Words/video: Holley Dey Photography: Louise Uznanski and Richard Uznanski ©2014 On Tap Blog all rights reserved
By the numbers alone it was a special evening. One stage, two hosts, two invited guests, three Hall of Fame songwriters with dozens of hit songs, yet only four good knees among them. Professional football takes the blame for the wear and tear on Mike’s bones; professional songwriting may be responsible for Gary’s. Sometimes an earnest plea from a bended knee can get those soon-to-be hits recorded, don’t you know….
For the third installment of the Nashville to New York series, co-hosts Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman welcomed award winning songwriters Mike Reid and Matraca Berg to The Cutting Room in New York City. The hosts had promised the “best and brightest” for the September event, and they more than delivered on Tuesday evening when six voices, yes six, entertained from four sturdy chairs placed stage front.
No special effects were involved. Ms. Berg has friends in all the right places, including The Cutting Room audience where husband Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and country singer-songwriter Allison Moorer were seated. Called to perform, Hanna temporarily took the stage, and a chair, to perform his chart-topping “Bless the Broken Road”, and to harmonize with his wife on a soulful rendition of her own “Oh Cumberland”. Ms. Moorer joined co-writer Matraca Berg to perform a new original song that the two had recently completed and that “hasn’t really been public yet.” Oh, it’s public now. Once the duo began the chorus in earnest, “Jesus and Elvis, painted on velvet, hanging out at the bar here every night…” the audience clapped confidently to the beat of a traditional country story of whiskey, loss and redemption.
Those are two of the many reasons that this singer-songwriter series offers a premium entertainment value. The shows draw not only from the talent on stage, but from unbilled talent seated in the cheap seats. A founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on this occasion, and in June, Emmy winning songwriter Victoria Shaw was pulled from the audience to perform, adding her voice and vibrant personality to the mix. Then there is the potential to hear music “in the rough”, unfinished, unpolished, imperfect and real, well before it reaches the ears of the general public. A sneak peek into the creative process, it’s the adult version of Charlie’s wonder at the Chocolate Factory, without the chocolate mess.
And then there are the voices, the songs, the stories and the humor of the Nashville songwriters, the heart and soul of these shows. There is something unique and special about hearing the music and its background directly from the writers. Mike Reid introduced “Everywhere” as the song he wrote for Celine Dion, then raised a quick hand to stop the “oohs” and “ahhs” that followed, explaining, “No, she refused to record it”! Happily, Tim McGraw layered his voice on this story of enduring love and wistful regret that span time and distance.
When Reid then performed the song, it was done with timing and expression – a conversation supported by fluid, flowing piano accompaniment. The lyrics were given quiet emphasis. The same was true when Georgia performed “Little Victories”, when Gary offered “Man of My Word” and the remarkable “A Thousand Wild Horses”. As in June, hearing these songs directly from the songwriter brought a new understanding and appreciation of the music, and a deepening appreciation for the talent behind the songs.
Nashville to New York returns to The Cutting Room on January 6, 2015. Co-hosts Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman will be joined by special guests and award winning songwriters Victoria Shaw and Mark Hudson.