Five days. Ten Venues. Over 400 songwriters. NSAI’s Tin Pan South is the WORLD’s largest all-songwriter festival, and just wrapped up its 21st year. Over 9,000 fans attend the event annually to hear some of the greatest songs ever written, performed by the people that wrote them.
In the last couple years, NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) has gotten a prominent figure in country music to perform the first night (mainly because he or she has to fly out to Vegas for ACM week shortly thereafter). This year The Listening Room Café featured Jake Owen at the early show, and Charles Kelly from Lady Antebellum for the late show. I missed Charles so I could go see “Celebrating ABC’s Nashville” at 3rd and Lindsley (more on that later).
The round with Jake Owen also featured Brandy Clark (“Somewhere With You,” “Alone With You”), Josh Osbourne (“Come Over,” Merry Go ‘Round”), and Eric Paslay (“Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”) who was filling in for the sick Shane McAnally. You can see how rounds like this are so fun to watch. Songwriters are constantly collaborating, and this bunch seems to be pretty well connected. Not to mention… Jake Owen was there.
As I said, I skipped the late show with Charles Kelly to watch “Celebrating ABC’s Nashville” at 3rd and Lindsley. This was billed as Colin Linden and Buddy Miller “with special guests.” Well, obviously that meant cast members, so I thought I’d find out who it was going to be. Turns out “special guests” meant… EVERYBODY!
Yes, it was the entire cast! (Well, the ones who sing, anyway.) Everyone from the Stella Sisters (Maddie and Daphne Conrad) to Charles Esten (Deacon), to Connie Britton herself took the stage. Even Hayden Panettierre shot in at the last minute for a special encore. The ones who blew me away, however, were the musical cast members not featured on the show. Several cast members who play background singers and instrumentalists got up there to show off. Truly amazing talent.
On Wednesday there was one show I wasn’t about to miss. Ashley Monroe with Striking Matches, Kristen Kelly and Trent Willmon. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Ashley’s AND Striking Matches (Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis). The other two are phenomenal as well. Ashley sang several songs from her recently-released debut album Like A Rose, accompanied by Sarah Zimmermann. My personal favorite is “Weed Instead of Roses,” a romantic number essentially stating, “forget romance, let’s get freaky.” (Lately I’ve been dreaming you in leather, me in lace / Let’s put up the teddy bears, and pull out the whip and chains.) Now that’s country music folks.
I had almost forgotten how remarkable Striking Matches were to watch live. There EP is fantastic, but when you actually witness the two of them playing guitar, you have to pick your jaw up off the floor. I was so entertained and awestruck at their talent I literally broke into laughter.
This was also a round that epitomized the reason I love this week so much. Sarah and Justin, and also Kristen Kelly’s accompanist Shaun Bayles, would play guitar on everything. More than once, Trent Willmon would just say, “take it away” during an instrumental break and one of the three would jump in on lead guitar… having never heard the song before!
Jumping ahead to Friday now: Aside from Jake Owen, probably the most highly-anticipated show of the week featured former American Idol judge, and songwriter Kara DioGuardi (“Undo It,” “Walk Away”) and Kristian Bush from Sugarland. They were joined by Jeff Cohen (“Postcard From Paris,” Giddy On Up”) and Marti Frederiksen (“Mama’s Song,” “Jaded”… yeah, the Aerosmith song).
For the record: yes, Kara looks gorgeous in person, and yes, Kristian Bush is short. The round was full of jokes and stories; not to mention hit song after hit song, most of which weren’t in the country genre. At one point, a musician named Matthew James joined them to beat box (that’s something you don’t often see at a songwriter round).
Finally, Saturday I joined my friends at Musicians Corner for their round featuring Adam Agin, Jessica Campbell, Matt Giraud and Matthew Perryman Jones. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay long, but as soon as I walked in, MPJ played my favorite of his: “Save You;” and Jessica Campbell quickly followed by playing my favorite song of hers, “Falling, Falling.” So I was happy.
Then to end the week, I caught most of the round with Tom Douglas (“Hello World,” “The House That Built Me”) Tony Lane (“I Need You,” “Tell Her That I’m Gone”) and James T. Slater (“High Cost of Living,” “In My Daughter’s Eyes”). I’ve seen all three of these guys before – in fact, I think they were in the same round together last year too – but with the list of hit songs and funny stories in these guys’ repertoire, I could see it every weekend.
I could see any of these shows every weekend. Tin Pan South is a festival that represents exactly what Music City is about. It represents what the love of music is all about. Because after all (as the NSAI tagline states): “it all begins with a song.”