The 2013 documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom chronicled the lives of the voices you know so well, the ones who augment the stars you love, but who stand behind and sing backup to sweeten and fill out the vocals of the songs you know by heart.
But what of the men and women who write the songs? Barry Manilow might have made “I Write the Songs” famous, but he didn’t write the song. That honor belongs to Bruce Johnson, a longtime Beach Boys member, writer, and collaborator. It’s rare indeed to find that song you love, the single that so defines the album you can’t stop talking about was actually written by the artist who sings it.
And while most of us know that, few can actually name the artists whose minds and pens met paper to tell the stories we sing and cry along to in the car. Enter Tin Pan South. Now in its 27th year, Tin Pan South is a showcase where the writers take center stage to tell the stories behind the hits, to play the songs they’re so justifiably proud of, and to introduce some of their new work.
The festival is the work of NSAI, the Nashville Songwriters Association International, a trade association whose purpose is to protect the rights of the writers. This celebration welcomes the world into the lives and talents of over 250 writers, over the course of five nights and across ten venues spanning Nashville.
On night one, Out and About Nashville correspondent Eric Patton and I attended two rounds, one at 3rd and Lindsley which featured Lori McKenna, Barry Dean, and Luke Laird along with their special guests Kassi Ashton, Alec Bailey, Casey Brown, and Steve Moakler. The second half of the night took place at The Listening Room Cafe and starred Nicolle Gaylon, Emily Weisband, and Parker Welling as well as special guests Matraca Berg, Kara DioGuardi, and Madison Kozak.
Highlights from the early show 3rd and Lindsley show were Barry Dean singing “Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools,” a hit he penned for Tim McGraw; Steve Moakler’s “One More Troubadour;” Kassi Ashton’s killer new single “Pretty Shiny Things;” and Luke Laird and Barry singing their new George Strait track “God and Country Music.”
But, for me, Lori McKenna was the real event. Does anyone write the way she does, with this innate ability to drive the hidden lanes of your soul? She sang “People Get Old,” “Always Stay Humble and Kind, her monster hit for Little Big Town “Girl Crush,” and a new one that will break your heart, fix your soul, dry up your well, clear your acne, and leave you in ruins: “When You’re My Age.” I don’t know what artist is going to get the privilege of releasing that last one, but make sure your tissues are ready when it hits the air.
As far as round two at The Listening Room, the riches were widespread. I guess I should just get it out of the way that Matraca Berg singing her “Strawberry Wine” just knocked me out. Emily Weisband’s “Thy Will” (a song for Hillary Scott), Parker Welling’s “Every Little Thing” (a hit for Russell Dickerson), and Nicolle Gaylon’s renditions of her global smash “Tequila” (for Dan + Shay) and her Lee Brice tearkjerker “Boy” topped my list of things now imprinted on my brain from night one.
Stay tuned for reviews from the nights ahead. Tonight, though, there will be an interlude at the Mother Church when I – and I still can’t believe this – will be in attendance as country legends Vince Gill, Brenda Lee, Roseanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs, and Marty Stuart (among others) take the stage in celebration of famed filmmaker Ken Burns’ new documentary on Country Music. This concert is being filmed for future PBS release and I’ll have all the details later!
Tin Pan South continues through Saturday night at venues around the Nashville area. Check out their website for more information.
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