The Civil Wars Case Study

(L-R): moderator Christopher Moon, Shawn Fowler, Asha Goodman, Lori Kampa and Charlie Peacock. Photo by Kevin Brown

The industry took note when the first album from indie act The Civil Wars debuted with sales of 25K units. In the almost eight months since, Barton Hollow has passed the 180K mark, currently averaging more than 3K per week (Nielsen Soundscan).

The band’s team members discussed the success story last week at one of SoundLand’s educational Field Trips, held at The Belcourt Theater. The Civil Wars weren’t attendance; about that time they they were taking the stage in London, opening for Adele at Royal Albert Hall.

Producer Charlie Peacock explained that The Civil Wars came to him as a group poised to break through. Particularly, they needed no help honing their sound. “It was already fully formed,” he said. “I just had to take a picture of it.”

Joy Williams and John Paul White had experience on their side; both had been working solo careers when they were paired randomly at a songwriting camp. That collaboration led to The Civil Wars.

Prepping the album release, the band spurred good word of mouth by giving away free copies of a live recording and selling a successful EP. Their team orchestrated radio and touring efforts, which were fueled by the hard work of Williams and White. Via a special agreement with Dualtone, the label’s Lori Kampa promoted the band to radio without signing them.

Around the February 1 release, The Civil Wars scored a visit to The Tonight Show and stepped up to the plate with a sizzling performance (see video below). Helping secure that slot was publicist Asha Goodman of Sacks & Co. “It was a dream band to work,” she said. “There were so many compelling things going on.”

Not the least of which was the music. Attorney John Strohm, who also counts rising artist Bon Iver as a client, says that what both his indie success stories have in common is undeniable music.

Even The Civil Wars’ team was a little surprised by the debut week. Shawn Fowler of Tone Tree Music had distributed physical copies to indie record stores, but the big debut left shelves empty for two weeks. Eventually the project grew to big box outlets. To date, it has sold about 70% digital and 30% physical.

Panelists report that five genres are now claiming the act, including country, where the band is up for a CMA award, and has a video in rotation on CMT.

After the release, Strohm received several calls from major labels. The attitude, he said, was generally, “Congratulations, now you’ll be needing our resources.” But The Civil Wars passed, preferring the flexibility, ownership/control, and boosted income of life outside the label system.

“It was an experiment,” sums Strohm. “But it was successful, so it was encouraging.”

Paisley Wraps “H2O II Tour”

Brad Paisley’s H2O II: Wetter & Wilder World tour concluded Sunday night (9/25) in Raleigh, NC. Paisley’s 2011 tour played to over 1,079,436 fans in 52 markets including five stadium shows and eight European performances.

Paisley closed his last show of the H2O II tour by inviting the tour special guests to the stage for an encore performance of “Alcohol.” Special guests on the H2O II: Wetter & Wilder tour have included Blake Shelton, Jerrod Niemann with Sunny Sweeney, Edens Edge, The JaneDear Girls and Brett Eldredge. Scotty McCreery also joined Paisley on stage for the final H2O II show.

Next up, Paisley co-hosts the CMA Awards with Carrie Underwood, where they will perform their No. 1 duet “Remind Me” for the first time on live national TV.

Details about Paisley’s 2012 tour are forthcoming.

Jerrod Niemann in Raleigh, NC with (L-R) WQDR morning show personality Janie, and WQDR PD Lisa McKay

Country’s Album TEA Party

The largest and final sales quarter of 2011 is almost upon us and the list of planned album releases is mostly revealed (except for a few possible last minute surprises).

The above graph is intended to help readers quickly grasp how album sales are trending. Last week for example (week ended 9-18-11), country hit its highest YTD gain of the year showing an increase of 9.8%.

This week the YTD country number has ebbed slightly to 9.6%. (Last year for the week ended 9/19/2010 country was ahead 4.5%.) Unlike last year’s jam packed release schedule, the upcoming album calendar doesn’t seem to have as many blockbuster artists as last year. Lady Antebellum recently hit stores with first week numbers of 347k and LeAnn Rimes’ new set was released this week. Upcoming product is due over the next few months from Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Martina McBride, Toby Keith, Vince Gill and Miranda Lambert. Of special note will be the just announced Nov. 21 release of a special CD/DVD live set from Taylor Swift.

Turning Tracks Into TEA (track equivalent albums)
For 2011, digital country track downloads YTD total 109 million. (Unfortunately Nielsen Soundscan did not release this number for 2010.) Calculating TEA albums (10 tracks = 1 album) country track sales account for about 10.9 million more albums. YTD country album sales for 2011 total 28.1 million through the week ended 9/25/11; so if one adds the 10.9 million TEA sales it would equate to almost a 40% increase!

