Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Three cheers for Amanda

In the interest of supporting the Arts and Local Theatre...and because I actually enjoy a well-done drama or musical comedy, especially when I know one or more of the actors...I had fun seeing my friend and blog-buddy Amanda in the closing-night performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore," presented by the Pull-Tight Players (think Monty Python with more subtlety and no cartoons). Here's a website about this particular production.

I don't think it's a slight to the rest of the cast to say she was the star of the show, both in her role as Josephine and in her level of talent. Not to mention the yellow dress she wore, the color of which made it impossible to ignore here whenever she was on stage (of course I suppose maybe it wasn't JUST the color...). Again, I don't pretend to be unbiased, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong, either.

My friend Diane & I were on the front row of the very tiny Pull-Tight Theatre in Franklin, so we were on the verge of becoming part of the show at any moment. There's good and bad about being that close to the action. We got the full effect of the immediacy you only get in live drama (as opposed to movies and TV). I didn't really appreciate this about the theatre, really, until college; until then I preferred movies because they were more "realistic;" now I understand drama is more realistic in a different way, in the sense that it's "in the moment" and "here and now" and is inherently audience-interactive. And there's always the possibility something will go horribly wrong or better than expected (like life).

On the other hand, a little bit of distance would probably have improved our experience of the play as a spectacle; it's hard to maintain the illusion from four feet away. Plus, the chorus wasn't meant to be heard as individual voices. Made it impossible to drift off, for sure.

One unintended funny thing to me: director and (for the show I saw) chorus member Iain Macpherson looks EXACTLY like Henry Travers, who played the angel Clarence in "It's a Wonderful Life." Especially in the sailor costumes. If they ever do that as a play in Franklin, he's a natural. But don't look for me on the front row for that one...too many snow scenes.

My Mother the Star

Whenever people who know me hear my mother sing or play piano, as she's done in church for most of her life (and all of mine), they say "oh, now we see where Mark gets his musical talent." I try not to take this as a slight (I have had to put SOME effort into it, y'know). Actually I take it as a compliment to both of us, and in her case well-deserved. I won't pretend to be unbiased here, but I'm only going along with the evidence and the testimony (there is plenty of each): my mother has a gift.

When I was in first grade she came and played for my class. When I was a songleader for a small church in Chattanooga she was a frequent (and welcome) guest as a soloist and instrumentalist. She also plays accordion, though I believe it's been awhile. She was an enthusiastic proponent of the electronic autoharp, though to me the early attempts by Casio sounded more like that chime sound you hear when you enter a store. And she took violin lessons a few years ago; I have to give credit to anyone who can get a tune out of something without frets. I've always been eager to show her off to whomever I could.

So I'm especially proud of how she's using her talents now, combining her interest in all things medical with her musical skills by playing piano in the general and cancer ward lobbies at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, most Friday mornings. This is part of the hospital's music therapy program. After lunch she then volunteers time at the cancer ward desk. I get the feeling when I'm there that she's made a lot of new fans.

My dad happens to be a patient at the same hospital, due to complications after heart bypass surgery, so last week my trip to visit him also included the treat of seeing her "in concert" and having lunch together. Unfortunately my dad couldn't join us, since he was about to have a procedure done. First scheduled for 4:30...then moved up to 12:30...then wait...and wait...and finally they came for him...and changed their minds...and came back at about 5pm. My dad was choosing to be understanding; having worked in auto repair management (Western Auto, Firestone) he knows how unexpected things happen, and many times has had to try to explain delays to frustrated customers. Mother was a little less inclined to give the doctors the benefit of the doubt. For obvious reasons I refrained from getting a picture of him; I assumed he wasn't feeling too photogenic.

