Music City USA Documentary: Flooded with Heart and Soul
by Holley Dey @2013 OnTapBlog all rights reserved
You can thank Chris McDaniel’s grandmother for his soon-to-be-released new documentary Music City USA. Grandma has a very good ear, and when the family gathered for a visit in Nashville two years ago, the Grand Ole Opry was on the agenda. It was at the Opry that Chris found both the foundation and the inspiration for his story of hometown pride and resilience.
The 2010 flood had left unimaginable devastation in its wake, but at the Opry that night the emphasis was on rebuilding and recovery. Through the courageous efforts of a united community of residents and volunteers, Nashville was rapidly rebounding. When musician Josh Thompson took the stage to sing “Way Out Here”, a story of country pride and heritage, McDaniel realized that there was a movie to be made. Here was a unique comeback story of strength and tenacity in a southern city with music at its core. Chris was convinced that the music made a difference.
He asked musicians to tell their stories of the flood and its aftermath, but the interviews didn’t end there. He wanted to know what Nashville means to these artists, what draws and binds them to this special town. The movie became much more than a narrative of the disaster. The heart and soul of Nashville flooded the screen as the artists shared their stories.
Chris recalls an interview with former American Idol finalist and current recording artist Bo Bice. Bo became emotional while describing the aftermath of the flood and his family’s efforts to help others. Bo’s young son Caleb was sitting on his lap at the time and suddenly added, “Daddy, remember when we went out and helped people after the flood and handed out water bottles to them? We helped them like Jesus would.” Caleb melted the film director’s heart. Here was a small child of maybe five years who had already learned the importance of helping those in need. Caleb appears in Music City USA.
The child joins an impressive roster of country artists and long-term Nashville residents who agreed to share their stories. Charlie Daniels, a resident for 46 years, participated. Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Montgomery Gentry, Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, and Naomi Judd were among at least fifty others filmed for the project.
While Nashville is primarily known as a country town, musicians from all genres live and/or record there and Chris sought their input as well. Bret Michaels of Poison, Lionel Ritchie, Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply all record in Music City. Reggae artist Mishka, who records on Jimmy Buffet’s label, is included in the film. Hard rock singer Jack Russell was recruited following a live concert when he announced, “A songwriter never forgets where a song idea came to him. I wrote “House of Broken Love” in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee, and man, that city just speaks to songwriters.”
The songwriters spoke to Chris McDaniel; they generously shared their time and their stories. Says Chris, “They are all such kind and gracious artists. I am not only a huge fan of these people as entertainers, but I am a firm believer that their success is in direct relation to what amazingly kind and giving people they are.” McDaniel counts the friendships that he made during the process of making this film as one of its great successes. “In a given week I may get an encouraging email from Larry Gatlin, or a thoughtful text from Mike Wolfe (American Pickers) or Bo Bice, or a tweet from Taylor Hicks. I know that these people will be in my life, for the rest of my life.”
When he learned that the proceeds from the film will benefit flood relief charities, Taylor Hicks immediately texted the director his Nashville home address. The American Idol winner and Las Vegas headliner met the filmmaker at the door with a smile, helped carry in the camera equipment and offered his writing room for the interview. With big picture windows, natural illumination and his various awards and memorabilia displayed on the wall behind him, it was a perfect setting for the interview. Seconds into the filming Hicks described music as the universal language, and a language that runs right through Nashville, Tennessee. Chris stopped the camera. “Man, that’s one of the coolest lines anyone has said yet!” When filming resumed, the director commented on the two or three cases of harmonicas on Taylor’s writing table, prompting the musician to “bust out a riff”. Both the line and that riff can be heard in the new documentary. After goodbyes were said and on his way to the next interview, Chris’ phone rang. It was Taylor Hicks calling to say thanks, and to offer any additional help that might be needed. “He is a class act” says McDaniel.
Hicks had hoped to attend the Phoenix premiere of Music City USA this spring, but an unexpected scheduling conflict kept him from the screening. There were 300 other familiar faces there, however. Dr. Chris McDaniel’s patients came in force to support their man. McDaniel is a practicing chiropractor who has been writing screenplays and poems, and writing songs since childhood. He knew early in his career that he needed a creative outlet to supplement his day job, and now “I’m a chiropractor three days a week, and an artist seven days a week.” When he’s not with his patients, Chris is behind a camera or writing at the computer. He has authored a children’s book, The Adventures of Dusty Popsallot, a rhyming book with a moral, somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ work. A second in the series is now in preparation; both books are illustrated by New York artist Dawn Josephine who is also the set decorator for Music City USA.
Music City USA is his third documentary and each has been a new learning experience. On the first, The Heart Is a Drum Machine, Chris learned how to structure questions for the interview subjects and how to piece together a storyline. On the second, Blood into Wine, he realized the importance of sprinkling humor into the film to break up the serious/informative feel. While he produced both of the earlier films, Music City USA marks McDaniel’s directorial debut, and with this film he has come to appreciate the difficulty of cutting a solid two hour interview down to only a few minutes of screentime.
Clearly Chris is a quick learner. The positive reviews for Music City USA continue to roll into his inbox. Following the Nashville premiere, the local reviewer concluded, “Capturing its heart and soul, Chris McDaniel demonstrates the perseverance, persistence and passion he has for Music City.” Next for the documentary come several more screenings on the festival circuit, and likely more good reviews, both in the United States and abroad. Later this summer it is possible that the film will enjoy a small art-house theatrical run, and then will be released this fall on DVD. Music City USA is currently available for pre-order via the official website ($17.99 and free shipping in the continental US), and the initial pressing will be based on pre-orders received.
Two years in the making, Music City USA is ultimately a film about community, and about the strength and resilience of the people who make up that community. “Hands on Nashville” is an organization that places volunteers wherever they are needed, regardless of the size of that need. During the flood, 8,000 people volunteered their services. Three years later, with recovery well underway, Hands on Nashville now boasts 24,000 volunteers. Amazing. The take home message, says Chris McDaniel, is this: “Nashville is a place filled with artistic beauty and positive creative energy, but more importantly, it is a place that exists solely because of the caliber of people that reside there. They believe in their town and community, and so should we all. If Dierks Bentley and Tim McGraw can bail water and rip off drywall during a flood, think what you can do.”
Stay up-to-date with Music City USA:
Film trailer/ DVD pre-order: http://www.musiccitymovie.com/
Taylor Hicks and Chris McDaniel in the American Idol’s home writing room
Chris McDaniel with Nashville star Vince Gill at Mr. Gill’s home
Mr. McDaniel’s grandmother has been an integral part of Music City USA from the beginning. She was interviewed for the film, and stands here before her “Wall of Fame” that includes messages from many of the film’s featured artists.
Photographed at the April 24 Nashville premiere of the documentary are Bo Bice, Beau Braswell, Mike Wolfe and Ty Herndon with Chris McDaniel. Bo Bice was in Atlanta with his family during premiere week, but traveled to Nashville to “support you (Chris) the way you supported our town.” Mike Wolfe had a new baby at home and only a few open days in April, but made time for the event, a gesture that left the filmmaker feeling “awesome”.
Featured artist the Oakridge Boys with Chris McDaniel
Rock artist Jack Russell with Chris McDaniel
Set decorator and book illustrator Dawn Josephine is also a jewelry designer.
Filmmaker Chris McDaniel is also a published author.
Chris McDaniel on the job; he carries about 100 lbs. of equipment wherever he goes.