Why the Bluebird Café and the Ryman are still going strong

‘Special people’ keep venues special

The Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Café.  Two iconic names that immediately create mental images of what Music City is all about.  Both are at the top of the list for tourists to visit, particularly since the worldwide popularity of the TV drama series, ‘Nashville.’

In fact, many visitors, listening intently to their tour guides, might actually know more about those two venues than those of us who live and work here.  It never hurts to remind ourselves just how important they are to the success of Nashville’s music industry.

In many ways, the story of both venues is really the story of a small number of remarkable people (mainly women, as it happens) whose tenacity, dedication and unwavering belief ensured that both the Ryman and the Bluebird are still thriving today.

The Bluebird put songwriters ‘In the Round’

Inside the Bluebird. Photo: Bluebird Cafe

Originally started as a restaurant in 1982 by founder Amy Kurland, the Bluebird Café had evolved into a 90-seat listening room by 1984, holding regular ‘Writers’ Nights.’  In March 1985, three songwriters, J. Fred Knobloch, Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet, performed the Bluebird’s first ‘In The Round’ show, in which the three writers sat in the center of the room and took turns playing songs and telling the stories behind the songs, while audiences listened quietly and attentively.

The ‘In The Round’ concept was an immediate success and was soon adopted by other venues, but The Bluebird is recognized as the place where it really all started and continues to this day. So many hit writers and recording artists cite the Bluebird as the place where their careers really took off. Among them: Taylor Swift, at the age of fourteen, discovered by Scott Borchetta, and Garth Brooks who, in 1987, filled in for another artist and was spotted by a Capitol Records’ A&R exec and signed to a record deal the very next day.

‘Alive at the Bluebird’ concert series

Photo: The Bluebird Cafe

After 36 years, the Bluebird Café is as popular as ever. It is still the place where songwriters really want to be seen and heard. Baseball great Yogi Berra is credited with saying about a popular restaurant, “Nobody ever goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” And among some Nashvillians, there’s a feeling that the Bluebird has become mainly a tourist destination. But that really is not the case.  Just take a look at the list of upcoming shows at their website, and check out the astonishing list of hit writers scheduled to appear.

The 25th Annual Alive at the Bluebird concert series is currently underway with at least 27 shows running through February 1, 2018 that benefit Alive Hospice. There’s never been a better time to catch a great show and support a really worthwhile cause.

While you’re at their site, it’s a good idea to click on ‘Reservations’ too. That’s where you’ll see the Bluebird’s policy about booking seats. Remember, it’s a small room (the intimate setting and the close proximity to the performers is part of the charm) so have a second or third choice in mind if your first choice is sold out.

The Ryman: 125 years and counting

The Ryman Auditorium dates back to 1892 when it was originally known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Now, with around 2,360 seats, it is considerably bigger than the Bluebird, but still one of Nashville’s best venues to see live shows, even in these days of stadium and arena spectaculars.

But, like the Bluebird, the Ryman owes its current existence to a few people who were convinced that it was an essential part of Music City’s heritage. In 1920, Lula C. Naff was hired to manage the space, after working there for several years, booking acts for the Ryman in her spare time. Her tireless dedication kept the venue alive and thriving until her retirement in the 1950s. Since then, the Ryman has had two more female GMs.

“To work here [at the Ryman] you have to be like a crazy, crazy music fan.” – Lisaann Dupont, Director of Communications for Opry Entertainment Group, quoted in an interview at Uproxx.com. You can read the entire story, ‘How Women Shaped the Legacy of Nashville’s Oldest and Most Celebrated Venue, the Ryman Auditorium,’ here.

Saved from demolition

The Ryman. Photo: L.A. Times/Don Bartletti

It’s hard to believe now that, when the Grand Ole Opry moved to its new location at Opryland, the decision was made to demolish the Ryman. Pressure from local preservationists led to the Ryman being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, preventing demolition. But for nearly two decades, it slowly deteriorated as its owners had little interest in it.  Gaylord Entertainment finally carried out repairs to the exterior including the roof.

But the turning point was a recording made in the dilapidated building by Emmylou Harris & the Nash Ramblers. Titled ‘At The Ryman,’ the album won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Duo or Group in 1993. The success prompted Gaylord to invest in extensive renovations. Since then, additional updates have revitalized the Ryman into the great venue it is today.

