My take on Nashville
Hello sweet friends. We returned from Nashville just last night and I thought while the iron is HOT, I would write about it immediately. I sat on the plane and reviewed what we had witnessed, what we did and all those beautiful Uber drivers that shuttled us around in their cars, swapping stories and giving us the “jist” of this all American town named “The Music City”.
The “Capital” of country music; to me, Nashville is like water. Something that you must respect or it can kill you. It can crush your dreams in a single sweep; it can lift you high in a wave and take you for a ride. Its current could launch a simple song-writers career or leave one flattened against the rocks.
I’m a Jersey girl, very familiar with Frank Sinatra’s, “if I can make it there…I can make it anywhere…it’s up to you NY NY!” Those are my roots but I’m sorry, it should say, “it’s up to you Nash-ville Nash-ville”. Filled with musical venues, teaming with musicians, labels, recording studios per square mile, Nashville is a rare and incredible place!
In my early days people would say, “go to Nashville” and I’d get this claustrophobic feeling and now I know why. There is SO MUCH MUSIC…SO MUCH GOOD! It’s a small downtown with literally too many musicians, period! It’s like someone having ample of their favorite food… always! People just up and take it for granted. They get use to it. Like all the people living in Jackson Hole… those Tetons can become part of the back drop of their lives and they forget how special it is! Like every sunset, every note played is gorgeous!!!
The REAL musician’s musician goes to Nashville. Those hot virtuoso players, the pickers, the “live and breathe artists” land in Nashville. The ones who’s Spirits would “die” if they weren’t in Nashville. THEY go to Nashville. Me…I visit Nashville. Every note still rings beautiful to me!
I appreciated those hillbilly pickers, the honky tonkers, the twangers, the rockers and rollers. I watched as many musicians wore sunglasses in those dark night clubs shading their "windows to their souls" because they play night after night; 4 hours, no breaks, no comp drinks, no meals, and many times NO CLAPS! All for TIPS!!! “How can that be?” I thought? "How is this possible, this artist does not have oodles of money in their tip jar? No one is clapping!?" They sound just like Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash all in the SAME SET!!! How can this be???
I dropped my $20 in a young man’s tip bucket, it was the LEAST I could do! I witness the bar staff ignore his request for a drink refill...twice! She diverted his request with a song request of her own laid upon him. After he finished a challenging vocal song (especial suffering a cold) the bar staff STILL did not refill his glass. He quickly went on like the greatest non-commercial country radio station. I was flabbergasted! We bought him a round, half a bucket of Jack Daniel’s. The man had a cold, I get it. Whiskey helps, he wasn’t a drunk. He was simply exhausted and he was amazing!
He took me back to my childhood with his songs, mainly because my parents raised me on this old time country music. I thought about our family’s good times with this music playing in the background. When I dropped the $20 I asked him his name. It was then that he got my “business hint” and announced himself to his audience. It was after that he played an original song! His name, by the way, is Nathan Belt (Nathan Belt and the Buckles, great name!) He was playing solo at 11 am at the Nashville Palace, away from the big Broadway scene that day. It was a Thursday morning.
This guy played his self-penned song…I think the title was, “the memory of you makes it rain” and boy did he ever turn on my water works! I was baffled and blown away; I was sad, angry, touched, moved, and inspired. Sad because this guy deserved more; more than a big empty bucket for a tip jar. More than a bar keep that ignores him or an audience that doesn’t clap! This part sucked to bear witness. I was irritated with the bar staff and the people that walked by his bucket without even a buck out of pocket.
The lottery win was huge from the day before. 700 Million! Had I won it, many artists would have loved my visit to Nashville that day!
These people that pour their heart and soul into their music and practice like crazy to become great! Oh, I’ve TRIED to play like that! Do you realize how difficult that is!?! Try on that Chet Atkins or Merle Travis style?! From where I sit, I’ve tried all my life to get better at my instrument. Much of the time it’s not the discipline that slows me, it’s the knowledge of how to learn it, how to begin, how to slow it all down, focus and coordinate your fingers. I do ok; I’m not here to knock myself down…but THAT SHIT IS HARD!!! That takes YEARS of dedication and focus. This guy had it going on! He must have sat in the chair for hours learning how to play like that!
The barkeep finally pours him a round and sets it on his railing in the middle of his next tune after we prompted her. The place was not busy. She failed to tell him we bought the drink for him. Not that we needed the acknowledgement but we as musicians always like to thank those who treat us well. That drink was $14 dollars! Ha! Half a bucket of “get yourself well syrup!” wow!
I walked away all twisted up inside. Ever so grateful for what I have here, now. Knowing that I will do the best I can, for as long as I can. Knowing that we have such a solid audience back home and around the Northwest. Understanding that there are SO MANY LEVELS of GREAT!!!
