Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wow! Music "in your face" -- again!

Monday I got yet ANOTHER treat here in Nashville, that involved music. It really IS getting to be music "in your face", but I'm hardly complaining!

This treat came about because two Saturday's ago I had given my neighbor Shag a ticket to the late Grand Ole Opry show the prior Saturday in exchange for him taking me there with my ticket. He'd won admission for two to a taping of "The Marty Stuart Show" of RFD-TV. So he returned the favor and invited me to come along.

Wow! What a treat! Folks, it's fun being in the audience for a television taping, especially when it's a small, intimate studio. And such this was, North Star Studio on Dickerson Road just south of Briley Parkway. Shag wanted to be certain and get there on time, so we actually were the first audience to enter the building. We had to set up chairs and sit and await admission to the recording studio. One of the next to arrive was attired in boots, Levi pants and jacket, white button-down shirt and white cowboy hat. He was Rob McNurlin, a singer-musician from the Ashland, Kentucky, area, on his way back from a trip to Memphis. Wow! taking a "road break" to be in the audience for a TV taping! Other early arrivers were Diana and her father; she reminded me in appearance of a young Patty Loveless.

Once we were about fifty or sixty and were past the announced start of the taping, we were admitted into the studio. To the left and back was a studio backing that resembled a den or library in a mansion. Straight ahead is our show's backdrop, sort of like a barn interior, but with the wall crowded with country music, cowboy and rural items: lots of fancy boots (like stars would wear on stage, NOT for field work!) pictures of various famous old country music artists (e.g. Flatt & Scruggs), Nudie jackets, a wagon wheel and lots of American flags and red-white-&-blue bunting. (Does Marty love America and traditional country music, or what?)

I'd seen Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown enter thru the hallway earlier (performers of course were admitted in as soon as they arrived, even if not performing). Now I got to greet him and reminisce about how I'd chatted with him at the door to his dressing room backstage at the Opry House back in the 1990s when I worked at Opryland. WSM deejay and Opry emcee Eddie Stubbs, who would emcee this taping, was conversing with another audience member. When they finished I introduced myself to Eddie and identified myself as the listener who, when he began at WSM in the '90s and had a delightful Saturday morning show, I often called in requests, sent e-mails and labeled him "o fount of country music info". (I'm not the only person in awe of his encyclopedic knowledge of country music.) I sure was good to speak with Eddie and shake his hand!

The morning episode's taping involved Marty Stuart and his wife, fellow Opry star and the "Rolls Royce of Country Women" Connie Smith, Eddie as emcee, guest Kathy Mattea and Lee Roy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band (first Lee Roy solo and afterward with the Band). Kathy delighted me by singing my favorite hit of hers, "Eighteen Wheels". Her other song was one she'd done on the Ryman stage when I was at the Opry a few days earlier, and it's one that's pushing to replace the other as my fave, "The L & N Don't Stop Here Any More". It employs a standard theme of country music and especially bluegrass: the demise of a coal mine or coal town. I think it touches my heart especially because I know the L & N Railroad, which used to run thru Nashville and Clarksville (and of course Louisville, the "L" in the line's name). But alas! as the song says about the coal-mining town, so is true of C'ville and Music City. It don't stop here any more!

I was completely taken with Lee Roy; he wears farm clothes, plaid shirt, bib overalls and a farmer-type hat, and he has a friendly face. The jug band was likewise attired, and yes, one did carry and play a jug! I didn't know anybody even played them any more! They were also on the second episode's taping that afternoon. I ought to tell that Kathy was wearing jeans and a jacket, both brown, and her hair was loose, not held by hat, headband or other piece. Marty wore a black suit and neck scarf (in the style of the early-mid 1800s). His band, the Fabulous Superlatives, were similarly attired but sans neck scarf. Eddie almost looked out of place wearing a suit and tie; nevertheless, he looked sharp, and distinctive! And he really wasn't out of place; I myself wore a dress shirt and necktie, and for the afternoon taping so did half a dozen other fellows in the audience (a couple had on full suits).

After a lunch at a nearby Wendy's, where Diana and her dad also dined, we were back in the studio for the second taping. Guests on this taping were a new group, the Quebe (KEE-bee) Sisters, from Fort Worth. They were a trio of female singers with a couple of male instrumental accompanists. They sounded absolutely terrific, sort of a country Andrews Sisters! I found myself hollering out "Fort Worth, I luv yew!" (That's a slogan that was popular when I lived there in Cowtown.)

In the A.M. I'd hollered to Ms. Mattea during a quiet lull, "Kathy, I love you!" I wanted to holler the same to Connie, but refrained since I didn't know how hubby Marty might take such. And my noise was nothing to Shag's; he was downright rowdy when he'd holler!

Both sessions included a Gospel song. The morning's was a quiet, reflective number, so we were asked to NOT applaud even at the conclusion. The afternoon's was a lively one, so we got to clap. And I loved it that for both songs every performer gathered on the set to sing. And for the afternoon's Gospel song, Eddie broke out his fiddle and played it! This reminded me of his early years as emcee on the Grand Ole Opry, when occasionally he'd get out his instrument and go center stage to accompany whatever artist or group was out there at the moment.

This TV taping was terrific! I had a wonderful time!

The Music of Music City -- Verse 5

Saturday afternoon, late, I got to participate in yet another kind of musical event that's easily associated with Nashville. And to which I've been fervently devoted for most of the past two decades. Gospel music.

Usually when I say "gospel music" I'm referring to Southern gospel. In this case it's the closely-akin black (African-American) gospel style. You see, I went to Eastside Church of Christ on Gallatin Road. A historically-black congregation, the sign out front had advertised that the "Winter Songfest" would start at four on the 21st. Due to the term "songfest" I went thinking it would be congregational singing, such as they have on the fourth Sunday evening at Hart Street, another historically-black Church of Christ on the other side of Trevecca Nazarene University from where I live.