Why do we still measure country sales only in terms of digital and physical albums? What about tracks? Business is a lot better than the graph at the top of the page would have you believe, if you don’t ignore track sales…

Top Songwriters To Perform Benefits

Dave Gibson

Wake Up Nashville
Savannah Music Group’s Bob Saporiti is spearheading a benefit concert to be held tomorrow night (9/29) at 7 p.m. at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Wake Up Nashville will feature performances by songwriters Dave Gibson, Bobby Wood, Mulch Brothers, Jan Petter, and many more. Proceeds benefit Wake Up Narcolepsy, which helps fight the disease that affects 1 in 2000 Americans. Also supporting the event are Jazz Pharmaceuticals and St. Thomas Health. Tickets are $75 at WakeUpNarcolepsy.org.

Delbert McClinton At Franklin Theatre

Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton is performing a benefit concert for his longtime road manager and friend Keith DeArmond who has a serious illness. He will take the stage along with special guests the McCrary Sisters on Tues., Nov. 8 at the Franklin Theatre. Tickets start at $50 and go on sale Friday, Sept. 30 at www.franklintheatre.com.

Barefoot In The Round
On Oct. 27 Barefoot In the Round will feature performances by singer-songwriters Casey Beathard, Luke Laird, and Phil O’Donnell. Tickets include a seated dinner and wine, with proceeds benefiting Barefoot Republic Camp, a summer camp for children of all economic and racial backgrounds. The event takes place at 6:00 pm in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Franklin. Tickets start at $50. Call (615) 599-9383 to reserve.

Shantell Ogden For Book ‘Em
Songwriter Shantell Ogden will release a new country and folk album, Stories Behind Songs, on Oct. 7. Among her new songs is “I Wasn’t Done Lovin’ You Yet,” co-written with Thom Schuyler. A CD release celebration will be held at that night at the Listening Room at 7:00 p.m. Fifty percent of CD sales from the event will be donated to Book ‘em, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to children’s literacy.

David Nail Sets Sophomore Release Date

MCA Nashville artist David Nail is slated to release The Sound Of A Million Dreams on Nov. 15. Nail’s sophomore album is the follow-up to his debut album I’m About To Come Alive.

Produced by Chuck Ainlay and Frank Liddell, the upcoming album includes Nail’s single, “Let It Rain.”

Nail is scheduled to join Taylor Swift‘s Speak Now Tour Oct. 14 in Lubbock, TX. He will continue with her throughout October for shows in San Diego, Phoenix, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

On Oct. 30, Nail will also appear in an episode of Day Jobs, which starts at 8 p.m. on GAC.

Warner/Chappell Signing News

Front (L-R): Karen Harrison-Hite, Lu Ann Inman, Martha Earls, Laura Veltz, Mike Molinar; Back: Patricia Ragan-Mainello, Steve Markland, BJ Hill, Matt Michiels, Alicia Pruitt

Warner/Chappell Music announced today that it signed a worldwide co-publishing agreement with songwriter Laura Veltz.

Veltz’s songs have been recorded by Jana Kramer and Edens Edge. “What I Love About Your Love” was cut by Elektra Nashville recording artist, Warner/Chappell songwriter, and the CW’s One Tree Hill star, Jana Kramer. “Slow Motion” was written for her longtime collaborators, Big Machine act Edens Edge.

Born into a family of musicians, Veltz began performing across the country alongside her parents and siblings at the age of 18. The Veltz family band, known as Cecilia, toured across the United States and was signed to Atlantic Records.

Country Johnny Mathis Passes

‘Country’ Johnny Mathis, not to be confused with the pop singer, passed away at his home September 27 at the age of 81.

Mathis got his start as a recording artist in 1949 with the StarTalent label, later recording for Chess, Columbia, Mercury, Decca and more. As part of the duo Jimmy and Johnny, he scored a Top 10 in 1953 with “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will.” His highest charting solo effort, “Please Talk To My Heart” (United Artists), reached the Top 15 in 1963. He also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville Now, and was a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride through the ‘50s.

As a songwriter, Mathis’ compositions were recorded by George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Charlie Pride, Johnny Horton, Jimmy Dean, Freddy Fender, Elvis Costello, and many more. More recently, Jim Lauderdale and Brad Davis have recorded his songs. Mathis turned to gospel music in the ‘70s, where he focused his efforts for the next two decades. In 1999, he suffered a stroke that left him incapacitated.

He is survived by his wife Jeannie, daughter Sherie Craver, sons John Jr., Bill and James and numerous grandchildren.