Both the Bluebird Café and the Ryman Auditorium prove that when even a small number of people believe strongly that a venture is worthwhile and never give up on their objectives, great things can happen. Today, it’s difficult to imagine what Nashville would be like without the Bluebird Café or the Ryman.  They are living proof that people with strong beliefs and perseverance can make things happen.

The Bluebird, the Ryman. Two stops on any visitor’s tour of Nashville. But both great entertainment resources for all of us living in Middle Tennessee who owe a debt of gratitude to those who made them what they are today.

“Inside Track on Music Row” ready to read

Here’s a teaser of the January 2018 edition

The January 2018 version of my monthly column, ‘Inside Track on Music Row,’ is now posted at Nashville Music Guide, complete with some great graphics and photos.

Here are a few few teasers, but click the link above to read the full column of news about songwriters, artists and the country music industry.

Artist News

Brett Young has landed on multiple Billboard Year End charts, as 2017 came to a close, including Top New Artists, the only Country artist to do so. He also landed at No. Two on the Year End Hot Country Songs, Country Digital Songs and Country Streaming Songs charts. ASCAP recognized his “quintessential breakout year,” honoring Young for one of the Most Played Songs of the Year with “Sleep Without You.” Young was named a TicketMaster New Favorite Artist of 2017 and was Shazam’s only Country act included on their Emerging Artists of 2017 list. He also drew prestigious CMA, ACM, Teen Choice Award, CMT Music Awards and AIMP Award nominations. 2018 is already shaping up to be another big year for Young, who is working on new music. He will perform at the College Football Playoff concert in Atlanta January 8 before joining ACM Male Vocalist of the Year Thomas Rhett on his LIFE CHANGES Tour.  More info at brettyoungmusic.com.

Concert News

As the curtain closed on a sold-out show at New York City’s Town Hall in December, multi-PLATINUM singer/songwriter Kip Moore took a bow to 2017, for what can only be described as a benchmark career year. Moore is wrapping up an overwhelming year on multiple “Best Of 2017” lists by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, UpRoxx, Bobby Bones Show, Taste Of Country, Sounds Like Nashville, The Boot, PopMatters and Whiskey Riff for his revered third studio album SLOWHEART, while reflecting on his 4th career No. One for his single “More Girls Like You,” sold-out headlining shows, national TV appearances and more. 2018 tour dates etc at kipmoore.net.

Label News

Luke & Caroline Bryan. Photo: Getty/Frederick Breedon IV

(Capitol Records) On Christmas, via Instagram, Capitol’s ‘Golden Boy’ Luke Bryan surprised his wife Caroline with two baby kangaroos! Yeah, you read that right, two baby kangaroos. The baby roos are the latest additions to Brett’s Barn, a farm of rescue animals honoring their late niece. Country superstar Bryan took to Instagram to share a video of himself surprising his wife Caroline with the most unexpected Christmas gift ever. In the video clip, Bryan approaches Caroline, who is blindfolded, with the two kangaroos in bags. The family named the babies Todd and Margo after two characters from the iconic Christmas film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Todd and Margo will join the family of animals living on the Bryan Family property at Brett’s Barn. The barn is Caroline’s passion project and is dedicated to her late niece who passed away at just 7 months old in early 2017. Brett’s Barn is also home to a pig, goats, and miniature horses. Caroline plans to keep adding to Brett’s Farm and I am sure we will be hearing more about it in the Spring.

And there’s a whole lot more!  Check out the entire column online at Nashville Music Guide.

 

The British are coming!

Why more Brits than ever are on their way to Nashville

Pop quiz: What’s the biggest industry in Music City?  No, it’s not music, it’s healthcare. But ‘Healthcare City’ doesn’t sound half as much fun as Music City, and Nashville’s musical heritage accounts for millions of dollars in tourist revenue.  Much of that revenue comes from foreign visitors and that revenue is set to increase still further. The reason: direct flights to Nashville from London’s Heathrow Airport.

Two recent news stories – one from each side of the Atlantic – look at Nashville from different perspectives. ‘Boom (Chicka-Boom) Town’ by Chris Parton in the January issue of Nashville Lifestyles magazine interviews nine ‘movers and shakers’ in Nashville’s music industry.

