There’s something about listening to a songwriters interpretation of a song which is very special. A hit single, a much loved tune stripped down and to original its form in a lot of cases makes you truly appreciate the craft of song.
The CMA Songwriters Series is always one of the best moments during the C2C Festival weekend. Selling out every year, we, the UK just cannot get enough of the stories behind the songs and the talent who brought them into the world.
This year, the line up was as strong as ever. With two of the festivals main stage acts Kip Moore and Luke Combs on the bill we were already being spoiled but with having some of the best songwriters, not just in Nashville but in the world, Natalie Hemby, Brett James and Nicolle Galyon then this show was unmissable.
Having Kip and Brett share the same stage was not only a special moment but a rarity. Brett was one of the first people in Nashville to take a chance on Kip and has worked with him on his records Up All Night and Wild Ones. Brett has a long list of well respected and loved hits including Carrie Underwood’s debut hit Jesus Take The Wheel.
Brett James played host for the evening and was joined by the others in a line sat on stools to share songs one after the other. All in all there were five rounds of songs, each songwriter going one after the other with one song and a story of that song. Much hilarious banter was exchanged throughout the evening having the audience in fits of hysteria.
Starting at the end of the line and going in reverse this year, that being Luke Combs, the crowd went wild. Not even headlining the weekend, Luke Combs is by far the artist people were looking forward to seeing at the weekend. Taking the industry by storm, having the opportunity to see Luke in a writers round setting will likely never happen again. Starting with his hit This One’s For You, Luke’s voice soared through the room and took me by surprise. Luke joked about how he liked the fact he could dress down for this, describing himself as “looking skinny” for once. For his second song Luke gave us a new song. Luke was fascinating to listen to both musically and personality wise, he is such a down to earth guy with a great sense of humour. Natalie Hemby says something along the lines of, “how do I follow that ?” to which he replies “Wait to they hear the songs already out”. “Bitch I can hold my own” replies Natalie jokingly.
For his third round he sang Houston, We Have A Problem which is about being away from his woman whilst in Texas. Another new track Beautiful, Crazy was next which hardcore fans appeared to be familiar with. Luke says he wrote the song in the early days of his relationship asking if his girlfriend could guess who the song was about, replying no he responded with “well it’s not you” which made her jealous and promoted her to date him.
Luke’s last song made the Indigo feel like an earthquake with the roaring crowd. When It Rains It Pours certainly made quite a storm within the audience who got up and danced and cheered like crazy, it was quite a beautiful moment. Luke certainly gained a fan in me.
Natalie Hemby was second in the round….well this was a moment many had been waiting for, for a long time. What a vocalist, what a writer and makes you question why she is not constantly on the radio and Kip Moore in fact said the exact same thing. Performing her original rendition of You Look Like I Need A Drink, a line she says she was so proud of when taking it to the writing sessions. Hearing a female perspective on this song was quite a game changer for the track and having the songwriter perform it does make you appreciate as I said above the craft of a song and it makes you listen to the lyrics properly and differently.
Natalie’s second song was Pontoon, which was made a hit by Little Big Town. Natalie told us how she was talking about a song she wrote called Fine Tune (Miranda Lambert) and was mistaken for saying Pontoon. This then made her and her co writers (Luke Laird, Barry Dean) joke about writing a song called Pontoon. Natalie explains how she sat there and came out with “Back this bitch out into the water” jokes were made by Natalie about how simple the lyrics are but how LBT made it a hit. She goes on to say “When you write a song called Pontoon, you gotta go buy a Pontoon” and tells us a story of when her and her family went to buy it, her one and a half year daughter suddenly goes “Motorboatin’” to which the boat seller, having no idea Natalie wrote it says “Oh man that song is so awful” and Natalie replies to the man with “That song is just shit”. Kip tells her, “You should have replied with, well it paid for is boat”.
Natalie performs her beautiful song Return from her debut album Puxico. Jokes throughout the night were had about Wichita, Kansas and how it is doubtful anyone in the audience had been but literally no one had been to Puxico, a small town of 800 people where Natalie grew up. This song shows just what a beautiful artist and writer Natalie is.
For Natalie’s fourth song she sang White Liar which was co written with and cut by Miranda Lambert. Natalie tells us of how she had held the title of this song for Miranda for a while but couldn’t quite get the grasp on it. Taking it to Miranda with “hey I have this title White Liar” Natalie says Miranda immediately sings the first line of the song “Heeey, White Liar, truth comes out a little at a time” to which Natalie jokingly responds “I hate you”. Natalie also tells us of her neighbour who drinks from 6am always saying “I like that Melinda Lambert” and telling Miranda about this neighbour, she says that when Miranda was over, she was leaving as the neighbour arrived, rolled down her window, knocked on his saying “hey”.
