My sincerest thanks to this month’s Guest Blogger, a genuine Kentucky Colonel and recovering Star Wars aficionado, a tall drink o’ water who’s more Mayberry than NASCAR and appreciates the tragedy that is the loss of the Statistical Abstract. Todd Pack puts the “friendly” in Nashville and (reportedly) the “messy” in desk. Pour yourself a glass of sweet tea or lemonade and come along while he helps me consider my dream of becoming a world-famous egg-shaker/tambourine girl on the Opry stage. And then be sure to visit his blog (or go back to visiting) for some really great blog reading.
Dear Guest Blogger,
I’m working on my Stuff I Want to Do List, which includes a rather extensive Places I Want To Visit subsection. Many of those places are music-themed.
No music-themed U.S. road trip would be complete without a trip to the great state of Tennessee to visit Graceland and Beale Street in Memphis (not to mention the ducks at the Peabody Hotel – I really want to see those ducks) and all there is to see in Music City, USA: Nashville.
Recently Travel & Leisure magazine named Washington DC (where I spend most of my time) the third rudest city in the US, while Nashville came in as the friendliest city. This got me to thinking. Enough of this rudeness. I want to be where the friendly people are.
Maybe it’s time to leave the rat race behind, put on my cowgirl hat and rhinestone duds, and boot-scoot boogie my way to the stage of the Ryman Auditorium.
Just imagine the marquee in lights: Appearing Live Tonight: Hippie Cahier!
Can you offer me any advice for pursuing my big dream?
Hipster: I’d love you visit Nashville!
We’d have fun, hanging out at the honky tonks on lower Broadway and nudging each other whenever we saw a celebrity, which happens sometimes but probably not as often as you’d think.
Lots of celebrities live in and around Nashville, not just country singers, but they generally don’t hang out where the tourists are. One time, I got in line behind Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton at Starbucks, and another time I saw Jack White at Target. I saw Nicole Kidman at the Williamson County Fair (she’s really tall), and I passed Sheryl Crow on the street once in Franklin (tiny).
Sometimes, you’ll see people dressed like they’re in country-music video — guys with longish hair, a well-crafted three-day beard, tight jeans with fancy stitching and cowboy boots — and you’ll think, I wonder if that’s someone famous.
It never is.
If you’re famous, you don’t want people to notice you — unless you’re George Jones (“He Stopped Loving Her Today”). He’s a country-music legend, and he has a big sign in his front yard that says, “HOME OF GEORGE AND NANCY JONES.”
On the whole, though, the people dressed like they’re famous are still trying to become famous — and there are a lot of people here trying to become famous.
We have a joke: How do you make a country singer get off your front porch? Pay him for your pizza.
(We have another joke: What do you call a drummer who’s just broken up with his girlfriend? Homeless.)
The cold, hard truth, Hippie, is that the odds of you moving to Nashville and becoming a country-music superstar are pretty much nil.
One reason for that is you’re not 20 years old. (I know. I’m sorry.)
Used to, country music was music for grownups who’d been around the block a few times and gotten lost. Hank Williams was only 29 when he died, but songs like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” definitely weren’t for teenyboppers.
The shift had been going on a while, but then Taylor Swift hit. Music Row — that’s the part of town where most of the record labels are headquartered — realized that teenagers buy a lot more music than truck drivers and heart-broken waitresses ever could, and that was that. Country music turned into pop music with a twang, and, then, finally, it lost its twang. The only way to tell a country song from a pop song is that country songs still mention trucks every once in a while and partying in the woods.
Still, there’s a saying here in Nashville: It all begins with a song. If you really want to give it a shot, you could become a songwriter.
The late, great Harlan Howard, who wrote Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and a bunch of other classics, once defined country music as “three chords and the truth,” but be aware this town’s chock full of songwriters.
Songwriting is a business. Successful songwriters don’t sit around waiting for inspiration. Songwriters keep regular hours and schedule appointments to write with one another. Songwriting is a job.
A while back, I blogged about hearing the songwriter Bob McDill speak at the Country Music Hall of Fame. McDill wrote some classics, like Waylon Jennings’ “Amanda.” He had so many songs on the charts that people used to say BMI stood for Bob McDill Inc. McDill said his goal was writing one song a week. He had an office, and he’d go there, and he’d write and hope he had ended the week with a song somebody would record. He finally retired when he realized the kinds of songs he was writing weren’t the kinds of songs people were recording.
If you’re trying to break in as a songwriter, you’ll want to to start at open mic night at the Bluebird Cafe.
The Bluebird is a tiny little club in a strip mall south of downtown. Monday is open mic night, and on given night, a hundred or more would-be songwriters line up for a chance to play and get discovered. (It worked for Garth Brooks — and a bunch of other people you’ve never heard of who live in nice houses and drive nice cars and send their kids to good schools.)
Signup starts at 5:30 and ends at 5:45. They draw names to see who’ll get to sing two original songs on that night’s show. The show is from 6-9.
So, figure two songs each, that’s maybe 10 minutes per songwriter, so, six songwriters an hour for three hours, you’re looking at 18, maybe 20 spots. Some of the people on the show will be rank amateurs. Some will have songs as good as anything you’ve ever heard.
If you’re on the list but don’t get to sing before time runs out, you’re guaranteed a spot on next week’s open mic night.
If you’re not on the list, better luck next time — and remember that, pizza had better be here in 30 minutes or less, or I ain’t payin’.