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Large Land Mammal

The view from 79 inches up...

Updated: 2018-04-25T05:36:31.493-05:00


Something Rotten's Fresh Take On the Musical


National tour cast of "Something Rotten!"(Originally published on June 23, 2017)If you could somehow quantify the things a section of the city’s inhabitants are afraid of, Nashvillians would score high in the "phobia of the blank page” department. Who knows how many productive hours have been lost in Music City staring at a legal pad, staff paper or a laptop screen, waiting for inspiration to strike?Wayne Kirkpatrick has spent the past three decades fighting off that dread quite successfully as a prolific songwriter and producer for the likes of Amy Grant, Little Big Town, Garth Brooks, Michael W. Smith and more. His song “Change the World” (co-written with Gordon Kennedy and Tommy Sims) was a monster hit for Eric Clapton — it landed Kirkpatrick a Song of the Year Grammy in 1996. Behind that kind of success, you wouldn’t think fear of failure would be part Kirkpatrick’s work these days.Kirkpatrick's first-ever Broadway musical Something Rotten! — which he co-created with his brother, screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, and author John O’Farrell, all first-time Broadway creators — has seen rollicking success. The play notched 10 Tony Award nominations in 2015, including one for Best Musical, and opens at TPAC on Tuesday. But in the 15-year span during which the idea floated between the brothers Kirkpatrick, and the four-plus years of active development, some doubts did creep in.“Writing a musical was the hardest thing I've ever done, times 10," says Kirkpatrick. "I feel like I've done some things that were kinda difficult, but I had no idea. I was terrified, really, especially when [I was] getting thrust into that world and realizing, 'I'm the weakest link. Everybody in here knows what they're doing.' You've got a seasoned director, seasoned producers with great track records. 'What am I doing here?'”What he did was provide the music and lyrics to a wildly original musical comedy that bypassed the traditional route to Broadway, and opened to much acclaim at the St. James Theater in April 2015.With Rotten! rolling through its first national tour, Kirkpatrick will be the first to admit the show is not only an homage to musical theater, but also both a love-and-hate letter to the process of writing itself. Set in the 1590s — smack-dab in the middle of the English Renaissance — Something Rotten! follows two playwright brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, played here by theater vets Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, reprising their roles from the play's Broadway run.The brothers find themselves and their struggling theater troupe operating in the considerable shadow of “the man who put the ‘I am’ in ‘iambic pentameter,'” William Shakespeare. The Bard is played by Adam Pascal, known best for originating the role of Roger David in the original Broadway company of Rent. Nick is fed up with playing second fiddle to a man he considers a “mediocre actor from a measly little town,” and secretly takes his family’s savings to a soothsayer in order to suss out what the next big thing in theater will be.Half a case of mistaken identity later, the soothsayer tells Nick about this revolutionary theatrical form wherein “the dialogue stops, and the plot is conveyed through song,” to which Nick responds, “Well, that is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard.” Only, he’s singing now, and the first musical, titled A Musical, is underway.Meanwhile, Shakespeare is having his own crisis of confidence, and having hired a spy to keep an eye on what the Bottom brothers are working on next, hears of Nick’s newly acquired information about theater’s future. He decides to infiltrate the brothers’ troupe, and hijinks ensue.“I remember walking down 44th Street, and the marquee had just gone up, and I saw a bunch of tourists laughing and taking pictures of it,” McClure says. “I walked a little further and saw that it said, in this huge font in quotes, ‘We haven't seen it yet! —The New York Times.’ I didn't even know what the show was about yet, and it already had me laughin[...]

Experiencing the "Innocence"


Pain and loss…and ultimately, hope.Those seemed to be the themes radiating through night two of U2’s five-night Chicago stand on the “Innocence and Experience” tour, something that probably got lost amidst the most sophisticated live concert production I’ve ever seen.The pain, if you were looking for it, could easily be seen on Bono’s face as he made his way through the night. The tour’s stage set-up — fairly spare main stage at United Center’s west end and circular satellite stage on the far east end, connected by a thin walkway connecting the two — allowed the general admission crowd on the floor almost unheard-of proximity to the band all night.Via that close-up look, you could note Bono’s wincing at various parts of the night, likely result of the bronchitis he’s allegedly been battling through as the band started its Windy City residency. He didn’t miss many notes, but he didn’t swing at all of them, either, letting the crowd fill in the gap, which it was happy to do.The flip side of the thematic coin — the loss — could be noted in the new tunes from the now-legendary (for better or worse) “Songs of Innocence” album. After a four-song kickstart featuring the “Innocence” song with the closest to a classic U2 hook (“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”) combined with three songs with actual classic U2 hooks (“Out of Control,” “Vertigo” and “I Will Follow”), the band slowed it way down with two of the most autobiographical songs (at least for Bono) from the new record, “Iris (Hold Me Close)” and “Cedarwood Road,” the former Bono’s lament for his mother who passed when he was 14, the latter an homage to the family home that spawned his love for what would be both his chosen profession and lifelong obsession, music.And it’s with those two songs that the production side of the show kicked into high gear. The opening four songs were a reminder that this is still a four-piece band that will rock your face off if you give them the chance.The back half of the first set featured the genius visual elements the team brought into play via the giant video “wall” that stretched across the length of the venue from main to satellite stage. The wall raised and lowered and displayed amazing treatments depending on who was playing on, near, under or within it.My all-time favorite live U2 song, “Until The End of The World,” closed that first set, with the tremendous visual of The Edge playing inside the video wall’s confines, with Bono singing on the satellite stage, whilst his image and his antics — reaching out to virtually grasp his guitar genius partner, spitting water at him, essentially underscoring a certain god complex — brought the frontman’s legendary (and self-described) megalomania to projected perfection.And then when all eyes were focused on the technological spectacle of song, down fluttered torn pages from books, more symbolism for the downfall of the world (the shard I caught was from a copy of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”…have fun with that metaphor), closing out the set in epic Irish and Italian fashion. A one-song intermission, bringing to virtual life the Johnny Cash-sung “The Wanderer” on the video wall (I might have been the only one on my side of the floor who cheered, but so be it), and the band was back, all of them within the wall for the new album song “Invisible.” The wall’s capabilities literally shone through again, with the video treatment revealing then hiding each band member as the song progressed.Combine the wall’s importance with the impressive PA rig that ringed the entire arena with barely noticeable, yet sufficiently effective speakers that made it sound like sound was coming from everywhere at once, and it was easily the most well-thought out and executed production I’ve ever seen…and this is the seventh time I’ve seen this band.Yet, this band never seems to forget the human element, especially in the three-song set that can’t be described as anything other than…sexy. [...]

