Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What makes a good round? My $.02 and change

As some people know, I go out a lot to shows and writers night rounds. Lately I've been to quite a few of them when I've said out loud to myself(or to whoever's sitting with me) "wow...that was a really great round!".

My perspective on what makes a great round for me is based on being a non-musician out in the audience sitting and listening and observing what's on stage. But I've heard and seen a lot, and I know what I like. So at those places like the Commodore which has several writers playing in one evening or other showcases around town, here are some things I look for. I'll use a couple of examples from when I stuck my head in the door at the Commodore last night.

- Energy and enthusiasm to go with a well-written song. Case in point: Scott Sanford of the mighty Dakota Grove, who know a bit about projecting high energy and crowd connection from the stage. Scott did a solo turn and clearly threw himself into his music. He had the audience cheering, whistling and making requests.

- Round members supporting one another. Now, I realize that not every round put together is made up of people who know each other or have played with each other before and that could affect comfort factor. But from time to time, I'll see rounds where while one person is playing, another on stage is staring into space. I just think each player should give the one who's up at the moment their full attention and support...especially if your fellow players have done that for you. If everyone on stage is into what's happening, that's going to project to the audience and it'll catch on.

A great example was in the same night with the round featuring Dan McCorison, Hillary McBride and Joshua Armstrong. It was great to see how much they enjoyed hearing each other and I felt that enthusiasm. I also enjoy it when people in a round spontaneously add a guitar or vocal part to each other's songs. I'd never heard these three before...all of the above plus the fact that each of them were just plain terrific really impressed me enough to give the round a "standing o" and look them up on MySpace afterward. (Of course, being blown away by people I hear for the first time is my very favorite thing of all!)

There you have $.02 and change for what it's worth.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cole Bruce, Eleanor Fye, Red Tree Coffee, 5/22/09

Out at Red Tree Coffee's consistently solid Friday night music offerings, a last minute substitution worked out well. The in-house talents of Cole Bruce, accompanied by Jon Conley (they're the spouses of Red Tree owners Amy and Katie respectively) did a fine fill in job. It was an opportunity for Cole to showcase his CD "Hello Sunshine". Some exciting news announced as well--Cole and Jon have put together a group called Calico Trail. We should be hearing from them fairly soon.

I have this thing about people recognizing me from someplace, but I either don't recall meeting them or maybe I just haven't. Sometimes people see me at the many events I get around to. But much of the time, it's just that I have to see some people at least three times to successfully put a name and a face together (nothing personal toward any of these folks this happens with...I attribute this to age and "the change").

Such was the case with the second act to play this evening...Eleanor Fye. She asked me a question I get often: "don't I know you from somewhere?" I usually run down the list of places I frequent, and this time we figured out it was from Doak Turner's monthly gathering. If I didn't remember Eleanor from there, I certainly won't forget her going forward. Her set was perhaps one of the best I've heard here from a solo artist new to me since Louise Mosrie's back in February.

Eleanor is still fairly new to Nashville, having moved here last September. She hasn't played many gigs to this point, but on this night she successfully used her classical, jazz and pop influences to totally enchant and engage the audience with her warm personality, personal songwriting and excellent vocals (with Jon Conley on guitar). Eleanor sang songs about conquering fear by paragliding, processing being "stood up", and used some cool violin effects on one song she described as her "rocking, angry song". One challenge she threw out to the audience paid off for herself. She asked the crowd to sing along with her cover of the Minnie Riperton hit "Loving You". Now, most folks can handle the "la la la la la" part of this song okay. But I figured perhaps outside of Mariah Carey, few could pull off the stratospheric part of the end of that chorus. Well, Eleanor did. It sure blew us all away. She got a standing ovation for her set from me.

Eleanor Fye is certainly where she belongs being here in Nashville. I say keep an ear out for her to do great things. She plays here again on August 21.

I tell you what, Red Tree Coffee, you sure know how to pick 'em.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mark Elliott, Cary Stone, Aaron Till, Norm's River Road House, 5/20/09

It's been a challenging week. I got cut from a job and there's a mouse in the house. I needed a serious distraction.

I did a wonderful interview with Mark Elliott this past Sunday morning on my radio show "Never Too Old" (read about it here, hear it here). One of the gigs plugged on the show was this one out at Norm's River Road House. I set my VCR (yes, I still have one) for the American Idol finale and headed out for the show. Also on the bill were Cary Stone and Aaron Till.

The intimate venue was filled with family and friends of the three. These guys just brought it for two solid hours. Mark is such a top notch writer, vocalist and guitar player. One of the songs he did was a new one he wrote by request of someone who wanted a song for his baby girl. He was given just a few ideas and came out with a lovely song called "Being You". I wonder what it's like to have that gift.

Cary Stone is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who tours with Mark Chesnutt. It was nice to reconnect with Cary after meeting him at a gathering with Mark Elliott last December. Cary is working on his own album and did this gig on Mark's coaxing to get out and play his tunes. Let me tell you--based on what I heard, not only does Cary need to play his own stuff out more often, but he can easily step into a center stage role. He is a significant talent in the traditional country style.

