Thursday, December 23, 2010

The man. The myth. The legend.

Pretty much the only thing on Nashville's Music Scene for the past week has been Garth Brooks. He rolled into town last Thursday, performed 9 shows, and now is probably headed back to Oklahoma. (Although I saw Trisha's house on HGTV's Christmas decorating show; they might want to hang out there for the holidays.)

There is so much one could say about Garth Brooks, but I am going to sum my experience up with this one sentence: Even though I hadn't seen him in at least 12 years and he's been "retired" for 10, he hasn't missed a beat.

Nope, not one beat.

The last time I saw Garth was in 1997, when he performed 6 nights of sold-out shows at Cooper Stadium in Columbus (Thanks, Google!). My brother, who stood in line for what seemed like days to get the tickets, went to two shows, and I went to one. It was the most amazing show I have ever seen before, and I have seen some pretty amazing shows. I've seen all of the current country artists who put on big production shows: Kenny Chesney, Reba, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban... OK, I lied. I hear rumors Rascal Flatts are "big production." I also hear rumors that I would run over my own head in the parking lot with my car if forced to go to their concert. But, of all the artists I've named, none of them can truly hold a candle to Garth Brooks. If I had to order them: I'd say Brad, then maybe a toss-up between Keith and Kenny. Not sure about Reba's show today, but the last time I saw it, it was pretty amazing. Definitely in the top 5 as far as entertainers.

But Garth is really so far at the top of the top 5 that it's not even fair to group him with all these other people. Because, you see, Garth's big production show this past week, wasn't big production except that probably 200,000 people went to the shows. Completely packed every night, to see Garth, some staging, a few spotlights and his band sing a few songs. No big slideshows or flashing lights. No fancy guitars. He even sang several numbers a capella.

I don't remember everything he sang, in part because last night he actually took requests from the audience during the encore, singing songs like "She's Every Woman," "Wild Horses," "More than a Memory" and "What She's Doing Now." But all of his biggest hits were there: "Friends in Low Places," "Unanswered Prayers," "The Thunder Rolls," "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)," "Shameless" and "Two Pina Coladas" were some of the highlights.

He ended both encores with Billy Joel's "Piano Man," which was apparently how he ended his songs back in the bar days. Something about 20,000+ people singing along to that song, especially at the end of the last show last night, when Garth clearly had no voice left. But how could he? He ran around like a crazy man, screaming at the top of his lungs for about 18 hours over the past six days.

His lovely wife (and my all-time favorite singer), Miss Yearwood, came out and sang a few songs. Of course, they did "In Another's Eyes" together, which is still as hot and sultry now as it was when they first sang it together all those years ago. Even though they've officially been a couple for a long time now, you get the feeling that every day is like a first date with them. That passion that was so obvious to all of us (even when it wasn't supposed to be) is still there after all these years.

She also sang "She's in Love with the Boy" and "How Will I Live," which was dedicated to the troops who will get to watch the concert on Armed Forces Television. In the encore, she came out and sang "Walkaway Joe," and Garth singing back-up could possibly be as good as Don Henley singing back-up on the recording of that song. Awesome.

It was a night of records. The most people an artist has ever played to in Tennessee in one tour (beating Michael Jackson at Neyland Stadium). The most money earned by Nashville's tourism industry in a December EVER. I'm guessing the most amount of sold-out shows at the arena and probably the most amount of money raised for flood relief in one sitting (I am not getting into the politics of that).

What is so amazing about Garth is that he hasn't done a show like that in years, and it's like he didn't miss a beat. In fact, in some ways I think he was more humbled that he can still fill an arena nine times after not having a concert for more than a decade. Not to mention that every person there knew every word to every song, and I'm pretty sure I saw kids who could not have been alive when he "retired." It was even more amazing to me that he did this 13 years later than it was that he did it at the height of his career.

The rumor is that Garth is positioning himself to come out of retirement when his youngest daughter turns 18 in four years. That wouldn't surprise me; that's what he said 10 years ago when he left Nashville. And it's clear that he misses being out on the road. He said more than once last night that he wishes he could do it every night, but being a parent has to come first. And that's good advice for any musician. You can be the biggest thing in the world in Nashville, but wouldn't you rather be the superstar in your kids' lives? I would. I thought he was crazy when he walked away, and, as a fan, this has been a long-time coming and I've missed him. But if he puts half the effort into parenting that he puts into entertaining, his kids are pretty freaking lucky.