Eastside Church of Christ was full of people. I even had a hard time finding a seat up on the choir loft above the front entrance. But once I did I had a pretty good view of the various groups and one or two individuals who got up on the stage at the back of the sanctuary to bless us with song. Yes, this songfest was more in the style of "all-day singings" I'd been to over the years, where either local semi-professional singing artists or traveling professional artists gather to present a joint concert of several hours. However, we the congregation were invited at times to join in the singing and praising our Lord. Keep in mind that the Church of Christ is non-instrumental. So the offerings were basically a cappella and the only non-vocal sounds are the clapping of hands, and at least on one live solo offering an accompaniment tape of harmonious background singers.

But do NOT think that the absence of instruments lessened the effect! Church of Christ brothers and sisters can sing some powerful a cappella, as I've long known thru various experiences of Churches of Christ and events in them. And brothers and sisters of African ethnic/racial heritage can surely SING the Lord's praise! And powerfully!

We had church there in Eastside that evening! I assure you of that!

The statement "we had church!" is one I picked up when I first became a dedicated fan of Southern gospel in the 1990s. And more than one song sung this evening is one I would label "Southern gospel". But again, dear reader, the two genres of Christian music, Southern and black (African-American) are closely related, arising in the Southern USA (former Confederate states) during it impoverishment under Reconstruction and its slow recovery from that sad era. The two genres share roots as well as developments.

To cut to the chase, I was blessed!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why 4 verses (so far) to "The Music. . ."?

My most recent post prior to this one is a report of my attendance at the Nashville Symphony's concert with Riders in the Sky last Thursday. I title it "The Music of Music City -- Verse 4".

The basic title "The Music of Music City" I gave to my second posting on this blog. (First posting is "First Note of a New Song", very appropriate for the start of a blog about Music City a.k.a. Nashville.) It concerns the three nicknames of Nashville and the "why" of each. It concludes with giving the origin of the newest nickname of "Music City". Hopefully, the conclusion hints at the importance of song and music in my life. I should have added that acknowledging this encourages me to give more weight to the "Music City" nickname than I used to.

Several subsequent postings at least mention musical elements of Nashville, at least in passing. And then on Saturday, 24 January, I posted about a Friday afternoon of listening to certain cherished songs on WSM-AM 650, "The Air Castle of the South", and then taking advantage of a free-admission day (thank you again, Ford Foundation!) on that Saturday, to visit the new home of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. While I was considering how the radio station and the museum were among the best-known elements of Nashville and they both had to do with music, I decided to title this posting "The Music of Music City -- Verse 2" and go back to my second post and insert (Verse 1) into its title.

Not long after this I posted about a specific classic country music hit, the song "Kay" released by John Wesley Ryles. And tagged it as "Verse 3" of "The Music of Music City." I wouldn't do so with just any song. This song is ABOUT Music City, and the not-so-pretty side of life in or touched by the music industry. A similar song would be "Murder on Music Row" by Alan Jackson and George Strait. Anyway, for further about this song about Nashville, please read my post on Monday, 2 February.

Now that you know this, dear reader, you may wonder why my report on my experience of the Symphony with Riders in the Sky is "Verse 4". What about my experience just a few evenings earlier of actually going to the Grand Ole Opry?

Well I've several reasons for my selections of the four verses so far, of "the music of Music City". I omit the Opry because everybody and his brother already will think of the world's oldest continuously-broadcast live radio show whenever someone uses the phrase. Therefore, the Opry doesn't need yours truly to trumpet its praises!

Instead, I'd like in describing my experiences of "the music of Music City" to promote the very real if not well-known fact that music in Nashville is much, much more than the radio show, or even country music in general. All sorts of non-country singers and instrumentalists have recorded as well as performed in this city. Great names in rock, folk, pop and other genres. Elvis. . . Dylan. . . Sandy Patti of contemporary Christian. . . .

And I most certainly want the cyber-world (at least that portion who read this blog) to know that music as a great element of this city goes back way before the first broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry (late 1925) or the first recording of a country singer or group (a couple years earlier, if you'll allow me reference to the first known recording of the genre, Ralph Peer's preservings of the artistry of Jimmy Rodgers and of the Carter Family a little east of here in Bristol, Tennessee). Music of "The Athens of the South" -- truly a cultural capital -- is aptly represented by the Nashville Symphony. The first orchestra that I know about here started up in 1920 (there had been "chamber music" groups in town earlier, of course); the Depression did in this early effort to present so-called classical music performed by a large group such as an orchestra. The current Symphony orchestra had its start at the end of World War II. The great Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn directed it and took it to new heights of fame between his arrival in 1982 and his untimely death in 2005. These "new heights" include major tours to other major cities (Carnegie Hall in the Big Apple being a venue), Grammy Awards (for what the politically-tainted prize may be worth), and the new, state-of-the-art Schermerhorn Symphony Center -- see previous post, the first one of 20 Feb. (This brief history is courtesy of the Symphony's Website.)

And on that Thursday evening -- and NOT for the first time -- the famous Nashville Symphony combined with stars of the famous radio show to present this city a truly superb music treat! At least if the listener is open to a variety of musical styles and genres, as is yours truly.

And I truly reveled in this wonderful treat of Opry stars whom I love performing music and song with an orchestra, an instrumental group whose classical or pop musical offerings I've always loved. Honestly, it will take a lot to top that night of Riders in the Sky with the Nashville Syphony. Oh, and finally, it's appropriate that Verse 4 concerned a quartet, don't you think?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Music of Music City -- Verse 4

When I lived in San Antonio the symphony orchestra there had included in its pops concert series Riders in the Sky from the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. Twice. However, the first time got cancelled when the symphony folded. (It revived from bankruptcy in about a year.) And the second time I just didn't have the money to buy a concert ticket. So the dream of seeing and hearing the champions of "The Cowboy Way" in cahoots with an orchestra -- most good Western movies are set to a lush orchestral score -- got put on hold.