Meanwhile, a story in London’s Sunday Times, dated December 31, 2017, tells British readers why they “should join the hoedown in 2018” by flying to Nashville. The article’s author, Rich Hall, should know what he’s talking about. He is an American performer whose comedy and country music show, Rich Hall’s Hoedown, tours the UK from February to June, often adopting the character of Tennessee country musician Otis Lee Crenshaw.

‘More than one style’ of country music

Rich Hall. Photo: David Donaldson

Hall makes a point of mentioning several venues familiar to Nashville residents but probably less so to overseas visitors. He writes that there’s more than one style of country music. “Station Inn is spectacular for bluegrass,” says Hall. “And at 3rd and Lindsley, every Monday night, a 10-piece band called the Time Jumpers takes the stage, featuring Andy Reiss and Vince Gill (guitars), Paul Franklin (steel) and leader Ranger Doug (playing killer rhythm on an old Stromberg). If you’ve never heard western swing music, prepare for a religious conversion.”

Brits are notorious for being bad tippers, as tipping is less expected in Britain. Mentioning several of Lower Broad’s honky tonks, Rich says, “There’s a bucket at the foot of the stage. That’s for tips. Be generous, you tight-fisted British miserlings.”

Thank you, Rich! Let’s hope your readers make a note of that!

‘Behind the Scenes’ in Music City

Back at Nashville Lifestyles’ Music Issue (subtitled ‘Behind the Scenes of Our Signature industry’), the story notes that: “According to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Regional Economic Development Guide, the area’s population has now ballooned to more than 1.8 million people and, in 2016, was joined by 13.9 million visitors.”  Those visitors made an impact of $5.7 billion on the city.

If you are part of the music industry, yours is one of 56,000 jobs that are maintained as a result of music in Nashville, according to Chamber estimates. The magazine article quotes the Music City Music Council’s report that 8,000 jobs are directly involved in music making, with 190+ recording studios in the city. “Nashville is currently home to 10 times more music activity than either Los Angeles or New York,” reports writer Chris Parton in Nashville Lifestyles.

‘Challenges’ for Nashville’s music creators

Bart Herbison. Photo: NSAI

But some of Nashville’s music creators are facing challenges. “Songwriters and publishers have seen a huge payment disparity in the streaming area versus the artists and record labels,” Bart Herbison, Executive director of Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) explained to Parton. “On the performance side, [artists and labels] get 88 cents for every 12 cents we get, and, on the sales-royalty side, it’s seven-to-one or greater. So, we’re trying to fix that.” (A note from Preshias: for more information on the Songwriter Equity Act, see an earlier post at NashvilleMusicLine.com.)

Among the other Nashville music execs interviewed for the Nashville Lifestyles story are Kos Weaver, Executive VP of BMG Nashville, Mike Dungan, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, Nashville, and Shannan Hatch, Creative Director of SESAC, and several others. All offer professional insight into Nashville’s music industry and where it is heading.

Rob Beckham. Photo: Music Row Magazine

Rob Beckham, partner at WME/IMG points out that in the past, country acts rarely toured abroad. “But now that international audiences can access the music as easily as domestic audiences, we are seeing an increased demand to bring our acts overseas,” he told Parton.

Which brings us back to the article written by Rich Hall for the Sunday Times in London, England. American-born Hall is a comedian who has become popular in Britain and is frequently featured on BBC TV shows.

“Behind Lower Broadway stands the mecca of country music, the Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. Giants walked here. Stand on the center-stage circle and channel the ghosts of Hank Williams, Chet Atkins and Tammy Wynette. The Opry still broadcasts from there on weekends from November to January. Do not, however, confuse this with Opryland, a Disneyfied tourist hellhole on the outskirts of town, designed to separate rubes from the contents of their wallets.”Rich Hall

In addition to mentioning Nashville’s music venues, Hall recommends Brit visitors sample Nashville hot chicken, country ham, grits, Goo Goo Clusters and hash browns slathered in Cheez Whiz – though not necessarily all on the same plate.