Last night wasn't a fluke. If he came out of retirement, we'd all be waiting for our wristbands and filling arenas every single night like we did in the 1990s. What Garth gives you, you can't get from any other artist. He's not the most talented person out there, but he connects with people on an intimate level that normally would not exist in a huge arena. Maybe I'm just falling for his hype, but he doesn't seem scripted and he seems to genuinely care about each and every person who has taken an interest in his career. That's what I love about Brad Paisley too. I often say if anyone's live show compares to Garth, if anyone's dedication to his craft compares, it's Brad's. He just also happens to be the best guitar player I have ever seen in my life.

Speaking of excellent guitar players, I almost forgot to mention Steve Wariner and a little Western Swing action at every single show. He came out and played "Long Neck Bottle" with Garth. I guess at some shows he sang his own songs, but I didn't get to see that. That's OK though, because he might've song "Holes in the Floor of Heaven," which was probably my least-favorite country song until God invented Rascal Flatts and Laura Bell Bundy.

I really could go on and on about Garth Brooks and the show and the state of country music, but I'm sure you're all sick of me by now. I will just say this: I hope that other artists got a chance to see his show, because a lot of them could learn from him. Not everyone will have his personality, but I wish more people had his heart. Garth does what's right where his fans are concerned.

Remember when he went 24 hours without any breaks to sign autographs at Fan Fair? When was the last time any of the big artists signed one autograph at Fan Fair? Hell, some of them don't even sign autographs at their fan club parties.

Garth only charged $25 a seat for these concerts and managed to make $3.5 million to give to charity. Now, I know not everyone has the resources to donate all their profits (and merch sales) to charity, and I am not asking them to. But ticket prices are insane. Insane. People charging $100 for a show that's not half as good as Garth's. All the bells and whistles are nice, but imagine what an artist could do for a fan by looking at their poster with the name of a hit he's long forgotten and just singing it. For a couple of them, he just sang because he didn't remember all the chords. Who else would do that?

But that's what makes him one of the top entertainers of all time. In fact, I think this past week has cemented his status of Entertainer of the Year to infinity and beyond.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Death of a blog?

So, when I arrived in Nashville I had these great plans to go to clubs, honkytonks, arenas and anywhere else to listen to live music and tell you all about it.

It seemed like a great idea.

I have been around for some pretty cool stuff. Those early Lady Antebellum shows with me and about four other people. (I know you can't believe that now.) VIP seating from my little buddy (and also VIP seating for his little buddy, Keith Urban's show.) Not to mention countless up-and comers and not-nearly-as-famous-as-Kenny artists, and everyone in between.

I have been to private shows. I have been to sold-out shows at the Titans' stadium. I have seen some girl sing on the CMT showcase stage at the hockey games. And I have spent countless nights on barstools listening to someone, somewhere sing country music.

I have rediscoved all the classics from Hank Williams to Conway Twitty. I listen to Dottie West as much as I listen to Miranda Lambert. I went to every episode of Nashville Star and consider Chris Young to be a friend who always tips his hat at me when he sings "You're Gonna Love Me" and will talk to me about hockey all day long. And now he has a number one hit and gets to shoot videos and everything. It's been fun growing up with him. And Lady A, too, although Charles, Hilary and Dave don't remember me from the Third and Lindsley days.

The thing about sitting on a barstool and listening to good country music is that this is best done with Tennessee Whiskey (the David Allan Coe song OR the drink, probably both). This means I forget a lot of stuff about a lot of the artists I see. Like their names, if you are thinking of Saturday night.

And the thing about developing friendships with artists is that you can't always talk about what you know. You all have to wait for Holly's crappy press releases to know someone's working on a 3D movie. And believe me, her poor writing is so much better than getting a text at 2 a.m. when you have to work at 6. Just saying, that's all.

Because, if you didn't know this, celebrities keep very weird hours and they really don't understand people who have real jobs.

Even though sometime in the last year or so you probably realized this blog was on hiatus, I am making it official. I'm not going to retire yet, because there are some discussions of me being a real, live, honest-to-goodness musical pr-type at some point, and it could be helpful then. But I'm not going to make any promises about concert/awards show/CD reviews that probably just aren't going to happen. Hell, I haven't even bought a CD in months. I can't even remember the last one I bought. Maybe Keith Urban? Maybe.