The hold was lifted and the dream came true in splendid fashion last evening! My ticket, provided by my Pastor's wife Dawn Hartley, who plays bassoon in the Nashville Orchestra, is for a theater seat in the main level (about same level as the stage) at the back of the hall. It's rather far from the stage, but my seat is, so to speak, on the "fifty-yard line". Smack in the middle of the row, so I'm looking straight at the conductor's stand.

This concert's conductor isn't the Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero but rather Assistant Conductor Kelly Corcoran. I'd heard her in an interview on WSM-AM 650 a few days earlier, talking with Bill Cody about the upcoming symphony concert with the Riders. I was charmed when she said that for the event she'd be buying her first pair of cowboy boots. I'm even more charmed with her very expressive and lively style of conducting!

The pre-Intermission program features the Orchestra playing a selection of Western-theme symphonic pieces: "The Cowboys Overture" by John Williams, "Concert Suite" from the movie Dances With Wolves, and finally four dance episodes from Aaron Copland's Rodeo. Over dinner at the Hartleys, Dawn had mentioned that Copland spoke the name as "ROW-dee-oh" rather than as "Row-DAY-oh" and that the symphony members had had some discussion about this. One of them emphasized that the latter is the pronunciation in Spanish and in French(?). Dawn then concluded that, if French, did that mean Conductor Corcoran would wear "cow-bwah" boots? I had laughed heartily at this!

The four episodes of Copland's Rodeo are "Buckaroo Holiday", "Corral Nocturne", "Saturday Night Waltz" and "Hoe-Down". The third one, the waltz, is so pleasantly soothing that I almost fall asleep. However the finale is the opposite: very arousing music! Really toe-tapping, make-you-wanna-get-up-and-twostep music!

During Intermission I roam the building a bit, and find a snack bar where I buy a cup of hot chocolate (topped with whipped cream). We hear bell chimes and thinking it's warning that Intermission is almost over I turn quickly and spill a sip of the hot drink before someone informs me it's the "ten-minute warning". Still, the drink's so hot that I just barely down it and get back to my seat in time!

Second portion of the program opens with the Nashville Symphony playing another western-theme piece. And then out on stage come Riders in the Sky: Too Slim, Ranger Doug, Woody Paul and Joey the Cowpolka King. On the radio ad for the concert the Riders are called "these well-dressed gentlemen", and such they are. Too Slim is garbed in his hairy chaps (I once heard him remark that they were the result of a Rogain accident) and a western shirt with a "cac-tie" (a green necktie shaped like a saguaro); the other three are dressed more typical, like Roy Rogers: boots, western shirts and scarves and white cowboy hats.

Hence, we have "Symphonic Stetsons"!

After Too Slim lights a cellophane "campfire" the quartet launches into an ear-pleasing selection of their standard fare. This is mostly old cowboy songs made famous by Roy and Gene and the other singing cowboys of yesteryear. But they kick in a few of their own compositions to boot. (Pun intended.) Interspersed is delightful banter between the four fellows, and plenty of jokes. Most of these I've heard before. Such as Ranger Doug after a prodigiously high yodel remarking that a woman told him it wasn't logical for him to sing so high -- to which Too Slim remarks, "If this were a logical world, men would ride sidesaddle!"

The Nashville Symphony sounds great as the "back-up band" for Riders in the Sky! I should mention that the Symphony recently won three Grammy Awards for their recordings. They've performed all over the place including Carnegie Hall! The Riders possess two Grammys themselves, one for their melodious contribution to the movie "Toy Story II" which I love, and the other for a more recent children-oriented flick. Later, Dawn informs me that Opry guys and Orchestra rehearsed together only once, that afternoon. I was impressed, because I didn't hear a slip-up on the part of anybody and yet there was a hint of spontaneity, e.g. in some of the movements of the four fellows regarding the orchestra.

The combination of the Symphony and Riders -- "symphonic Stetsons!" -- is something to warm the heart and get the blood pumping for your truly! Indeed, on more than one old familiar cowboy song I get a lump in my throat, and I find myself thinking of (and yes, longing for) the Idaho home of my childhood -- and at the same time that city so central to the original cowboy culture where I'd recently resided six and a half years, San Antonio. Near the great Texas city is Pleasanton, small town with the proud title "The Birthplace of the Cowboy"; in another direction lies Bandera, "Cowboy Capital of the World". I've ridden a horse only once in my life and never mingled with cattle on ranch or farm. And yet, "The Cowboy Way" (a slogan of the Riders) is definitely part of what made me who I am!

And so it is, while Riders in the Sky are singing their usual closing number, "Happy Trails", emotion about overcomes me and my head leaks a bit. I'm very happy that when they leave the stage our loud applause brings them back for an encore, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". And I'm also glad that they announce that they'll be in the lobby to sign autographs, have pictures taken, etc. So I "hot-foot" it to the growing line of "groupies" awaiting this post-concert treat.

Yeah, yours truly is as much a "groupie" for Riders in the Sky as I am for Ray Price (see my post of 24 Sep 07 -- "I'd died & gone to Heaven" -- on my "Glen Alan's San Antonio" blog) and almost as much a "groupie" as I am for the REAL honest "singing cowboy" from South Texas, George Strait! Therefore, I pull off my battered old Stetson and have the four fellows sign it rather than just sign my program. I also chat with them, thank them, and with Woody Paul reminisce how his wife's from the same place of raising: Boise, Idaho.

And so, here are some fresh memories from this evening's performance to add to my long memories of my Western boyhood of growing up with Roy and Gene's melodious backdrop. Long live "The Cowboy Way!" Long live the Nashville Symphony! Long live Riders in the Sky!

Prelude to "Symphonic Stetsons"

In an earlier post (12 February) I promised reports on two musical events which I mentioned I'd shortly be attending. One was the Grand Ole Opry and the other Riders in the Sky with the Nashville Symphony. My Opry visit is duly reported in my posting of 15 Feb. But before I take you to the other, let me share the magnificent prelude that primed me for this event of "Symphonic Stetsons"!