Thanks, Dave


To the best of my knowledge, my grandmother Imogene Walker — my mom’s mom — never met a celebrity in her life.She spent most of her 88 years in a tiny red house on a hill outside Carmi, Illinois, raising three kids, taking care of my farmer grandfather and the workers who’d help out as the seasons came and went, doing her crosswords and reading her magazines.And she was as plugged-in to the world as any person I knew.She understood pop culture (even if she didn’t like most of it), she understood politics (even if she didn’t like most of it), she understood the power of mass media, because she was an unabashed consumer living out on the Big Prairie.If it hadn’t been for our annual family vacations to that tiny red house in the country, I wouldn’t be a writer today. I absolutely believe that.Growing up, my grandmother and I would have long talks about whatever was interesting me that year: from Star Wars to comic books to sports to you name it.All those interests were looping around the media landscape that was ever-present in their house, because the TV was on all the time and magazines and newspapers were everywhere. Those one-to-two-week stays outside Carmi were a bit of a refuge, because I knew I could dive into a virtually endless stack of reading materials and the time would pass by.So there’s an additional layer of sadness this week as David Letterman signs off from his amazing television career, because it was in that living room on the hill outside Carmi that I first discovered Dave, in the late ‘70s as a guest on Carson’s Tonight Show, then his short-lived NBC morning show (which I’m pretty sure I saw the debut of), then him kicking off his version of Late Night following his hero Johnny.I picked up the Letterman fandom from there, with the meat of his NBC career happening while I was in college, then jumping to CBS and his Late Show not long after I relocated to Nashville for good. I remember the drama of who’d be Carson’s successor, and was always on Team Letterman.Obviously, television watching patterns ebb and flow as you go through your 20s, 30s and 40s, and over the past decade or so, yes, if I was watching TV at all past 10pm, it was to watch Stewart and Colbert, both of whom will also change their availability this year. But Letterman was always there, always present when something happened in the world that needed a razor or blunt instrument taken to it, and even as he got grumpier and grayer, his take on the world got that much sharper.So as Dave gets ready to flip the switch of his genius television career to the off position, you have to forgive those of us who’ve been fans. We’re losing access, however fleeting a late-night television program can be considered “access,” to somebody who’s been a constant for us for more than 35 years. It’s a tough pill to swallow.There’s been the predicted cavalcade of stars and tributes and montages and moments as we hurtle toward Wednesday’s final broadcast, but my favorite moment from the show came not from Dave, but from his longtime sidekick/musical director/fellow genius Paul Shaffer. Starting with the four-piece known as the World’s Most Dangerous Band and wrapping up with the CBS Orchestra, Paul has been such a constant at Letterman’s side, crafting the perfect walk-in moments and backing the Who’s Who of the Who’s Who of the musical world. Say what you will about the viability of the institution itself, but a case can be made for Paul Shaffer as a member of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.Shaffer and the WMDB put together what they refused to call a “music video” for a Late Night prime-time special in 1985, with an original called “Dress Cool.” Does it hold up, sonically or visually, 30 years later? Don’t be silly. But it was intended to be silly, much like most of content that came out of Letterman’s orbit over the past three decades. It didn’t take itself too seriously (or seriously at all), and I think that’s what most of us liked about[...]

It's not you, it's me, 2014...I think we should see other years...


I feel like this was the first year EVER that I actually accomplished a resolution, that of spending more time with the Small Land Mammal. And my life was markedly better for it. I’ll redirect, yet again, the wish for him to be happy and healthy and for our relationship to continue to flourish.

Meanwhile, on other fronts and for so many people I know, 2014 was far less gentle than it could have been. It’s easy to sit here under the rubble of the previous 365 days and say we’re going to arise, dust ourselves off and start the new year with a clean slate. It’s far harder to actually do it.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.

If you’ve spent any time with me, you likely know that my default position tends to run toward the doom and gloom. My primary goal for the upcoming solar cycle is to yank myself out of that rut. In no way shape or form does that mean I’m going to completely transform from Eeyore into Tigger. 

But I meant it the other day when I wrote that even the slightest shift into positive thinking can dramatically alter situations, starting with the ones in your head. And so that’s where I’m going to start.

Good things are gonna happen. And the good things already in motion are gonna become great. I’m going to keep saying that to myself as often as I need, and my other hope is that it will happen for you as well.

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Goethe said that. Happy new year, ever’body.



I've not written a lot about my abrupt entry into fatherhood. The reason is fairly simple: the two weeks between when I learned about Will's existence and his arrival into the world was the darkest fortnight of my life, and I don't really gain anything looking back on it.

August 24, 2011 was the scariest, heart- and gut-wrenching, and then supremely joyous day of my life.

Many of you know I am adopted. My wonderful parents, Don and Kathy Hendrickson, never kept that information from me, and so I've never really been driven to find out who my biological parents are. I have a handful of information that I'm able to reflect on, and thank those two people for giving me a chance at life.

But here's one of the upshots of that situation: I had never looked at a person before and known that I shared a biological link to them. I'd never knowingly seen my features on another human being.

One of the side effects was that I really couldn't discern who people (mainly newborns) looked like in comparison to their biological relatives. It was just a muscle that I'd never really used.

But on that late August afternoon, after all the fear and the uncertainty, after the rushing downtown to Baptist Hospital (and I don't give one whit what name's on the will always be Baptist Hospital to me), after a very no-nonsense but supportive nurse helped me scrub in to the NICU for the first of what would be close to 50 times, I walked up to an incubator, gazed upon this tiny, ropy form wearing a diaper no wider than three of my fingers...and I saw my nose.

That's my nose. There's a respirator taped to his face, an umbilical IV, a handful of other monitors strapped onto his minuscule form...but that's my nose.

I knew two things in that moment: that he was going to be OK, and that I was no longer alone in the universe. Here, in this plexiglass womb, with doctors and nurses dedicated to making sure he would leave that environment as quickly as possible, was proof that I existed.

I know this is a lot to put on a kid, especially one who showed up 10 weeks early, but he saved my life that day. He gave me purpose and direction and a reason to put two feet on the floor and one foot in front of the other. I'm not saying I haven't stumbled (a lot) in the past 36 months, but he's the reason I get back up, dust myself off, splash some water on my face and try to move forward again.

So here's to my shaggy-haired, lanky-limbed, smiley-faced, tomato-lovin' super-sweet boy. Being your Daddy is the best thing I will ever do. Happy birthday, Will!

The Next Fourscore Years


We've all been asked -- some of us very recently and with a surprising amount of rancor -- if we're better off than we were four years ago.

If you can answer that simply and succinctly, I'd wager you haven't had a very interesting life over the past four years.

Mine got very interesting 14 1/2 months ago. And so today I struggle to express not so much what I want from the next four years, but what I want from the next 80+ years. For my small land mammal.

(image) I want him to grow up in a country of which he can be proud.

I want him to grow up in a country where acquiring a good education isn't viewed (or priced) as a luxury.

I want him to live in a country where he knows he can speak his mind, publish his thoughts, question his leaders, worship as he chooses, and that his birthplace isn't as focused on the "under God" phrase of a 31-word pledge as it is with that pledge's final stanza, "with liberty and justice for all."

I want him to live in a country where he can marry the person he loves without hesitation or restriction.

I want him to live in a country where national debt remains a national issue, not recast as an individual financial issue. You know, in the way a catastrophic illness or accident would be an actual individual financial issue.

I want him to live in a country that has safe streets, roads and bridges, and have fewer means of destruction that deny others in different parts of the world safe streets, roads and bridges.

I want him to live in a world that, yes, recognizes there is evil living in it. But also one that recognizes words are ultimately far more effective in diffusing that evil than guns and bombs.

I want him to live in a world where fear and panic have their place, as a means to spur individuals to action, not as a wedge to keep an entire populace on edge, much less as a way to make money or get a gig.

I want him to live in a world where reason and logic and respect and science and art and music and knowledge and, yes, freedom are treasured, and to have the country of his birth lead that charge.

And I want him to see the original, non-futzed with Star Wars movies in a theater, box of popcorn at the ready.

I don't know how much of this I'm going to get to see happen. I don't care if this makes me naive. But there's one thing the presence of this tiny human has given me, and that's hope. I would be remiss -- strike that, I'd be a bad dad -- if I didn't acknowledge that hope and help try to make it real.