But here she is, doing the thing God made her to do (in addition to being wife, mother, grandmother, etc.). Don't forget to tip your nurses and orderlies.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Some of us are still wondering

This discovery brightened my day: the ION network, including WNPX in Nashville (17 on Comcast Cable, which is one of the handful of channels I pay for) has started showing 2 episodes back-to-back Monday - Friday of "The Wonder Years."
Sure, I could get it on DVD...but I guess I like the old-fashioned approach of receiving entertainment as a gift from the heavens. Besides, I'm already paying for the cable....

This is one of my favorite shows of all time, not only because of the witty, intelligent and heart-tugging writing and quality acting, but because it is so close to my own childhood (at least as I prefer to remember it). Just add one more antagonistic older brother and voila, it's my life. Sort of. My "Winnie Cooper" moved away before we could get into anything resembling a sweetheart situation. But Susie Bethshears did have dark hair. Not all gentlemen prefer blondes, you know.

One of the measures of good drama, like a good song, is that each audience member can say "this is about me." Trace Adkins has a song based on that observation.

Of course, in reality I may have been as much like Kevin Arnold's awkward-but-loyal friend Paul. But who wants to be the co-star of their own memories?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Let's hope they're thinking "Dick Clark" and not "Howard Stern"

I was perusing the website for CCFm, the radio station in Cape Town that hosted our songwriting seminar in December '06, and I ran across this compilation of kids learning to be radio stars. Through the Radio Academy, these kids aged 11-13 were taken through a seven-week course on radio. Their comments on love and relationships are especially interesting to hear (I took notes), and the accents make it all the more a fascinating listen.

Go to this page: http://www.ccfm.org.za/outreach.htm

Look for "Listen to the first interview" and click "Play Now" to hear the long mp3.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Elizabeth Papalia showcase

"They're comin' to America..." Neil Diamond was so right. Annoyingly pompous and self-important, but right.

Here are a few pics of another showcase by a talented friend, Elizabeth Papalia. She is a self-proclaimed "Aussie cHick" (her spelling) and has the involved support of the top folks (I wouldn't call them "brass" though they can be shiny sometimes) at the Nashville Songwriters Assn. Int'nat'l. See, they do more than tell you why you need to rewrite, re-demo, and/or re-think your entire song (they're usually right about that, by the way); they do what they can to nudge real talent along. And Liz has it. That, and great judgment in where to get her flyer and CD printing done (Edgehill Studios Cafe).

Elizabeth Papalia


Kelly Archer rocks 12th & Porter

Once again, I was witness to another impressive display of talent and, if all goes well, a step on the way to fame, fortune and added security personnel, as Kelly Archer ("It's Friday," Aaron Tippin; "Sucks to Be You," Danielle Peck) performed a showcase concert at 12th & Porter. The club is a photographer's dream thanks to its great lighting system; even my pics turned out well.

Kelly's a Canadian transplant to Nashville, and clearly it's proved to be a successful procedure. I met her mom the other night...she must have been Kelly's original "street team" member. Sweet.

Kelly Archer rocks 12th & Porter


Tin Pan South 2007 (Saturday, 3/31)

On Saturday I was especially looking forward to seeing Kenny Loggins at 12th & Porter, along with Richard Marx and Gary Burr. I am especially a fan of Loggins’ music from the 70’s, and his talents as a writer and recording artist are known worldwide. The latter is true for Marx. Given this, the size and location of the club made chances of a seat almost nil for any given attendee. I could have put all my eggs in one entertainment “basket” and staked out a place in line at a ridiculously early time, but common sense and the desire to see my friends Tim Buppert and Jerry Vandiver in their early show prevailed.

So it was dinner at the French Quarter, with the round made up of Buppert (“She’s Sure Taking It Well,” Kevin Sharp), Vandiver (“In A Little While,” Tim McGraw), Canadian Victoria Banks, and newcomer Misty Loggins. Buppert and Vandiver (known to some as “The Tim and Jerry Show”) were in typical form, jabbing and heckling one another in a friendly competition for laughs. Tim performed a somewhat uncharacteristically sweet love song and introduced the woman he’d written it for, and shared how meeting her had provided the needed inspiration to pull him out of a slump a couple of years ago. Such a better story than “I sat down with my friend to write and we couldn’t think of anything else, so we came up with this.” Though no less true in some cases, no doubt.