Going to the Opry would've been sufficient primer, since the Riders are cast members of the world's oldest continuously-broadcast live radio show. Ignoring this factor, on Wednesday afternoon I went on the free tour of the venue, Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Keep in mind, dear reader, that in the mid-nineties I'd been a tour guide for the Grand Ole Opry House. I love that building, respect its heritage and was impressed with its features (such as being the world's largest broadcast studio). But even the Opry House pales in comparison with Schermerhorn!

The orchestra hall, built just a few years ago in this very Century, was named after the late Conductor of the Nashville Symphony, Kenneth Schermerhorn, who alas! passed away suddenly just before it opened for performances. I remember my first look at the building, back in June of last year. I was quite impressed with its classical architectural details, such as the frieze in the gable upheld by columns over the main entrance, and the monumental stairway up to that entrance. I'd remarked back then to my wife Ellen that I didn't remember such a beautiful classical building there, just a block from the new home of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and two blocks from the Sommet Center (Nashville's largest roofed arena). When she replied that it was a symphony hall and brand new I was even more impressed -- especially that it looked like it'd "been there forever"!

Now that I was touring the Schermerhorn Symphony Center interior, I was impressed all over again. There's lots of marble, and the tour guide told us it was from four countries. Plenty of rich woodwork is to be seen, too: some Tennessee hickory but much more dark russet wood from Brazil or Africa. Dominant colors are white (including the columns, the style of which is based on ancient Egyptian and is called "Schermerhorn column style"), dark brown and russet (the woodwork), silver (handrails and other metal fixtures) and green.

Every performance venue has a gathering room backstage for the performers which is called the "green room". Not all are really painted or decorated in that color (such as the one backstage in the Grand Ole Opry House). But THIS green room is really green - VERY green!

Next to that room is Allen Walter Watson Sr. Founders Hall, a reception room of all wood, the dark wood from Africa that is found in various places elsewhere in the building. The "Schermerhorn style" columns and pilasters are here, but also in that rich-looking wood. I delighted in a couple of tables in the hall, the top surfaces of which displayed amazing intricate parquetry, such as a couple of tables I remembered from the Steves Homestead back in San Antonio.

The piéce de résistance of the Schermerhorn Center is the main performance hall itself. When we walked in it was set up cabaret-style for the upcoming pops concert. That is, much of it was a level floor (well below the stage) filled with tables and chairs. Three of the four walls of this "shoebox-design" hall have tri-level seating, those on the sides being box seats. The fourth side, behind the stage, has a grand pipe organ and seating that will seat the concert choir if they're with the orchestra, but otherwise is additional seating offering a direct view down onto the orchestra. In the highest level of the hall, while we were in there, they were drawing up cloth panels that will deaden the louder sound of the pops and jazz concerts (they're kept down for classical music performances, which are not amplified in any way).

But our tour guide blew me away when he told us how for the classical concerts all that we saw below us in this, the Laura Turner Concert Hall, disappears and in its place are row after row of theatre seats, going down from the back of the hall to below the stage lip. An intricate hydraulic system takes these rows of theatre seats and hides them! I'll definitely have to return some time when the hall is set up for a classical performance to see that arrangement!

Art details in the architecture of this structure tend to express either items of Tennessee (e.g. the State Flower, the iris, is seen everywhere) or items of musical notation (e.g. shelves held up by treble-clef brackets). To boot, there are sculptures and statuary outside the building. These include a white larger-than-life flautist in pure white stone and a "Recording Angel" in a golden metal. I was very impressed with this building, and when I left the tour I could hardly wait 'til the next evening's performance! (Too bad I forgot to bring the ticket with me, so that I could have located my seat.)

At choir practice at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) that evening, Pastor Jay Hartley invited me on behalf of his wife Dawn, who had supplied me with the ticket, to have supper with the family and then go with her to the concert. Dawn plays bassoon in the orchestra. Dear reader, you will know (if you've read much of either of my two blogs) that I never turn down a dinner invitation! I was there "with bells on"!

The Hartleys live in the ECC parsonage, next door to the church. This handy arrangement used to be typical of churches in this country, but isn't typical any more. So the Hartleys have a good deal here at ECC, particularly since the parsonage appears to be a fine, well-kept home.

When I walked in younger son John was practicing violin. He was told to move the practice out of the living room. When I protested that I'd enjoy listening if he stayed, I was assured that he'd still be audible. Which turned out to be true. And at various times John, who was wearing his Cub Scout shirt, bro't the violin out again and performed for me. (Dawn later told me her son likes to perform for folks.)

Other Hartley children are daughter Jocelyn and "Chief" Joseph. He's called that because he's the oldest. At once I knew the nickname would help me keep the two boys' names separate, since I went to college (undergrad) in the Palouse Country, part of the homeland of the historic Chief Joseph's tribe. The "young'uns" were rather active, but that didn't bother me a bit; it awoke fond memories of when the two Graham children were that age!

Main course for this supper was meatloaf, one of my favorite dishes and one I rarely get to eat. In fact, I told the Hartleys that whenever we Grahams would go to Cracker Barrel for dinner I was always ordering either the meatloaf or liver and onions -- despite knowing that the Barrel had a variety of scrumptious plates. This evening's dessert was a delicious brownie a la mode.

Then Dawn and I left for the concert, where she'd be playing bassoon in the orchestra behind Riders in the Sky, and I'd be in the audience enjoying a rich musical adventure in a rich architectural setting!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Night at the Opry

Here's my promised report about my attendance at the Grand Ole Opry, the late show of 14 February.

Before I set foot in the Ryman Auditorium, I had a totally delightful supper at a new (to me) place, with a couple of lovely ladies I've known for years. One lady I've known since her birth: my daughter Sarah, who's visiting from Houston, Texas. The other lovely lady is her mother, my wife Ellen. I'm serious about the lovely part: both were smartly dressed, Sarah in a maroon top and a jacket-length winter coat nicely trimmed with faux fur, and Ellen in a deep green top decorated with several small clear gems (rhinestones) at the center of the low (but not provocatively low) neckline!

