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.