Okay, so…Prelude to Nashville…a/k/a Music City. Tomorrow’s destination.
I heard a Nashville joke that goes, “How many Nashville musicians does it take to change a lightbulb?”
Answer: One to do it…and twenty to stand around saying, “I can do that.”
That’s a good description of the per capita concentration of musicians in Nashville, as well as a reflection of just how competitive it is to be a musician in Nashville.
On the one hand, there is the massive and diverse recording industry…from big-name record companies, recording studios, artists and producers, down to DIY home-recording studios and everything in between. These music activities happen mostly behind the scenes, away from the casual resident or visitor.
And then there’s the very public, live music scene, that seems to be everywhere you go, which is not confined to night life, as it is in most other cities. It’s going on all day.
On Lower Broadway…Music Row…where most visitors start to explore Nashville, the bars and honky-tonks begin to open at 10:00am or 11:00am, which also happens to be about when the live music starts…seven days a week. These bars stay open all day and half the night, some ‘til 2 or 3:00am, featuring live bands playing back-to-back sets. Most bars are free to get into. The Stage On Broadway, Robert’s Western World and Legends Corner (all of which I visited on my first trip three years ago) are some of the best-known venues on “The Row”. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a historic venue, is another, and one that I hope to visit tomorrow, or on my return drive home from Texas.
Some of the bands performing on Music Row are purely cover-bands…generally really good, entertaining, cover bands: they have to be…to get…and keep…these coveted gigs for any length of time. Some bands perform a mix of covers and original material. I don’t know if there are any bands performing on Music Row that play primarily original material. I guess I’ll just need to spend more time there to find out.
One of the bands that I saw, last time, and was captivated by, was Eileen Rose and the Silver Threads, at Robert’s Western World, which is a venue known for featuring more traditional country music. This band was so good, I could hardly tear myself away to wander further up the Row. Eileen Rose and her band support their independent projects in part through performing cover material…really amazingly-performed cover material…on Music Row. I believe she and the Threads currently have a standing gig at Robert’s Western World.
Music Row bands play for tips, so bring some cash and don’t be shy about contributing. They will pass a hat or a bucket around.
The live music scene in Nashville is not nearly confined to Music Row. In addition to some of the large, well-known, historic venues, like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry House, there are more-intimate live-music clubs, dive bars and restaurants all over the city. After experiencing some of what Music Row has to offer, it’s a great idea to begin to stray from the Row and explore live music venues in other neighborhoods.
Online searches will quickly yield many other very cool live music venues. Douglas Corner Café, is literally a hole-in-the-wall, funky dive, just a mile or two from the Row that you’d never even notice, unless you found it online, or if a local told you about it (both of which were what brought me there, in my case). Douglas Corner is where some big names, like Garth Brooks, performed when they were first starting out, and it still hosts great live shows. It is where I met, chatted with and bought a drink for Earl Bud Lee, co-writer of Garth Brooks’ hit, “Friends in Low Places”. So, you just never know where a Nashville music adventure will take you. Family Wash, in the neighborhood of East Nashville, is another cool venue that is also on my list for this trip.
Oh! So, why am I going on and on about the Nashville music scene…other than for the obvious “Music City” reasons? Some Nashville venues offer “Writer’s Nights” and “Songwriter Rounds”, which are by audition/invitation, and “Songwriter Open Mics” where anyone can just show up, sign up, and get to perform usually up to three original songs for a mostly quiet, attentive crowd, through a good-quality sound system. Debi Champion’s Songwriter Rounds and Songwriter Open Mics at the Commodore Grille in the downtown Holiday Inn have been a Nashville fixture for many years.
Three years ago, on the first of my “Texas” road-trips, I had the opportunity to listen to other songwriters and to perform at one of Debi’s shows. Debi is super-professional and super-nice and accommodating to the musicians. She creates an extremely supportive, nurturing environment for performers to work on an extremely difficult craft…trying out original material, live, for an appreciative audience.
When I last performed, I brought my camera to the open mic, hoping to find either another musician, or an audience member who might be willing to take a few photos of me as I performed. When I introduced myself to Debi, she matter-of-factly offered to take photos of me, so I handed her my camera and showed her briefly how to use it. She got some great shots. That’s how thoughtful she is.
So, although I have a few daytime plans while in Nashville for this one night I’ll be in town, performing again at Debi’s Songwriter Open Mic, later in the evening, is my main goal. Wish me luck getting on the list!