While I awaited their arrival at the Blackstone Pub on West End Avenue near the Vanderbilt campus, I was warming up for the imminent visit to the Opry by listening to "Bluegrass Underground" on WSM. Once they arrived we ordered our food. We had an appetizer of nachos so covered with ingredients in addition to the basic nacho cheese that the cheese was lost in the sea of other stuff, according to Sarah! She ordered a sort of personal pizza -- pepperoni of a very juicy, tasty variety. (I knew this because she shared a couple of bites with me.) I had shepherd's pie, and it was delicious, too. Ellen had a plate that included several steak biscuits -- but these were more distinctive than those typical of Mrs Winners and other places that have steak biscuits on their breakfast menu. Definitely dinner fare these!

The two lovely ladies let me off at Music City Central, the downtown MTA depot that opened late last October, so I could hop the bus back to Mercury Courts. They were headed for Clarksville, and I didn't want to put them out of their way to take me straight to my lodging.

But alas! the buses apparently had just left (they all leave at the same time, quarter after the hour, in the evenings and on Sundays). Oh, well, I just found me a seat in the comfortable (72 degrees year-round) waiting room and put on my radio/CD with headset again. The early show of the Opry was under way, so I had great listening pleasure. And priming for attending the late show -- as if I needed "priming" after hearing "Bluegrass Underground" earlier in the evening!

Not that the Grand Ole Opry is all bluegrass -- far from it! Quite a bit of country rock is heard there any more. In fact, Restless Heart is guesting tonite, and I remember them beginning as a pop rock band before they became sort of "countrified".

At Mercury Courts I drop off my bag of stuff (including the radio/CD player), get my Opry line-up, and head to Shag's apartment near the middle of the complex. Shag may get his nickname from his appearance short and with long hair and a beard. His true name is Dave Tillis (yes, he's cousin to Mel and Pam). He says that he's a songwriter, and has written a few thousand. I'll have to take a look some time. But at the moment the two of us have a show to go to, in his van.

There must have been something else going on downtown, because we have to park several blocks from Ryman Auditorium. But no problem! the hike is good for the body. Near the Ryman we begin passing a very long line that leads up to its "new" set of doors that were built on the back end (facing Fourth Ave.) when it was decided to restore the building and add air conditioning and other amenities and start using it again for regular performances -- including the Opry itself during winter months. But the long line turns out to be of folks who already have tickets, so we go in the "will-call" doors (no line to speak of) and to the ticket booth windows. Sheldon, who worked at the Opryland ticket center when I did in the 1990s, smiles as she hands me my tickets. Shaq and I find our seats on the lower level, a few rows back under the balcony.

We sit down, and as I think, "let the music begin", I can also sense the ghosts of this venerable structure, just as I did back in December when I attended "Behold the Lamb of God" here. But it's no eerie feeling, and certainly not frightening. I'm referring to the ghosts of such great and gentle or big-hearted folk as Brother Sam Jones for whose evangelistic revivals this edifice was erected. And Capt. Tom Ryman, the hell-raising river boatman who came to a revival meeting to heckle Bro. Jones, got converted to the faith instead, and funded construction of the edifice. Oh, and then there's entertainers like Enrico Caruso of the golden operatic voice, and Hank Williams of the great country musical talent and the great drinking problem that cut him off too soon. And there's my favorite ghost: Minnie Pearl, the country-girl comedienne who all but choked up on-stage during the final Grand Ole Opry performance before the show moved out to its new home. Minnie doubtless accepted the "new" Opry House, but of all the cast who made the move, I feel that her spirit would be the one who'd most wish to return to the Ryman.

I'm writing all this with tongue firmly in cheek. I'm no Cowardly Lion; I don't believe in ghosts like that! But my active imagination loves the challenge and creativity of the "what if?" as much as any other mind game.

I don't have to play mind games for long. Shortly the curtain goes up and the music begins. Mike Terry, the deejay whose Ray Stevens song titles game -- wasn't I just referring to "mind games"? -- got me the tickets to the show, is opening announcer or emcee for the late Opry.

First artist is Mike Snyder, a banjo-playing comedian. And he tickles those strings and our ribs equally well and as well as always. He's followed by guest Darryl Worley. I'm not familiar with young Darryl, like I'm unfamiliar with most newer country music stars ("newer" than ten years in their claim to fame). However, he hits my "hot button" with his final offering, his song "Have You Forgotten". It's a call to America to remember that 9-11 was a heinous attack that launched a war that won't be over for some time due to the nature of our terrorist enemies. At the final note I'm on my feet applauding, along with most of the audience. WE haven't forgotten, even tho' the majority of voters in the last election did forget!

After young Darryl the performance goes the other way age-wise, as long-time Opry cast member Jack Green comes out, attired in a purple rhinestone blazer, and sings his old signature song "Statue of a Fool". Then it's truly age before beauty when venerable Jack is succeeded by guest Kathy Mattea. I've always liked Kathy and her songs, and even bo't her Christmas album some years back. I was hoping she'd sing my favorite, "Eighteen Wheels"; she doesn't but what she does sing, "Where've You Been", is quite acceptable and probably my second fave. She follows it with a new hit, one off her just-released album "Coal". Now dear reader, one can hardly sing songs about coal mining without going to bluegrass! And so Kathy goes there; I relish watching the bass player as his fingers work the strings of the acoustic upright behind Kathy. Band and singer present "The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore", a minor-key lament about the ceasing of train service (the L & N or Louisville & Nashville RR) and demise of coal mining in a community. Beautiful song!

Then we're back to Opry cast, and its "first family" -- in the opinion of yours truly at any rate. These are The Whites. I love these Texans, especially piano-playing daddy Buck and daughter Sharon who is Mrs. Ricky Skaggs. The other singing members of the family are daughters Chryl and Rosie. Daddy Buck otta be proud of his trio of daughters!