Feelings of sadness come over me for my colleagues, my team, and my “tribe” for living so sparsely and busting their asses to put their unique sound scape in people’s ears. Trying to make livings with 3 jobs at a time and those long hours of no claps and no cash! Why?! Why do they do it?!
Perhaps that’s a whole new blog and I am picking the brains of a friend of mine who recently moved out of Nashville to Boise. I want to get his take before I comment about that.
I have a deep respect for those who play and stay there. But another side simply feels like they are exploited. Why should a club NOT pay the musician? All the people that come to listen, all the drinks they sell! You can walk 4 feet on Broadway and listen to one group play and walk another 4 feet and hear a whole new band “wash” over you. Horizontally you go from club to club with sound pouring out! It would be an old person’s nightmare walk if they can’t stand loud! Vertically you can go up to rooftops and most 3 story bars have music on EVERY LEVEL!! The rooftops shout it out and believe it or not, it’s isolated enough to appreciate each act yet the town just hums and the vibration is like a musical Vegas! It’s such a trip!
My “Shot” in Nashville
The first night we strolled down Broadway. We had lunch at Jack’s BBQ. OMG…smoky brisket! It was amazing! There was music EVERYWHERE! We club hopped and shopped and be-bopped around the main drag. Our “dogs” were getting tired so we slipped in to our last club for the night.
This beautiful black man in a cool white suit was on stage with his band. They called themselves “Friends with Benefits”. He wore a spanking hat and tie. He was super thin, spunky and adorable! He broke out with “Sweet Child of Mine” (Guns and Roses). Anything really goes ya know, Nashville has it all…not just the classic country. He sprang into the bridge and jumped off the stage, singing “where do we go now, where do we go now”. He pointed his microphone to me and gave me a wink. I sang the words and his eyes lit up!
After that, he pulled me on stage for a song. Ah, my lovely musical tribe! How awesome! I scratched my head for a moment as I tried to land on a song I knew that his band might know. Mo helped out with the request of Bonnie Raitt’s, “Something to talk about”. A friend caught it on video and I hope I can attach it to this blog.
His electric lead player rolled right into the slide part, on G (as per my request in key…thank the Lord I’ve learned one thing in music…don’t start yourself to high or too low or you will perish and embarrass the shit out of yourself!) As we were deciding the song the electric lead player joked that the lead singer was “throwing me under the bus”. I laughed and told him I was already under there because he adjusted the microphone too high. I simply grabbed the mic off of the stand and held it.
The lead player rolled into the slide and the catchy keyboards bounced to that old familiar tune. I immediately felt “at home”. How awesome was this? To actually SING in Nashville! To be backed by these amazing artist! Like a dream come true! To just dip in a little and bust out a song I rarely get to sing because I just feel like it needs a whole band accompaniment.
The lead player was nailing it and I was not warmed up at all, but I growled it from that deep place inside of myself, hoping to give justice to Bonnie Raitt!
The key board player and lead guitar guy sang the “doo-whaps” in the back and I was like…wow…real live band karaoke! This is awesome! As the solo came up the electric lead took off and slammed it. I pointed him out to the crowd and then he bit a few barres…ha…he threw himself under the bus for just two seconds but had a great recovery, just like a pro!
We slammed it on the modulation and I belted it out as best I could, knowing that this here…was probably as close as I may get to the claim of fame, “I played on Broadway in Nashville” story! The Universe gave me that forever “bragging right”! Ha ha!!! I’ll take it with a smile!
What a moment it was! Truly fun! What a gift! So easy to not think about guitar and just sing. The crowd cheered me on and that was super cool too! I was different, an outsider visiting and they knew it.
Click on the cowgirl and check out the video from that evening! :-)
It made me feel like the first time I ever sang in front of a group of people. I was 12 years old at a camp in Wyoming and I sang, “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. I looked like a little boy with my “bowl” hair cut and my hankie tied around my neck; full attire in Western wear with cowgirl boots and belt!
They all hooted and hollered when I finished the song. They stood up and cheered and I wondered why? I had NEVER had that much approval in my life for something so simple. What were they hearing? Was my voice special? I pondered this as a 12 year old. They wanted me to sing more that season of camp…and so I did.
This was the TRUE seed that led to my beginnings in music. It wasn’t my family pushing me. I was never raised as a prodigy. I never had a parent push me towards an instrument, vocals or insist that I play this or that. We didn’t grow up with American Idol and everyone wanting to be a “star”. I never really had anyone in my home town or in my family really give any sort of kudos for my singing ability back then or make any suggestions that I should do so.
