with parodies of Elvis songs relating to food...but with the message at the end that God looks at the inside and there is really only one "King".

I'm not a fan of long night drives, but there was no way I could bail out early...there was just too much good stuff going on this evening. Doesn't matter to me how it's being packaged these days--traditional, progressive, contemporary or modern--I love Southern Gospel. I love being here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

In The Round at the Bluebird- Scooter Simmons, Steve Christopher, Mike McQuerry, Jon Robbin

If you've never been to a show at the Bluebird Cafe, let me give you the general scoop of what my experience has been. I find that most or all of the singer/songwriters in a round know each other, or know what it's like to be a singer/songwriter in Nashville. That makes for a kinship in which they will blend well with each other onstage or in the round. That synergy also opens the door for a lot of humor during the show. I don't think I ever laughed so much at a Bluebird round as I did at this night's show which featured Scooter Simmons, Steve Christopher, Mike McQuerry and Jon Robbin.

I was looking forward to meeting Scooter, having found him on MySpace (where you can find pages on these writers). I knew of him because he is the writer of a number of songs that Mark Lowry recorded, such as "Some Things Never Change" and "Jump Across Jordan". He was wonderful to talk to and hear--aside from his better known Christian songs, he has lots of strong material and a soulful voice which grabbed the crowd. I was pumped to hear one song, "Over My Head", which he and Steve Christopher co-wrote for Mark's next album. It's a beauty which will be a hand to glove fit for Mark--can't wait to hear his version.

Steve Christopher was the guy I laughed the most at, particularly his songs "God Bless The Boys Who Work For Beer" (which he dedicated to the others in the round!) and his ode to a devoted dog, with such classic lines as "like trash I'd been dumped" and "fired for the 3rd time this month", but yet he was still a winner in that dog's eyes. Mike McQuerry told us about all the compliments he gets on his MySpace by people who thinks he sings his posted demos (he doesn't). But that's cool-he sounded just fine to me and I learned from him yet another phrase that was a new one on me: "couple of sandwiches short of a picnic." Jon Robbin had a good mix of light-hearted and more serious songs, and brought one written hit to the round: "I Breathe In, I Breathe Out" which was big for Chris Cagle.

A little deja vu: like the last round I went to at the Bluebird, I had a beautiful young woman sitting next to me who sang in the round and was terrific. Last time, it was Natalie Tidwell. This night, it was CJ Garsee, a new artist who Mike is managing. She brought a very touching song, "I Was Left". I've added it for a week to my MySpace profile, so do check it out. There is so much talent here in Nashville that needs to be supported and encouraged.

It's great to be here and it's also fun to be in this town.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bluebird, Rock Heroes and Gospel

Sometimes I can't stand this town.

No, I haven't fallen out of love with Nashville. It's just that I tend to have what some would consider a "happy problem", especially this time of year. There's just too doggone much going on at the same time around here. These past couple of weeks, I had to make some tough choices about shows and events I really wanted to go to. Others, like the Songwriters Festival, I had no choice but to say no to because I have a home purchase on the horizon at month end and some things had to be done (in fairness, the mandatory homebuyers class was fun, though). What all this means sometimes is little sleep and even less free time...but I guess I thrive on this sort of thing when it all comes down.

I took in a most enjoyable round at the Bluebird last Thursday. I met Gary Talley at Randi Perkins' recording session a while back, so I thought I'd check him out. Again, this was one of those evenings where you go to hear some you've heard of but end up being also blown away by folks you hear for the first time. In that category were Corley Roberts, Susan Anders, Joe Truman and a guest vocalist Susan co-wrote a song with, Natalie Tidwell. All of these artists brought something strong and unique to the table and as a fan of strong vocals, I have to say this was one of the best rounds I've been to. You can find everyone on MySpace, so do most definitely track them down and give them a listen.

On Sunday I had to say no to two other invites and skip out of church early to do one of my "double header" gig runs. I found out that one of my 60s rock heroes, Al Kooper, would be doing a book signing at Borders. In 1977, I bought the first edition of his very funny memoir, "Backstage Passes". He's updated it twice since then. I had all three editions of the book with me, and Al was gracious enough to autograph them all. Al took questions about his career and the book. It was fun to see people there who had some of the old vinyl albums I did and who were knowledgeable enough to ask good questions. I've been a fan of Al's since I was 13...the first Blood Sweat and Tears album and the early Blues Project albums along with Al's solo work helped get me through my nerdy teen years. I noted that it was great to have the opportunity to share that with him through the internet and events like the book signing, and I asked Al if he's heard many similar comments from fans about how his music impacted their lives. He said that he did benefit from getting regular e-mails from fans and many of them have made his day...proving once again that even if you are a rock and roll legend, encouragement is important. It was a thrill for me to be there--thanks to Beverly Keel of the Tennessean for getting the word out on this.