The Whites give way to the man who's responsible, one might say, for my being there: Ray Stevens. (See my post of Thursday, 12 February, for how he's responsible.) He's best known, probably, for comical or novelty songs such as "Guitarzan" (the winning-ticket song), "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and "Shriners Convention". I actually prefer his more or less "serious" songs like "Misty" and "Everything Is Beautiful". But I don't mind at all that the hit that makes the biggest "hit" in the Ryman tonite is "The Streak". I'm both amused and fascinated to watch his gestures and movements during this, acting out the story of the song. If you're not acquainted with this it was a huge pop hit when I was a student at the University of Idaho and streaking flashed briefly across the landscape of our country (pun intended). Streakers would run naked thru public places, causing a great stir of embarrassment and excitement in the places streaked. Stevens sings of three interviews after streaking incidents, all three of which involve a reporter asking questions of a witness who's married to Ethel -- who at song's end goes streaking!

Then we're back to the ladies of the Grand Ole Opry, as Connie Smith, the "Rolls Royce of Country Music", comes out to sing. Now, she has a rich voice (hence the nickname), and I always like to listen to Connie, regardless of what she sings. And the night's performances conclude with the country-rock band Restless Heart.

While these last few artists are performing, Mike has been replaced at the emcee's podium by Eddie Stubbs. I clearly remember when Eddie came to Nashville to become a WSM deejay. I remember, because right away he commenced a Saturday morning show on "The Air Castle of the South" in which he presented all sorts of "trivia" about each song he put on the airwaves. "Trivia" isn't the best word; the facts he presented, such as who was playing what instrument or who pitched the song to the artist, are all appreciated by this country music lover. I quickly chose to call him the "fount of country music info"!

Because Eddie's focus is also on the traditional styles, he endeared himself all the more to me. And to top it off, once in awhile while doing emcee service on the Opry show he'd pick up a fiddle and join right in with whatever artist and band was on stage! He doesn't do so tonite, but he does from time to time gesture with his upraised hands for us in the audience to increase our applause. This reminds me of my very first visit to the Grand Ole Opry (in the early 1980s) and how the great Ernest Tubb, one of the "Four Pillars of the Opry", likewise gestured for more applause for other artists who were on stage during the portion of the show he was hosting.

As for this late show on Saturday the Fourteenth, I cannot contain my applause. It WAS a memorable experience indeed!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Room in the Inn"

Nashville shares certain problems with San Antonio (and other cities). One that glares before me as I travel by bus around either city is graffiti. Yuck! The other is homelessness. Thank God, folk in both cities are taking steps to at least assist the homeless when the weather is inclement. In S.A. there was SAMM "San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries". Among other features, SAMM runs shelters where the homeless can sleep on nights when cuddling up under a bridge or on a bench or in a doorway might result in serious illness or even death.

And during the fierce winters of Middle Tennessee in Nashville there is "Room in the Inn". Several churches got together in the 1980s to begin this program to provide overnight shelter in the church buildings. At the time the program commenced back then, the Grahams were members of Donelson Christian Church (Disciples), a participating congregation, and I can remember helping out at the church on a couple of night s when DCC had signed up to do "Room in the Inn".

Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) is also a member church, and I've done my part here by assisting in preparing, serving and cleaning up Saturday breakfast for about ten homeless men back in November and December. ECC takes in homeless on the second Friday night of each month from November to March. Last night I sort of "switched gears" in my participation. I went to the church late Friday afternoon, so that I could ride in the van to the downtown gathering place. This van actually belongs to Nashville Youth for Christ, but they "store" it on the church parking lot. In exchange ECC uses it to transport homeless men from the downtown gathering spot to the church and back. The fellows sleep in a large room on the top floor of the education building.

The reason I wanted to ride in the van was to familiarize myself with it, to make the driving back to downtown on Saturday morning easier. It also allowed me to know the location of the gathering place. This is on the south side of downtown, near the old downtown Sears building that is now the home of the rescue mission.

When we got the guys to the church, and they had put their belongings up in the sleeping room, we set out a supper for them (and later us). It was baked chicken, wild rice and slaw. There were also cookies, Valentine candy and cake. Indeed, the table cloths and decorations were pink, red and white due to the holiday, the eve of which they came into our facility.

After supper there was a video for those who wanted to spend the evening watching a movie before bedtime. Some of the men went pretty much straight to bed down and sleep. Associate Pastor Michael Lehman and another young man of the church arrived before eight o'clock to spend the night. Michael and I went to put gas in the van, as it was indicating a tank almost empty. Then I read the newspaper and listened to the Friday Night Opry before retiring for the night.

Alarm clocks went off, awaking me about five o'clock. I went downstairs, unlocked the doors and started brewing coffee. Margaret Nourse, whom I had assisted with breakfast the previous times, showed up and began working on a delicious breakfast for the guys (and us). After breakfast I drove the guys in the van back to the place where we'd picked them up the evening before. And thus came to an end, for a month, ECC's involvement in "Room in the Inn".

I can hardly wait for next month's turn for us to do "Room in the Inn"! It gives me a strong sense of doing something worthwhile for others. I like that sense! It's a lot like I felt about my participation in Kairos Prison Ministry back in Texas. I'd sure like to get involved in Kairos here in Tennessee! Or go into a prison here as a chaplain. Lord willing. . . ?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Music -- in your face!

As earlier confessed, yours truly loves music. As told earlier, I selected the name for this, my second blog, from Nashville's best-known nickname, "Music City". But dear reader, I feel like I'm about to go into sensory overload with the musical offerings!

It's a case of "music -- in your face!"

Got an e-mail Monday from the choir director at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) about how well we sang "Peace in the Valley". I also heard on WSM-AM 650 "The Air Castle of the South" (and home of the Grand Ole Opry) a report about the Grammy Awards show of the evening before, and how my "main man" in popular music, George Strait FINALLY got to take home a Grammy! (He should have already had a barn full of them back at his South Texas ranch, were the Grammys not so political!)

