Steve Writes A Blog

The Most Out of Place I've Felt In Nashville 

It can be stressful moving to a new place. A new city, a new state - they can make you feel like you don't belong. Like you're a traveler in a foreign land. Like everyone else knows how things work and you don't. Frankly, like you're a bit of an idiot, and quite possibly that everyone is staring at you thinking, Hey, who's that dumbass Yankee from New York? Of course, I'm speaking purely hypothetically.

Luckily, though, I haven't had too many experiences feeling that I'm a fish out of water. Nashville is a very welcoming place, especially within the music community. Everyone is from somewhere else, but it keeps the southern hospitality mentality. But do you want to know the time I really felt most out of place in my new surroundings? Because I'll tell you if you come in close and promise not to go around telling people. It wasn't at the tons of open mics that I've been to. It was at the two Titans games that I went to. It wasn't at NSAI events that I've been to, even when a publisher and a bunch of other songwriters have been listening to my music and judging it. It wasn't even at the CMA Awards when a joke about the Democrats losing the senate made the crowd to wild. You really want to know what it was? It was when I got my oil changed.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, WTF?! I get it, but hear me out. When you go to Valvoline in New York, you park your car by the garage entrance, get out, and tell the service technician what you're looking to have done. Then they get into the car, drive it into the garage, do the work, drive it out, and let you know when it's ready, all while you wait in the waiting area with the bad coffee, boring magazines, and The Weather Channel on the TV. But in Tennessee? Oh, in Tennessee you drive the car into the garage yourself and then stay in it while they do the work. And it confused the hell out of me - not because I didn't understand what was going on, but because all my life I've gotten out of the car when I got my oil changed. I mean every time. But this time I got out and the service attendant was like, "You can get back in - we don't take that long." All I had to do was roll down my window to talk to him as he stood at a computer station. Honestly, I felt like I was doing something wrong; like I was breaking some rule. But he was right: they didn't take that long.

And now I know. And hopefully next time when they mentally identify me as a "Yankee from New York" they'll leave out the "dumbass" part. Hopefully.

Stepping Inside RCA Studio A 

When word started coming out in late June of last year that RCA Studio A - currently operated by Ben Folds and his team, and called Grand Victor Sound Nashville - was to be sold, demolished, and replaced by a mixed-use luxury condo complex, I was still living in New York, wrapping things up before I could make the move to Tennessee. And quite honestly, I had nowhere near any kind of complete knowledge about the studio other than its connection to Ben Folds. And I still don't. But through the campaign waged by Ben and others like Trey Bruce, Sharon Corbitt-House, and Mike Kopp, I became a supporter of #SaveStudioA, as did many others. Specifically, Aubrey Preston, Mike Curb, and Chuck Elcan, who each stepped up to save the studio that witnessed the recordings of classics songs like Dolly Parton's "Jolene." All seven of them were named Nashville Scene's "2014 Nashvillians Of The Year," and you can read the whole compelling story about the effort here. And on Monday the 12th, I finally got to step inside RCA Studio A.

On that day, there was an open-to-the-public press conference announcing a partnership between the Music Industry Coalition - the organization put together to represent "the past and future of Nashville's music industry and its birthplace, Music Row" - and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. So, of course I went, because why not? I mean, Mayor Karl Dean was there. Congressman Jim Cooper was there. The Nashvillians Of The Year were there. Why shouldn't I be there?! Read about the event here.

Despite the water for the peppermint tea being lukewarm, actually being inside that studio was great. First of all, it is by far the biggest studio I have ever been in, and could probably house at least fifty of the studio we built and recorded Over The Edge in. It has four grand pianos, two upright pianos, countless organs, synthesizers, and other keyboards, drums, guitars, basses, huge moveable baffle walls, a full hi-fi listening area set up like a little living room, a staircase up to a second floor room, and some seriously sexy microphones that just seemed to be casually hanging around. Having been built in the 60s, it also has a certain decor that I've often found myself (maybe oddly) fond of - a feeling that I similarly feel whenever I visit the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC - and that was all just the live room! I sadly didn't have a chance to look into the control room. But you could feel an energy that honestly came off as very unassuming; you walk into 30 Music Square West and the studio is just the door on the left. As often as I drive by it, it's cool to wonder who is working just behind the the outside wall. As a matter of fact, the day of the event the organizers encouraged us to stay, but to not stay too long because Ben had to get back to finishing his new album. Music happens there. I stole a fun-sized crunch bar on my way out.