If I change my mind, I will let people know. But until then, crank up the Hank and dance like no one's watching.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Still debating

Whether or not I am going to go see the miniature country music man and his friends, Leann Rimes, Gary Allan, Sammy Hagar (?!?) and Keith Urban at LP Field on Saturday.

I guess if I do, there will be a review here. If not, well, you probably don't want to hear about reruns of House, although I could go early and catch a seat at my friend Bobby's show.

I could already write a review of that: Bobby sang Merle, then George (Jones, not Strait), then repeated about 14 times followed by one Vern Gosdin, Keith Whitley and Gary Allan song each.

Yes, that sounds much better than a person called the Red Rocker. No country music there. Of course, Kenny has definite non-country moments himself.

Jesus take the wheel...

... because Kristy Lee Cook just got a record deal to make herself a little country CD.

I just saw this little snippet on E! Online. God help us all.

The recently betrothed Kristy Lee Cook has inked a deal with 19 Recordings/Arista Nashville for a twang-heavy album debut, with her first single, "15 Minutes of Shame," already getting an Aug. 11 release date.

The as-yet unnamed album will be recorded, as with Davids Cook and Archuleta, on the road this summer during the Idols Live! tour. While no firm release date has been announced for the album, like the Davids', it will be due out this fall, presumably after David Cook's.

Kristy Lee Cook is wasting no time taking a page out of past Idols' playbooks: Arista Nashville is also home to Carrie Underwood, and her album is being produced by Brett James, who cowrote Underwood's megahit "Jesus Take the Wheel."

(Hopefully Cook will fare better than Idol alums Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, Katharine McPhee and Blake Lewis, all of whom have been dropped by their
respective RCA-owned labels this year.)

I really don't like the idea of these no-talent hacks from reality shows coming to Nashville and filling our airwaves with super-shitty music. Isn't Rascal Flatts bad enough, really?

Well, I guess if I don't like her music, I can always listen to Julianne Hough.

Or maybe some Patsy Cline, to remind me of when real women sang country music.

(And P.S. I had picked the title of this post before I read that they had somehow harangued super-talented Brett James, who wrote that song, to produce this little munchkin's CD.)

Anyways, I'm off to vomit. And then make a mix tape of Carrie Underwear, Rascal Flatts, Bucky Covington and Kellie Pickle ... so I can drive over it with my car.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nashville Star

Long gone are the days when I stood in line to make sure that I got to see Nashville Star every week. It's hard to believe it's only been a year, or that this is the show that produced two of my favorite artists -- Chris Young and Miranda Lambert.

I watched last week. I saw absolutely no talent, which was unfortunate. I watched people sing Bon Jovi and John Mayer (not country). I watched someone sing "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (poorly, because the person was NOT George Jones), and the crowd boo Jeffrey Steele when he criticized the person for singing the greatest song in the history of country music without giving it 100 percent. He was right, by the way. I watched everyone kiss Jewel's ass and tell people to buy her CD. I think I've seen my only episode of Nashville Star this year. Thank God that I didn't stand in line to watch it in person. Although they might've kicked me out for booing everyone, anyhow. They couldn't hear me over in West Nashville doing that -- or maybe they could. I was passionate.

This is the description of tonight's episode from

June 22nd, 2008
Ten acts remain all competing be named the next "Nashville Star." Special guests Salt n Pepa add a little spice in week three of the competition and the sexy girl group Danity Kane heats things up when pop goes country. Hear cross-over versions of your favorite top 20 hits interpreted by the competing artists topped off with an all sing featuring a 50 person choir. This is the biggest episode yet! Host Billy Ray Cyrus ("Hannah Montana") joins celebrity judges/mentors, singer-songwriter and acclaimed producer John Rich, multi-platinum singer-songwriter and three-time Grammy nominee Jewel and acclaimed industry heavy weight and BMI Songwriter of the Year (2006) Jeffery Steele in the search for a true artist.

Where are they going to find this true artist? At the end are they going to proclaim John Rich and Jewel the winners? I had just earned respect for Billy Ray after his last CD, and it's disappearing quickly. This show blows, and I would not buy a CD or go to a concert from anyone who's in the running this year.

