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 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.