A remembrance in six parts...1. Creator of noteThe impulse to create grows out of a sense that there’s something missing in the world.It doesn’t have to be something big. It doesn’t have to intend to right the planet’s wrongs. It just has to emerge from an observation that something needs to be addressed, and only you can do that.Yvonne Smith, Kate O'Neill and Karsten Soltauer at the opening of Yazoo Taproom,March 2010. I'm in the picture inasmuchas I'm behind the camera.Karsten Soltauer was a creator.2. Questioner of peopleHe would have operated just fine as a journalist, as well. He asked some of the most penetrating questions, even of people he met moments before. And he was dogged in his pursuit of getting you to tell your story.It was Karsten’s way of tapping the essence of a person, and it was done without guile or agenda. He simply and genuinely wanted a better sense of what made you tick. It helped him fill in the gaps of where you could fit in his creation, all the while you were puzzling over this intensely curious man with the vividly blue soul patch.3. Hugger of friendsHe insisted on giving you a hug. He must have rebuffed a half-dozen of my attempts at a handshake before I got the clue that when you greeted Karsten, you were going to hug him. It was part of his ritual, his connection with you, and it became something you looked forward to when you came into contact with him.4. Lover of KateTheirs was an interesting combination to glimpse from afar and up close. She with the pragmatic, data-loving, multi-lingual intellect infused with a liberal dash of whimsy; he with the visual, spatial, emotion-gathering ability to draw out important concepts and redirect meaning with clarity. They were complimentary of each other, and complementary to each other. They are the human embodiment of the relationship between the colors blue and orange.5. Respecter of timeHis studio was his sanctuary, be it when he was in creation mode or when entertaining guests during his and Kate’s now-legendary parties. You entered said sanctuary at your own risk, because more likely than not, you’d end up revealing something about yourself, be it to Karsten alone or to others gathered downstairs, as part of the price of entrance.But if you took a few moments to look around at the walls, at the items and images and totems that served to inspire Karsten, you picked up on a few things. One, there was a very definite sense of order, as items were neatly placed on the walls, grouped very carefully. And two, many of the images were from times gone by, not specifically retro or antique, but more from a sense of wanting to learn from the past.Combine that with the house the studio resides within being one of the oldest in Germantown, and you get the sense of Karsten as a man without a time, neither comfortable nor uncomfortable with the age he lived in, but rather belonging to all time at once. As he does now.6. Keeper of foreverCreativity itself is an ephemeral process; to tell somebody you can describe it easily is to lie to them. I’ve spent more than 20 years around musically creative people, attempting to translate their process and their output to a general public. Trying to encapsulate creativity of visual art is an even more complex (and perhaps futile) pursuit. But it seems to come down to taking something that means something to you and expressing it in a way that means something to somebody else.The following is the closing slice of a poem from another visual artist friend of mine:From “Fingerprint” by Kim Thomas: If I lay you down on my heart and cut around the edges and then give it to you, I have given you the part of me that is shaped like you. Full of breath and spirit, I am calmed and stilled to have completed today.It’s emblematic of what Karsten did for so many of us…take a piece of himself and shape it into something we will keep with us forever[...]

Fans and their favorites are in harmony at CMA Music Fest


(Original link)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TodayNASHVILLE – One of the most welcome changes at the 41st CMA Music Festival was out of anybody's control: The weekend weather was gorgeous. Country fans descended in droves, and the big stars and up-and-comers turned out — even if they weren't feeling their best.Lady Antebellum(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)Ailing Lambert is a trouper: Miranda Lambert says the nausea-delayed start of Thursday's Ran Fan club party had nothing to do with a) overindulging after the CMT Music Awards the night before, or b) pregnancy. ("We've got seven dogs, that's enough.") The Country Music Association's reigning female vocalist soldiered through a handful of songs for followers. "We don't have a job if they don't do what they do all year long — buying our records and coming to see our shows," she says.It's five o'clock (shadow) somewhere: Rumble-voiced fan favorite Josh Turner is anxiously awaiting Tuesday's release of fifth album Punching Bag, featuring first single Time Is Love, which he played for USA TODAY in an exclusive acoustic performance. The advent of new music isn't the only thing that can make Turner anxious. That honor goes to monitoring his facial stubble. "It actually kind of wears me out to try to keep it this way," he says. "When I'm clean-shaven, my face gets irritated, and when I grow it out too long, it gets itchy and exposes gray hairs. So I have to keep it this same length all the time."Life of the party: Jason Aldean's new album is expected this fall, nearly two years after My Kinda Party vaulted the Georgia native to stardom. But that's not to say he doesn't think back on where he's been. "As a kid, watching concerts on TV, that was always the killer shot, that endless sea of people," he says. "And now to know those people are out there to see us, that's the coolest thing."Whole bunch of nothin': Pretty much from the moment Carrie Underwood went on American Idol in 2005, her life has been in whirlwind mode. That gives the Oklahoma native impetus to shut it all down when she gets the chance. How does she decompress? "I do nothing," Underwood said Friday . "I stay home in my pajamas, I get together with friends and hang out with my husband (NHL star Mike Fisher)."The family that sticks together: So how do the busy musical siblings (Kimberly, Reid and Neil) of The Band Perry interface with one another? "Our family interaction really hasn't changed since about fourth grade," Reid Perry says. Neil chimes in: "If one person is unhappy, then all three are unhappy, so we try to keep that in mind."Not scared to give back: It's been a tough couple of years for Julie Roberts. The blond bombshell with the bluesy voice lost her home in the Nashville flood of 2010 and broke her ankle while being rescued — which put the fact that she'd just lost her label deal the same week into stark perspective. She continues to record (including current single Whiskey and You) on her own uniquely titled label, Ain't Skeerd Records. In college, "I'd send Mama e-mails saying, 'Maybe I should come back home,'" Roberts said Saturday, her day to perform the national anthem at LP Field. "But she'd send one back, she'd say, 'No … Remember, we ain't skeerd.'"A Sunny Sunday: Fans usually trickle in for the fest Sunday morning, which suits Sunny Sweeney's hippie-chick country just fine. She feels emboldened enough to premiere new music on the Riverfront Park stage, saying, "I swore I'd never do a song onstage with just piano" before doing just that for Carolina Still on the Line, a tune about an increasingly longer-distance breakup call. "I love seeing the same faces every year (at the fest)," she tells the die-hards. "Because it means I haven't run y'all off yet."A clash on the horizon?: Country music's continued march toward a more rock-influenced sound makes one wonder how much of a [...]