Apparently no one is going to sing country tonight, so I won't be missing anything if I watch two more episodes of House from Michelle's DVDs.

Country music does not need American Idol. In fact, we already have Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington. Surely, that is punishment enough.

If you hear the ground shake tonight, I'm sure it's Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Hank and Waylon rolling in their graves. This is the worst thing since Billy Ray's mullet and American flag button-up shirts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fan club parties

I'll admit it. I've been to a fan club party or two in my day. They're a great way to see an awesome, intimate concert and meet your favorite artist. They'll sign your CD, give you a gift and a hug, pose for a photo and then tell you that they'll see you again next year.

Unless, you happen to be in Gretchen Wilson's fan club.

I just got an e-mail announcing her fan club party for this year. I'm not a member of her fan club, but I've always wanted to meet her, so I briefly debated signing up to go to this shin-dig, even though it'd require taking time off from work and such.

Then I read the fine print.

You see, at Gretchen Wilson's fan club party there is no time for autographs and photos, because that stuff takes too much time. (Honest. That's what the email says: "That stuff takes too much time.")

Attendees will get a goodie bag, though. Goodie for them. And Gretchen will do an acoustic concert, so it's not completely a loss. Of course, I'm not a member, so I don't know how much it costs for all this merriment.

I have heard stories around town indicating that Ms. Wilson is not the most congenial to her fans. Having someone accost you at PF Chang's is one thing, but if a star doesn't even put effort in with her fan club, then that's something else...

If anyone still reads this, post your fan club experiences in the comments (good, bad or ugly). I'd love to see what kind of perks the different stars offer their biggest fans.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Play something country?

Ever since Garth Brooks arrived in Nashville, I've been hearing about how the "new country" sound was killing country music. Alan Jackson and George Strait even had a song called "Murder on Music Row" about the new acts that were killing country music.

That song always pissed me off.

Many artists have been called sell-outs and accused of not playing "real" country music. From Garth and Kenny Chesney to the Dixie Chicks. The Dixie Chicks wouldn't go pop when they were approached. You can hear the steel guitar, dobro and fiddle in every song they sing. I've never understood that one.

If you read my blog, you know that I listen to just about everything, but I love country music. And I love all country music. I don't like Rascal Flatts, but that's partly because they aren't "country enough" for me, but mostly because they have no talent. I know they have fans, but I'm not positive the lead singer is not tone-deaf. From Johnny, Merle and Willie to Kenny, Brad and Dierks -- I love all country music. I love all your "neo-traditional" artists like Brad Paisley, Joe Nichols and Chris Young. I love all your old-timers like Jones, Haggard and Kristofferson. I like your new country sound like Kenny and Keith Urban.

I grew up on country music. Both Hanks, Boxcar Willie, Vern Gosdin, Willie Nelson: Traditional country music ruled my household. My dad listened to it all. I think he had every Johnny Cash album on eight-track. When I got to junior-high age, it was really not cool to pull up at school with my dad in his Chevy Silverado listening to Lefty Frizzell. Boy bands were all the rage, and I decided that New Kids on the Block were much cooler than Chet Atkins.

So, I abandoned Patsy, Reba and Loretta and started listening to not only NKOTB, but Bon Jovi, Poison and just about every other hairband in America.

That is until one day in high school. I flipped on my favorite rock station and I heard this guy singing some song about going back to the bar and kissing his ass. My station had become country. Young Country, they called it. And their first song was the live version of "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks. That song wasn't my daddy's country music. I kept that station turned on. There were great things happening in Nashville.

I haven't changed the dial yet, more than 15 years later. Country music is in my blood. It always has been. And the artists I shunned in my adolescent angst? Patsy? Hank? Johnny? They're all on my iPod. I just bought Vern Gosdin's greatest hits yesterday.

When people started dogging all the new country artists about sounding too much like rockers, they should've remembered the music we were raised on. Yes, we listened to Keith Whitley, but we listened to Bon Jovi and Poison, too. Garth Brooks' favorite band was Kiss, and that's where he came up with the idea to do his high-energy live show. When you go to a Kenny Chesney concert, you can see the influences of the Van Halen shows he attended in high school. We were children of the 80s, and our musical influences are all over the charts.

And, you know what? I think that's great.