Services will be conducted by Lawrence Brothers Funeral Home of Chapel Hill, TN. Visitation will be Thurs., Sept. 29, 4:00 – 8:30 p.m. at Lawrence Funeral Home. The funeral will be at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, also at Lawrence Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Beechwood Cemetery, Cornersville, TN.

Rascal Flatts To Join The Grand Ole Opry

Tuesday night (9/27), Opry member Vince Gill invited Rascal Flatts to join the Grand Ole Opry. Gill surprised to group on stage with the invitation, after they’d finished performing “Bless The Broken Road.”

Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney, members of Rascal Flatts, will be inducted Saturday, Oct. 8. The induction will take place during the Opry’s 86th birthday weekend. The show will broadcast live on GAC at 8 p.m. CDT.

“Each and every time Rascal Flatts visits us at the Opry, the band generates an absolutely electric response from the audience,” said Pete Fisher,  Opry Vice President and General Manager. “While racking up some of the biggest genre-defining hits of the past decade, Gary, Jay, and Joe Don have also demonstrated the high regard they personally hold for the Opry and its members.

In addition to Rascal Flatts, Charley Pride, Ronnie Dunn, Craig Morgan, Crystal Bowersox, and Ricky Skaggs are among artists scheduled to perform during the Opry’s 86th birthday celebration.

DISClaimer Single Reviews (9/28/11)

The hills are alive with the sound of bluegrass.

This week at the Convention Center, it’s round-the-clock picking and singing at the IBMA World of Bluegrass confab. Among the week’s highlights are the presentation of the IBMA Awards at the Ryman Auditorium on Thursday evening. The discs in this week’s column all belong to nominees.

The record to beat for Album of the Year belongs to Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers. I don’t know how it will fare at the Ryman, but in this publication it is the Disc of the Day.

For my DisCovery Award, I am choosing IBMA Emerging Artist nominees Darin & Brooke Aldridge.

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER/Gone At Last
Writer: Paul Simon; Producer: Doyle Lawson; Publisher: Paul Simon, BMI; Mountain Home (track) (www.doylelawson.com)
—These guys just don’t know how to make a bad record, and their current Drive Time CD is no break in their streak of excellence. It kicks off with this lickety-split bluegrass take on Paul Simon’s rousing 1975 hand clapper, originally recorded with Phoebe Snow and the Jessy Dixon Singers (Jessy passed away on Monday at age 73). Quicksilver is nominated this week as the bluegrass Vocal Group of the Year, and on his own, Lawson is nominated for Gospel Performance and Recorded Event for his collaboration with fellow stars Paul Williams and J.D. Crowe.

BLUE HIGHWAY/Sounds Of Home
Writer: Shawn Lane; Producer: Blue Highway; Publisher: Cat Town, BMI; Rounder (track) (www.bluehighwayband.com)
—The title tune of Blue Highway’s current album is a tender ballad of nostalgia for creaking floorboards, rain on the roof, rustling leaves and the song of a mockingbird. Lead singer Tim Stafford remains a heart-piercing vocalist, and the moan of the Dobro that echoes his phrasing is audio poetry. The group is nominated for IBMA Vocal Group and Instrumental Group of the Year. Rob Ickes is once again up for Dobro Player of the Year. He practically owns this category, having won every year in 1996-2000, in 2003 and 2004, then again yearly from 2006-2010.

STEVE CANYON & THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS/Rare Bird Alert
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Rounder (track) (www.stevemartin.com)
—This track is nominated for Bluegrass Instrumental Performance of the Year at Thursday’s IBMA Awards. It is a sprightly, merry thing that bubbles right along. The Rare Bird Alert CD also includes such delights as “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” “Women Like to Slow Dance” and a remake of Martin’s 1978 hit “King Tut.” It is an Album of the Year nominee, and the band is up for Entertainer of the Year. He might not be the greatest banjo player in history, but this multi-media superstar is a huge benefit to the bluegrass genre.

JOSH WILLIAMS/Dream Of Me
Writer: Murray E. Cannon; Producer: Josh Williams; Publisher: Universal Sawgrass, BMI; Rounder (track)
—Last year’s Emerging Artist winner and a three-time Guitarist of the Year has an album titled Down Home that is a perfect jewel. He has been making records since he was 10 years old, but it is his first truly mature work. This take on the Vern Gosdin classic showcases lovely harmony singing. Other highlights include his version of The Delmore Brothers’ “Blue Railroad Train,” a dandy bluegrass arrangement of “Streets of Bakersfield,” a remake of Jimmy Martin’s “The Last Song,” a revival of Earl Scruggs’ “Polka on the Banjo” and songs by Tom T. Hall and Tommy Jackson, plus Carl Jackson’s title tune. On Thursday, Williams again competes for Bluegrass Guitarist of the Year and is also up for Male Vocalist.