CMA Music Festival: It's not always rocking


(Original link)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE – The spotlight for the nightly CMA Music Festival concerts at LP Field shines on some of the biggest names in the genre, such as Saturday night's re-emergence of superstar Faith Hill alongside performances by nouveau outlaw Eric Church, fresh-faced multi-instrumentalist Hunter Hayes and Bonnaroo-bound country legend Kenny Rogers, among others.Yes, the big show frequently suffers from the stop-and-go nature of a television taping, but for the most part, it's about the music.That's not as much the case during the day. To be sure, five stages around the festival's grounds are pumping out live music as quickly as they can turn artists around, but there's also a sense that CMA Fest is simultaneously a four-day "lifestyle marketing" experiment.Mostly gone are the days of elaborate single-artist booths in the festival's main exhibition hall, replaced by what's left of major label groups rotating their rosters through the days, basic cable networks bringing their reality show stars to highly targeted groups of fans, and even long-established clothing brands hoping to latch on to the next big rising musical act.Case in point, the North Carolina-spawned four-piece country rock act Parmalee, part of the vibrant indie label Broken Bow/Stoney Creek, and Wrangler, which invited the band to be part of its annual fashion show, an opportunity that may have taken one or two members aback just a bit."I think they baited us," guitarist Josh McSwain says with a laugh. "I thought we were going to sit in the audience and look at the clothes. Turns out we're in the thing." Added lead singer/guitarist Matt Thomas, "I think it's part of the fun of (events like CMA Fest.) I love this kind of stuff. I mean, look at all these hot women around me."McSwain and Thomas, along with drummer Scott Thomas, bassist Barry Knox and a couple dozen other models, took their turns on the stage/catwalk inside the main hall at the Nashville Convention Center, before getting back later Saturday afternoon to what they know best, riling up a Hard Rock Café crowd already familiar with the party-aftermath-chronicling single Musta Had A Good Time.Cracking the whipLittle Big Town(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)It's easy to settle into some creative rhythms 10 years into a career, especially when you're as perfection-driven as the four members of Little Big Town. But they knew they needed a little shake-up in their work habits for the harmonic foursome's first new music since 2010's The Reason Why, so they turned to producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin) to take the helm for their upcoming full-length project, which will house the current single Pontoon.The first lesson Joyce imparted to the foursome? Stop thinking so much. "We tend to think you have to have it together before you get in (the studio)," says Karen Fairchild. "We had eight songs that we all agreed on as 'musts,' and we started there. And we had maybe 25 other songs we could record, but we couldn't decide. Jay said when we got there, 'Don't worry about it, when we get there, we'll figure it out together.'"Part of that figuring-out period was involving LBT's touring band in the recording process, rehearing the new songs over a four-day period, tracking the music over three days, then working on the vocals. It was an approach that kept the music organic, says Kimberly Schlapman. "He forced us into spontaneity. We like to work things out, and we'd be in the corner talking about it, and he'd say, 'Stop talking! Start singing!' and made us stop thinking about it so much."Put me in, CoachWhile Hunter Hayes has been performing in public since the low single digits in age, and despite his proficiency on a ridiculous number of instruments and his upcoming run as an opening act for Carrie Underwood's t[...]

CMA Music Fest showcases top stars, little-known songwriters


(Original link)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE - You know something at CMA Music Festival is different when the neon-green t-shirt-clad "fun team" volunteers can't give away artist-emblazoned mini-fans.Usually, they can't give 'em away fast enough. But with sunny skies and temperatures in the low-80s Friday afternoon, downtown Nashville was downright pleasant for CMA Fest's second full day.The favorable temps continued to pair well with the subtle changes the Country Music Association made in the footprint of the annual fan gathering, what with additional music stages added in the main exhibit hall of the Nashville Convention Center, Hall of Fame Park across the street from Bridgestone Arena (home of the Nashville Predators and Wednesday's CMT Music Awards), and at the south end of LP Field, where the big-name laden nightly concerts take place.Merge that with cover tunes blaring out of almost every storefront and honky tonk along Broadway, and the festival exists in a near-constant wash of sound. And the tens of thousands who pack Nashville's downtown streets each June like it that way.Whole bunch of nothin'Carrie Underwood(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)Pretty much from the moment Carrie Underwood stepped onto the American Idol stage in 2005, her life has been in whirlwind mode. The recording, promotion and touring cycle, meshed with near-annual trips to awards shows (not to mention her seemingly now-standing gig alongside Brad Paisley as hosts of the CMA Awards), and a public courtship and marriage to NHL star Mike Fisher gives the Oklahoma native impetus to shut it all down when she gets the chance. "I do nothing," Underwood says when asked what she does to decompress. "I stay home in my pajamas, I get together with friends and hang out, definitely trying to find time to spend with my friends and my husband." That works a lot better now that Fisher is a member of the Predators (thanks to a 2011 trade from the Ottawa Senators), but the cyclone will spin up for both members of the couple sooner than they probably wish, as Carrie heads out on an ambitious tour in support of her new record Blown Away (including her first dates in the United Kingdom) and Fisher returns to the ice.“Yes, dear."Another artist getting used to marital bliss is Jake Owen, who's settling into the betrothed life with model Lacey Buchanan after marrying in early May. The rakish Owen's biggest adjustment? Pronouns. "I'm learning to say 'we' a lot more than 'I,'" Owen notes. "Like, this is not 'my' house, this is 'our' house. 'We' picked this out." While the new Mrs. Owen rounds out his personal life, the 2011-12 time frame has been jam-packed professionally for the Florida native, picking up his first two No. 1 country singles with Barefoot Blue Jean Night and Alone With You, not to mention a stellar slot on Keith Urban's tour. After spending the previous couple years in a bit of a career lull, Owen is thankful for the renewed opportunities he's been given. "I've noticed a lot broader spectrum of fans that have come into my world," he says. "I kinda got demoted a bit, after a couple songs that died a slow death on the chart.But it made me work harder, so it's kind of validation for every thing I've done for the last year. Decisions I've made have brought me back to the place I wanted to be, and it's inspiring to go forward."I know that song!Few major music festivals simultaneously celebrate the role of songwriters as publicly as CMA Music Festival, with writers who double as artists getting the chance to ply their performance wares in front of audiences who know their songs (and maybe even their names) but don't necessarily know the face. Performance rights organization BMI sponsored a stage on the grounds of LP Field not only as a way to provide music for the crowds gathering [...]

CMA Music Festival joins fans with country's biggest stars


(original link)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE – For all the structural changes to the CMA Music Festival (reconfiguring the festival's footprint, moving stages around, reworking the rules for fans seeking autographs), the most welcome alteration, at least for Thursday's first full day, was something out of everybody's control.The weather was drop dead gorgeous.Which was a welcome change from years past, when it seemed the musical deities decided Middle Tennessee didn't deserve two very different gatherings happening the same weekend, and vented their wrath in the form of quadruple-digit humidity and surface-of-the-sun like temperatures.Country music fans descended on the genre's home base in droves for the 41st time, and the music's biggest stars, up-and-comers and legacy artists came right along with them. Even if they weren't feeling their very best."We've got seven dogs. That's enough."Miranda Lambert(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)We're going to take Miranda Lambert at her word when she says the nausea-delayed start of her Ran Fan fan club party was due neither to (a) over-indulging after the CMT Music Awards the night before nor (b) pregnancy. The two-time reigning CMA female vocalist of the year soldiered her way through a handful of songs for fans at Fontanel, the former home of country legend Barbara Mandrell, now one of Nashville's newest multi-use entertainment venues.If it had been any other week, the show may or may not have gone on, but "this is an appreciation event, really, from the artists to the fans," Lambert said before her LP Field main stage performance later that night. "We don't have a job if they don't do what they do all year long, they support us by buying our records and coming to see our shows, and this is our time to give them something back for doing all that." Lambert used the CMT Awards show and fan club opportunity to continue the slow-burn roll-out for her trio project Pistol Annies (with partners Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley), noting that the Annies experience gives her the chance "to say even more things that are probably offensive than I do in my own music."It's five o'clock (shadow) somewhere.Rumble-voiced fan favorite Josh Turner is anxiously awaiting the release next week of his fifth album Punching Bag, featuring the debut single Time Is Love, which Josh was kind enough to play for USA TODAY in an exclusive acoustic performance video, coming soon. The advent of new music isn't the only thing that can make Turner anxious. That honor goes to monitoring his facial stubble. "It's actually kind of time-consuming and kinda wears me out to try to keep it this way," he admits. "What's funny is that when I'm clean-shaven, my face gets irritated, and when I grow it out too long, it gets itchy and exposes some of the gray hairs I'm starting to develop. So I have to keep it this same length all the time."A factor of ten.Count Jason Aldean among those looking forward to also releasing new music. A new album is due this fall, nearly two years after My Kinda Party vaulted the Georgia native into a new level of stardom. But that's not to say he doesn't take time each night to think back on where he and his team have been and where they're going. "I just think about the times where we were happy to be going into a 2,500 seat theater and selling those out, and now seeing 25,000 people out there singing along, to look out there and see the sea of people," Aldean says. "For me as a kid, watching videos or concerts on TV, that was always the killer shot, that endless sea of people. And now to know those people are out there to see us, that's the coolest thing about any show."'One' day at a time.Another growly voiced Georgia native, Mac Powell, has spent nearly two decades as the lead singer of [...]

