Author: Campbell, Bruce

Notes from Nashville

Dateline: Nashville, TN; October 4, 2009

As I write this, I am sitting in a seedy, run down motel near the airport in Nashville, Tennessee. I just returned from a brief walk in a chilly, albeit gentle rain to get a couple of bottles of beer. I walked past rows of motel doors that all look distorted Ė the tops and bottoms of each door are warped inward or outward, as if the deadbolts of each door had barely withstood some unknown violent force that threatened to blow each door off its hinges at some point. I fetched some ice from the creaky ice machine, and now Iím settled in my dingy room, watching football while sipping beer out of a flimsy plastic cup, which has been ďsanitized for my protectionĒ.

How has it come to this? Not 24 hours ago, I was hosting a star-studded hospitality event on an 18th floor suite in a luxury hotel in downtown Nashville. How could I have fallen so far, so fast? Is this yet another example of how the music business in Music City chews up those who would dare to try their luck here?

Actually, no, itís nothing like that. I just misunderstood when the IBMA event was over, and found myself homeless for my last night in Nashville, so I got a room at a Red Roof Inn near the airport. Just an excuse for some noir prose.

More Nashville notes:

The People
The Tennessee accent is wonderful. Itís immediately warm and inviting, and learning to say yíall and end your declarative sentences with a question mark is easy. Itís very hard NOT to speak with a twang after just a few days in Tennessee. Then you run the risk of appearing to be mocking the locals, and I would never want to offend these wonderful people. Courtesy is the norm here, and it takes some getting used to. Twice, I had someone accidentally bump into me, and not only did they apologize; they then altered their course to match mine to make SURE I heard their apology and accepted it. The first time it was shocking; the second time, it was endearing.

Oneupmanship: Alive and Well in Nashville
With bluegrass, there are a lot of songs to draw from, but the competition to find more obscure tunes is strong. Most longtime bluegrassers have mined all the old records by the masters of yore, so how can you come up with legitimate songs that will have a pleasing ďstump the jamĒ factor? You could write your own but somehow thatís cheating in this game with no written rules. You have to come up with the songs that tell your fellow jammers that this is real tested bluegrass, but also tweak them for not already knowing about it. There are John Prine tunes, of course, but now those are getting more well known. Ditto for George Jones. In Nashville this year, the hip writer is Tom T. Hall, and from the songs I heard, now thereís another great songwriter whose under-represented (read: missing) from my collection. Also heard variations of this a few times: ďHereís a Bill Monroe song Ė youíve heard it but, I got this version of an unreleased masters from 1934, so there are some twists y'all havenít heard before...Ē

The Stories
IBMA brings together people from all over the world, and they are all VERY different to a degree. They come in all shapes and sizes, and speak a bewildering array of languages. But for one week, they are all speaking a common language. I heard bluegrass being played and sung by people from France, Germany, Norway, Hungary, Italy and Japan. They did a good job of it, too! And they all had different stories as to how they came to love bluegrass.

The music business people are fun, too. Some are well established professionals, and you can imagine their stories are interesting, but the music biz hopefuls on the fringe are wonderful too. Hereís what I learned: In the business, the opposite of success is not failure. Itís just success-in-waiting.

The Bands
At you would expect a major industry event, the big names are there, but these are the same big names you can see at the CBA Fatherís Day, and the connections we make at this event are precisely how we came to engage their services. But there are a lot of hopefuls showcasing at IBMA, and the Next Big Thing may be among them. Who can spot these diamonds in the rough? Itís fun to try.

So many bands! Some are there too early Ė their acts, their music and their presentation are too raw and undefined. Others look they could use another year, or maybe an additional band member to turn the corner. Some are real close (check out The Tina Adair Band, or the Hillbenders), and some are astonishing (The Quebe Sisters, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen). It takes an effort to check so many out, because the process canít be hurried Ė the bands each have to have a chance to present their sound, their songs and their act. Iím not saying itís rough duty Ė itís fun Ė but itís a lot to take in over the course of a week.

Iím glad I went, I had a great time, met some great people, saw some great bands. Now, the CBA works to bring the best of them to everyone else!

Posted:  10/7/2009

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