My second event of the day was a "mini-Homecoming concert" with many of my friends from the Gaither videos: Woody Wright and his wife Vonnie, Reggie and Ladye Love Smith, Stephen Hill, Mike Allen and the legendary Ben Speer (and a cameo from his sister Mary Tom). It's been quite a long while since I've seen Reggie and Ladye and Stephen, so it was great to hear and see them again. Much like the concerts that were part of "Mark Lowry's Senior Trip", it was a "living room" type atmosphere with group sings and mini-sets from each artist. It was fun (and you can always count on that when Woody's around!), musically excellent, uplifting and encouraging. I also met two very dear people who, like me, had lived in Minnesota--Mary and Gary, who sat up front with me. I felt a lot of love that evening. These are the kinds of concerts I like--no pressure, no fan drama, where you can just go and love these folks and everyone will get loved back the same.

Even though it's hard to have to make choices sometimes about what to do when everything happens at once, I really do love this town and all the opportunities to do what I love.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Allison Lynn Single Release Showcase, Edgehill Cafe, 6/9/08

OK, this is going to sound corny and an obvious cliche to some, but I am here to tell you that in this case, it is absolutely true: I am a real big fan of Allison Lynn.

This precious and gifted young woman, and dear friend, debuted her single release, "Shepherd Of The Hills", from her new CD "Real Big Fan", at Edgehill Cafe before an appreciative crowd of friends and supporters, including her sweet mom and dad who drove all the way from Toronto for the occasion. Joining Allison for this evening were her equally talented husband, singer/songwriter Gerald Flemming, and another upcoming Southern Gospel soloist, Tara Jackson.

The evening reminded me how skillful God can be at putting people together. Allison and Gerald moved to Nashville over a year ago from Canada, on a three year artist visa. She and I most likely met online first as fellow bloggers while I was still living in Minnesota. You most likely know and love her acclaimed "Adventures of a Starving Artist" blog, started during her first year at Stamps-Baxter School (for which she now works). I was occasionally doing Gaither concert reports on my websites, and as I recall, we ended up meeting at a Gaither show. Tara and Allison met on the Shoutlife site, where they became friends and fellow artists.

Musically, the evening was very special. Gerald Flemming, who did a strong set of secular originals of his the night before in a "Writers Night" segment at the Bluebird Cafe, did three of his spiritual songs, the bluegrass favored "Church Song Broke Me Down", "Halleluia, I Remember", and "Never Wait Until Tomorrow", a beautiful song inspired by a column Erma Bombeck wrote after learning she had cancer. As a writer and vocalist, Gerald is one to watch for in this town.

Tara Jackson combines strong stage presence with a lovely and powerful voice and testimony. She sang three songs from her self-titled debut CD: the upbeat, crowd-engaging "God's Got a Word For You" (soon to be a radio single), "Except For Grace", which she introduced by mentioning her work with the Bridge ministry to the homeless in Nashville, and her current radio single "Wonder Working Power". (By the way, I first "met" Tara online as well and finally met in person last year also.)

Allison's set was a great showcase for her album. Her vocals were as spot on live as on her CD. I love the old time jazz feel arrangement that many of her album tracks have...I learned to appreciate that style by listening to "A Prairie Home Companion", so this CD's got a strong appeal for me. Her theatrical skills served her well and enhanced her performances of her self-written "Do You Want to Be My Neighbor In Gloryland"; one of my favorites, "Wedding At Cana", based on the Biblical wedding feast (and I love the hook of "save the very best for last" in that song); "Sin Ain't Nothing But the Blues"; "Faith Will Take You Further", and the title track "Real Big Fan" (written by Gerald). The song of the evening's celebration, "Shepherd of the Hills", will be getting some airplay on Solid Gospel radio, thanks to positive fan feedback.

I've followed Allison's career for a couple of years and watched how she carefully laid the groundwork for all the great things she's accomplished thus far here in Nashville. (Among other things, I also had the honor of having her sing at my baptism last fall.) To be able to watch someone at this career stage make progressive strides and have them welcome you along for the ride is what I find most fulfilling, most real and most true about the artist support I've been blessed to be a part of since I've been in Nashville. It's also a big reason I'm blessed to be a part of this town.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tokens Episode #2- Lipscomb University 5/27/08

You may recall my rave review here a couple of months ago about the first Tokens show taping. I was thrilled to hear there was another episode to be done. I don't think it took me a minute to get on the phone and reserve a ticket after getting the e-mail.

This second episode's theme was "Jubilee: Land, Greed and Grace". As with the last episode, the music, the readings, the brief interviews and the sketches all tied in with the theme, this one being of land ownership, wanting more and experiencing reconciliation.

