“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” ~Maya Angelou
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ~John Lennon
It has now been just over a year that I was randomly introduced to the music of Chris Stapleton, (http://www.chrisstapleton.com) a rising star in the Nashville scene. Though, he’s been well known in these parts for many years, I had never heard of him. But, since I had just started my job at the Ryman Auditorium (https://ryman.com) in Music City (in Sept. 2015,) I found myself listening to the music of upcoming performers, so I could
become familiar with them before I worked their show (and duck inside the auditorium to watch a song or two!) Working at such an historic venue that is on the smaller size (seats 2400 people,) and having a lifelong love of music, I didn’t take my job lightly. I was working in the place that, for 31 years (1943-1974) was the home of the infamous Grand Ol’ Opry; the stage that once held Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, and so many more! And, though I wish I had been there to experience that history, I recently realized that I am experiencing history by being amongst these hallowed walls, watching new up-and-comers, as well as old classics, perform in the Ryman Auditorium! This building, in itself, is history to the past, present AND the future! And, I’m here witnessing it all…live!!
Because of my lifelong love of music, and because I now live in Music City and work for a concert venue (or two,) I like to familiarize myself with upcoming performers by listening to their music before their show. I was going to be working two upcoming shows by some guy named Chris Stapleton, so I spent a few days in advance listening to his stuff. I liked what I heard – he had a low, resonating voice, his songs were melodic and catchy, and his lyrics were deep and meaningful. So, I was looking forward to popping my head in the auditorium for a listen when I had a chance. To my surprise, and something I wasn’t expecting, was that his music would shoot straight to my bones, and I would be absolutely awed by his voice. Firstly, the acoustics in the Ryman are second only to the Mormon Tabernacle Church, and secondly, the power in this man’s voice is God-given and rare. I felt I discovered something special. I walked out of the auditorium and announced to my co-workers, “I am a new fan!” and told them to get their butts in there to take a listen! His two shows at the Ryman were such a success that they immediately booked him for three shows for the following March. What no one could predict was what was going to take place just six weeks later during the CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville! And, I was there to witness that, as well!
On November 4, 2015, this same guy was up for a bunch of awards at the CMA Awards. And, who happened to be working that show? Me! And, by some crazy act by God, the Universe, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, I got assigned to ‘guard’ the myriad of machinery that it takes to put on such a show. Boring, you say? That’s what the supervisor who placed me there, said apologetically. But, for this music nerd, it was Heaven on Earth! I was behind the stage, one level up, with a fantastic view of the behind-the-scenes action! I saw the entire show from behind, and it was fascinating! I watched Hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley behind the scenes, saw which performer was coming on next, and could see exactly how quickly and precisely each band’s set was moved in and out before and after their performance! It was amazing! For a live show, it went off without a hitch! And, because I was situated behind the stage, I could look out into the audience and see all the famous country stars in the audience watching the show! I had to pinch myself to believe I was really doing this! I was there when Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, etc, etc, performed live. But, the highlight of the night was the ass-kicking performance by….Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake!! Whaaat?!?! That’s a strange combination! But, apparently not so much. Both are southern boys (Kentucky and Tennessee) on the music circuit, so their paths have crossed numerous times over the last 3-4 years. I’m not sure whose idea it was to pair them up for the CMA performance, but it was brilliant! It absolutely stunned the crowd and, along with the fact that, later that night, Chris would win three awards – Male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the year, and Album of the Year – it was an evening that would go down in music history! (see the performance here: Chris and Justin) And, I was there!! You could’ve knocked me over with a feather, as I felt like I was floating in Music Heaven after that night! Then, having experienced the entire show from behind, I watched it on TV the next night, at home, to see it from everyone else’s perspective. And….wow, so much went on that I couldn’t see when I was there, but the cooler stuff (in my opinion) was seen from my little perch in the background. Oh, what a night!! What an historical night that I will never forget!!
Message: Appreciate the here and now! We can get so busy, with life and in our heads, that we miss the meaningful moments. I had been so dreamy and wishful that I had lived to experience the classic performers of the Ryman past, that I almost forgot to realize that I was actually doing it in the present! And, that some day I will be telling great stories of performers I am seeing now, and who will be in the history books later!! It’s happened before, as I’ve had younger music lovers touch me after I told them I spent a lot of time at concerts at San Francisco’s historic Winterland, back in the day! They were so impressed and envious that I got to ‘live rock and roll history!’ And now, I’m doing it again (actually, we all are!) in Nashville, Music City, USA!! So, slow down and enjoy the present, because you can never get it back again. Many times we look back on things and wish we appreciated it more at the time. Well, now is the time! Appreciate and enjoy every minute of it! It won’t last forever!
If and when you ever visit Nashville, Tennessee, you must check out Broadway (especially “Lower Broad,” which is what the locals call the hapnin’ part of this street) and hit the honky tonks! Talk about a music lovers haven! Be warned, though, that it is also a tourist haven. No matter, it’s a must see, as it is all about live bands, entertainment and a place to see and be seen. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the hoards of neon signs! It’s a cross between big city “Broadways” and “Bourbon Street” in New Orleans, bordering on cool and nostalgic, and just plain tacky! It’s your call, but I personally love the look of neon, because it melds the historical past with the high-tech present.
If you’ve done your homework, or paid attention, you’ll have heard of one of the biggies, “Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge” in Nashville. Tacky and purple painted as it is, it’s just an old honky tonk that has been the spot where loads of country musicians have come to play. The walls are covered with framed pictures of every country star (and more) that you could dream of! It’s a rustic, old dive, but it’s got history, personality, and plain old fame!
Another very fun place – and my personal favorite – is just a few doors down, called “Robert’s Western World.” Resembling an old western apparel store, because it actually once was one, Robert’s is home to my favorite local band (so far,) called the Don Kelley Band. This foursome consists of lead man, Don Kelley (guitar & vocals,) Slick Joe Fick (upright bass & vocals,) Artie Alinikoff (drums & vocals,) and the most amazing, young (and I mean, young!) guitar player I’ve ever witnessed, Daniel Donato! He just turned 20 (April 6, 2015,) doesn’t look like a razor has ever touched his smooth face, and this kid SHREDS on his guitar like I’ve never seen! And, I’ve seen a whole lotta guitar players in my day!! Check out his website: www.danieldonato.com, or on Youtube tearing it up here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko0Uze4Vd3g. This kid’s fingers are faster than lightening!!
Whereas, Daniel’s talented guitar playing takes center stage much of the time, Joe Fick brings the personality! His animated facial expressions, while he rocks his upright bass, is a show in itself. He is a humorous character who makes faces at his instrument, spins it, seems to have conversations with it, and even jumps and stands on the bloody thing! He loves what he does and obviously has a blast doing it! This guy is a kick, I tell ya! More on Joe here: http://www.slickjoefick.com
Meanwhile, the other two, Don and Artie, hold down the fort, while Don is clearly the headmaster, and Artie, the heartbeat. Altogether, they compliment each other as a cast of very different characters, and an upbeat, fun-loving, crazy good band! A must-see when you come to Nashville!! Don’t miss them!!