by Holley Dey, photography by Louise Uznanski ©2014 On Tap Blog all rights reserved
Let’s cut right to the chase. Kurt Vonnegut once said that a good story should start as close to the end as possible. So here it is – The End, the take home message, the down and dirty truth, the not-so-secret skinny. The next “Nashville to New York” show will be held on September 9, and you should be there.
You’ll earn a rare glimpse into the mechanics of songwriting and a short course in the business of music. You’ll hear songs that were hits, and others that just missed, directly from the songwriters. You’ll laugh, you’ll sing and you may wonder – wonder why the remarkable, clear-voiced talents seated on the stage do not own the voices that play on the radio and replay in your memory.
“Nashville to New York” is patterned after the writer-in-the-round sessions held at The Bluebird Cafe, the same venue celebrated by the ABC television series Nashville. Singer-songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman are the hosts of the quarterly event, held at The Cutting Room in New York City. At each show two invited guests join the hosts on stage; all four trade stories and share their original songs in intimate acoustic performances, supported by instrumentals and harmony vocals from the others. At the most recent show on June 10, the hosts were joined by award winning songwriters Gretchen Peters and Dave Berg to play for a jam-packed room.
First up was Georgia who prefaced her performance of “I’m In” with a delightful story of patience and providence. Co-written with Radney Foster fifteen years ago, the song found a limited audience on release. A subsequent cover by The Kinleys was a minor hit, reaching #32 on the country charts, and that was enough for Middleman to replace her broken-down car with a used Honda CRV. “I was so grateful,” said Georgia. Fast forward ten years and the plate on an aging CRV would soon read RIP. The songwriter raised an earnest prayer to the heavens, and Keith Urban recorded “I’m In”. Can you say Toyota Prius? Quipped Gary Burr, “I do think that the country charts shouldn’t be numbers; they should be automobiles!”
A vibrant performance followed the introduction. Know this: if Snow White had a brain and a song, she’d be Georgia Middleman. Petite with dark curls, fair skin and a generous smile, Georgia’s size belies the strength of her voice and the depth of her talent. Joined by husband Gary on backing guitar and vocals, the pair offered a spirited rendition of “I’m In”, proof positive that in this family the vocal and marital blends are equally melodic.
They share a lived-in, homegrown repartee on stage. “You might want to move your chair,” suggested Georgia. “Hey, you might want to stop smothering me,” came the perfectly cheery response. The hosts were the focus of attention, charming the audience with their good humor and storytelling. Gary alternately played rhythm or lead guitar for his wife; each sang harmony for the other.
Gary was important to the pace and complexion of the show; he kept the jokes coming, his songs upbeat. When Emmy winning songwriter and producer Victoria Shaw was recruited from the audience to perform, Burr was typically helpful. As Victoria introduced her original co-write “The River”, Gary quickly stooped to pick up the name she’d dropped (Garth Brooks).
Gary’s own song selections included “To Be Loved by You”, co-written with Mike Reid and a #1 hit for singer Wynonna Judd. It’s one of a few positive love songs that Burr has written, he says, dwarfed by the number of psycho killer love songs he’s penned. “He loved her, he lost her, he hunted her down…” And when the laughter died down, the song was delivered with an unanticipated tenderness and a vocal tone that left no doubt why the former electrician is also the former lead singer for Pure Prairie League, former vocalist/guitarist for Ringo Starr.
Seated to Burr’s left was singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters who owns a storyteller’s voice, beautifully expressive across a full dynamic range, delivering poetic lyrics of layered complexity. Gretchen surprised with her introduction to “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” wondering aloud why the audience would want to hear hit songs. “Don’t you hear those enough?!” Ironically, the show had been billed as an evening of hit songs, but then Ms. Peters offered two highlights – a poignant performance of “The Matador” from 2012 album Hello Cruel World, and a newly recorded, yet unreleased song with a chorus that rocked lightly, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” that might very well be another hit.
Between the two ladies sat singer-songwriter Dave Berg. Introduced as a rocker, Dave began his set with the low key “One Can Be a Lot,” a song that Dave says “never really stuck,” but that stuck like glue with the audience in New York. “Just one sun lights the sky. Just one moon turns the tide. And man can change the world with just one thought. One promise made can last forever….. Yeah, sometimes one can be a lot.” A laid-back delivery and a light rocker’s edge to his voice, Dave followed with two of his best known originals: “Stupid Boy” (Keith Urban) and “If You’re Going through Hell” (Rodney Atkins). He also performed a tune he’d written with Mumford & Sons; Dave wasn’t quite sure if his c0-writer was Mumford or Sons…
Nearly two and a half hours of song and story, insight into songwriting and the music industry, and the opportunity to hear new music from Nashville’s most successful writers – all of this came for an advance ticket price of $15. Guests for September’s “Nashville to New York” were not announced, but Gary and Georgia have promised “the best and brightest songwriters” at every New York show. Two quick suggestions for the next in the series…. The titles of several songs performed and enjoyed at the June show were never shared with the audience. Giving the product a name makes it easier for customers to later purchase that product from home. While the arrangement of chairs was likely intended to showcase their guests, seating the hosts together center stage would visually enhance the harmonies and banter.
At the audience’s insistence, “Nashville to New York” sang well beyond its scheduled finish. If you’d like to know why, begin here and read up. Read until you come to “The End” ; then stop.