Nashvillians are ‘just genuinely nice’

Hall’s article closes by mentioning that Nashville is exceptional because it is so friendly. In fact, Travel & Leisure magazine named Nashville one of  ‘America’s friendliest cities’. Nashvillians, says Hall, are: “Just genuinely nice. So much of America runs together these days. Nashville stands out.  After a short time here, you start wondering why the rest of the world can’t be this pleasant.”

British Airways’ new direct flights between London and Nashville are scheduled to begin in May 2018, so expect to hear even more Brit accents at this year’s CMA Music Festival, June 7 – 10. You can reach Rich Hall at offthekerb.co.uk/rich-hall

You can read the entire ‘Boom (Chicka-Boom) Town’ article and more about what’s happening in Music City in the January edition of Nashville Lifestyles, now at newsstands or go to www.nashvillelifestyles.com

Preshias Harris is a music journalist and music career development consultant with the emphasis on new and aspiring artists and songwriters. Her book, ‘The College of Songology: The Singer/Songwriter’s Need to Know Reference Handbook’ is available at www.collegeofsongology.com Follow her blog at www.nashvillemusicline.com

Are these really the best albums of 2017?

When it comes to music, everyone has their own opinion about what is ‘best.’  Below are some links to “Best 2017 Album” lists, plus important news about legislation that will affect songwriters’ income… and a Justin Timberlake video you just gotta see! But we’ll start with an item about a company creating laminates that deliver complete albums, videos and photos to your fans.

Check out these interactive souvenir laminates from iDitty

iDitty laminate for Big & Rich

Artists looking for something that’s both nifty and original might want to check out a neat product from iDitty, a state-of-the art tech company that manufactures digital, interactive souvenir laminates. They offer a customizable, fan-oriented “All-Access” laminate designed to make artist happenings and music accessible in real time at the swipe of a finger.

Since its formation in 2014, award-winning country music entertainers, legends and chart-toppers (Big & Rich, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Young, Charlie Daniels and Tracy Lawrence), along with some of today’s hottest newcomers (Lee Brice, Justin Moore and Joe Denim) have aligned with iDitty to move full album sales. Collectively, iDitty claims $2.5 million in music sales to date, and Music Row Influentials validate the one-of-a-kind merch item as “the CD replacement.”  For more information, visit iDitty.com or contact Hugh Kirkpatrick here: hughkirkpatrick@comcast.net.

Best albums of 2017

Question: What were the best albums of 2017?  Answer:  Depends on who you ask. You can find Rolling Stone’s ’50 Best Albums of 2017’ here. Meanwhile, NPR (National Public Radio) have prepared their own Top 50 album list here.   When it comes to Country, there are several lists to pick from.  Start with Taste of Country’s  ’10 Country Albums That Stood Above the Rest in 2017’ here. and then check Billboard’s ‘The 10 Best Country Albums of 2017: Critics’ Choice’ at the magazine’s website.   No doubt, with every list, you’ll say, “What?! How could they leave out [insert your favorite album name here]!”

“Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City”

In late December, Congressmen Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) introduced “The Music Modernization Act Of 2017” (HR 4706), legislation designed to improve songwriter royalty rates from digital streaming companies while making the music licensing process more efficient.

In a story published at musicrow.com, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says, “Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs – so that when they write a hit heard around the world, you can see it in their billfolds.” Alexander continued, “We intend to introduce legislation that we have been working on for months to help songwriters receive fair market compensation early next year, and we will be including in our legislation many of the same provisions that were in the House bill introduced today.”

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch were noted as guiding forces throughout this process, years in the making. A Senate version of the legislation will be introduced in early 2018. Read the full Music Row story here.

And finally…

Justin Timberlake – way before NSYNC

Justin Timberlake, age 11

Some people muttered “He ain’t Country,” when Justin Timberlake appeared onstage with Chris Stapleton during the 2015 CMA Awards for their “Tennessee Whiskey” duet.  But Justin’s country roots go w-a-y back to when he was just a tyke growing up in Shelby Forest, Tennessee.

If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at a young Timberlake performing an Alan Jackson song on Star Search here.

Remembering these musicians lost in 2017

Troy Gentry, Glen Campbell, Don Williams, Mel Tillis and more

Sadly, 2017 saw the world of music lose so many great talents.  Every year, we have to say farewell to some of our favorite musicians, but in 2017, we seemed to experience more than the usual number of passings.