'One of us' got it right...


We’ve all done it. We’ve all characterized people as one factor or another relates directly to us.Most simply, it’s saying that somebody is “one of us.”That little phrase got bandied about quite a bit when I was working day-to-day in the frequently maligned (and sometimes deservedly so) “Christian music industry.” My colleagues/friends and I would delight in the times when we’d meet “one of us,” because we knew we’d get better answers to questions and a broader-based look at the world, one we frequently shared.The definition went above and beyond the people we like or would want to spend some time with outside the work environment. They were the people who’ve been through some crap and come out the other side, not always entirely whole, but certainly with perspective and a desire to communicate it.Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of UsHere’s a dirty little secret not often mentioned aloud: not everybody who works in Christian music thinks the same. Shocking, I know.Not everybody personally buys into the “God equals guns, money and country” form of American Churchianity (hat tip to Jim Thomas for that particular phrase) that seems to dominate much of the cultural landscape.The truly innovative artists in the genre aren’t afraid to ask questions, privately and in the company of other “ones of us”. But they also know their commercial lives depend upon dumbing down doubt and elevating absolute, unwavering belief in the faith their audiences have pre-ascribed to them.(It’s particularly onerous these days, this power we give audiences, but that’s a topic for another day.)So it seems increasingly rare to hear viable, outstanding art that addresses matters of faith with questions attached. Thank God for Phil Madeira, and thank God for Mercyland.Phil is most assuredly “one of us,” and has been for a very long time. He’s plied his trade in the trenches of Christian music, but his talent, his skills are too vast to be contained by that narrow definition. So he has spent the last decade-and-a-half or so as one of Americana music’s (another way too simultaneously broad and narrow genre) most capable sidemen, for extended runs with Buddy Miller and currently with Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Boys.(And on a personal note, he’s the only person I’ve ever profiled who made me lunch.)Phil MadeiraI’ve always known that encounters with Phil were going to leave me refreshed, be it by laughter or spirited argument or a wee bit of conspiracy — one of my favorite memories involves him stopping me in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel during the then-annual marathon grip-and-grin session known as Gospel Music Week to tell me he had a cut on an upcoming Toby Keith record titled “If I Was Jesus,” reciting some of the lyric and me wondering if Toby’s team truly knew what they had on their hands with the song. And when they turned it into a Jimmy Buffett-with-dobro quasi-party song, clearly they didn’t.(Then again, Phil played that dobro and the album went multi-platinum, and I’m never going to begrudge somebody a paycheck.)So when I heard he had spent the last couple of years slowly writing songs and gathering performances based on the idea of “hymns for the rest of us,” I knew the resulting record was going to be something special. I didn’t know how right I was.Mercyland is the musical embodiment of the 11th of the 12 Steps: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him (emphasis mine), praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”Everybody approaches that understanding of God differently, and I imagine that’s the case for every artist represented on this record. But the unifying theme is the r[...]

A remembrance in three parts...


Everyone has their story about September 11, 2001. This is mine, in three parts, spread across a decade.o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oHere's something I started writing September 12, 2002...The line doesn't come as often as it once did, but occasionally I do say "Words are my life."If only I could describe how many times words have actually failed me.Sept. 10, 2001 (c) Ed Rode Like when I was driving an SUV down the Jersey Turnpike and I hear the words over the two-way, "Guys, you better turn on your radio. Something just happened in New York City."You know how you start to use a phrase to describe someone, and it starts sticking, no matter what circumstance you're using it in, and even if the person you're talking to knows exactly who you're talking about? I'm pretty sure I've described Ed Rode to his wife as "my buddy Ed."My buddy Ed called me sometime in the summer of 2001 to tell me about this freelance gig he was going to be part of, and wanted to know if I wanted to come along. I don't remember the date, but I remember taking the call. I was on my cell phone in the middle of Hickory Hollow Mall, fresh from a haircut and sort of wandering aimlessly, as I had no particular place to be that afternoon. Such is the life of a freelance writer.He told me the story of the Williams Gas Pipeline Company and how they do this United Way fundraiser every year. This year, they were planning on being especially ambitious, putting together four teams to concurrently trace the company's pipelines across the country, riding the line as they called it, on bicycles. The shindig raised some $20 million-plus for the United Way, and Ed had been contracted to shoot still photography and create a website for the event. He was scheduled to shadow the ride's biggest group, some 80-plus riders, on their trip from New York to Houston.And he needed a driver, which is where I came in. Oh, sure, we finagled some extra cash for me to write a few things for the site, but mainly I was a chauffeur.As the gig got closer, Ed discovered that no one would rent him an SUV (we needed the room, and he needed to be able to shoot out the back) for a one-way trip from NYC to Houston. I jumped in with the suggestion that we rent the truck here in Nashville, I'd drive it up to New York, he'd fly in and meet me there, we'd do the trip, he'd fly back from Houston, I'd run up to Oklahoma to visit my folks for a few days and then drive it back to Nashville.It was all falling into place. The vans that were ferrying the riders and their equipment around were in Harrisburg, Penn. the Saturday before we were scheduled to start on Monday. The plan worked like a charm: I'd drive to Harrisburg on Saturday, a piddling little 12-hour drive, and meet up with our Williams contact. We'd all caravan to the hotel we were staying at outside NYC, where everyone else (riders, Williams muckety-mucks and Ed) would come in on Sunday.I remember very clearly standing in the parking lot of my apartment building, truck loaded, details taken care of (I checked the lock on my apartment door at least three times), and SUV door open, ready for me to hit the road. All that early September morning, some inexplicable feeling of dread had settled over me, and as I stood next to that door, one foot on the running board, I stopped and said a prayer asking God to watch over me, Ed and these people I was about to meet, that everybody would be safe, and the trip would be a success.I got in the car, somewhat comforted, but still had this feeling that something bad was going to happen.The ride up went without a hitch. I drove through a part of the country I'd never driven before, I listened to a lot of music, I made a few phone calls, and generally just enjoyed[...]

Things left unsaid...