If anything, it was the opposite. I had a brother that teased me when I sang. But guess what…I sang anyway! I learned the guitar anyway and this was in the ‘70’s when girls were “weird” for learning the guitar. Yep! I was that “weird girl”! But I was pretty closeted about it. I didn’t bring my guitar to school or talk about it. It was my secret wish and dream. I coveted my dream. A bit embarrassed by it because, “who was I to want that sort of attention?” Too proud need others approval! Ha!!! Who doesn’t want other people’s approval!? Show me that person and I will show you a socio-path!
So, I sang the gambler and they loved it! I sang more songs at camp. I never really broke out my voice to my family or friends until about the age of 15 and even then I was shy!
My Father was blessed with an amazing voice. He could have been that other Frank Sinatra. Infact, he was with a woman (not my mother) who tried to push him in that direction and the talent scouts were interested in him. He was a “practical man” and did not see music as a viable career. It would have added up as irresponsible to him back then. He was born in ’31, raised very reserved. All his traits, I swear, passed down to me. I had to break from it to give myself the freedom to play and sing. To actually draw attention to myself went against the grain of which I was cut.
My mother on the other hand, she was a “pick yourself up by the boot straps” kind of woman. She never identified herself as a feminist by any means but she could have posed for the “You can do it” Rosie the Riveter poster just fine. Born in ’36 she was in that generation of do it all, “bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan”…and do it all with a smile. Well, my mother was a bit rebellious so, I have that going for me too!
We lived in New Jersey and in the early 80’s my Mom and Dad liked to go clubbing. They became friends with a beautiful black man named Bill Cope. He was amazing! A soft spoken gentle soul he was as he could play anything on the piano. My parents met him at our local inn and he was the entertainment every Friday night at the Columbus Inn. An old historic tavern/hotel that is located right in the heart of the town.
Much like I described the night of Nashville to you, my Father got handed the mic from Bill and Bill must have given him the same look as the you man gave me. The look of recognition that says, “Oh you can sing!!!”
When I was 15 the town gave my father a party for his service to the police committee. All the people of the town were there. We were having dinner and Bill comes up to me.
He asks in his Southern draw, “Hey Niccole, do you know that song, ‘That’s what friends are for’. It’s on the radio, how’s it go?” And I sang him a few bars. That sneaky snake said, “oh good, I would be so honored if you could sing that song for me and dedicate it to your father!” I about died. I told him no at first, like 3 times! Completely scared! My brother laughed and said, “You’ve been singing that song all over the house, just do it!”
Well…I did. There were probably about 1000 people there. That was the first time I ever sang on a microphone. And it was cool! I liked it. Actually, I loved it. I had the guts of my mother, but the practicality of my father. Bill must have recognized something in me and I’m grateful still for the “push” he gave me that day long ago.
I didn’t major in music for college. I skipped it for something “substantial” (like teaching). Ha! It wasn’t until years and years later, I let myself HAVE MUSIC. I let myself have a voice…and I sang out!
Thank you Nashville, you are beautiful, brutally hard, despairing and invigorating. You appreciate the dead more than the living. You are ruthless and cold, heartless and greedy. You are big bellied with a never ending appetite to eat up your prey!
As I walked into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I noted all the records in Gold platinum on a giant wall! So this is where all the great works get recognized; where all the salty tears get stored and framed in audio-graphs. Where people take pictures of “life’s works” and walk by. I found the shelf of the bobble heads and all the key players it takes to make a music career.
“I am that bobble head!” I thought, behind the glass, the one that says song-writer. “Hmm…is this the highest achievement of a work of art…right here?” Where bobble heads and Elvis’s car meet? Where you can read the original hand writing of Chris Kristofferson’s “Help me make it through the night”. And see the sexy outfits of Shania Twain? Wow! I happened to catch a glimpse of an artist’s gold record in the mix of the thousands of gold records. “Whoa, there is Susy Bogus’s record! Cool!” She played at the Sapphire here in Boise, same venue we’ve played! Infact we kind of opened for her in the neighboring club (365) just before she played that night. Wow! She is in this museum and she’s out there in the very similar venue scene we are! How wild! “Do we ever arrive?” I thought. Do people still ask her about “making it”?
To bring it full circle…the line from Guns and Roses echoes softly, “where do we go now, where do we go now?” Where do they go? Those stars?
We ALL SHINE in our own unique way! This I KNOW to be true! Finding the joy in this short ride, catching the moments, being courageous and surprising yourself, giving what we can to the endless tip jars of life, strolling the streets and breathing it all in, seeing the tiny lights from the plane start to get bigger as we touch down into Boise town.
“Where do I go now?” Where do you go now? Where do WE go now? A single star streaks across the sky, rises to an arch then falls.
To be continued! As my story continues!
Thank you for reading this and joining me for this “head blog”. You were invited into my brain for a moment. I hope you had fun in there…now, get back to your own thoughts and make some waves! Or music ;-)