Among those we are mourning…

Mel Tillis. Photo: Billboard

Mel Tillis, 85, who wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs and recorded more than 60 albums, overcoming a speech impediment to give us so many hits such as “Coca Cola Cowboy, “I Ain’t Never” and “Good Woman Blues.”

 

Troy Gentry. Photo: CNN

Troy Gentry, 50, tragically killed in a helicopter crash on September 8.  With Eddie Montgomery, as part of the duo Montgomery Gentry, he recorded more than 20 charting singles that showed the early influence of Southern Rock on these Kentucky boys.

 

Glen Campbell. Photo: glencampbell.com

Glen Campbell, 81, who found steady work as an in-demand session guitarist in Los Angeles (on cuts by Elvis, Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin and many Phil Spector tracks), before finding fame as a singer with worldwide pop/country hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Gentle On My Mind” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.”

 

Tom Petty. Photo: AP/Mark Humphrey

Tom Petty, 66. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was also known as a staunch advocate for artist control over music.  With his band, The Heartbreakers, he had scores of pop hits and was also part of The Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne.

 

Gregg Allman. Photo: USA Today

Gregg Allman, 69, a Nashville native who was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. Despite setbacks and tragedies (including the death of Duane Allman in 1971) the band continued playing, on and off until the 2010s. (Drummer Butch Trucks, another founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, died in January 2017, aged 69.)

 

Don Williams. Photo: donwilliams.com

Don Williams, 78. A 2010 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Williams’ career included 17 number one Country chart toppers, including the Roger Cook & Sam Hogin-penned crossover hit “I Believe in You.” He was also seen in movies such as “Smokey and the Bandit II” and “WW and the Dixie Dance Kings.”

 

Robert Knight. Photo: Getty/Rick Diamond

Robert Knight, 72.  The R&B/pop singer and Franklin, Tenn., native was discovered singing at a Vanderbilt frat party and immediately signed to a record deal, resulting in the smash hit “Everlasting Love,” described as “one of the most enduring songs ever to come out of Nashville” by Michael Gray, the Country Music Hall of Fame historian.

 

Chuck Berry. Photo: Chess Records

Chuck Berry, 90, the rock and roll pioneer whose songwriting and guitar playing influenced generations of pop, rock and country artists. Almost until his death on March 18, 2017, Berry was performing and even recording one final album. His massive hits include “Maybellene,” “Little Queenie” and “Roll Over Beethoven.”

And so many others, including…

David Cassidy, 69, teenage heartthrob singer who found fame as part of TV’s Partridge Family… Della Reese, 86, the phenomenal R&B/Soul singer who later became a move & TV star… Fats Domino, 89, the unique New Orleans rock and roll pianist and singer… Al Jarreau, 76, the multi-Grammy-winning singer of bluesy pop hits such as “We’re In This Love Together”… Walter Becker, 67, the singer/songwriter who, with Dan Fagen, formed Steely Dan… Malcolm Young, 64, guitarist, singer and co-founder (with brother Angus) of the hard rock band AC/DC… Johnny Hallyday, 74, known as the ‘French Elvis,’ he released an astonishing 79 albums, selling more than 80 million records worldwide… Wayne Cochran, 78, the ‘blue-eyed soul’ singer whose flamboyant stage performance influenced Elvis, wrote and recorded the original version of the teen tragedy (‘splatter platter’) hit, “Last Kiss.”

Yes, there were more, and all will be missed.  As The Righteous Brothers sang in 1974: “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”

RCA Studio B, 60 years on

Recording artists still keeping the sound alive

Among all the recording studios in Nashville, probably the most famous has to be RCA Studio B. In many ways, it was where the ‘Nashville Sound’ developed, mainly under the direction of the legendary Chet Atkins. But the microphones have not been mothballed just yet, according to a story broadcast on WPLN.

RCA Studio B. Photo: Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

For 20 years (1957 to 1977), Studio B was the birthplace of hundreds of hit records that impacted both the Country and Pop charts. The list of stars who stepped up to the microphone in that studio includes Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and so many more. My cousins, the Everly Brothers, were there from the beginning, cutting their first Studio B session in November 1957.

