I started off the year in the same way I have for the past few years, with a trip to Nashville. It was my busiest trip yet. In fact, with each trip back to this magical city (it really is) I am finding it easier to fill up my calendar. I guess that stands to reason as I make more friends and become more involved with organizations like NSAI and SongTown. I want to recap my itinerary for the week as a sort of self-reflection and a way to remind myself of all that God is doing in my life and to remember to be thankful for it. I figured it could make for an interesting post since some of you might wonder what it is I do here for seven days. Strap in and I don’t blame you if you bail somewhere along the way as I am laying out all the details.
I drove up from my parents place north of Atlanta on Friday and jumped immediately into my first gig for the week. After a brief “freak out” regarding the time (My phone didn’t switch for the time zone change and the clocks in the place I am staying had not been adjusted from daylight savings time leading me to believe that I arrived with a half hour until I was supposed to take the stage.) I played a popular songwriter bar called Belcourt Taps as part of Russ Lacasse’s “Friends” show. It was great to see Russ again and finally meet our SongTown song circle leader Scott Hodgin in person.A writer named Benjamin Beiler, whom I had met earlier in the year at the ASCAP Expo in Los Angeles, stopped by to see me play before catching a plane back to his hometown of Lancaster Pennsylvania. I also got to hang a bit with Ran and Andi Renfree, two great writers and fellow SongTown members who came out to support those of us playing. The funniest story surrounding this show was being booked on the same round as Olivia Pierce. I had first heard of Olivia while visiting my friends the Orsers in Texas this Fall. They told me their friend had moved to Nashville to pursue a career and I should look for her. I told them Nashville was small and we were sure to run into each other. As it turns out we were playing on the same stage together within an hour of me returning to town.
I spent the better portion of Saturday writing with a friend and fantastic artist named Tolan Shaw. I met Tolan at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo in Colorado a few years ago and although we both lived in Southern California, we never got together to write. He was always at the top of my list, so I was thrilled he had time to get together in Nashville where he has recently relocated. He is a touring artist, and I asked him as we sat down to write what kind of song he might need for his show. His reply was something you NEVER hear in Nashville, “I need a ballad.” So, we jumped on an idea and melody of his, and finished a beautiful little AABA (a short traditional song form for those who don’t know) that feels very heartfelt and real. I am hopeful that it will work well for his live shows and I can’t wait to her him sing it. He is a killer singer and it was fun to harmonize as we worked on the tune.
Sunday was, as it should be, mostly a day of rest. I attended a church I had heard about called The Belonging Co. It was a good service and worship was led by Christian recording artist Danny Gokey. It is a church formed out of the musician community and the music was great. It was not home, but it was good to gather with other believers. In the afternoon, my friend Larry Vail arrived in town and we had a nice dinner together.
I began Monday morning at 9AM working with Larry on a song we have been chipping away at for a while. We were able to create a basic track to which he is now busy adding guitars and such. I think we will finalize the melody and have something ready to play very soon. I then headed over to my friend and co-writer Mark Glinsky’s place where we also tweaked some lyrics on a Blake Shelton style song we have been working on for a year. I think the new lyrics are an improvement and I look forward to laying down a new vocal and getting some feedback on it. From there I sat down with Steve Rivers over a cup of coffee. I have worked with Steve a little online and it was good to just shoot the breeze and get to know each other a bit better. I look forward to working with him soon on some contemporary Christian and possibly film and TV tracks. I then stopped by The Commodore Grill to catch Larry’s round and say hi to Debi Champion. Debi is a great supporter of songwriters and runs the writer’s nights at the Commodore. There were so many great moments to this day, but one of my favorites occurred right at the tail end. After the Commodore, I got an urge to get some ice cream. Checking my phone to see what was near me, I found a place about a half block away. As I was in line, I noticed the guy in front of me looked familiar. It turns out it was Adam B. who I had met early last year at the NSAI Tin Pan South Songwriters Seminar and we were scheduled to finish a song on Wednesday. It was great to sit down with he and his wife and have some time to just talk. What are the chances that we would both be in that place at that time? The second instance of “Nashville is a small town.”
Tuesday was a whirlwind day too. The bulk of the day was spent in Jason Blume’s BMI workshop. More than any other mentor, Jason has been a voice of wisdom and encouragement on my songwriting journey and I always put myself under his instruction whenever I can. This time around he was reviewing about 30 songs in a workshop format and doing a lecture on the little extra things you can do these days to put your great song over the top. I submitted a hybrid country/EDM (electronic dance music) song that I wrote with three talented writers from LA (Flaviya Ke, Tom Pino and Robin Sandoval). This really is a burgeoning genre, I swear. I knew we were pushing the envelope and Jason explained that to the group as he proceeded to give some constructive feedback on our song, mostly about the lyrical content. Although he did not think it was ready to send on a publisher, he was encouraging as always. Not long after the workshop it was time to head over to Frisky Frog’s to play in the Jammin’ in Jammies SongTown night. This was a funny story because I forgot I had asked to be included in the round. For a couple days I kept seeing my name in connection with this show. I couldn’t figure out why I was a part of it and then when I found out we were going to play in PJs the whole thing just seemed like a weird dream. I did eventually remember asking to be a part of the show and yes, I played in Pjs as did my SongTown LA song circle co-leader Carrie Cunningham even though I think we were the only ones who were brave enough to wear them. The round went well. Marty Dodson, one of the SongTown founders, was there and I debuted the song Tolan and I had written on Saturday. As a matter of fact, Tolan and two other co-writers (Mark Glinsky and Kelly McKay) came out to support me as well! I really appreciate the support of other writers. After the round, I took a quick moment to talk and change and then flew over to The Bluebird Café (no pun intended) where I had tickets for an incredible show. I purchased the tickets not realizing I had a show myself that same night. Although I would have loved to stick around and watch the other SongTown rounds, it turned out to be the greatest show I have seen at The Bluebird. It was a fundraiser for Alive hospice and featured Ashley Gorley, Chris Destefano, Lee Brice and Charles Eston (from the show Nashville). Gorley alone has written 37 #1 country hits and Chris and Lee are no slouches either. It was a rare occasion to see all these guys together and when my bar seat was taken by someone else, they offered me a closer seat with a fantastic view. Just a really inspiring way to end the day. I think I floated home that night!