As also last time, the music was spectacular. House band the Sinai Mountain Boys, led by Jeff Taylor with Buddy Greene, Aubrey Haynie, Byron House, Pete Huttlinger and Chris Brown, provided several of the show's high points. There were many outstanding musical moments, like:
- Well, anything Buddy Greene does. Pair him up with the amazing Jeff Taylor, who managed to get in spoons, accordion and tin whistle all on one song he did with Buddy ("Little Beggar Man") and you've got a blockbuster combination, no matter what musical genre they're diving into.
- The "Class and Grass" segment, featuring the string portion of the Annie Moses Band along with the Sinai Boys on an Appalachian medley consisting of Aaron Copeland's "Hoedown", "Simple Gifts" and a few other influences. It brought the house down.
- Aubrey Haynie's "broke bow" style fiddle solo
- A beautiful acapella song which was a prayer for children, sung by Uncle Dave's 4 (Paul McClung, Daniel Rushing, Paul Smith and host Lee Camp). It was a perfect reflection on an interview before this with author Melissa Fay Greene on her book "There Is No Me Without You", about an Ethopian woman's efforts to rescue her country's children. The group later backed Hope Miller on a Jean Ritchie song.
- Solos by singer/songwriter Julie Lee and Native American performer Bill Miller, who was particularly compelling using his music as a tool for healing and reconciliation.

The Tokens Radio Players (Merri Collins, Barry McAllister, David Fleer and Lee Camp) were back again with a reprise of last show's popular "Dear Preacher Man", and skits supporting the show's theme, "Gimme More" and "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy (complete with dialects).

Also tying in to the show's themes were short interviews with folk musicologist Mike Seeger (also brother of Pete) and Rod Dreher, author of "Crunchy Cons", a crtique of consumerism.

Everyone got in on the closing number, "Mary Don't You Weep". One of those magical moments where the audience and performers became as one.

Lee Camp was even more comfortable in his hosting role this time out. I've heard he is a challenging and excellent professor of theology at Lipscomb, but I'd say he's a multi-talented guy. He handled several roles well--he can sing and he was quite good in the humor skits...certainly as good as another radio host that comes to mind.

For only a second show, "Tokens" has got it going on like a program that has been around for a while. Its website is now up and running and will have segments from the shows posted. Right now there is no long term plan nailed down yet, but take note that there are two more shows planned this year:
9/30/08 - The Politics of Jesus
12/9/08 - The Christmas Revolution
You can sign up for the show's mailing list on the website to get ticket information.

Lee was grateful to have us all at the show...but I am the one who is most grateful to experience this wonderful happening. I am also grateful to be in this town.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In The Studio With Randi Perkins

This week I got a chance to do something I hadn't yet done here in Nashville: sit in on a recording session at Music Row. I've been in small and home studio settings when I recorded my audiobooks, but this is the first time I actually got to see first hand what part of a CD project recording session is like. I love knowing how things work and get created behind the scenes, so I was looking forward to this.

The session was for an upcoming release by singer/songwriter Randi Perkins (you've met him on my posts I've had here about the writer's nights he runs at Christ Lutheran Church in Nashville). On this evening he was getting instrumental tracks done for six songs. He had a great group of people supporting him: Rollie Mains (piano/keyboards), who is also an arranger, composer, orchestrator, producer; Gary Talley (guitar), a founding member of legendary 60's band the Box Tops; Dave Webb(bass), who has a long list of musical credits and most recently played with Sugarland; Justin Levenson (percussion), an in-demand studio musician, educator, performer and composer; engineers were Chris Rainwater and Jon Bufkin. Also documenting the session on video was Wayne Hall, known for video work with Big Machine Records artists.

I was really impressed with this group of folks professionally and personally. The musicians are all incredible players. They and the engineers really cared about the work they were doing and weren't satisfied until they got it right for Randi. Plus, they were just plain nice people who made me feel welcome (along with Randi's wife, Sandy, and son, Clark--also a musician!).

As a non-musician, I now have a much greater appreciation for the recording process that an artist walks through and will remember it every time I hold a CD in my hand by someone. I can tell you that Randi's project is going to be a nice one. You can hear live performances of some of the songs Randi cut studio versions of at his MySpace page. Take a listen to "North Dakota Farm Boy" and "The Last Harvest".

I enjoyed sitting in on the session. Thanks, Randi. And, I enjoy this town.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Brad Reynolds, Jill Parr, David Teems, Nathan Clark George, Bluebird Cafe 5/16/08

Almost one year ago, I went to hear Brad Reynolds at the Bluebird Cafe when he was in a round with Michael O'Brien, Morgan Cryar, and Sean Smith. As I noted in my post then, everyone was fabulous, but Brad and Sean, who I hadn't known of prior to that evening, took the night for me and their music had the most personally lasting effect.

Thus, I'd been so looking forward to this evening for quite some time. This time, it was Brad along with Jill Parr, David Teems and Nathan Clark George at the Bluebird with an evening of mostly contemporary Christian themed music. It was a great, supportive crowd which included many family and friends and fellow artists from the Indieheaven network...it was fun recognizing and meeting a couple of them.