Now, Studio B is a must-see stop for visitors to Nashville and the tour buses pull up every hour across the street from my office on Music Square West.  But although Studio B is now a tourist destination, operated and maintained by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, some musicians still find a way to capture the unique sound that only this studio can create.

WPLN-FM, Nashville’s Public Radio station, recently aired a story about musicians and artists who find a way to record songs today in Studio B, keeping that signature sound alive. As an example, JD McPherson recently topped the Americana charts with ‘Lucky Penny.’ He recorded it at the famed studio 60 years after Don Gibson recorded his version of the song in the same studio.

You can hear the audio of that WPLN story and read the text here.

If you want to know more about the amazing history of RCA Studio B, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum published a book, full of stories and pictures, that’s available in the book shop and online.

Garth ‘comes home’ to Nashville

Blows the roof off Bridgestone Arena

Garth Brooks will likely remember Saturday, December 9, 2017 for a number of reasons. When he and wife Trisha Yearwood picked up their mics at the afternoon press conference, he told us it was something of a homecoming for them: the first time they had played Nashville since the fundraiser following the ‘great Nashville flood’ of 2010.

Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood at press conference. Photo: Preshias Harris

As Trisha said, after three years on the road, it was pleasant to realize they didn’t have to pack a suitcase. After each of their Nashville shows, they could simply drive to their home in Goodlettsville. Garth smiled at said, “Welcome to the end of the journey.”

December 9 also marked the official announcement that Garth’s latest single, ‘Ask Me How I Know,’ reached Number One on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. It was his first Number One since 2007’s ‘More Than A Memory.’  To add poignancy, December 9, 1989, was the date that Garth reached the Number One spot for the first time with ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes.’

Oh, and Saturday was the eve of Garth and Trisha’s wedding anniversary: they were married December 10, 2005. A memorable weekend in so many ways.

Garth’s pre-show celebration

Garth Brooks on stage at Bridgestone Arena. Photo: Preshias Harris

At a backstage party prior to Saturday’s show at Bridgestone Arena, Garth and Trisha celebrated their return to Nashville following an incredible tour that shattered  every record for attendance and ticket revenue. Awards were presented to Garth, one after another, marking so many milestones in a unique career. Among his astonishing achievements: he is the best-selling solo artist in the United States with over 148 million domestic units sold, and over 160 million records sold worldwide.

He is also the only artist to have released seven albums that reached diamond status, according to RIAA. (This is an even greater achievement when you remember that he took a hiatus from recording between 2001 and 2009 to focus more fully on being with his family.)

At the pre-show party, it was also announced that Garth also tops the Nielsen BookScan chart with the Number One non-fiction book, ‘The Anthology, Part One: The First Five Years.’

Mitch Rossell at the Bridgestone. Photo: Mike Harris

And then it was showtime. A packed Bridgestone Arena was treated to a superb show that opened with a solo set from singer/songwriter Mitch Rossell who wrote Garth’s current chart-topper, ‘Ask Me How I Know.’ That song is Rossell’s first commercially released cut as a songwriter, making it a memorable night for him, too.  Rossell was followed by a set by Karyn Rochelle, a fine songwriter who co-penned ‘Red High Heels’ with Kelly Pickler.

Two+ hours of high energy

Garth at Bridgestone Arena. Photo: Preshias Harris

When Garth finally hit the stage, the sold-out crowd erupted as he roared into ‘Let’s Lay Down and Dance,’ the beginning of more than two hours of faultless high energy.  Garth is a master of handling a crowd.  At one point, without saying or singing a word, he virtually ‘conducted’ the audience like a mime.  For several minutes, he urged different sections of the crowd to compete in the volume of the noise they could produce, building to a deafening crescendo.

As he had pointed out at the press conference, he understands an audience’s desire to hear the familiar hits and he knows how to finesse the performance of lesser-known or current material into his set. He didn’t disappoint, performing a string of crowd favorites, including ‘The Thunder Roars,’ ‘Rodeo,’ ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes,’ and many more. Trisha joined him onstage with some of her own hits including ‘She’s In Love With the Boy’ and ‘Memphis.’