Or untweeted.I made a vow to myself that I would experience U2's first Nashville show in three decades through the highest-res image processors I own two eyes. OK, yes, I did have my crappily trusty Nikon point-and-shoot, but other than that, I was bound and determined not to tweet the show away, to live in the moment that was in front of me.I maintained radio silence. I reveled in the event taking place. I sweated my posterior off. And I was reminded of the simple power of rock 'n' roll, and the humanity of people who do it really, really well.That doesn't mean I wasn't thinking in 140-character chunklets. So imagine, if you will, what I might have said had the phone been on...=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-(UPDATED 7/5: The Gigapixel Fan Cam shot from Vandy is up. And the shot of me couldn't be any more meta if it tried. I swear on all that is holy...I didn't know they were shooting the picture at that very moment.)Best part of the #U2VU run-up for me? Reconnecting with "Achtung Baby," a record that bridged two eras, and I'd never really been a fan.Again, hoping the support acts on this tour realize the respect they're given by the band, because Florence + The Machine sounded amazing.Gotta think the sweaty denizens of The Circle were thinking this thought as Florence sang "Dog Days Are Over": " No, they're not."The main thing F+TM's set did was make me want to see them @TheRyman. That voice in that room? Would be nothing short of spectacular.The other thing Florence's set did for was a little more visceral. I mean, come on...a statuesque redhead in a diaphanous emerald dress?(Wondering if I've sent any of you scrambling for a definition of "diaphanous"...)On to the headliners. "Space Oddity"? Check. Walk-up shot of the band? Check. Launching with "Even Better Than The Real Thing"? OH HELL YEAH.After the Anaheim audience and twittersphere both exploded two weeks ago, they had to have thought, "Yeah, let's keep this opening sequence.""EBTTRT" -> "The Fly" -> "Mysterious Ways" -> "Until The End Of The World -> "I Will Follow." That's a potent first act, people.And to have "Mysterious Ways" and "UTEOTW" back-to-back? They coulda said "thank you and good night" right then and I'da gone home happy.When Bono yelled "Music City!" it generated the biggest hometown pop I've ever heard. And a big stupid grin from me. I love my town.That's not to say there weren't moments when "music industry Nashville" showed up. But I'm going to attribute most of that to the heat.It was, by far, the cleanest sounding stadium show I've ever heard. They've got that sucker dialed in, which you'd expect after 100 shows.T'was in The Circle for the Atlanta show in '09, so didn't see all the production elements until now. They use every trick in the bag......yet it never seems egregious. Every cue, song treatment, concept piece vs. straight video of the band...every decision is the right one.Thrilled to hear seven people I know and respect get name-checked from the stage, even if one got his quasi-iconic middle initial mangled.You knew they were going to tip their caps to Johnny Cash. I mean, you just *knew* it. And by god, they broke out "The Wanderer."For. The. First. Time. EVER.Best part was watching Bono huddle with Edge to cue it up, and then struggle over doing it a la Cash vs. finding it in his own voice.The perils of a three-decade career and a much-beloved catalog of songs? Something you adore is gonna get left out of the setlist.For me, it's usually "Desire" and "Angel of Harlem." I am an unabashed sucker for the stuff off "Rattle And Hum."For others, it might have been reaching the tour-long closer "Moment of Surrender"[...]

"One day, you'll be cool."


A couple of threads emerged from the stories told Wednesday night at “When Love Comes To Town: A U2 Tribute” at Downtown Presbyterian Church.One, most every artist who told a story of how they came to know the Dublin quartet spoke of an older sibling or family member that introduced them to the band’s music.And two, most came to that music at a time in their lives when they were profoundly uncool.(The above headline comes from a seminal moment in the Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous,” when William Miller’s older sister Anita is leaving home and leaving her music collection for him as a means of escape. She grasps him by both shoulders, looks him squarely in the eyes and dispenses this prophecy: “One day, you’ll be cool.” Which of course, because William is destined to become a Music Journalist, never comes true.)The revealing factor is that, for most people, U2 was Somebody Else’s Band first. Which is good. It’s a grounding thing that helps connect that music with a time, a place, a person around which one can build their own interaction and history. They just didn't stumble across it via some mass media avenue; there was a flesh and blood and emotional connection there that was carried through the music.And, clearly, the artists who played Wednesday night have gone on to form their own connections. Kate York in introducing “Running To Stand Still,” told the story of her umpteenth family uprooting, settling as a 9th grader in Colorado Springs and her introspective lunchtime reverie broken by the sound of a flag whipping against a flagpole and Joshua Tree playing on a Walkman.Thad Cockrell spoke of U2 intriguing him by dint of not initially understanding the band, their music and what they were trying to accomplish, before giving way to a powerful rendition of “In God’s Country.”Most of the players stuck to the band’s '80s catalog, with the exception of Sarah Masen’s slowed-down, sliced-up “Lemon,” and wife-and-husband pair Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb championing “Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World” and “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car,” respectively.Still, that idea of Bono et. al., being Somebody Else’s Band got stood on its head via Mike Farris’ story of not liking the band when he first heard them (“they were too white,” the former Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies frontman insisted), and then growing to respect them as he heard more. But it was in the urgency and insistence of his now-teenaged son watching — repeatedly, it seems — a DVD of the Vertigo Tour that rekindled Farris’ interest, which he proved with a scorching rendition of the night’s title song, “When Love Comes To Town.”The night, conceived and produced by singer/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones and author/emcee David Dark, was also a benefit for The Contributor, Nashville’s monthly newspaper benefitting and advocating for the homeless population. That connection underscores this music’s earth-bound resonance, even in the midst of dealing with matters spiritual and political.The show was a fitting nudge down the hill toward Saturday’s U2 360 show at Vanderbilt Stadium. It was, most assuredly, one of those “only in Nashville” nights, an event that other cities with pockets of fans as rabid as ours would kill for and that we Music City music fans too often take for granted.Because, in our quest to be cool, we can sometimes be profoundly uncool. But not this night, not these people and not this music. Setlist:“Red Hill Mining Town” by Bulb“Running To Stand Still” by Kate York“Two Hearts Beat As One” by Stephen Mason“Lemon” by Sarah Masen“In God’s Country” by [...]

Faraway, so close...


After beginning the month with my annual immersion into the world of commercial country music (see below and thanks per usual to the fine folks at USA TODAY for giving me the reins again), it's time to put thought into the upcoming extravaganza that is U2's first Nashville show in nearly three decades.

Say what you will about the Irish quartet...and many have, especially in the wake of their recent Glastonbury Festival headlining gig. But what I saw from the video feeds coming out of Glasto Friday night were 80,000-plus faces, in the rain, waving flags and singing along with every word.

So, for this week in Nashville, if you're a U2 hater, do us all a favor...keep it to yourself. The faithful have been waiting a long damn time for this, and we intend to enjoy every second.

Which will also include an incredibly cool show Wednesday night at Downtown Presbyterian Church titled "When Love Comes To Town: A U2 Tribute" which will include a boatload of Nashville's most talented artists covering U2 songs with the suggested cover donation going to The Contributor, Nashville's newspaper devoted to helping the homeless. (In other words, a good time for a good cause.)

Meanwhile, I'm going back into the photo archives from 2009 and pulling up some shots from the Georgia Dome, the first time I took a ride on the Irish spaceship...
U2 360 ATL