Brad, who accompanied Jill Parr and played along with his friend David Teems, was as always excellent instrumentally and vocally, and humble and passionate in his faith. He did "The Locksmith" and "The Edge", which I remembered from last year, along with the title track of his fine "In the Real World" album. All night I thought to myself, "oh please, please, please, sing "Anyway" and "Choices". He didn't disappoint me...both those songs have found their way into my soul. "Anyway" most deservedly won Indieheaven's Momentum award for "Song of The Year" (and if you haven't heard it yet, go here and take a listen). "Choices" was co-written by Brad with Sean Smith--Sean will have it on his upcoming release.

Jill Parr, like many of us in Nashville, is a transplant, hailing from Michigan. How I loved this gal...a riveting redhead with passionate vocals and a very expressive, transparent performer and songwriter. I related to her on a few levels, particularly on "County Line" which dealt with her feeling as if she didn't fit in and struggling for acceptance. I would most definitely go and hear her again.

David Teems, a fine singer, songwriter, guitarist and author (of a devotional, "To Love Is Christ") provided much of the gentle humor of the evening. He joked about being ordained to marry couples but most of the marriages ended in divorce, and the challenge of being asked to write songs for weddings and coming up with them at the last minute (in the bathroom!). But when he got serious, he touched a lot of hearts with songs like "Love That Brought Us Here" and "There's Another Woman In My Life".

Nathan Clark George is a self-described folkie at heart with an enviable lifestyle: based in Illinois, he and his family (with 5 children) travel all around the country. I particularly liked a thought-provoking song he did called "What If" which dealt with mistakes and observing Jesus, and a sweet love song called "You Make Me Smile".

Some of the Indieheaven members who attended this show noted how powerfully these artists of faith impacted the audience just by being who they were and by willing to be transparent and honest about themselves. Amen to that.

I've had some things to be thankful about this week...what was lost found again and this special evening of music. I love this town.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nason Music Group Showcase, The Rutledge, 4/21/08

This past week was GMA (Gospel Music Association) week, which means plenty of showcases around Nashville. Literally fresh out of Gaylord Opryland hotel where I spent the previous weekend at Mark Lowry's Spring Fling, I dropped off my bags at home and headed out to the Rutledge for a noontime showcase of Christian independent artists, sponsored by Nason Music Group.

I was hoping that this one would be as enjoyable at the IndieHeaven CIA Summit showcase I raved about earlier. What that had in common with this one was the same drawing card for me: Sean Smith. I'll take any opportunity I can to hear him. As it turned out, like the CIA Summit showcase, I was introduced to many new wonderfully talented folks here as well. I scooped up every bit of promo and CD samples that the artists so generously left on tables for the taking.

The main artist showcased here was Christian Walker, who has spent time in Iraq leading troops. He is a fine vocalist and writer, and I enjoyed his sense of humor, particularly on the song "Elmer Thomas Park", about the place where he was dumped by four different women ("well, I never met Elmer Thomas, but man, I hate his park"...).

Sean Smith, accompanied by another guitarist and percussionist, did "Real", the title song of his current CD, which was great to hear in an acoustic setting. He also did the song he debuted at CIA Summit, co-written by Brad Reynolds, "Choices". Sean made sure I left with a CD of two advance tracks from his upcoming album which included this song and "Front Row Seat". Both of these songs have grabbed hold of my soul. I can't get enough of them. Judging by these two cuts, Sean is on his way to yet another perfect album. I can't wait.

The other artists also did two songs each: Jennifer Benson, a rock edged artist from Chicago; Chad Gentry of Evansville, IN whose day job is in the auto industry; Krystyn Leigh, winner of the female vocalist IndieHeaven Momentum award (easy to see why-great voice and stage presence); Stephen Andrew, a member of the Nashville Soul Choir; Carrie Marshall, a worship leader from Boston; Kyle Obermeier, a powerful singer/guitarist who helps underpriviledged kids with music in his Cleveland, GA studio; and Embassy Music Showcase winner Lance Stafford.

All of these artists had a personal testimony of how God has worked in their lives, some especially under some very difficult circumstances. Their music certainly blessed me and I pray they get many opportunities to serve and share their gifts.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Guitar BQ 6 - 4/6/08

After enduring nearly a full week of rain, the weather timely and appropriately became sunny and glorious just in time for the 6th annual Guitar BQ. This event is a larger version of Doak Turner's monthly 3rd Sunday songwriter potluck and get-together(Doak's Nashville Muse newsletter this week gives the count as over 450 in attendance). That for one thing meant tons more great food. The dessert section in particular was a sight to behold (since I don't do sugar anymore, that's all I did). You also had lots of barbecue chicken and pork, and several other dishes brought by attendees (my biggest weaknesses: the succotash and as usual, grapes).