With all the records that Garth has already broken, he isn’t done yet.  Although the current World Tour is finally coming to an end, there’s no end in sight to his unique and remarkable career, as much a tribute to his mastery of marketing as to his amazing musical talent.  There’s more to come.

photo: facebook.com/mitchrossellofficial

Footnote: Mitch Rossell, who opened for Garth and also wrote the current Number One, may be finding his first taste of chart success  as a writer, but he is no newcomer to the music business. As he told the audience during his set, he’d been playing music and writing songs as long as he could remember. He’d been in Nashville for about five years, determined to make music his career. He looked around the packed arena and said that before these tour dates with Garth, “I was playing Tootsie’s bar at the Nashville Airport.” Aspiring artists and songwriters need to remind themselves that ‘Nashville is a five-year town’ – or maybe a ten-year town for some. Patience and perseverance win out in the end.

Mel Tillis: Amazing 60 year career

Funeral set for much-loved singer/songwriter

Mel Tillis. Photo: Wikipedia

Mel Tillis, a true country star with one of the longest careers as both a recording artist and a songwriter, passed away on Sunday, November 19. He was 85. Funeral arrangements have now been announced.

Visitation will be held on Monday, November 27 from 11 AM to 2 PM at Sykes Funeral Home (424 Franklin St.) in Clarksville, Tennessee. A public funeral service will begin promptly at 3 PM at Mount Hermon Baptist Church (2204 Jarrell Ridge Rd.) with a private burial to follow.

A preceding service will take place at the Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church in Silver Springs, Florida this Saturday, November 25 at 3:00 PM.Out of respect for the family, attendees are asked to refrain from photographing, filming, or live streaming either service.

Public memorial service planned for January

Additionally, the Tillis family is planning a January public memorial service open to fans and the music industry. The event will be held in Nashville with details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Following a lengthy struggle to regain his health, country music legend Mel Tillis passed away at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. Tillis battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered. The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure. Tillis was 85.

When Mel met my dad

Mel Tillis. Photo: meltillis.com

I have fond personal memories of Mel, whom I met several times over the years. One day, I took my father backstage at one of Mel’s shows and I told Mel that this was the best dad in the world as he had saved my life by donating a kidney to me. “Well,” said Mel, “I just have to meet the best dad in the world!”  He graciously visited with my dad for several minutes and dad has always remembered that meeting.

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida on August 8, 1932, Mel enjoyed a 60+ year career.

The Grand Ole Opry member recorded more than 60 albums, had 35 Top Ten singles, six #1 hits (“I Ain’t Never,” “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “Southern Rains,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” and “I Believe In You”), was named CMA (Country Music Association) Entertainer of the Year in 1976, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame the same year.

Mel Tillis wrote 1,000+ songs

Mel was elected a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007. He wrote over 1,000 songs, 600 of which have been recorded by major artists including Kenny Rogers (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”), George Strait (“Thoughts Of A Fool”), and Ricky Skaggs (“Honey, Open That Door”). Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) named Tillis Songwriter of the Decade for two decades. In February of 2012 President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts. He is survived by his six children, including singer/songwriter Pam Tillis and songwriter Mel ‘Sonny’ Tillis, Jr.

“Mel Tillis was a guy who had it all: He could write, he could sing and he could entertain an audience, there’s a big difference between a concert and a show. Mel Tillis always put on a show….You always felt good about being around him.”

  • Eddie Stubbs, Grand Ole Opry announcer and WSM DJ

“Mel Tillis spent a lifetime giving us joy and laughter and music, which is why his death brings such sadness.”

  • Kyle Young, CEO Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

 

Songwriters: ‘hard work’ is the key

Hall of Famer Gary Burr’s advice to rising songwriters

 “You have to go to work every day. You just have to go to work.  I went to the office every morning, I went to the office every afternoon.  If I had something good, it wasn’t going to be good enough ‘til I went over it with a fine-tooth comb several times.  You just work hard.  The ones [songwriters] who are making it today are just working really, really hard.”

Gary Burr. Photo: Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

Those words came from Gary Burr, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame during an interview on the Public Television show, The Songwriters, produced the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in conjunction with Middle Tennessee State University. MTSU professor Robert Gordon Jr. directs the episodes, which are filmed by students from the school’s College of Media and Entertainment. Ken Paulson, Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, hosts the new show and interviewed Burr during a recently televised episode.