Mark and Cary were well supported by Aaron Till on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and vocals. He had the opportunity to do a few songs of his own in the set. By far the crowd pleaser was his "stuck record" version of "Tennessee Waltz" which was spot on and had the audiences in stitches.

Commercial radio, pay attention. We love Keith and all the modern sounding folks, but I submit there is just as much of an audience for the traditional sound. Listen to us for once.

By the way, if you get out to Norm's River Road House, you need to try the pizza. It's some of the best I've ever had.

I am rich with musical friends. I love this town.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekend Roundup, 5/8-9/09

Red Tree Coffee's 1st Birthday Celebration, 5/8/09

How does a new coffeehouse in a small town manage to flourish in the midst of a recession? The answer is simple, really. Be good at what you do and cause people to care. That's the secret to Red Tree Coffee's success, in my view. This cozy place in Kingston Springs celebrated its first birthday in style this weekend with a loyal crowd, great treats and lots of incredible music.

The musical offerings consisted primarily of the Red Tree family's formidable in-house talent (guitarists/singers Jon Conley, Cole Bruce and sisters Katie Conley and Amy Patience, who sang the house down) and some of the musicians who have played regularly on their Friday night showcases: duo Those Two, fiddler Casey Campbell, Grand Ole Opry player David Jolley, guitarist Billy Thomas and percussionist Todd Wilson, the latter two who smoked in a jam at the end with Jon and Cole. E.G. Smith led the crowd in a rendition of a song written especially for Red Tree's birthday. Without a doubt one of the highlights of the evening was Jon and Katie's 12 year old daughter Savannah. I've never seen a young gal quiet a room as she did when she sang Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love", and her own composition "Reality". She told the crowd how amazed she was when, after singing the song in a school talent contest, she learned how memorable it was to the other kids who were going around singing it the next day. It certainly shows that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and that Savannah's got a bright future ahead of her.

I predict Red Tree will be recession-proof for some time to come because one of its greatest values lies in that which doesn't involve money; it's about creating community and a bonding spirit along with great coffee and great music.

Alex Harvey and Band, Puckett's-Franklin 5/9/09

One week after Alex Harvey's songwriter presentation at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum came one of his regular gigs at Puckett's. I've been to a few of his shows so far and this one was one of the best yet: lots of upbeat, rocking blues, great songwriting and solid musicianship. Alex and the band did many regular crowd favorites like "Rings", "Reuben James", "5 Dollar Fine For Whining", "Cry Like The Rain" and others, and had the audience singing along on "Dangerous". As you would expect, the more serious, heart-tugging moments came during "Somebody New", and "Delta Dawn" and "Next Right Thing" when Alex passionately shares how those songs came about through painful personal experience.

Here's that theme of community again: Alex said he considers folks who come to his shows like family. I can speak to that; I have certainly felt that way since I've been going. It's that second level of support I've written about where the people who have stood out for you keep you coming back over and over again. In this case it's Alex's passionate performances, legendary songwriting and creating that sense of oneness with the audience.

Another great weekend...and another reason to love this town (and a small town or two).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another Great Night...Commodore Grill 5/7/09

There are great nights of music...and there are GREAT nights of music.

I dropped by the Commodore Grill to check out a few acts on the list for this evening. Two of those I was particularly interested in happened to be paired up for the first round: John Velora and Dr. Jay and Miss Diana. Sometimes the right combinations are just magic and this was one of those. John's catchy pop/rock flavored melodies, skillful guitar playing and excellent vocals are a breath of musical fresh air. If you have not seen and heard Dr. Jay and Miss Diana, you absolutely must. From the moment Diana starts singing "Trying To Get Your Attention", well, you don't take your eyes and ears off her. She draws you in immediately with her voice and her showmanship. Like Eve Selis at the Hippie Chick Twang Tin Pan South show, this gal performs totally from her center. They back it up with great songs and Dr. Jay's fine guitar work (including some very tasty slide playing). In short, I love these folks to death. This round got a standing ovation from me.

It would have been a daunting task for anyone to follow such a dynamic round. Singer/songwriter JW Combs was up for it and delivered with strong material and very fine vocals.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, oh I forgot: Dakota Grove was on the bill for the night, minus CJ Watson and with hit writer Chris Wallin filling in for Daisy Dern.He with Camille Wallin and Scott Sanford grabbed the crowd's attention yet again with as usual superb songwriting, on-stage chemistry and top flight vocals. Camille Wallin is, to me, a major talent, proving so with great songs with "A Good Cry" delivered with power and passion. Scott Sanford is also a strong and diverse writer and vocalist, whether on a ballad or "getting in the groove" (with shades and all during one song). Chris Wallin played his #1 favorites "Don't Blink", "Something To Be Proud Of" and "Love Me If You Can" along with a new song that sounded like it could easily join the others as a future #1.

(Speaking of "Something To Be Proud Of", last time I saw Chris, I told him this story. A couple of years ago, I did the MS Walk in the Twin Cities. I hadn't planned on completing the whole 9 miles, but somehow I did. By the time I got to the finish line, the blisters caught up with me and I could hardly walk. "Something To Be Proud Of" by Montgomery Gentry was one of the songs in my IPod, which I set up for random play that day. The song came on as I made my way to the finish line. I swear to you, the minute I crossed the finish line, the line in the song where Eddie Montgomery says "you did it, man" was playing. True story...I couldn't have planned that one.)