It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: It also meant lots more great music. I bounced around from place to place trying to check out as many of the rounds as possible. It was way too large for me to try to capture many new names, but let's just say I heard quite a few new talented folks. More people also meant more variety of instruments brought into the mix: percussion, an accordion, fiddles and mandolins found a place among the sea of guitars.

I had a couple of things to commemorate at this event. It was the official one year anniversary of my arrival here in Nashville, lock, stock and Geo Metro. I didn't get to town in time for last year's Guitar BQ, but last May I came to 3rd Sunday as a fly on the wall, hoping to find out if there was anything I could do to encourage songwriters here. I sure found out in a big way, and I cherish all the hugs I get and give from the many dear people I've met here who have allowed me into their world.

It was also the beginning of the retirement of the red hat, now that I've had a makeover with a new hairdo that is not compatible with hat wearing. I'll be looking forward to the photos taken of me and my new 'do (thanks as always, Kat!).

I love to eat, I love music and I love this town.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

CIA Summit Singer/Songwriter Showcase 3/28/07

IndieHeaven brought its 5th CIA (Christian Independent Alliance)Summit to the Factory in Franklin this weekend. This year, they added a new acoustic based singer/songwriter showcase which was open to the public. I love these events because they always end up being very special and you hear a lot of great new talent. Honestly, the drawing card that got me in the door was that Sean Smith would be doing two songs, and I later heard that Brad Reynolds would be there as well. If you recall on this post, I first discovered these two fellows at the Bluebird Cafe last May and gave them rave reviews.

I did not get to hear all of the artists who were scheduled to perform, but I was impressed with every one of those I did hear in two or three song sets. Evie Haskell, Chris Lucas, Chris Ames, Bill Petty, Amy Gustafson, and Mindy Boyd were all excellent singers, songwriters and players. Young Kelsey Muse in particular has very strong potential. She did a good cover of Sara Bareilles' "Love Song" and two of her own compositions.

One of the most entertaining sets came from Bill Mallia (with Drew Davidson on guitar and Les Worsham on percussion). I've been getting his emails for quite a while but never heard him--all I knew was he was sort of a Christian Jimmy Buffet type, so I was curious to hear his set. Well, he is a joyful character and performer and had the audience laughing as he sang about "sporting a tan on the body of Christ." Since I arrived early as usual, I got to hear him warm up before the showcase started--that also was fun.

Sean Smith and Brad Reynolds accompanied each other on parts of their sets. Brad showed his great guitar skills, fine singing and songwriting ability, with vocal backup by Sean, on "The Edge" and "Real World". (By the way, Brad will be back at the Bluebird Cafe on May 16.)

Sean began tracking for his next album this week and previewed two songs, "Choices" co-written by Brad and Sean (though Sean says the title was his main contribution!), and "What Keeps Me From the Cross". Let's just say I am seriously pumped and awaiting the release of this album. I later asked Sean about his recent appearance on "The Hour of Power" and he told me it was one of the coolest experiences he's ever had. I think there will be much more to come--he's on track for major success.

I noticed that a few of the artists had songs that centered on various forms of encouragement and most stayed to encourage each other's sets. Every one that I had a chance to speak with or say a quick "great job" to were humble and gracious.

I do hope CIA Summit will continue this acoustic showcase next year--I'm sure I'll be back. I am so grateful over and over again for these kind of events where you can hear new people and encourage them, and make new friends and contacts. And, I am so grateful for this town.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Songwriters' Weekend

It's now been a year since I arrived in Nashville. The time has sure flown. This past weekend I attended two events which further proved to me why I love it here so much.

First was the writer's night at Christ Lutheran Church in Nashville. Like the one I attended back in October, it was a warm, casual atmosphere with some great singer/songwriters, each who had something special and unique to bring to the table that evening. Randi Perkins, who's been one of my past featured songwriters, hosted this one again and did a song at the beginning and in the middle of the evening's sets (accompanied by Box Tops founding member Gary Talley on guitar, Randi's son Clark on bass and Rolli Mains on keyboards). Randi is working on a new recording which he hopes to have available in the next few months. I was excited about the first song he did, "Army of Angels", about seeing ourselves from other people's point of view...he assured me he's recording that one. I'm also excited about Randi as a performer. He did an accompanying slide show to his song "North Dakota Farm Boy" which was so warm and personal--it had pictures of him playing over the years and lovely slides containing some of the song lyrics. Randi's passion for his music shows when he plays...and he's a great guy. I think people are going to relate to him.

Other featured songwriters were Ellen Olhsson aka "Tuff Ditties" who I knew from Doak's 3rd Sundays. She also has a thriving career in the Second Life virtual environment as "Trulie Telling". Ellen effectively mixed her serious songs ("Tara Sleeps") and fun songs (the very entertaining "Boy Crazy" and one of my favorites, "He Cleans Up Good"), quickly becoming an audience favorite.