DALE ANN BRADLEY/Somewhere South Of Crazy
Writer: Dale Ann Bradley/Pam Tillis; Producer: Alison Brown; Publisher: Dale Ann Bradley/Vibe Room/Lucky Squirrel/BPJ Administration, BMI; Compass (track)
—This Kentucky soprano is as country as a mountain breeze. She won the IBMA Female Vocalist prize in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and is nominated again this year. This wistful title tune of her current CD features soft harmony work by co-writer Pam Tillis plus guitarist Steve Gulley. And get a load of her supporting cast—Sierra Hull on mandolin, producer Alison Brown on banjo, fiddler Stuart Duncan and Mike Bub on bass. The rest of the album’s repertoire includes the Seals & Crofts pop classic “Summer Breeze,” Reba Rambo’s “New Shoes,” Leslie Satcher’s “Old Southern Porches” and the George Jones oldie “Will You Visit Me on Sunday.”

MICHAEL CLEVELAND & FLAMEKEEPER/Goin’ Up Dry Branch
Writer: Buddy Spicher/Jimmy Martin; Producer: Jeff White & Michael Cleveland; Publisher: Bocephus, BMI; Rounder (track) (www.flamekeeperband.com)
—This toe tapper is my favorite hoedown of the day. Cleveland’s flawless fiddle technique is the envy of his industry, and Flamekeeper totally kicks butt. This track from the group’s aptly titled Fired Up CD is nominated as Instrumental Performance of the Year. The band is competing for Instrumental Group. Cleveland vies for his ninth IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year trophy and the group’s Marshall Wilborn in nominated for his third consecutive Bass Player of the Year honor.

THE GRASCALS/Dooley
Writer: none listed; Producer: The Grascals; Publisher: none listed; Time Life/Blugrascal (track) (www.mayberrysfinest.com)
—The seven-song Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’ album is The Grascals tribute to the music of The Andy Griffith Show. The call-and-response vocals on this bluegrass classic are done in a mellow, tongue-in-cheek style (”Dooley,” “Slippin’ up the holler,” “Dooley,” “Gimme a swaller and I’ll pay you back some day.”) The Grascals are again nominated as IBMA Entertainer of the Year. The group’s Kristin Scott Benson is up for her fourth consecutive Banjo Player of the Year prize, and its “I Am Strong” collaboration with Dolly Parton is nominated for Recorded Event.

DARIN & BROOKE ALDRIDGE/Let’s Not Go There
Writer: Dixie Hall/Tom T. Hall; Producer: Jerry Salley; Publisher: Good Home Grown, BMI; Moutain Home (track) (www.darinandbrookealdridge.com)
—This husband-wife duet is sometimes billed as bluegrass music’s “sweethearts.” Jerry Salley has produced an album of remarkable clarity and class on these newcomers. On this ballad, Darin’s high tenor is matched by Brooke’s even higher harmony voice. Later in the track, Salley adds a thrilling harmonized third voice. Lovely work. Darin and Brooke are nominated for this year’s Emerging Artist award.

LARRY SPARKS/Almost Home
Writer: Michael Keith/Dave Lindsey; Producer: Larry Sparks; Publisher: Palm Island Press/Cross Timbers/Lindsey and Sons, BMI; Rounder (track) (www.larrysparks.com)
—Sparks has a classic, “high lonesome” bluegrass voice. He’s a veteran of five decades in this business, but he’s still in there swinging, since his Almost Home collection is competing for Album of the Year. Its title tune ripples with Appalachian authenticity.

SIERRA HULL/Easy Come, Easy Go
Writer: none listed; Producer: Barry Bales & Sierra Hull; Publisher: none listed; Rounder (track) (www.sierrahull.com)
—The former teen mandolin prodigy is now a student at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Her current Daybreak CD includes this lilting ode with the autobiographical line, “I’m not a child anymore.” She sings in a tender, daughter-of-Alison soprano, and the mandolin playing that made her a star remains dazzling. This week, she’s aiming for her first Mandolin Player of the Year award, as well as for the Emerging Artist trophy.

Bobby Karl Works IBMA Week

(L-R): Dan Hays, Executive Director, IBMA; Greg Cahill, president, The Foundation for Bluegrass Music; Sam Bush, host of Thursday night’s International Bluegrass Awards Show and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. Photo: Alane Anno

Del McCoury (R) and Jesse McReynolds (L)

Chapter 375

All photos by Alan Mayor

Boy, I sure hope what I witnessed on Tuesday afternoon (9/27) is the beginning of a new IBMA tradition.