On Wednesday I had the morning free and used the time to pay bills and catch up on some church business. At 12:30 a friend and cowriter Kelly McKay was scheduled to play a daytime round at Bobby’s Idle Hour which is a little hole in the wall bar on music row. What I didn’t realize is Bobby’s is an iconic location that is about to be torn down. This was in fact the last Wednesday show that would ever be played there. There has evidently been a campaign to save the historic location, but unfortunately to no avail. It was great to see Kelly play as I really like her writing and it was fun to see her husband join her for a cool tune reminiscent of the early 80s punk/new wave scene. (I kept thinking of early Elvis Costello.) After a quick stop at Hattie B’s (a fantastic hot chicken restaurant and a must visit on each trip) I spent a few hours with Adam Baha who I had run into at the ice cream shop a couple days before. We did some more work on a tune we started six months ago, that is really coming along nicely. Adam has some serious production chops and our song is an R&B/country hybrid. We set a goal to have it finished up by the end of the month. I ended the day by attending a round at the Millennium Maxwell House where a new friend, Smudgie (yes that is her name) was performing and she did a great job as well. We hope to hang out at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo in Ventura in February.
Thursday morning, I met Scott Hodgin for coffee and we went over to his house to work on a new song. Scott is responsible for coaching the SongTown song circle leaders and although we have emailed and texted, we had never met in person. It was great to get to know Scott as it turns out that we have a lot in common. For example, he was involved in musical theater in his youth and was a worship leader for many years. We shared a common language and it was fun to work together. I look forward to finishing up our modern country song soon. After grabbing some lunch with Scott and talking more about SongTown I headed back to BMI, where I had been the day before for Jason Blume’s workshop. This time I went to hear a lecture by songwriter/teacher Cliff Goldmacher. I always enjoy his succinct and helpful talks. I got some great points to add to my own songwriting lectures. With time to kill before an event at NSAI in the evening (but not enough time to head back home) I decided to hang out at Chewy’s Mexican restaurant on the row and work on this journal blog. I had about an hour and a half to kill and I knew I didn’t want to eat dinner (I was saving that for The Listening room later that night.) So, I sent out a social media post letting people know I was there if anyone wanted to come by for a bit. I though it would be a fun way to get in some more “hang” time. I was thrilled that my friend and former student Luis Escheverria took me up on the offer and showed up after a little while. Luis has recently relocated to Nashville and we didn’t have any time together scheduled on this trip. It was great to catch up and sit with Luis. He is a walking encyclopedia of all things music and it is always fun to hear him talk. We parted ways at 5:15 and I walked over to NSAI, where I had left my car earlier. I knew I was going to hear a speaker that night but didn’t look closely at who it was. As it turns out is was Cliff Goldmacher whom I had heard earlier in the day. I said to someone in the lobby, “I wonder if he will cover the same material tonight,” and Cliff stuck his head out of a doorway and said, “no he will not.” I stayed and heard a great lecture on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of dealing with various kinds of business relationships. I asked Cliff afterward if I could use his handout for my class as it was succinct and informative as always. I was glad I stopped by NSAI as it allowed me to say hi to Bart Herbison (the executive director of the organization) as well as reconnect with two writers I met at events in 2018. I ended my last night in town at The Listening Room (a great place to eat and hear writers) and Larry came with me. I must confess that I had an ulterior motive for going to this place. Apart from featuring some of the best writers in town, the Brussel sprouts are amazing! The round that night featured some talented young writers and three out of four had #1 hits. One guy only played #1 hits and another writes regularly with new artist Kane Brown. Although the show started out a bit slow the guys turned out to be very funny and it was quite enjoyable overall. Of course, the sprouts were killer!
Friday morning, I stopped by Integrity Music to meet with a publisher who I meet with online monthly as part of the SongTown Christian Edge Group. I always like to deepen relationships by meeting in person and Mike Murray was kind enough to show me around the office and load me up with some CDs and swag to take home. Although only lasting about 15 minutes, this meeting might be one of the more important of the trip. I feel I really have something to offer this company and I was invited to send a song of mine that we discussed as well as let him know when I was returning to town. I felt very positive about our interaction. I then headed back to Atlanta to spend an evening with the family before flying out on Saturday.
If you made it through all of this, you are a true friend and I thank you for taking an interest in this journey I am on. All in all, this was a very productive trip. I have five new songs nearly complete and I had a great time hanging with friends. Cliff Golmacher defines networking as “like-minded people getting to know each other over time.” I love that definition because it perfectly describes my experience. I came home confident that God is working in and through my endeavors and will continue to provide for and lead me in amazing ways.