March 6th 2015
Officially, Country 2 Country Festival began on Saturday 7th March, however on Friday 6th CMA held a Songwriters session in The Indigo 02 venue which featured:
Sam Palladio – Who plays Gunnar on ABC’s Nashville
And hosted by Kix Brooks – of Brooks and Dunn
For those who are unaware what a songwriters’ session is, it is a show where the songwriters who write hits for big country artists, get together, sit in a line and, one by one, they perform a song and tell us the story behind it.
I was lucky enough to be front row and centre, so I had a fantastic view. My only critique would be how high the stage was and I found I had a stiff neck from constantly looking up but, eventually, of course, I was so lost in the music that I didn’t notice. The seats could also have been more comfortable!
Now that the weekend is over I have to say that The CMA Songwriters were my highlight. The Indigo 02 holds a fair few thousand but it still manages to maintain an intimate feel. This was probably helped by the stage being set up with five microphones and five stools for each songwriter, all in a line.
The Songwriters all came out together and took their place on their stools. Kix Brooks, as the host was first up.
Whether or not you happen to be a Kix or Brooks and Dunn fan did not matter. Kix immediately captured the interest and heart of the audience with his humour and storytelling. This was complimented by his broad southern accent. He shared some great stories about the start of his career and how Brooks and Dunn were formed. Funny stories About how they sang their own song in a Karaoke bar in New Orleans and people said they looked like the originals but didn’t sound like them. Kix also told us a funny story of a man wanting to propose on stage at his concert and, when the time came, he pulled up the wrong couple.
Red Dirt Road
You’re Gonna Miss me When I’m Gone
Next up was Brandy Clark.
A relatively unknown artist in mainstream Country Music but not unknown to the Industry or the Artists. Brandy already has a stream of great songs she has co written for huge country singers such as Kacey Musgraves, The Band Perry and Miranda Lambert.
When you watch Brandy on stage she has a certain presence to her which I can only describe as ‘cool’. She doesn’t have to try. Brandy is so relaxed on the stage and interacts with the audience with such ease that she completely captivates you and draws you in to every word she has to say or sing. Brandy started by asking the audience if there were any Miranda Lambert fans before jumping straight into Mama’s Broken Heart. I have seen this performed live by Miranda, Kacey Musgraves and now Brandy Clark and I have to admit that Brandy’s performance. I really liked her version as it was just so believable.
Other songs Brandy performed were:
Follow your Arrow – recorded and co-written by Kacey Musgraves
Hold My Hand
Kix Brooks, of course, took no shame in expressing his concern for how many of Brandy’s songs were about POT, stating the party is with Brandy as she has all the Pot. Brandy then making a comical recovery about how she became paranoid as a weed smoker so doesn’t do it anymore.
We then move on to Sam Palladio.
Sam is best known for the role of Gunnar in ABC’s Nashville. One of our own, Sam is from Penzance, Cornwall. Sat in the centre, Sam certainly looked like he felt out of place but certainly held his own and proved his talent and worth throughout the evening.
Those who may have believed he was nothing more than an Actor was certainly proven wrong that night and Sam gained a lot of respect, not just from the audience, but from his fellow songwriters.
Sam started with a medley of Fade In To You and If I Didn’t Know Better, both of which featured on Nashville. When it was his turn again he sang a song that he wrote about his Grandfather called Wake Me Up In Nashville. This told the audience a very sweet and interesting story about his Grandfather who had a girlfriend in Nashville and asked her to meet him at 3am on the station platform only to have missed the stop as the conductor never woke him. However, Sam says it’s not a sad story as eventually his Granddad met his Gran, had his Dad who had him, so all turned out for the good. This song was equally as good as any other performed that night. A really beautiful and well told story too, as Country Songs often are, and its simplicity makes it what it is.
Another song written by Sam and performed that evening was a song called Lightning Bones. This had a slightly more rocky feel to it and, I felt, similar to bands I used to listen to in the Nineties, which could have well been his inspiration too! After singing this, Jessi Alexander tells him “hurry up and record that so I can download it right now” to which Sam happily and rather excitedly agreed that he would.
Speaking of Jessi Alexander, she was next in the round of our established songwriters.
I myself had not known the back catalogue of songs that Jessi had written or co-written until that night. She blew me away so much that evening and I wonder why she is not a major recording artist. Not only is Jessi a talented song writer, she also has an outstanding voice. She reminds me slightly of Bonnie Raitt when she sings.
Jessi told the crowd how Blake Shelton had been good to her and had cut a few of her records which took two of them to number 1 in the Country Charts with – Drink On It and Mine Would Be You.
Another track she co-wrote and another number one hit was I Drive Your Truck – Cut by Lee Brice. This song earned Jessi CMA and ACM Song of the Year. The story behind this was so moving and was inspired by a radio interview with a man on Memorial Day who had lost his son. When the interviewer asked the man what he would do this Memorial Day to remember his son, the man replied “Well I guess I’m gonna drive his truck”.
Jessi went on to tell us of her first UK Number one that was recorded by….Joe McElderry. Well, that was a name no one expected to hear and I couldn’t help but get the feeling she assumed he was a major artist here. Not a very household name as most us had forgotten he recorded The Climb better known as being cut by Miley Cyrus for the Hannah Montana film. A guilty pleasure of mine, I knew every word and was not ashamed to sing along and was happy to see that I was not alone in this.
Next up was Jon Randall who is also Jessi Alexander’s husband.
Again, he is another artist about whom I had no idea as having written so many great songs that I love. Jon has a solo career of his own having cut a few albums since the Nineties. He is better known for songs taken to the top of the charts by artists such as Brad Paisley, Scotty Mcreery and Dierks Bentley. One of his songs that is a particular favourite of mine Whiskey Lullaby, was recorded by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss. Another flawless vocalist, he also took up backing vocals when Jessi sang as did she for him. Another performance highlight of mine was Pretty Girlswhich was recorded by Dierks Bentley on his most recent album Riser.
Jessi and Jon performed together throughout the festival on the pop up stages to a large audience and have gained a strong and well deserved fan base over here.
The surprise of the evening was an unexpected appearance by Striking Matches. A favourite amongst Country 2 Country fans, their return was most welcome and the audience were delighted when they appeared on stage. Embracing their good friend Sam Palladio who they know well through having had eight songs of theirs featured on Nashville, they went on to perform Make a Liar Out Of Me.
There is no end to the talent of Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman of Striking Matches. Not only do they sing well but Sarah’s guitar skills are something most of us could only ever dream of. Jamming away halfway through the song, Sarah blows the audience away with her guitar slider alongside Justin on guitar, getting the audience all cheering and clapping along.
After Striking Matches had left the stage, I believe the songwriters went on to do another song each before ending the night and announcing how happy they were to bring The Bluebird to the UK for one night.
I know I have probably left out a song or two from the whole evening and my apologies for that as I cannot fault the evening in any way. This was indeed true revelation of what Country Music is all about and, as I have said before, a definite highlight to the whole weekend.
The Artists had such a great relationship on stage and joked around a lot with each other as well as the audience. From Jessi dropping her mike to Kix being slightly inappropriate, they all gave a lasting impression and I for one hope to see them all return to the UK soon.
March 10th 2015