Songs for Garth, Ringo, Skynyrd and more

Gary Burr backstage with Ringo Starr. Photo: Mark Mirando

Burr has been honored with Songwriter of the Year Awards from Billboard Magazine and ASCAP in addition to the Hall of Fame recognition. In a 40+ year career, he has written or co-written literally hundreds of songs that have been cut by major artists including Garth Brooks, Collin Raye, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Tim McGraw, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ringo Starr and more. Many of those cuts are also Number One hits. Take a look at the Discography at his website.

In his interview with Paulson, he emphasized that there’s no ‘trick’ to songwriting. As with any other creative enterprise, it takes a commitment to working at it every day, just like a ‘regular’ job because it is your job.  You can’t wait for inspiration, said Burr. You simply sit down, either alone or with your co-writer and start work.  That’s where hits are born.

‘The Songwriters’ currently airs in Nashville on WNPT Channel 8 on Saturday evenings. Check local TV schedules for air dates and times in other areas.

Tracy Lawrence talks about new album

“Pure passion” is his driving force

‘Good Ole Days,’ the new album from Tracy Lawrence, dropped on November 10 and features duets with some of Country’s biggest current stars.  I had the opportunity to ask Tracy about the new project and what it means to him. (Note: Scroll down for info on Tracy’s Turkey Fry and ‘Mission Possible: Charity Concert’ at the Wildhorse Saloon, November 22.)

Preshias Harris: Your new album is called ‘Good Ole days.’ What makes this record super special for you, besides the all-star appearance of your Country Music Family?

Tracy Lawrence

Tracy Lawrence: I think for me it was bringing the classic hits together with a lot of the contemporary artists of modern Country.  I think it makes it very special and unique. Nobody has really done a project like this before. I think the collaborations are amazing. Everybody did a wonderful job. Most of the people showed up and didn’t even need a lyric sheet when they came in to sing these songs. A lot of them – Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Justin Moore, Chris Young and all the guys –  had played these things over and over again so they had their own little nuances to their phrasing that made it really special.

 PH: It’s been a little over 5 years since ‘Headlights Taillights and Radios’ were released in August 2013. Do you think your music style has change over the course of five years?

TL: I think it’s gone back more traditional. I really tried to push the envelope with that record and I think I find myself going back to a little bit more of a comfort zone. I think the next album is going to reflect that.

PH: If you could go back in time and change one decision in your career, what would that be?

TL: Marriage Number Two!

PH: You have one of the most successful careers in Country Music; to what do you attribute that?

TL: Pure passion.  I believe my passion for my craft allows me to continue and to be relevant to a changing market. I truly love what I do.

PH: What is one of your most favorites things about making this new album?

TL: Being able to hear the stories of the influence [I’ve had on] a lot of the younger singers; learning the impact that I had on their careers. I didn’t realize how much influence I had on this generation of stars that’s out there right now. It’s pretty overwhelming for me.

PH: Is there one song on there that has a special meaning behind it?

TL: “Paint Me A Birmingham.” It was my comeback. It was a big record. I think Easton Corbin did a phenomenal job. He sang it like he meant it.  He made it his own.  It was very special.

‘Good Ole Days’ is available via iTunes, Amazon and wherever music is sold. My review of ‘the album was posted earlier here on my blog.

Tracy’s Turkey Fry and concert set for Nov 22

Tracy is keeping busy – and for a good cause. His second annual Tracy Lawrence Mission: Possible Charity Concert will take place Tuesday, November 22 at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon, benefitting Nashville Rescue Mission. It will feature performances from Lawrence and his country-star pals Big & Rich, Jerrod Niemann, Ben Rue and returning guests Halfway to Hazard, all donating their time and talent to the cause. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at www.wildhorsesaloon.com. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Last year’s sold-out concert raised $63,000 for Nashville Rescue Mission.

Earlier this year the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals honored Lawrence as its Philanthropist of the Year specifically for his work on behalf of Nashville Rescue Mission, recognizing him for making a large and positive contribution to the community. Funds raised by the singer at his annual event have helped provide more than 75,000 meals to those in need, and more than 5,000 turkeys have been fried and donated to the Mission. In the last three years alone, Tracy Lawrence has raised $120,000 for Nashville Rescue Mission with his annual Mission: Possible Turkey Fry. Full details here.