This past Saturday night I was hanging out in front of Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway, talking to a guy that I knew from a couple open mics who was playing on the street, when I notice a taller guy standing in front of us looking into the store. I immediately recognized him as Aubrey Preston. I introduced myself to him and his wife, shook his hand, and thanked him for all he's done for RCA Studio A.

Just another day where I can say: this is why I moved to Nashville.

Honoring Little Jimmy Dickens 

The first time I visited the Grand Ole Opry House was Friday, April 19, on the final night in Nashville during my "let's check this town out" visit last year. My girlfriend (who is a much bigger country music fan and aficionado than I am) really wanted to go, and seeing that the Band Perry would be performing, I agreed. I never thought my second time there would be for a funeral.

Little Jimmy Dickens was - and is - a country music legend, having lived to the age of 94 and having a career lasting well over 70 years (learn a little about him here). To be honest, though, until his death on January 2, I had never really heard of him. Since I've never been a huge country music fan I don't have memories of Jimmy the way I do of other musicians and entertainers. But last Thursday the Opry was holding a public memorial service for Jimmy, and realizing that his life and work was an important part of what helped make Nashville Nashville (and as a result led me to be living here), I decided to go.

Walking into the Opry House felt like walking into a church, which probably isn't all that surprising given the ties and roots shared by country music and gospel music. Wreaths of flowers, pictures of Jimmy, attendees dressed in black down on the main floor, and the casket at the front of the house made me realize that this wasn't just going to be a memorial - it was going to be a full funeral. And it was, complete with eulogy, prayers, a sermon, and of course music. As I wrote above, I never knew him and don't have any real connection to him, but I couldn't help to be touched by the stories of the people who did. Each performer who came on the stage to sing and each person who stepped to the podium would tell stores of what Jimmy had meant to them, the country community, and the Opry - and it wasn't just musicians. One of the speakers was championship figure skater Scott Hamilton, whose inclusion was not only the most head-scratching to me, but also maybe the most demonstrative of how far Jimmy's friendship stretched. In fact, a story he told was one the of most touching, recounting an incident where Jimmy had played and sang for Hamilton's then 5-year-old son, and gave the guitar he was using as a gift that Hamilton's song still has and cherishes.

But my favorite anecdote came from Vince Gill, who before performing his song "Go Rest High On That Mountain" with Carrie Underwood explained about the guitar he was using: it had belonged to a member of Jimmy's band way back in the day, and had been used to backup Jimmy's Opry appearances many times. A few years back, Vince bought it, and he felt it was only fitting that it help support Jimmy at the Opry one last time.

See a clip of Brad Paisley performing here.
See a clip of Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood performing here.
See a clip of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" here.
Read "The 10 best quotes from 'Little' Jimmy Dickens' funeral" here.

Greg From New Jersey 

If you go to a writers round here in Nashville - whether pre-scheduled or open - one thing you'll likely see is performers accompanying each other on their songs. Even if they don't know someone else's song before it's played, other songwriters often jump in and play along. It's something that I never saw in New York and it took a little time to get used to, but it's part of the music community vibe and it can help make the song come to life more than with just one guitar and a voice can. Aubryn's Monday Open Mic at Daisy Dukes is a little different, though, because musicians come out specifically to back up the songwriters performing. Jase is usually there on guitar, and sometimes there's bass, percussion, and sax, but less regularly. Last night I happened to sit down next to a guy who introduced himself as Greg.