It’s a wrap for CMA festival, 40 years young


(VIEW ORIGINAL)By Lucas Hendrickson for USA TODAYThe fans "have been wonderful," says TraceAdkins who lost his home in a fireJune 4. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)By all accounts, Nashville’s CMA Music Festival is holding up pretty well at age 40. From the return of Dolly Parton to the introduction of American Idol’s Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, country music present and future unfolded this weekend in Nashville in front of appreciative, if overheated, fans.Ready for the ride: In preparation for his Get Closer tour, which launches Thursday in Biloxi, Miss., Keith Urban invited in several hundred fans and industry onlookers for an 11-song glimpse at Municipal Auditorium, where he has been rehearsing. The new stage set, including a huge circular projection screen and roller-coaster-like rigging above and in back of the stage with rolling lights, is a far cry from Urban’s club days coming up. Back then, “I bought four sections of prefabbed white picket fence,” Urban says. “I hung them from the ceiling and put lights through them. So to go from that, to be able to put this together, there’s no shortage of gratitude.”Slow burn: Georgia native Jason Aldean has ratcheted his game up over the past year, and with high-profile collaborations with Kelly Clarkson on Don’t You Wanna Stay and his CMT Music Awards turn with rapper Ludacris on Dirt Road Anthem, he appreciates the doors opening up for him. “It’s cool that those kinds of people dig what you do enough to want to come in and be a part of it,” Aldean says. “And it’s a lot easier to make it happen if they’re taking your call.”Leaving off the parentheses: Brad Paisley knew there was risk in titling an album This Is Country Music but cautions that in the end, it’s just one person’s opinion — namely, his. “I didn’t say ‘This is only country music’ or ‘This was country music’ or ‘This will be country music.’ It’s more this is what it is, for me. That’s sort of the parentheses that’s not officially on the title … ‘For Me.’”Stuck like glue — in your head: Artists who’ve been around the creative process long enough can pretty easily pick up on how a song will hit their fans. Hence, asking Sugarland if the two knew while writing monster hit Stuck Like Glue that the song was going to be such a relentless … “Earworm?” says Jennifer Nettles, finishing the question. “Absolutely! When we were listening to it the first few times, Kristian (Bush, Nettles’ partner in the duo) was saying, ‘This makes me nervous, and I kinda like it!’” Bush remembers: “No matter how many times I heard it, I felt like I needed to hear it again. It was like good candy. You think, ‘I want another piece.’”Meet your new Idols: Idol’s Final Two, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, were constantly on the go, starting with a cameo on Grand Ole Opry Tuesday night and ending with surprise appearances on LP Field Saturday night (he with Josh Turner, she with Martina McBride). The two acknowledged taking in advice as they met more of their music heroes. “Mainly just the simple ‘Just be you,’” says McCreery. “Don’t let Hollywood or don’t let Nashville get to you, and I don’t plan on changing, so that’s the advice I’m going to stick to.”Hello, Dolly! Sunday’s festivities marked superstar Dolly Parton’s return to the fan festival, signing autographs for a select group of 40 contest winners — befitting the event’s 40th anniversary — as throngs of onlookers snapped photos within Fan Fair Hall inside the Nashville Convention Center. Parton had last taken part in an autog[...]

JaneDear girls hit the big stage at CMA Fest


(VIEW ORIGINAL)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE — Sunday at CMA Music Festival featured a break in the weather — if you call closer to 90 degrees than 100 a break — but hardly a let-up in the star power or array of musical styles featured within the event.The JaneDear girls play CMA MusicFestival's LP Field Stage.(Wade Payne/AP)Everything from the return of late ’80s progressive country duo Foster & Lloyd to the shoot-‘em-up (meaning whiskey rather than bullets) snark of Sunny Sweeney to the neo-traditionalism of Terri Clark took its turn under the bright Sunday afternoon skies.Hello, Dolly! Sunday’s festivities marked superstar Dolly Parton’s return to the fan festival, signing autographs for a select group of 40 contest winners — befitting the event’s 40th anniversary — as throngs of onlookers snapped photos within Fan Fair Hall inside the Nashville Convention Center. Parton had last taken part in an autograph session at the event in its earliest days in the mid-’70s.Gone like that: Josh Kelley— brother of Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and husband of actress Katherine Heigl— praised the resiliency of the CMA Fest crowd while introducing latest single Gone Like That during his Sunday afternoon Riverfront Park set. “You’re tanned, you’ve got smiles on your faces — and you’re hammered.”Size apparently matters: Last year at this time, the JaneDear girls — Susie Brown and Danelle Leverett — were playing a CMA Fest stage outside Nashville’s Hard Rock Cafe. This year, they snagged one of the coveted new artist slots on the main stage at LP Field Sunday, on the strength of their hit Wildflower. “I have to admit, when we went on stage for soundcheck, I did a little dance because I was so excited,” Brown said. “This is by far the biggest stage we’ve ever played on.”A good problem to have: Three CMA Fests into his tenure as a country hitmaker, Darius Rucker sees the ratio of fans who know him in this sphere coming closer to the ones who know him as the frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish, which still plays a number of shows during the year. “There’s a lot of young people who have no idea what they’re hearing when we play a Hootie song,” Rucker says. “Then, at the Hootie shows, the country fans complain about not hearing the country hits, but we do throw a few of them in there.”Don’t get comfortable: Even within a musical unit made up of family members, roles change, sometimes dramatically. Such was the case with The Band Perry, which moved brother Neil upfront for a couple of fairly important showbiz reasons. “He started out as a drummer, but we pulled him to the front of the stage because he likes to flirt with the ladies and he’s a pretty good dancer,” says lead singer Kimberly Perry. “So he’s had to make the biggest adjustment.”[...]

Weekend adds to CMA Music Festival feel


(VIEW ORIGINAL)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE — Saturday at the CMA Music Festival always seems to take on a different feel, as Nashville’s regular downtown denizens have finished their workweek and the festival-goers truly take over. Music echoes constantly from block to block as eight different stages open to the public feature artists all day long. Newcomers and familiar faces alike are found on stages, in autograph booths, and sometimes in impromptu meetups, with fans’ point-and-shoot cameras further illuminating the already sunny Middle Tennessee afternoon.Scotty McCreery poses for a portraitbefore performing at the CMA MusicFestival. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)Idol country: As expected, some of the biggest buzz surrounded country’s newest ambassadors, American Idol’s top two finishers Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. (Check out a recap of their CMA Fest experience, including exclusive comments from the USA TODAY portrait room, at From this reporter’s observation, McCreery brought about the most extended individual freakout witnessed in 10-plus years of covering the event. After exiting the autograph line at the Idolwinner’s appearance in Fan Fair Hall Friday afternoon, a teenage girl walks over to her waiting family, very quietly says, “I got his signature” once before shrieking the phrase at the top of her lungs four more times and then breaking down in tears. That, dear reader, is a fan.Always on the calendar: For Rascal Flatts, CMA Fest is frequently the tentpole around which so much of their year revolves. “We finish a tour somewhere around March or April, and then try to head back out for the summer tour after this week,” says vocalist Gary LeVox. “So this is always in the plan, and it’s one of the most exciting times of the year for us.” Bandmate Jay DeMarcus mentioned the event’s changing role in exposing fans to new acts, especially in the music business’ changing and challenging times. “Because it’s so much more difficult to get songs on the radio or sell records, people can go out, hit it hard and do a great show and win new fans here,” DeMarcus says. Meanwhile, given their presence within an NFL stadium, the Flatts got to thinking that the current league labor situation is causing some to consider career changes. “We’re hearing that (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell just got a label deal,” Joe Don Rooney quips. Counters LeVox: “He and (Tennessee Titans owner) Bud Adams are forming a band and replacing Brooks & Dunn.”Truly touched: No one would’ve begrudged Trace Adkins for a moment if he had not appeared at CMA Fest, given the fire that destroyed his family home June 4, while he was on the road in Alaska. The gritty-voiced superstar, whose presciently titled new album Proud To Be Here releases Aug. 2, turned first to his family to make sure they were taken care of before figuring out the professional side. “All my girls are incredibly strong women and I knew that I was OK to fulfill all my obligations.” Meanwhile, Adkins remains visibly touched and humbled by the interaction with fans throughout the weekend. “They’ve been wonderful,” Adkins says. “Country music fans are the best fans in the world, and just the outpouring of generosity and sympathy and well-wishes has just been overwhelming.”Give country a chance: Even though she has been through the roller-coaster rides of both Hollywood and Broadway, Kristin Chenoweth knows that the challenge for any newcomer hoping to make an impact on country fans is aut[...]