Jerry introduced his special guest and protege/cowriter, Jesse Lee, who made up for her admitted beginner-level guitar skills with her singing talent, her charm, and well, let's just say she reminded us why they make red cowboy boots.

So then it was off to see the Wizard. After circling the blocks around the club, including some very dodgy areas, looking for a legal place to park, I finally found a space that provided assurance I would not be towed plus an opportunity for exercise and fresh air, and walked to the club. I joined a line of about 50-75 people (though I’m not confident of my crowd-estimating skills) and hoped for the best, thankful I was at least in the Fast Pass line which would receive priority over those paying at the door. People were in generally good spirits, and I had a nice chat with a couple from California in front of me. He is a songwriter who has managed to figure out a way to work at a hospital in southern California and also spend significant time in Nashville to write.

By the time we got through the doors there was already quite a crowd, and I at least managed to find a place to lean. Opting not to give up an early show for a place in line turned out to be a good decision; a woman standing near me said she had been in line for Loggins at 5pm, and she didn’t fare much better than me. The small venue was Loggins’ choice, and if it was intimacy he was going for, he succeeded. “I’m sweatin’ already” Marx declared after his first song.

And he also succeeded in pleasing the audience, along with Marx and Burr, playing a set of one great “assisted solo” after another, including the hits (“Footloose,” “House at Pooh Corner” by Loggins; “The River” by Marx; “What Mattered Most” by Burr). They also presented some new ones, including one (“I’ll Remember Your Name”) that, as Loggins explained, had demanded to be a collaboration with Marx. As the audience giggled after Loggins announced his new album was “available now at Target,” he demanded in mock protest “why do people always laugh when I say that?”

After a nominal amount of time at the TPS after-party, where I made repeated trips to the bar for o.j. and water before moving on to the hard stuff (Coca-Cola, straight), and chatting with friends (and hearing nearly all of what was said), it was time to call it a night, and a week…until next year. Y’all come see us.

Tin Pan South 2007 (Friday, 3/30)

Having a day off from the day job on Friday helped me rest up for the remainder of TPS, a vital part of any attendee’s plan for survival. My best friend Bob, a lifelong fan of country music, was in town on business and up for the combined challenge and delight that is Tin Pan South. We headed for the Rutledge, a great new nonsmoking venue on 4th Avenue, to see “Radicals in The Round” featuring a couple of my favorites, Don Henry and Craig Carothers, in the round with Angela Kaset (“Something In Red”) and rocker Michelle Malone (a new Nashvillian).

Bob & I found good seats on the wooden benches (apparently recently made, so they had that nice lumber smell). I put in a request with Carothers for “Open Mike” (“Open Mike, Open Mike, sang the songs that no one liked”) and he nodded and smiled; no doubt this is a standard for their shows…but a good one. Whether the song is a redemption story of a lousy songwriter turned hitmaker, or a comment on the unfairness of the music business, it’s a brilliantly funny song. Malone’s song and accompanying back story of meeting an inebriated Tanya Tucker was amusing and relatable, but it was her intense bluesy guitar and her formidable voice that left an impression on the audience.

Bob, who was at the end of a work day, enjoyed all he could stand for one night so as he departed to find food and rest, I ventured down to the Bluebird to see if I could at least find a place to stand to check out the show. Skip Ewing ("You Had Me From Hello," Kenny Chesney; "Love, Me," Collin Raye), Hugh Prestwood ("The Song Remembers When," Trisha Yearwood) and Aaron Barker ("Love Without End, Amen," George Strait) were on the roster and my friend Dani Carroll was slated to do a song as a special guest of fellow California native Ewing. I’m always glad when more people get to hear Dani, and she demonstrated why she belonged behind the microphone, as everyone obviously agreed. Unfortunately the volume was too low for me to catch most of the between-song patter (my favorite part of these shows, really) from where I was standing; this was unusual given the intimate nature of the club.