Under a cloudless blue sky with temperatures in the balmy 70s, The Del McCoury Band presided over an outdoor concert on the Ryman Plaza. The show was staged to salute the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bill Monroe.

It was a star-dappled event, with several bluegrass celebrities dropping by to pay their respects. It was also a dandy way to publicize and promote the World of Bluegrass conference and Bluegrass Fan Fest now happening in downtown Nashville. The show was free, so lunch-hour downtown workers, music fans and casual passers by could experience the music. Ordinarily, all of the activities are indoors in the Nashville Convention Center.

McCoury with Vince Gill

“Scholars and historians disagree over every other genre and where it began,” said Mayor Karl Dean to the sun-splashed crowd. “We know where bluegrass began. It began right here, in December 1945, at The Ryman Auditorium.” In 2006, a Tennessee state historical marker was erected in front of the venue to commemorate this.

“We can’t have enough live music in Nashville,” Dean continued. “We will do more of this.” I, for one, certainly hope so. Dean’s Music City Music Council supported the free show, as did the Ryman, Metro Nashville Government and 650 AM WSM radio.

The Del McCoury Band opened at noon with a half-hour set of Monroe classics. Then Vince Gill appeared to sing “Rose of Old Kentucky,” and the audience went nuts.

“He had a handle on that tune,” said Del in admiration. “I couldn’t do it.”

Vince and the McCoury band were in perfect harmony on “Crying Holy Unto the Lord.” Before exiting, Vinnie blew a big smooch at the crowd.

Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Jesse McReynolds was next. “Vince Gill is hard to follow, but I followed Dolly Parton the other day, so I guess I can do this,” Jesse quipped. His guest set included an awesome mandolin duel with Ronnie McCoury.

Show performers Dierks Bentley and Sam Bush were chatting at stage left, so I grabbed both for a three-way hug while Jeff White was taking the stage to sing “The Cold Hard Facts.” Dierks, Sam, Tim O’Brien and Larry Stephenson also performed Monroe-saluting guest sets.

McCoury with Sam Bush

The gentle breezes made the weather perfect. The music was beyond perfect. On the edge of the plaza, the Mas Tacos van, the Cupcake Bus and the Grilled Cheeserie bus all had fans lined up for lunches. Spotted in the crowd were Darrell Scott, Harry Chapman, David Scarlett, Dan Hays, Judy McDonough, Steve Lowery, Jim Havey, Pete Fisher and Greg Cahill of Special Consensus.

Del McCoury, by the way, is not only a former member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, he is also this year’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee. He had yet another reason for doing the show. Tuesday (9/27) was the digital release date of his Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe tribute album.

This is one of several CDs commemorating the Sept. 13, 1911 birth date of Monroe. First out was Blue Moon of Kentucky: An Instrumental Tribute to Bill Monroe co-starring all-star pickers Mike Scott, Adam Steffey, Bryan Sutton, Tim Stafford, Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Mike Compton and Ben Isaacs. It’s on Rural Rhythm Records.

Rebel Records has raided its vaults to compile two volumes of folks performing Monroe’s songs. The first is With Body and Soul: A Bluegrass Tribute to Bill Monroe featuring The Seldom Scene, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Don Rigsby, IIIrd Tyme Out, The Lonesome River Band and more. The second is Let the Light Shine Down: A Gospel Tribute to Bill Monroe with tracks by The Country Gentlemen, Reno & Smiley, Ralph Stanley, Lost & Found, Dave Evans and others.

Rounder’s entry is Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration: A Classic Bluegrass Tribute. It features vintage tracks by The Grascals, Dailey & Vincent, Claire Lynch, Michael Cleveland, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Johnson Mountain Boys, Hazel & Alice, Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top Express, Blue Highway and more.

It won’t be Bill Monroe’s 100th anniversary next year, but I still think the free outdoor show is a splendid idea. First of all, bluegrass is accustomed to being performed outside, usually at one of the 500-some bluegrass festivals that take place each year.

Second of all, it exposes the public to the conference/fest. By the way, this is not the only way to experience the IBMA event for free. Inside the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center, there is lots of common space where people make music constantly. If you’re a night owl, no wristband or badge is required at most of the After Hours showcases in the hotel. Just go up in the elevator and disembark when you get to a floor where you hear music. Also, the Exhibit Hall is open to one and all for free on Wednesday (9/28).

Let’s do this again, next year.

McCoury and band with Dierks Bentley