Inspiration. Celebration. Jubilation.
These were the themes as the party boy made his rounds this week on Music Row. And all were at events that made me fall in love with country music all over again.
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I caught the second of Connie Smith’s Artist In Residence performances at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater on Monday (8/29). In a word, wow. I walked out of there tingling, with my spirit completely full of inspiration.
In the first place, she’s one of my favorite singers of all time.
In the second place, our seats were in the second row, center, practically in Connie’s lap. It was as if she was singing to me in her living room.
“This week, it’s about the songs,” she said. So she sang songs she’s written, as well as those of her guests Kostas, Dallas Frazier and Marty Stuart. She was backed by her super band The Sundowners – guitarist Rick Wright, steel man Gary Carter, drummer Ric McClure and bass player Rod Ham, abetted by guitar session stalwart and Opry band member Mark Casstevens and Fabulous Superlatives member Paul Martin. They also play on her new Long Line of Heartaches, her 53rd album.
As Kyle Young reminded us, Connie was famously discovered by Bill Anderson. A song demo tape of his tunes landed her an RCA Records contract in 1964. On it was “Tiny Blue Transister Radio,” which he wrote with Skeeter Davis in mind. Instead, it became a Connie hit, which she sang. She has, by the way, recorded 33 Anderson tunes.
From the new CD, she did the lovely “I’m Not Blue,” cowritten with Kostas. At her invitation, he sang “Blame It On Your Heart.”
“Marty’s a joy to write with,” she said in introducing her husband, producer and songwriting collaborator. “Marty’s a joy to work with. Marty’s a joy to live with.”
“This is how we got together in the first place, writing songs,” he replied. “Our first date, we wrote a country song with Harlan Howard.” He urged her to sing some of her composing efforts, including “If You’re Gonna Go (Take Me With You),” which she penned for Dolly Parton, but never pitched. Marty also read lyrics that Merle Haggard had sent for the occasion, “Too Much Boogie Woogie (And Not Enough Connie Smith).”
She told us that she has recorded 69 Dallas Frazier songs, including “Where Is My Castle,” “Ain’t Love a Good Thing” and “Run Away Little Tears,” which she performed, magnificently. At her invitation, Dallas sang his “Fourteen Carat Mind,” “All I Have to Offer You Is Me” and “If My Heart Had Windows.” The last named was penned for his wife of 53 years, Sharon Frazier, who sat on the front row. Dallas also penned “A Heart Like You” (with attendee Glenn Ashworth), the song that kick-started Connie’s new CD.
A standing ovation followed Connie’s “Peace in the Valley.” She encored with her signature song, Anderson’s “Once a Day.” Then she greeted fans and signed autographs in the Conservatory.
“That was so inspiring,” said Don Henry afterward. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.” I heartily agreed.
The capacity crowd also included Diane Berry, Jo Walker-Meador, Jerry Foster, Bill Denny, Barry Mazor, Duane & Nora Lee Allen, Danny Flowers, Jerry & Ernie Williams, Peter Cronin, Mary Gauthier and Connie’s daughters Julie Ray Barnick and Jodi Lee Seyfried. Along with sister Jeanne Haynes, they’ll be on stage with Connie at her third Artist In Residence show on Sept. 12. That one will spotlight female vocalists.
Connie is the ninth Artist In Residence and its first female. She follows Jack Clement, Guy Clark, Jerry Douglas, Buddy Miller and Hall of Fame members Tom T. Hall, Earl Scruggs, Kris Kristofferson and Vince Gill.
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It was sunny and breezy on the BMI patio roof on Tuesday afternoon (8/30). The celebration was for “Dirt Road Anthem.” The year’s biggest Nashville pop crossover hit is sung by the year’s biggest-selling country artist, Jason Aldean.
“This is a historic day at BMI, because this is Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford’s first number-one country single,” said Clay Bradley. “Brantley Gilbert has developed a wide following because of his commitment to hard touring….Colt Ford is loaded with charisma and instinct, performing more than 200 shows a year [with] hip-hop and honky-tonk authentically mashed together.”
Both writers are also recording artists. In fact, Brantley’s “Country Must Be Country Wide” is in the top-20 and climbing and his debut CD drops soon. He also co-wrote Jason’s CD’s title tune and a hit earlier this year, “My Kinda Party.”
Jason has, “redefined his career with every step he takes,” Clay continued. “’Dirt Road Anthem’ is his fifth single with one million downloads.” Presentations and plaudits came to Steve Markland, Michael Knox and Broken Bow’s Jon Loba.
The label upstaged the host. Broken Bow owner Benny Brown presented Jason’s wife Jessica Aldean with a white, convertible Lexus. We looked down to see it parked six floors below on Music Circle East (15th Avenue South) wrapped in a big red bow.
We snacked on cheeseburger sliders, melon bites, roasted corn salsa and barbecue & slaw on cornbread. Lorianne Crook, Charlie Chase, Kevin Lamb, Ron Samuels, Hunter Kelly, Clarence Spalding, Steve Moore, Chris Parr, Charlie Monk, Bill Cody, Brandi Simms, Diane Pearson, Susan Stewart, John Dorris, Bill Mayne, Pete Fisher, Debbie Carroll and Tom Baldrica schmoozed in the sunshine.
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That evening (830), we gathered downtown at Avenue for a “Neon Jubilee” party for Chris Young. The jubilation was for his No. 1 hit and Gold single “Tomorrow,” for the Gold certification of his CD The Man I Want to Be and for his newly released collection Neon. Appropriately, the party decorations and swizzle sticks glowed in the dark, neon style.
“I just wanna say, hot-damn, I got a Gold Record,” Chris exclaimed. “Everybody that’s in this room right now, thank you for everything you’ve done for me….I love you…..I’m gonna give a Gold Record to everybody I know.” He also noted that “Tomorrow,” which will be Platinum in two weeks, is the first single he’s had to go Gold before its parent album even came out.
His co-writers on “Tomorrow” are BMI affiliated Frank Myers and SESAC affiliated Anthony Smith. Chris is with ASCAP. So all three PROs had presentations to make. Jody Williams noted that this is Frank’s 11th No. 1 record. Tim Fink presented to Anthony. Tim DuBois said, “Chris started out as a writer and became an artist.”
Also parading across the stage with a variety of framed objects were Ben Vaughn, Butch Baker, Tom Luteran, James Stroud, Marion Kraft, Becky Harris and host-with-the-most Gary Overton.
We noshed on cheeseburger sliders (again), soft pretzels and a smorgasbord of franks and sausages. There went my diet. Will Byrd, Will Rambeaux, Cindy Watts, Cindy Heath, Kay Clary, Kay West, Sarah Skates, Ken Tucker, Ron Cox, Sherod Robertson, Ralph Murphy, Celia Froehlig, David Ross, Tim Nichols, Shannon & Rob Hatch, Kris Wilkinson, Jim McBride, Judy Harris, Norbert Nix, John Mullens, Suzanne Gordon, Julian King and Steve Buchanan joined the jubilation.