Music in Music City

It’s been a crazy last few weeks, and this blog has been neglected as a result.   We hosted a fantastic conference this past weekend, which saw one of my personal heroes, Father Thomas Rosica, return to us (he spoke at our conference five years ago, too – you can read  my musings then here).  He regaled us with stories of Francis’ pontificate and the papal transition.  Ralph Martin, new-evangelization-expert-extraordinare also joined us, as did a number of local celebrities.  The snowy weather on the east coast meant that one of our speakers never made it to us, but luckily one of our professors stepped in at the last minute.  All in all, a busy weekend but a beautiful one.  I think I’m finally getting the hang of juggling these large events and enjoying them at the same time.

I left Monday morning for meetings in Washington, D.C., and I managed a quick visit with two of my friends before the meetings started.  We hit up a fantastic restaurant called Founding Farmers for a late lunch, then drank coffee (oh, Caribou, how I’ve missed you) and ate free chocolate chip cookies in the lobby of my hotel.

Now I’m taking the afternoon off from work to try to catch up with my life and do laundry.  I’m not sure what that says about my life – I’m taking advantage of time off to do laundry.  But that’s the way it’s been lately.

I looked back in my draft folder to see what I’ve missed on the blog these days, and I realized I never blogged about my musical weekend about a month ago.  Our new campus minister, Father Kevin, loves live music.  It took us the first half of this school year to realize that we need to start scheduling outings rather than just talking about them.  So back in January we scheduled a musical weekend.  The Bluebird on Thursday, the Opry on Friday, finishing up with Catholic Underground on Saturday.

Sadly, that weekend Father got sick.  But he made one out of three.

Before the weekend even began, I enjoyed a uniquely-Nashville experience – a real, live recording studio.  One of my friends, Tori Harris, is working on her second CD, and she asked a group of us to come record background vocals.  [She kept calling them gang vocals, but there was no screaming. ; )]  It was a fun experience, and I was honored Tori invited me.   Check out Tori Harris (you can get a taste of her work here and here), and be assured that when her CD comes out, you’ll hear about it here.  Even though we only heard bits and pieces of Tori’s new songs, I’m pretty excited about what she’s putting together.

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This is a not-so-great picture of RCA Studio B, which was right next door to the studio where Tori was recording.  Studio B  was built by Chet Atkins and has seen the likes of Elvis, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, and more.  If you come visit me, we can go take a tour.

The Bluebird Cafe

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived here almost six years and had never experienced the Bluebird.  It’s a Nashville legend, and has recently seen even more popularity with ABC featuring it prominently in the show “Nashville.”  The Bluebird is famous for its intimate, no-frills setting that puts you close to the performers, who are often singer-songwriters.  In 1985, the Bluebird began doing some shows “in the round,” which meant several singer-songwriters would sit together and take turns singing and playing and telling stories.  Now many shows in Nashville are “in the round,” but the Bluebird remains the most famous.  On any given night you may hear from the songwriter who wrote the latest country hit  or you may hear from someone who will be discovered tomorrow.

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To get a table at the Bluebird, you have to get them a week before, at 8am sharp.  They sell out quickly, although you can stand outside the day of the show and hope you are early enough to snag a seat in one of the pews off to the side.  My friends and I filled half a table, and then a few friends of the artists performing filled the others (including a co-writer, which was pretty cool).

It definitely gives you an appreciation of the art of songwriting.  I’ll be going back.

The Opry at the Ryman

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I was pretty sad Father had to miss the Bluebird, although it gives me an excuse to go back.  He rallied a bit to come with us to the Opry at the Ryman, which is an entirely different Nashville experience.  Where the Bluebird really highlights the art of songwriting, the Opry is a celebration of country music  in a different way.  You don’t go to the Opry to see a particular artist, because they’re only going to sing one or two songs.  It really is a live radio show, and it features a variety of artists– so in the two hours you’re there, you see a different artist every ten minutes or so.  The nice thing about that is there are some artists you don’t want to hear more than one or two songs from…

The Opry radio show moved in 1974 out to a much larger space north of town, but during the winter they bring it back “home” to the Ryman. Since the Ryman is the best music venue in the world, Father wanted to go the Opry while it was there.  I’m glad we did, because you go the Opry for the experience of it all, and the Ryman just makes it complete.

I’m not sure how to describe the Opry, but it’s a rather lovable mix of music, kitsch, and history.  The commercial breaks are hilarious (Cracker Barrel, Humana, Dollar General) and Eddie Stubbs (the radio announcer) had us in tears with his dead-pan segues into the commercials.

Each half hour has a host and then features a handful of artists.  One of our hosts was Ricky Skaggs.

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Since I don’t really know country music, I don’t really know who Ricky Skaggs is.  But I at least recognized his name.

Some highlights (besides the tears of laughter while Eddie Stubbs talked about Kleenex) included hearing Bobby Osborne and his band sing Rocky Top and Vince Gill surprising everyone by being the host of the last segment.

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I wouldn’t go to the Opry every weekend – in fact, I’ve been twice and that might be good enough for this life – but it’s definitely something to experience at least once.

I’m slowly becoming at home here.

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