My evening ended with another fine round with writers Ralph Martin, Donnie Winters, Bill Maier and an impressive duo from Houston, Ben and Rose (a beautiful gal with lovely Lady Godiva-like long hair and compelling vocals). My apologies for missing the other scheduled writers on body starts kicking and screaming around 10 p.m.

Debi Champion knows how to serve up a great evening. Thanks to her, there is another sure to be unforgettable night of music in my future...and I'll be telling you more about that very soon.

What can I say except the usual... I love this town.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Weekend Roundup--First weekend in May

It was just about the "no sleep till Sunday tour" for me this weekend. OK, so I'm exaggerating. It was just a whole slew of events happening which actually began Thursday night when I decided to go to the Commodore Grill. It was one of those wonderful warm nights when a dozen friends of mine happened to be there as well, so lots of hugs and company at the table. I also met a couple of great new people there, too. One act I absolutely loved to death was Dr. Jay and Miss Diana--what a great performer she is.

Friday night I stopped up at Red Tree Coffee and caught a "supergroup" known as Emotional Rex...made up of guitarist/vocalist George Hawkins; guitarist Bruce Gaitsch, writer of "Don't Mean Nothing" for Richard Marx and "La Isla Bonita" for Madonna; guitarist extraordinare Jon Conley and drummer/vocalist Kelly Keaggy, well known from Night Ranger. Yes, Kelly did sing "Sister Christian" and "Sentimental Street", the latter with a slower twist than the original recording but sounding super nonetheless. The group mixed some solid rock and blues with fine smooth jazz instrumentals.

Saturday began a 12 hour blitz of musical events pratically back to back. First, off to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum to catch Alex Harvey as part of the museum's Saturday songwriter session series. Alex was accompanied by Ronnie Fruge on guitar (I saw a fine set by him at Red Tree about a month ago) and John Grapes on percussion. Besides the wonderful timeless songs he's written ("Delta Dawn", "Ruben James", "Rings"), the reason Alex is a favorite of mine is that I love his heart and his passion that he brings to his performances. In particular, his very touching song "Somebody New" grabbed the soul in the intimate setting of the Ford Theater.

About an hour or so later, it was back to the Ford Theater for a "Nashville Cats" feature paying recognition to renowned session guitarist Wayne Moss, noted for his famous licks on Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman" and "Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line" by Waylon Jennings, to name a few. Many of Nashville's finest session players were on hand in the audience to support Wayne, such as Charlie McCoy and Pig Robbins.

It couldn't be more perfect to have these events going on the same afternoon as one I've waited a few months for: the Ryman Auditorium broadcast of "A Prairie Home Companion". It was really good to see the show live again...of course, living in St. Paul for so many years I've seen dozens of performances, but it was very cool to be in Nashville and see it in the setting which inspired Garrison Keillor to start the show in the first place back in 1974. Special guests were Sam Bush and Brad Paisley (performing acoustically and sitting in with the Guys's All Star Shoe Band). However, I couldn't stay for the whole show, thus my one regret is not having a chance to say hi to my Shoe Band friends Rich Dworsky and Pat Donohue. (Did the gal in front of me with the autograph hat get it signed by Garrison or the band members? I couldn't stay to find that out, either!) Because...

I was due in Pegram for the Friends of Pegram Park Writers's Night at Fiddle and Pick. I am a solid supporter of these shows so I pretty much burned rubber to make it there on time. I actually got brave enough to take the freeway part of the way there! (Well, it was either steel thyself or be sitting at traffic lights on 70S for the beginning of the show). I wanted to catch one of the performers, Les Kerr, before the show started. Les was a last minute add to the evening...he will be my guest on my "Never Too Old" radio show on May 24 and this was my first chance to meet and hear him after a bunch of e-mails. He was absolutely delightful and I can't wait to have him on my show. He was joined by Karen Angela Moore on vocals (I saw her at the Commodore Thursday, and I said to her, "you're playing at Fiddle and Pick on Saturday, right?" She said no at that time...then of course, she was invited to later. Am I a prophet and don't know it?)and her husband Matt Josephson on percussion.

Also on the bill was Gary Culley, who I saw most recently with Mark Elliott (another upcoming radio show guest!) as part of their Culley and Elliott duo. He's a powerful writer and singer and did a lovely song for his mom, "70 Years Of Love". It was a night of artists with diverse side occupations. Dave Parks is a Harpeth High School computer teacher who is also a singer/songwriter. In between songs he gave the audience some very interesting insights on planning and recording a CD. He plans to share videos documenting his process and hopes to create community with others in doing so. Singer/songwriter Renee Wahl is an active duty captain in the Air Force and teaches ROTC Air Force...many of her students showed up to give her support.

As my friend Joe Hrasna puts it, "here's to good music and good friends... I love this town." Me too, Joe. But I better run...Debi Champion's first Sunday writer's night at the Commodore is starting pretty soon...