Tin Pan South 2007 (Thursday, 3/29)

Thursday saw the traditional round featuring Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Phil Madeira, with special guest, Aussie Melinda Schnieder, joining them under the lamp at Douglas Corner. I skipped the early shows just to make sure I had a good seat for this one, and the plan was a success. The usual genuine air of camaraderie among the three men (GK: “Wayne, do you have any…songs?”) was extended to include Schnieder. Having a mother was a yodeler and a father who was a cop has given her a unique take on life; she shared one song that included just enough yodeling to be fun without being obnoxious. Two things that are sure crowd pleasers at the Grand Ole Opry are yodeling and patriotic songs; this is at least partially the case at Tin Pan South (though for the latter the politics seem to lean the opposite of the Opry crowd).

I shared a table with Jim and his daughter Alyssa from Wisconsin. In town to check out Vanderbilt University for Alyssa, they had come to see Michelle Shocked in the early round, and since they had missed it they stayed for the late show. I told them they were about to have the quintessential Nashville experience. Their nods and smiles throughout the show told me they were far from disappointed.

Madeira played his song “Come On Out With Your Hands Up” (a metaphorical reference to surrendering to a higher power), and shared the story Kennedy’s introduction of the song while performing at a women’s prison: “I guess most of you have heard this phrase before.” And of course, there were the hits; Kennedy led the group in his and Kirkpatrick’s Eric Clapton cut “Change the World” and Kirkpatrick played a solo rendition of “Boondocks” (Little Big Town). I was ready to help out on the last bit (“You get a line/I’ll get a pole…”) so he could add the harmonies for the big finish…no such request was made. Maybe next year.

Tin Pan South 2007 (Wednesday, 3/28)

Since I was unable to get reservations at the Bluebird CafĂ© for the late show Wednesday to see my first choice of shows (Mac Davis always offers lots of laughs and familiar songs), it was “lady’s choice” for my friend who accompanied me. She chose well; we saw Jennifer Hanson, Mark Nesler, Blue County, Tim Johnson and “special guest” Blaine Larsen at 12th & Porter. The precious few seats were taken so we headed for a good standing spot.

The congenial and laid-back Nesler comes across onstage as the strong, silent type, but his songs spoke well for him. He presented some of the smash hits he’s written for Tim McGraw (“Just to See You Smile”) and Darryl Worley ("I Miss My Friend”) kicked off the proceedings with “Living and Living Well” (George Strait).

His wife Jennifer Hanson could easily be confused with Jennifer Garner of “Alias”… except I’m not aware of that other Jennifer writing and performing such impressive songs. Tonight’s offerings included “Leave The Pieces” for The Wreckers (Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp) and “Beautiful Goodbye.”

Tim Johnson was next in line and provided solid country songs all night, some serious ("To Do What I Do," Alan Jackson) and some, not so much: his list of “Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind” included “watchin all this football is sure getting old/Wish I was workin this weekend/Not on the lake reelin’ my line.” That American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler had chosen to record the song seemed to be a pleasant surprise to him.

Musical duo Blue County (Aaron Benward & Scott Reeves) joked among themselves and the rest of the writers enough to dub themselves the “bad kids” of the round. Their rowdy hit “Good Little Girls” would seem to support that (“Good little girls make some mighty wild women”)…but on closer examination (MUCH closer) it’s actually supporting a traditional approach to romance that even a Southern Baptist like myself can say “amen” to: “She's waitin' for a gold ring, before she tries her wings/That's what I'm waitin' for.” (Not that I'd expect to see them play this or some other songs in church; I'm affirming the positive here, not offering an unqualified endorsement). They also showed a serious side, in what I hope will be a “serious” hit: “I Get To,” a song by Sherrie Austin that is about choosing a thankful attitude toward things we easily complain about, such as hugging dad, going to church, etc. (“I don’t have to/I get to”).