Red-headed Annie Mosher, wearing a very cool pair of green rain boots, has a sweet light voice and personality. I liked her song about things that make rhythm, at the end tying in a baby's heartbeat--she's expecting her second child.

Kathy Hussey writes very strong songs from a character perspective and has powerfully exquisite voice. My favorite of hers was "Cherry Jingles", which was a perfect illustration of how a voice and song perfectly enhance each other...it was hauntingly beautiful. Kathy hosts a unique sort of writers round on Sunday at Willhagens. I may stop by in the future to check that out.

This past Sunday was the 5th anniversary of Doak Turner's 3rd Sunday songwriter gatherings. Doak is solicting comments and memories of the past 5 years of get-togethers to include on his Nashville Muse website. Well Doak, you can quote me here. I have absolutely no doubt that 3rd Sunday was largely responsible for me to have been able to fit in to this community as a support person for singer/songwriters as quickly as I did. I am very grateful to folks like Doak and Kat Speer for making me feel so welcome, and to all the singer/songwriters who understand where I come from and "get it". The friendships I've made and the atmosphere created is a welcome oasis and a cherished blessing.

These fine folks showed the very same hospitality for two musical friends of mine from Austin, IN, Teresa Banda and Karen Meiers, who were in town for some studio work and networking. I of course strongly suggested they come to 3rd Sunday while in town. They loved it as much as I thought they would and got some good contacts and feedback. Thanks, Brandon Maddox, Steve Craig, and Dave Saunders, for sharing so much of your time and your great songs with them. Among other strong artists/writers I heard for the first time this weekend were Keith Whitley-influenced C. J. Garton, Julian Riviere (sort of a Keith Whitley meets Randy Travis in style), Josh Pennington and Robert Steele.

Happy 5th anniversary, Doak. And happy 1st anniversary to me. I love this town.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Beyond the Ashes, Edgehill Studio Cafe, 3/3/08

MySpace can be a really great place to meet people. Among my top MySpace friends is one I met through the site, a fellow named Dusty, a gospel music industry person and one of the most powerful and amazing encouragers I've ever known of. He has been mentoring a dear friend of his, a terrific tenor singer, Anthony Facello (who I also found on MySpace), supporting the formation of a new Southern Gospel trio he is part of called Beyond the Ashes.

Beyond the Ashes had its first public Nashville showcase at Edgehill Studio Cafe. There was the now-weekly severe storm threatening outside, but it would just have to wait. None of us were going anywhere. The guys (Anthony, Justin Howard and Brian Alvey) and the people there to support them created a place of heart, soul and enthusiasm over the hour long set. Anthony noted that the guys had met each other earlier on, but God brought them together for this musical ministry at the right time a little over a year ago. The group is vocally solid, doing as good a job as any on well known favorites such as "Can't Stop Talking About Him", "How Great Is Our God" and "Daystar". They were also very strong on songs I wasn't as familiar with, such as "Gather At the River" and "That's How Much I Need A Savior", with Anthony turning in some very fine solo work.

The time went much too quickly and I wish it had gone longer. But it was long enough for me to know that Beyond the Ashes has a bright future beyond the walls of that small cafe.

There were several gospel music industry people and organizations represented whose names I recognized that night. I am still a new kid on the block. Anthony, Dusty and others made me feel so welcome and valued. I'm so grateful and fortunate to have these kind of experiences with all these wonderfully talented people.

God bless MySpace. And of course, God bless this town.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Typical Weekend In Nashville...

Well, it's not always my typical weekend in Nashville. Sometimes I have to work, do laundry or other things. But every now and then I get a chunk of time to take in a few of the great activities that are available to those who live in the area.

On Friday, I went to the Bluebird Cafe for a round featuring Barbara Cloyd (running a songwriter workshop that week), Don Poythress, Marcel, Trevor Rosen and someone I've been a fan of for awhile, Jessica Andrews. Barbara is legendary in this town for her mentoring of songwriters, and Marcel was no exception. He told the story of driving all the way from California for an open mike spot at the Bluebird...he managed to grab the last one and in the process blew Barbara away enough for her to get him connected in Nashville. The rest was history, with Marcel getting a record deal (you may remember his song "Tennessee" which he did Friday evening) and pairing up professionally and personally with Jessica Andrews. He was a writer of Jessica's hit "There's More to Me Than You" (he sang it Friday night with Jessica on backup vocals) and I didn't know he also wrote "Nothing To Lose" for Josh Gracin. It was a treat to hear Jessica sing the touching and inspiring "Who I Am".

Don Poythress showed us some of his great songs, including one that Kellie Pickler recorded "Things That Never Cross A Man's Mind". Trevor Rosen was there primarily as guitarist for Jessica and Marcel, but did get a song of his own in the round.