Greg is from New Jersey, goes to college in College Station, TX, and is taking a long, leisurely trip back to school. He was staying in Antioch with some friends (who are the kind of people that have been in the area for 8 years and have never been to downtown Nashville), and he wanted to make the most of his one night in town. Oh, and he also brought his cello. I don't know exactly how he ended up specifically at Daisy Duke's, but it sure was the right place for him to be. In an odd twist, I started introducing him to some of the people there (like I've been around for a long while and know everyone), and in a short time he had a seat on the stage, a mic on his cello, and he was backing up pretty much every songwriter along with Jase, Ryan on guitar, Lee on percussion, Chris on sax. He had a great time, and told me that it had been an amazing night and all he had been hoping it would be.

You don't get that kind of camaraderie at other open mics - in or out of town. A cello player who knows no one here for one night being immediately welcomed, and getting to sit in and play for basically the entire evening? Yeah, I think that's one of the reasons why I moved to Nashville. I just didn't know it when I did.

2014: Wow, I Did A Lot Of Stuff! 

Time is a funny thing to me, because we tend to talk about it like it's simultaneously slow and fast, big and small. That event 4 months from now? It's so far away, but it'll be here before you know it. Looking back on a year can make it feel insignificant and fleeting, but we often forget how much stuff happens over the course of an entire 12 months. Here are some highlights from my 2014:

-I saw Billy Joel for the 6th time - my 2nd time at MSG.
-I got my first tattoo.
-I visited Nashville, TN, with my (now) girlfriend.
-I toured the Jack Daniel's Distillery with my (now) girlfriend.
-I saw Bruce Springsteen for the 12th time - the 2nd time with my (now) girlfriend.
-I went to the Grand Ole Opry with my (now) girlfriend.
-I spent 3 days in Washington, DC, & Northern VA.
-I went to my 2nd Washington Nationals game, got drunk on Miller Lites, Dos Equis, and tequila, and then walked though our nation's capitol back to my friend's apartment.
-I visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center National Air & Space Museum.
-I spent Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City, MD, saw 3 shows of my friend's reggae band, drank my fill of Miller Lites, and spent 11 hours on the road trying to get back home that Monday.
-I said goodbye to Poughkeepsie High School and the Poughkeepsie City School District for the 2nd time in my life, this time after 8 years of having worked there as a way to supplement my music career.
-I bought my first new keyboard in 6 years: a Nord Stage 2 Compact.
-I played 28 shows with my cover band In The Pocket, including our farewell show on August 16th that required months of planning.
-I played in my 2nd New York Songwriters Circle showcase at the Bitter End.
-I played my last show in my home state before moving out of it.
-After 4 years of group lessons, group lesson, and recitals, I taught my final piano lesson at the Newburgh Performing Arts Academy.
-I saw Wicked on Broadway with my (now) girlfriend.
-I spent a weekend in Atlantic City for the bachelor party of one of my best friends.
-I took a trip to Walt Disney World with my (now) girlfriend - my first in 15 years - and put on what had to have been 20 pounds in 4.5 days.
-After 10 years, I finally had to say goodbye to my 1999 Chevy Malibu. It had belonged to my pseudo-grandmother and was given to me in 2004 after she passed away.
-I moved to Nashville, TN.
-I was a groomsman in my friend's wedding in Sea Bright, NJ. I looked good. I got completely wrecked on Jack Daniel's.
-I got involved in the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
-I went to the 48th Annual CMA Awards here in Nashville with my (now) girlfriend, courtesy of The Doobie Brothers.
-My girlfriend officially became my girlfriend, even though everyone - including you - saw that she was my girlfriend long before then.
-I attended 2 Tennessee Titans games in less than 3 weeks - both for free.
-I spent my Thanksgiving volunteering with Gobble Gobble Give Nashville, then stuffing myself with BBQ.
-I experienced holiday air travel for the first time.

My 2014 was a year full of firsts, seconds, sixths, twelfths, lasts, and more. I'm sure yours was, too, but if you don't look close enough you just might miss it.

Here's to 2015 and the adventures that lie ahead! Happy New Year!
I like things.
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I write about those things here


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