The show stopping moment though was when Natalie invited her friend and keyboard player James Fox out and she performed her UK hit single made a hit by Labrinth Jealous. Natalie says when approached for this song, she forgot she had written it and was told Lanrinth wants to cut it. “Who is Labrinth?” she says. Natalie then tells us how it is one of the most important songs she has been a part of and you can see why. This song live was powerfully emotional and everything an emotional song should be. The heartbreaking, longing lyrics were translated perfectly through Natalie’s performance and her voice filled the venue with such a raw, honest and believable force that no one made a sound. When finished, she received a standing ovation and deservedly so. I am not quite sure anything will beat that moment the entire weekend.
Kip Moore had the crowd, not just the ladies but the men too. Something about Kip just makes you weak in the knees when he talks, sings, stands, breathes, everything about him. Kip started with Last Shot – a personal song to him, especially with losing his father and he performs it beautifully and captivates the audience. Kip is a funny man, he had the audience laughing all night. More Girls Like You, his number one hit came next. As he was about to start singing Luke asks “would you be offended if I had a dip right now” or something along those lines. An audience member shouts “whats a dip?” Misheard by Kip he asks her to repeat herself amd said “I was a bit offended, a bit turned on and a bit confused, I thought you were asking me to show you something, I was like, that’s not what this night is about but hell, I have been asked worse”. Turns out dip is chewing tobacco.
That Was Us from Wild Ones came third in the round. A fantastic song from a fantastic album. Somewhere in the evening Kip tells us of a meet and greet line where a couple approached him and the husband slipped a bit of paper to him with a card in which turned out to be a hotel key. “You’re my hall pass” he says the woman said to him. “Go have fun buddy” Kip says the husband says to him. Bewildered, bothered and bemused, Kip turns back to other fans whilst the woman still stands there waitin’. Room 201 became the joke throughout the evening and Brett jokes how the five of them should write a song about it.
Crazy One More Time from Up All Night was next and he closes with the beautiful Guitar Man. Kip shares with us his struggles in his career and living in strange places including Brett James’ garage. Humble, honest, this song delivers a true insight to his career path and he dedicates a verse to the girl he loved who thought he would never make it.
Nicolle Galyon (or Gay Lion as they all joke) was a wonderful surpirse. This lady has an array of talent and was simply fascinating to listen to. Sat behind her keyboard Nicolle starts with a song made famous by Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert – We Were Us. This was an interesting song to hear from a one person perspective and Nicolle did it proud. The second song she performs is Kenny Chesney’s – All The Pretty Girls. Nicole explains how she had this song which was going to be cut by Kenny and how the very same day her husband, profound songwriter Rodney Clawson comes home with having written American Kids . She then says her husband had songs make the Kenny album and hers was cut, however, All The Pretty Girls made the next album and all of Rodney’s were cut. Moral of the story she says…it all goes into the same bank account.
With it being International Women’s Day, Nicolle performed a sensational rendition of Female made a success by Keith Urban. Hearing Nicolle sing it was incredibly emotional and in my opinion a much better version but what moved me to tears was her song Boy to which she explains is her most personal song about her son.
Nicolle gave us a laugh wth being approached for her song written with Amy Wadge and Emily Weisband – Consequences that was wanted for Camila Cabello. She tells us how her and Emily were like “Who’s Camila Cabello?” But told them “Sure, we love Camila”. This song also shows the beauty in Nicolle’s writing which crosses so many genres.
Brett James was a brilliant host. He had the audience all night and his banter with the other writers was hilarious. Explaing how he blew off Kip Moore for years till finally deciding to listen to his songs and has worked with him ever since, you can see why these two work so well together as they bounce off each other throughout the evening. Brett begins with Kenny Chesney’s We Went Out Last Night which is based in an actual experience he and Kenny had on a night out, Brett tells us we have to decide which parts are real or not.
When it was his round again he sang a song called The Truth which was cut by Jason Aldean.
“I write for a lot of females” Brett tells the crowd and explains how it doesn’t always go down well in front of a male strong crowd. With that he sang Mr Know It All by Kelly Clarkson which a lot of people, myself included did not know he wrote, his original version was fantastic a delight to experience. Next he tells us that he is going to perform a new song he wrote the week before called Reason or Rhyme which went down a treat and just proves how talented he is , how all these songwriters are to be able to write one day and perform the next. The last song Brett performed was Jesus Take The Wheel which was Carrie Underwood’s first ever single. Brett jokes how he was in a writing session with Hillary Lindsay and Gordie Sampson and that Gordie had this title Jesus Take The Wheel and Brett remembers saying “how can Jesus take the wheel? You want to write a song about Jesus driving?” . Later the song was created to the heartfelt and emotional song it is and Brett shares that when approached for the song he was told it would be recorded by a girl who is likely to win American Idol called Carrie Underwood and he responded who? Of course, now, they know each other very well. Brett sang his version which was wonderful to hear.
All in all a fantastic show as always. The CMA Songwriters series is always the perfect start for C2C Festival and one of the most amazing moments of the entire weekend, a highlight for many.
If you have never been, the make sure you go next year, it is worth it! It isn’t everyday that you get to see superstars and hit songwriters in an intimate setting sharing the stories behind the songs as well as hilarious banter between them.