On Saturday, another treat for me: I went to the grand reopening of the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum shop. The main reason for me to go was to meet one of my radio heroes, WSM's Bill Cody. I'm not a fan of chatty morning radio shows unless you've got something interesting and entertaining to say. Bill Cody and Charlie Mattos and traffic reporter Richard Thomas make my commute much easier to bear each morning. What you hear and what you see (on GAC) is what you get with Bill--just as nice and as charming as he is on the air. Afterward, he found me in the corner of the gift shop with my head stuck in Loretta Lynn's latest book to make sure I got my museum gift pack--that was sweet (thanks, Bill!). Later I also got to see Eddie Stubbs, who I've met on a few occasions. He was, as always, the perfect Southern gentleman. I also took in a brief bit of a songwriter session with Rich Fagan, notable for writing songs on the George Strait "Pure Country" soundtrack and John Michael Montgomery's girl at the auction hit "Sold" (I actually heard that one at least twice on the radio this past week.), and a performance by bluegrass/country group Nash Street, winners of the Colgate Country Showdown.

I've lived in Nashville one year next month and I'll be talking about that milestone in later posts. But even though I'm pretty settled in a normal routine of life, still there's something about being in downtown Nashville. As a visitor, the sense of history and musical richness was very special and now that I live here I haven't become jaded about it. Like I said...I love this town.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Tokens" Radio Show Taping, Lipscomb University, 2/19/08

I am one excited gal.

My friend Annie from Buddy Greene's office asked me if I wanted a ticket to a taping at Lipscomb University for a new radio show pilot where Buddy was playing in the house band. Did I? Is water wet? If it's a radio show, I am so there.

"Tokens" is described by its host and creator, Lee Camp, an Associate Professor of Bible at Lipscomb University, as a "crazy idea" he had to mix theology, cultural analysis, good conversation, and good music. And yes, it will remind you of "A Prairie Home Companion", which is another reason for me to be excited about this show. (For those of you who are unaware of how "A Prairie Home Companion" impacted my life, you can read here.) The theme of this first program was "The Appalachian Longing For Home." The music and the commentary tied in well with the exploration of the idea of the Appalachian longing for a sense of community and the kingdom of God.

"Tokens" blends part of a tested formula with some unique elements. There was the music: the house band, The Sinai Mountain Boys, led by virtuoso musician Jeff Taylor, along with Buddy Greene, Pete Huttlinger, Aubrey Haynie, Dennis Crouch, and Vince Barranco (plus a guest appearance by bluegrass great Stuart Duncan--Jeff spotted him in the audience and brought him up to sit in on mandolin on a couple of numbers). Also featured was the amazing Odessa Settles, who I first heard with Buddy at the Bluebird Cafe a couple of months back. With this lineup, the band was, as you'd expect, superb and both Buddy and Odessa gave powerful musical expression to the longing for home theme. Other guest artists were Andrew Peterson, a fine singer/songwriter I would definitely like to hear more of, and acapella group Aunt Mag's Four.

There was also humor courtesy of the Tokens Radio Players (Merri Collins, David Fleer and Nate Fleer) with very entertaining bits like "Dear Preacher Man" and "Virtual Home".

Along with the music and humor was this program's twist: short audio excerpts of interviews with three authors. A.J. Jacobs, editor of Esquire magazine and author of the best selling Year of Living Biblically, took one year to live as literally as in the Bible, which included donning Biblical garb and stoning an adulterer. "Red Letter Christians" founding member and author Brian McLaren speaking on his most recent book, Everything Must Change posed some thoughts on how Jesus's message fits into today's global crises; and Professor Marcus Rediker shared tragic and compelling details from his book, Slave Ship, describing the inhuman conditions that slaves experienced on ships. Full versions of the interviews will be available on the Tokens show website(www.TokensShow.com),which I'm told hopes to be up and running in a couple of weeks.

As host, Lee Camp is more Noah Adams than Garrison Keillor overall, with an amiable and intelligent style and presence. He also did very well in the humor skits and as part of Aunt Mag's Four (yes, it does help that the host can sing!).

"Tokens" will be pitched to potential sponsors and outlets. Judging from the wildly enthusiastic audience reaction, I predict this "crazy idea" is gonna fly, folks. I'd even predict further if it finds an outlet, once it gets going it may even need a little more room than the intimate Shamblin Theater to hold all the people who will want to be part of it.

I am so blessed, so thankful to be here and be part of these events. I love radio. I love this town!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Night At Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant 2/9/08

Strange as it seems, I don't think I've yet to see much of the town of Franklin in the daylight hours, outside of the Cool Springs area and my church's office. I'd only ventured south of Nashville in the evening for one show before going to Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant for the first time. I'd never been to downtown Franklin, either. From what I could see in the dark, it's a very cute area. It reminds me perhaps of downtown Milford, CT and a town I know I've been to in Minnesota that I can't for the life of me think of now. What impressed me the most was the big parking garage I pulled into across from Puckett's --I tried to figure out where to pay for parking and how much...and then realized parking was free. Too cool.