Garth Brooks brought me back to the party. He reminded me that country music was cool. It's the music of the blue-collar working man. It's the music my grandpa and my daddy listened to. It's real. There's nothing better than the sound of the steel guitar or mandolin. If it weren't for Garth Brooks, I wouldn't know who Alan Jackson was.

Jon Bon Jovi sang at CRS last week. He's been in town working on a country CD. That's awesome. I liked Bon Jovi's music because it's real too. It speaks to the working man. He's just from New Jersey instead of North Carolina, but that's OK. The life-stories that make up the fabric of county music don't have to happen in the South.

Country music is America's music. And it's about-damn-time that everyone in America knew how great it was. And maybe Jon Bon Jovi will be to some kid today what Garth Brooks was to me all those years ago.

I hope they all turn the dial to country and never turn it back. It's good stuff. I can't say that about the music on a lot of the other stations today.

Oh, and by the way. Johnny Cash's Ultimate Gospel CD came out last week. It's definitely a must-have for everyone's collection.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Nashville Star Curse?

I think I mentioned recently how much I love 2006 Nashville Star winner Chris Young's first CD. It took a long time after the show for Chris to get the CD to us, but it was worth the wait. The CD features several songs written by Chris and some great songs (like my favorite "You're Gonna Love Me") written by other great people. Not a single song is a cover song, and the only one he sang on Nashville Star was the one for original song night, "Drinking Me Lonely,"which was arguably what won the show for him.

I've mentioned many, many times that the plight of previous Nashville Star winners seems to be to rush to release that debut CD, go on the Nashville Star tour and fade out of existence. They win a one-record deal, and none of them have won a re-up from their label yet. With Chris' success, he just might be the first one. Every single other Nashville Star has lost his or her recording contract. Currently the only one signed is Brad Cotter, who is not with Sony, but some label that I've never heard of. (I'm not dogging that, though, Merle Haggard isn't with Sony either and his last CD with George Jones has done quite well. Indie labels are good, but I imagine it's a let-down after Sony.)

Chris Young did things differently. Maybe it was because Buddy Cannon produced his CD, and I've never known Buddy Cannon to half-ass anything. The next time I see Chris, I might just have a conversation with him on this subject, because I don't know exactly how his production process went down. I can infer from the finished product that he spent last summer touring and in the studio working on the perfect CD. I think he realized he had one chance at making it and this was it, and wanted to do it the right way.

I'd hoped that Chris' attitude toward making his CD indicated a change in the attitude of Nashville Star, but apparently it did not.

[Warning: Before I launch into the next part of this post, I want to make it perfectly clear that I like Angela Hacker. I think she's fantastic. I want many great things for her. I thought this was her big break, and I very much want it to translate into success for her. Because I don't want her to be the next Erika Jo or Fantasia Barrino, that's why I'm writing this.]

I am on Angela Hacker's e-mail list, and I got an update from her today. My heart dropped just a little when I read this:

The release date for my CD is April 3rd – Exclusively at Wal-Mart. The 10 song CD will have 6 of the Cover songs that I performed and 4 of my originals. To answer many of your questions about singing a song with Zac. Yep, one of the songs will be a duet with him. I hope you enjoy it! Maybe one day soon we'll have that CD together you've all been asking for.

I love to listen to Angela sing. I want to listen to her sing for a very long time. I would rather wait for her CD like I did Chris' rather than her rush to put something out. I have bought everything she sang on Nashville Star, including her original song. As a consumer, am I really going to Wal-mart to spend $10 to get the three extra songs?

Well, yes, I will. Because I want to support her. And maybe if she sells lots of CDs, RCA won't drop her contract as soon as the year they are obligated to her is up. I'll keep telling people about her, because I don't want her to make this CD, go on the tour and then fade off into the sunset. She's talented, and she has a family to support. I want her to have unprecedented success, like Gretchen Wilson did. I don't want her to be a one-hit wonder.

This is the first time since January that I've doubted the direction of Nashville Star. I just think it's too soon, and I think that everyone -- both the artist and the fans -- deserve the best product they can put out. And I just don't think you can do that in three weeks.

There may be underlying reasons for all of this. I'm not privy to any behind-the-scenes info. I'm just going to cross my fingers and pray that it works out. Because someone who reminds me of all my country favorites -- the women who have been around for 40+ years with no signs of slowing down -- doesn't deserve a career that won't extend past Christmas.