And then came Monday evening. One Monday a month WSM's evening deejay Eddie Stubbs has "An Intimate Evening" with some country artist. His guests for that program were Dailey and Vincent. I had been unfamiliar with this new bluegrass duo. But I'm quickly becoming a firm fan of theirs.

During the first hour of the "Intimate Evening" I heard Dailey and Vincent doing a song that I dearly love, even tho' it always makes my head leak: "More Than a Name on 'The Wall' ". It's ironic that the song affects me so, because nobody dear to me perished in the Vietnam War. But it certainly set a dark cloud over my teen years, as the war all but tore my beloved country apart. When I got to visit "The Wall" in DC on Memorial Day (observed) of 1999, two impressions bore down on me and fixed themselves in my memory. One, that so many, many lives were sacrificed in the one war our country ever lost. And two, the highly polished stone reflecting my mirror image was a very sobering reminder that but for the grace of God (and Army ROTC) my name could have ended up on "The Wall"! Thus, I cherish in a sorrowful way this song in which a mother prays for her son to know that he's more than just a name on that sad memorial.

Shortly after that song Dailey and Vincent sang a gospel song in which the singer affirms that when he gets to Heaven he will know the Savior by the marks of the nails. It's a great expression of a theme that I've heard in other gospel songs. But it seemed particularly endearing in the bluegrass rendition of this song!

During the "Intimate Evening", held in the Ford Theater within the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the duo expressed how the Statler Brothers are heroes of theirs and that they often set old Statler hits to bluegrass style. This is great! I've always preferred the quartet singing of the Statlers to that of the other famous pop country quartet, the Oaks. And indeed, for their finale Dailey and Vincent did the Statler hit "Do You Know (You Are My Sunshine)", urging -- insisting -- that host Eddie Stubbs join in by singing the essential bass part of the song. This was great! What a show!

Now. . . during this weekdays going-home rush-hour WSM's Mike Terry has been doing a quiz contest, with Grand Ole Opry tickets as prize. His quiz question is to give the name of a Ray Stevens hit (Ray is guesting this Saturday on the Opry), not by it's familiar name but rather by definition. For example Monday rush-hour his definition was "congealed liquid particles in the air". I wracked my brain trying to figure that one out. And I like to have died when the answer was the Stevens hit "Misty". Of course! So obvious!

Well, on Wednesday (yesterday) Mike's clue/definition was "jungle resident with the name of a musical instrument." I'm not at all familiar with the song itself, but this one was obvious to me: "Guitarazan!" Thus, I've got tickets to the late Opry show on Saturday!

Within two hours I also had a ticket to next Thursday's Nashville Symphony Pops Concert, with the Opry's Riders in the Sky. You see, Dawn Hartley, wife of Eastwood Christian Church's pastor, is on the Symphony, playing oboe. Thru this connection (she also sings in the choir and actually used to be choir director until symphony stuff conflicted) I have a ticket to hear the champions of "the Cowboy Way" do their song and humor with an award-winning orchestra as back-up. This will a dream fulfilled! You see, the first year I lived in San Antonio Riders in the Sky was scheduled for the final pops concert of the season with that city's symphony. This was to be in May of 2002 -- but in April that symphony folded. It was revived within a year, and in '06 or '07 the Riders were to be back in the pops concert line-up. This concert did happen as scheduled, but yours truly just didn't have the money to buy a ticket. And no connection with a S.A. symphony member.

So, "Thank you, Dawn!" It's sure nice to become a member of a church community with so many musically talented members!

But then again, this may come close to being just too much music. Music -- in your face!

I'll survive! And I'll give you, dear reader, a report on both my attendance at the Grand Ole Opry this Saturday evening and next Thursday's Nashville Symphony pops concert with Riders in the Sky!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Sunday as a harbinger of Spring

Yesterday, Sunday the Eighth of February in the Year of Our Lord 2009, was an absolutely gorgeous day here in Music City! Weather-wise it was "chamber of commerce." And spiritually it could be described as "just what the Pastor ordered" I suppose.

It began as usual with my attending church at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples). Pastor Jay had sent out a cordial invitation to his Sunday school class by e-mail in mid-week. He got a great response, as the classroom was packed with 20 young-to-middle-age folks (including several married couples). As typical, we had an animated discussion about the lectionary readings for the day. Two of these will be read in the Worship, and Pastor Jay said he'd also refer to a third during his sermon.

It was "Scout Sunday" at Eastwood yesterday, as at some other churches. All Scouts and Scouters (adult leaders) were encouraged to wear their uniforms. Oh, if only I'd had my shirt and tie from when I was Scoutmaster for the BSA troop in Devine (1992-94)! Pastor Jay, who is an adult leader for the Cub Pack that meets in the ECC building, donned his uniform, as did a couple other adults out there in the congregation. Joshua Hartley, the pastor's son and a Scout in uniform, started the Worship service by playing a Scout call to worship on his trumpet. (I hadn't know there was such a bugle/trumpet call!)

Later, for our anthem we the choir sang a stimulating arrangement of the great gospel song "Peace in the Valley" by Thomas Dorsey (who also wrote Martin Luther King's favorite song, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord"). After Pastor Jay's sermon, "God's Delight", the hymn of discipleship was another wonderful gospel song, "There Is a Balm in Gilead". Any time I hear this song it fills me with joy due to its message. and with homesickness, due to its having been an a cappella number on a record I bought before I graduated from the University of Idaho in 1976. That LP vinyl album featured the U of I Vandal Marching Band on one side and the Vandaleer Choir on the other. So the notes and lyrics of "Balm in Gilead" always make me think of the tall pines, rolling fields and distant verdant mountains surrounding the U of I campus in Moscow, Idaho.

Yes, dear reader, I had to make an effort to not get a lump in my sentimental throat while we were all singing this fine song!

