Friday, November 12, 2010

How I found the good side of Nashville

Peter Cooper doesn't know this, but he saved me from the wrong side of Nashville. It was late 2006, and believe it or not, I'd never been to Nashville before. Well, once I'd driven down to see Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve at the Ryman, but I spent a total of 2.5 hours in the city. My first real trip was for the semi-finals of Nashville Star 2007. I'm not entirely proud of this.

Honestly, I didn't even know what the show was, but my friend Jen dragged me to auditions in Indianapolis, even having reserved a hotel room because she was convinced I'd make the callbacks the next day. She was right, and that kept me laughing.

Then a few months later, I was called to the finals for the show, which I admit was exciting, especially because I was allowed to 1) play an instrument (or 4) and 2) sing original music.

So I did. My first night out in Nashville, and we were all on Lower Broadway, deep among tourists and tour buses and cowboy hats and rhinestones, and it was really strange. Pretty much every other semi-finalist, 50 of us from around the country, was a life-size Cowboy Ken & Cowgirl Barbie. I knew I wouldn't make the cut -- even the producer asked me if I knew what I was getting myself into -- but it was great fun to sing my songs with the House Band in front of a big crowd.

And after the show that night, the publicist for Nashville Star said, "Hey, the writer from The Tennessean wants to interview you." I'm pretty sure it was the accordion, and the fact that my original song didn't suck, that caught his attention, but I remember distinctly that interview with Peter Cooper, where we ended up talking about our favorite songwriters in the alley between Tootsie's and The Ryman.

Peter had asked me who my favorite songwriter was, and I'd answered, "John Prine." I doubt most of the other finalists (except maybe Marcy from Indy, she was cool) had heard of John Prine, and I don't think Peter had been expecting that answer from someone competing on an American Idol-type reality show. So we talked about songwriting, and Louisville, and various other stuff. (The article turned out great, if I do say so myself, and when I woke up the next morning, I was playing the accordion on the front page of the newspaper -- above the fold.)

Anyway, we talked about good music and writers for a long time, then I asked him a burning question. "Where is the real music? What's going on tonight? My parents and I need to get out of here. This listening to dude-in-cowboy-hat-sing-Boot-Scootin'-Boogie all night, isn't our thing..."

He told me about a show at Douglas Corner, and my whole family and I disappeared into a cab. We saw Donnie Fritts give a killer show, and the audience alone was filled with folks whose work I loved. It was a much more pleasant scene than Lower Broadway, and it made the whole audition process worth it.

Clearly, I didn't make the show. One producer told me, "We just don't know how to market the accordion," which made me think their marketing team isn't very creative. But really, not making that show was a huge blessing. I found the right side of Nashville, and I made some great friends in the process.

By the way, I tell this entire funny story about Peter Cooper because he is playing a show tonight at The Monkey Wrench. That's right, he's not only a music writer, but he's also a songwriter. To translate: he writes about music, AND he writes music. And he's playing tonight with another awesome dude, Eric Brace, a terrific singer-songwriter AND a former columnist for the Washington Post. These are some smart dudes, and I could go on and on about them. Read their bios and be impressed by quotes from folks like Kris Kristofferson saying how awesome they are, and know that just a few weeks ago, they played The Ryman.

Louisville, you can see them tonight for only $5 in an intimate setting -- The Monkey Wrench -- at 8:00. They're playing, I'm playing, and then we're all playing together. Doesn't that sound dandy?

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