Tin Pan South 2007 (Tuesday, 3/27)

On my agenda for Tuesday’s early show, the official kickoff for the Tin Pan show schedule, was a benefit for the New Orleans Songwriting Community. Dr. John, best known for his 70’s hit “Right Place, Wrong Time” was the featured act.

I arrived at the Mercy Lounge venue early to find a relatively short line of pass holders (I was uncharacteristically early), and quite a few planning to pay admission. To add to the potential confusion there was also a contingent of fans in line to see Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Jewel and Big & Rich play a benefit at the adjoining venue. As we were sorted out and admitted, I had the thrill of saying hello and choking out “I appreciate your music” to Ray Stevens (“Gitarzan,” “The Streak”) on the way in.

Before the show I met Curtis Anderson, proud father of Brent. This was the first TPS show I remember that was not performed as a round, which put young Anderson and Grayson Capps in the position of opening acts. Not a positive change in my opinion.

Anderson’s voice and songs demonstrated why he was on stage at his first TPS show, though his first song, a ballad, was a less-than-electrifying way to begin the set. Capps, exuding the persona of the hillbilly hippie fresh from his cabin in the Loo-siana swamp, was well-received as much for his politics as for his backwoods-folky songs.

Finally the big blue Baldwin grand was pushed into position for Mr. New Orleans himself. Dr. John’s familiar voice, a jambalaya of funk, growl and gravel, along with his jazzy piano stylings, kept the crowd entertained through a humor-injected and understated performance.

Tin Pan South 2007 (intro)

Tin Pan South 2007 is done and so is the article I submitted to “Country Music Scene,” the newsletter of the New Jersey Country Music Association (motto: “We play everything in Aaaaaaaay!”). Always good to have friends in Northern places (assuming I still have friends anywhere, after that joke).

Anyway I’m posting the intro and then each day separately. We can pretend I did this like an actual daily blog, as I had intended. But my memory hasn’t totally broken down yet, so it should be fairly reliable. Also, I've made some edits and additions here and there, so consider this the "extended remix" version of the story.

For the full TPS 2007 slideshow (and others), see http://picasaweb.google.com/markkellyhall

Tin Pan South 2007


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Tin Pan South 2007

Tin Pan South, the annual “songwriters festival” in Nashville presented by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), is a study in opposites. It is not unlike what happens in Nashville nearly every evening of the year, since it features groups of professional songwriters taking turns playing their hits and their “hopeful hits” to attentive audiences (often also made up of more songwriters) in nightclubs and cafes. On the other hand, it is a special time because it is part of a week that includes numerous industry events, luncheons and seminars, and a lot of dedicated music fans from all over the U.S. forming friendships; a week that generates real excitement even among the over-hyped and often jaded residents of Music City.

As writer Phil Madeira (“If I Was Jesus,” Toby Keith) points out, Tin Pan South “raises consciousness and money for NSAI and the concerns of that wonderful organization. The fact that every [TPS] performance in every club across town is a benefit speaks volumes for NSAI.”

Canadian native and now Nashville resident Victoria Banks also had high praise for NSAI. “As songwriters, we are a notoriously disorganized and insecure bunch. It comes hand in hand with being creative. We don't tend to stand up for ourselves, and we can easily be taken advantage of in the industry. That's where NSAI steps in and plays a really important role - they stand up for our rights, lobby on our behalf, and keep tabs on changes in legislation that can profoundly affect our ability to make a living.”

For an attendee, especially any who are songwriting enthusiasts or aspiring professionals, Tin Pan is like drinking from a fire hose. The following is a summary of my experience of TPS 2007 (scroll up). See www.tinpansouth.com for more related info.