From Eastwood I went out to Green Hills on the other side of town, to eat a small Sunday dinner at Kroger. Had I been homesick for Moscow while at church? Well, I got homesick for my most recent hometown while dining there. The Kroger has a fine salad bar, and an area near the entrance with a few tables and chairs and two big-screen TVs. These were tuned to an NBA game in Boston, like they had been when I was out there Thursday evening. I only saw the start of that game, which was the LA Lakers versus the Celtics. The Celtics started very well, but by the time I had to leave they were on their way to an eventual loss. But in this Sunday afternoon game, of which I got to see the final four or five minutes, had the Celtics hosting the Spurs, who spend the first half of every February on the road due to the S.A. Rodeo using the same arena. Even tho' I like the Celtics in their green uniforms -- after all, I'm mainly Welsh-Scots-Irish (Celtic) in ancestry -- I'm going to root for the Spurs any time against anybody. And Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and crew didn't let me down. They won 103-96! Go Spurs go!

After some other activities outdoors in the gorgeous spring-like weather I went to Vine Street Christian Church (Disciples) for their Second Sunday evening activities. These started with a de-e-e-elicious potluck dinner in the fellowship. There was plenty of fried chicken as well as veggie dishes. Among the desserts was the remnant of a strawberry cake iced in pink and red; it had originally been heart-shaped. Vine Street had had a Valentine's theme earlier in the day, with a cake-tasting contest after morning worship, and this must have been one of those entries.

Then we adjourned upstairs to the sanctuary. The woman in charge of these Second Sundays, K.K. Wiseman, started us off with church camp style songs, to which we could keep the beat with various percussion instruments she'd passed out. Then she led us in an exercise in guided prayer. We got comfortable, closed our eyes, listened to her suggestions and thru this communed with our Lord. Afterward we celebrated the Lord's Supper, then concluded by circling up in the open space before the pulpit and table. Well, sort of circled -- an extension of the "circle" went a short way up the central aisle. After K.K.'s benediction we sang one final song a cappella, then dispersed into the darkness. Hopefully for all of us to carry from the worship the light of faith to share with others.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Music. . . Verse 3 "Kay"

You know, dear reader, it sometimes intrigues me how the newer nickname of Nashville, Tennessee, has caught my attention, even my affection, this time around. During my earlier sojourn here, 1984-91, I much preferred the earlier nicknames, especially "Athens of the South", and I avoided "Music City". But not now; witness the name I chose to give this blogsite. And how my first post was entitled "First Note of a New Song", and the second post was verse 1 of "The Music of Music City".

Let's fact it, song and music are a MAJOR part of my life.

And now here's verse three of ""MoMC", to which I give the added word "Kay". This is the simple title of an old song; it goes back before my introduction to Nashville and my transformation into a country music fan. I mention this song in my posting of 24 January ("Verse 2"). I hadn't heard "Kay" in years, but as soon as Keith Bilbrey put it on the WSM airwaves that Friday it touched me deeply again.

However, it touched me in a more positive manner than previous hearings had, perhaps. Instead of focusing on the lyrics as a portrait of the ugly side of life in Nashville and the country music industry, I listened, really listened, to the personal heartache of the singer's story. How he had helped Kay further her singing career by moving them from Texas to Nashville, and then once she "made it" on Music Row she dumped him. And still he continues loving her. It's truly a sadly beautiful song, even with the negative images of the city of my current sojourn.

An Internet search began, to satisfy my curiosity about details of the song, such as date (1964), biographical info on the singer (John Wesley Ryles), identity of the writer (Hank Mills). As part of this search for enlightening about "Kay" I tried to phone in a request one evening for Eddie Stubbs to play it. Eddie is a wonderful fountain of information on just about any country hit recorded, and the artists who sang or played on each!

Having failed to get the song aired -- I probably called in the request too late -- I sent him an e-mail, and e-mailed CC to Bill Cody and Keith Bilbrey. Well, don't you know? Bill was apparently touched by my brief remarks in the e-mail and decided to air "Kay" as today's Cody Classic of the Day! He even made reference in his introduction to the song, to yours truly being "inspired" upon hearing the song (when Keith had played it days earlier). Well, let me tell you, dear reader, that made my day!

So here are the lyrics for this poignant song of love lost as the casualty of someone's rise to stardom.

. Kay, with all your singing talent back in Houston
. Nashville's all you talked about.
. I sold everything I owned to bring you here,
. now you'll be famous, there's no doubt.
. Last night you knocked 'em out in New York,
. tonight Chicago's going wild.
. Kay, your new record on the jukebox don't sound bad.

. Kay, I'm livin' yet I'm dyin'
. staring out at Music City from my cab.

. Caution lights blink out their warning,
. some old Bib Ben clock chimes 3 a.m.
. Starving hound dogs search the trash cans,
. my gas tank could use a dollar's worth again.
. All those chuck-holes here on Main street
. jar my rib cage -- I could cuss.
. Kay, the crowd of night life people look so sad.

. Kay, I'm livin' yet I'm dyin'
. staring out at Music City from my cab.

. Two young soldiers from Fort Campbell
. told me how they hate that war in Vietnam.
. Sirens echo thru an alley and some woman
. some fellow stabbed a man.
. I rushed miss teenage to a doctor,
. she begged to give the child my name.
. I've lost count of cups of coffee that I've had.

. Kay, I'm livin' yet I'm dyin'
. staring out at Music City from my cab.

. Guitars, organs, horns violins and pianos, how they play!
. Grinding out the latest sounds from Music City U.S.A.
. Kay, altho' I know I've lsot you to the swingin' music world,
. I kiss the pictures of the happy times we've had.

. Kay, I'm livin' yet I'm dyin'
. staring out at Music City from my cab.

. Three rose petals on my front seat,
. fallen from the bouquet Jimmy took to June.
. Jim kept mumbling thru his teardrops,
. "God, she'll leave this world with flowers in her room."
. Kay, I showed some drunk your picture
. and he made some smart remark,
. so I hit him in the mouth -- boy, was I mad.

. Kay, I'm livin' yet I'm dyin'
. staring out at Music City from my cab.