Yes, this happened...


Kristin Chenoweth, left...
(Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)
(and yes, that's the original cutline USAT photo editor Jym Wilson wanted to put on the photo...)

I hope the lovely-and-talented Ms. Chenoweth realizes the magnitude of me being photographed, in shorts, after a day of wandering among the masses at CMA Music Festival, and then having it posted on the website of the nation's largest newspaper (depending on the day). She looks fantastic...I look like a schmuck.

Seriously, she was a tremendous sport about it all. Jym and Bob had her run through the traditional gamut of things they do in the USAT portrait room, when Jym said, "OK, we have got to get a shot of the two of you together." He hadn't even finished the sentence when Kristin kicked off her heels and was all about it.

And as I was doing my normal "lean in so there's some semblance of being in the same shot" that I do when taking photos with other people, she bellows "Don't you DARE lean over!"

Yes, dear reader, a 4'11 blonde Broadway star yelled at me, albeit in fun. The things I do for a national byline...

Sugarland, Urban highlight day 2 at CMA Fest


(VIEW ORIGINAL)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE — Nashville’s status as the home of country music tends to leave people with the impression of a genteel Southern town that just happens to be a haven for the musically creative.Which it is. But it’s also a fully functioning mid-sized American city, so when you take over a good portion of downtown with stages and exhibits and tractor trailers and tens of thousands of extra people wandering around, Friday afternoon commutes can get a little extra dicey.Sugarland's Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles strike up air guitars before playing CMA Music Festival.(Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)Still, CMA Music Festival, celebrating its 40th birthday and 10 years since the move into downtown Nashville, has proven itself a well-oiled machine, programming stages and events during the day that allow fans to easily transition from one place to the next before the exodus across the river to LP Field for the nightly concerts featuring some of country’s biggest names.Some of Friday’s daytime highlights included both debuts and re-debuts, as Shania Twain made her CMA Fest return to sign copies of her new autobiography From This Moment On before introducing Sugarland at LP Field Friday night. Meanwhile, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina made their first stop at Fan Fair Hall, the artist/fan meetup hub within the Nashville Convention Center, signing and posing for almost two hours before heading off to the Grand Ole Opry to make their debut on the venerable radio show.Stuck like glue — in your head: As much as today’s modern music business is reliant on numbers and research, artists who’ve been around the creative process long enough can pretty easily pick up on how a song will hit their fans. Hence, asking Sugarland if they knew while writing monster hit "Stuck Like Glue" that the song was going to be such a relentless … “Earworm?” says Jennifer Nettles, finishing the question. “Absolutely! When we were listening to it the first few times, Kristian (Bush, Nettles’ partner in the duo) was saying, ‘This makes me nervous, and I kind of like it!’ ” Bush remembers: “The wonderful thing I remember about recording it is that, no matter how many times I heard it, I felt like I needed to hear it again. It was like good candy. You think, ‘I want another piece.’ “Taking the risk: Count Dierks Bentley among a select group of artists lucky enough to take a leap of musical faith and have it affect them positively in the long run. Even in this run-up season to the release of a new, mainstream country record titled Diamonds, Bentley thinks fondly of the risks taken and course charted on his roots/bluegrass 2010 release Up on the Ridge. “It’s left a permanent scar on me, for the better,” Bentley says. “It wasn’t just something you do and come back away from, which I discovered trying to make this new record. Up on the Ridge will always be a big part of who I am and a defining moment of my career.”Tonight was a good, good night: For some, CMA Fest is very serious business. For bluegrass cover outfit The Cleverlys, which used its time playing during changeovers at Friday’s LP Field show to roll out their version of the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling, among others, opportunity can be found in the most unlikely of places. “It’s been awesome to be included in this show with all these great people,” says frontman Digger Cleverly (even though his driver’s license reads “Paul Miller”). “But a[...]

CMA Music Festival showcases country artists big and small


(VIEW ORIGINAL)By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAYNASHVILLE — By all accounts, the CMA Music Festival is holding up pretty well at age 40.Brad Paisley performs during CMA Music Festival at Nashville's LP Field. (Wade Payne/AP)While longtime festival-goers and music industry folk alike can lapse and call it “Fan Fair” out of sheer habit, young talent is also well-served at the venerable annual gathering of country music fans.From the buzz surrounding American Idol final duo of Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina to the dozens of up-and-coming artists getting a chance to showcase their talents on stages around Nashville, country music’s future continues to unfold in front of appreciative, if warm, crowds.Thursday continued a string of a dozen straight days of temperatures above 90 degrees in Middle Tennessee, and traveling from stage to stage to check out new music meant getting your sweat on, whether you wanted to or not.Ready for the ride: Many artists use CMA Fest and the opportunity to connect with fans as a way to celebrate career achievements, but Keith Urban used the platform to look ahead, specifically at his new Get Closer tour, which launches June 16 in Biloxi, Miss. Urban and his band invited several hundred fans and industry onlookers to get an 11-song glimpse of the new production at Municipal Auditorium, where they’ve been rehearsing the show. The new stage set, including a huge circular projection screen and roller-coaster-like rigging above and in back of the stage with rolling lights that provide tremendous visual impact, is a far cry from Urban’s club days coming up. “We had no money, no budget, but I went to the hardware store and bought these four sections of prefabbed white picket fence,” Urban says. “I got wire and hung them from the ceiling of the stage at unusual angles and then put lights through them, just to make them a set piece. So to go from that, to be able to put this kind of thing together, there’s no shortage of gratitude for that.”Slow burn: Count Jason Aldean among those well aware of and thankful for the slow build of a superstar-level career. The Georgia native ratcheted his game up over the past year, and with high-profile collaborations with Kelly Clarkson on "Don’t You Wanna Stay" and his CMT Music Awards turn with rapper Ludacris on current single "Dirt Road Anthem," Aldean appreciates the new doors opening up for him. “It’s been such a gradual climb that’s it’s given me time to adjust to everything and be able to enjoy it and take it in,” Aldean says. “It’s cool that those kinds of people dig what you do enough to want to come in and be a part of it. I love trying new stuff, whether it be with somebody like Luda or Kelly Clarkson or Randy Owen from Alabama. And it’s a lot easier to make it happen if they’re taking your call.”Taking it all in: Singer/songwriter Sonia Leigh is in the midst of one of those decade-long “overnight success” scenarios that make for great stories. While currently identified as a Zac Brown Band protégé, whom she joined on the main stage at LP Field Thursday night, Leigh’s been kicking around for as a performer since the late ’90s. Sporting both a gritty attitude and winning smile, Leigh was completely open about taking in everything her first CMA Fest experience was presenting. “I’m excited and blessed and bewildered to be here,” Leigh says. “Alan (Jackson) — and I learned to play guitar listening to his songs — came up an[...]

Revisiting the Moments...


So I'm in this musical mood again, where I'm trying out the various subscription services out there to see if they stack up...even while still lamenting the demise of my beloved

Trying out Rhapsody (my former, and perhaps future, favorite) on their current TWO MONTH free trial. And giving Rdio another spin, mainly because of the existence of a dedicated desktop app for the Mac. But I've only got a week to figure out if I want to drop the $10/month.

However, Rdio does allow one to create embeddable playlists, so that might move the needle in their favor...

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My favorite "holiday" song...


Yes, I do have a fondness for the absurd...look at the name of my site, for pete's sake...

Happy Christmas and Merry Holidays to safe if you're going somewhere, enjoy the stillness if you're not...

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Suspension of disbelief...


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