Puckett's is probably about the size of the Bluebird Cafe, maybe a little larger. I was there this evening to have dinner and hear my friend Buddy Greene along with multi-instrumental genius Jeff Taylor and fiddler Aubrey Haynie (both of who are also members of the Grammy-nominated Time Jumpers. They skipped the awards ceremony to play this gig).It was a packed house so at first they sat me at the bar. I'm really not a fan of sitting at bars...the only advantage for me is being short I can sometimes get a better view. Plus, sometimes people think you're only there to drink or you get forgotten when it comes to food. Not at Puckett's. The wait staff was superb...no less than three waiters checked in with me to see if I put my dinner order in. The food was quite good, although I would have liked to have seen a vegetarian option among the three menu choices.

Just before the show, Buddy saw to it that I was moved to a table, so I joined Buddy's assistant, Ann, and a friend of his from Indiana, Tobin Wingard. Later on, Buddy called Tobin up on stage and he played some killer harmonica. As always, Buddy, Jeff, and Aubrey put on a musically excellent show overall with characteristic great playing and good humor.

Puckett's has two locations, in downtown Franklin and Leiper's Fork, that feature live music on the weekends. Check out Puckett's website for all the info on the great music and food (and did I mention the service?). It's won several "best of" awards in many categories.

I love Nashville and Franklin's pretty cool, too.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Gaither Homecoming, Sommet Center, 2/8/08

After several years of attending Gaither Homecoming concerts in the round with a large lineup of artists, I was interested how the new setup of end stage and decreased artist roster would fare (I also wondered how I, being "vertically challenged", would see from the middle of the 5th row with the new setup. But there were empty seats here and there, and by the time the second half came along, those who don't have the duration of some of us die-hards left). Indeed at first, I was struck by the smaller number of artists on stage in the opening, and did miss a few of the regulars I'd been used to seeing (Russ Taff, Jessy Dixon, the Isaacs). But in the end, the Gaithers showed they still had the ability to engage the audience like friends or family musicially and with good natured humor and bind us all in heart and spirit.

Some of my favorite highlights:
- Rory Rigdon and Kevin Williams remain two of the funniest guys out there when they gang up on Mr. Gaither (Rory's expressions are priceless), with a few blurbs from Gordon Mote. (This year's routine, rather timely, is "Bill For President"). It also helps that Bill is graciously willing to go along with it all.
- Ernie Haase and Signature Sound are charmingly haphazard in choreography at times (they could use a little Motown step instruction), but I enjoy it. Boogie down, guys.
- I thought having the onstage artists singing songs with some clips of some of those who have passed cut in (the Goodmans, George Younce, Jake Hess) was interesting and effective.
- Nice to see Eva Mae LeFevre (looking lovely at age 90), the Christ Church Choir, and Michael English who joined the convention singing portion in the second half.

By the way, the show was as long as ever--started at 7, was over at 11:30. But that's all good.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stop by MySpace...

I just wanted to mention here that I am running a weekly feature at my MySpace profile. Each week I am featuring a different songwriter from the Nashville area who also can be found on MySpace. I post a song by the featured artist on my profile and have the artist in my "top friends" area. Here's hoping you will go to the artist's own profile and check out more of his/her work.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A couple of nights later at the Hall of Fame Lounge...

So I got this MySpace bulletin on Saturday from Brandon Maddox announcing that he, Brian James and Mike Seals would be doing a round at 7 p.m at the Hall of Fame Lounge. With Brandon plus half the lineup of Thursday's amazing show at the Bluebird (see previous post below), this was a little too good to pass up. Though I hadn't been home much at all Saturday and was thinking about kicking back in the evening, well, what's a few more hours away? I jumped in my car and came out to the Hall of Fame Lounge for my first visit there. It's got that "informal" atmosphere much like the Station Inn and reminded me a little of the rumpus room of the house I grew up in.

If the above lineup wasn't enough, the whole thing was kicked up a notch by the addition of the amazing Patrick "Moose" Hovious on harmonica. Though there was only a handful of us in the audience at the time, all these guys brought it as if it were a packed house. Only issue was that the round was way too short, but that's how sets are run in order to get more singer/songwriters on an evening's bill. Brandon, Brian and Mike were promptly booked for next week (update: set time back to 8:30 p.m. on the 12th; Moose will join them for a special appearance, as he's moved from town for awhile to attend college. Good luck and hurry back soon!).

I stuck around for a little bit and was pleasantly surprised to see "Simply Lauri" Merrow, who I knew from Doak's gatherings as a consistently solid singer/songwriter. I hadn't had a chance to listen to her her outside of that setting, so it was a treat to hear her in a half hour set. Joining her was a songwriter new to me, Paul Welch. I enjoyed his songs as well; one particularly touching one was "That's The One I Was Looking For", in tribute to his dad.

I'll be going back here, I'm sure, to check out some more singer/songwriters. Stay tuned.