Saturday, April 25, 2009

A lost music venue in Music City

In my job of delivering prescriptions for Bradley Health Services, I get to drive all over Davidson Country and adjacent counties. Tuesday I even got to drive up to Clarksville, and see some cherished views of eastern Montgomery County.

Much of my driving is south-ward, into Williamson and Rutherford counties. One evening, due to the locations of the homes where I was delivering meds, I found myself driving back toward Nashville on Murfreesboro Road (US 41), and then turning left on Hobson to go to IH 20. At that turn is the former location of a music venue that has a very dear memory for me. You see, during my earlier residence in Nashville I got to go to my only George Strait concert, there at Starwood Amphitheater.

Starwood, only a year or two old at the time, was an open-air venue. It had a covered stage, with a small permanent seating area just in front of it (also covered, I seem to remember). Then beyond this was a large, smooth, grassy area where more audience could set up lawn chairs or spread blankets or just sit on the grass. I attended the George Strait concert with a Brazilian, Itamar, who was our houseguest while he was learning Engilsh at a Nashville institute. A couple other Brazilians from the institute also attended the concert. Patty Loveless opened the concert; among songs she sang was her recent hit "Timber, I'm Falling". I had to explain to the Brazilians what "timber" signified!

And then Patty introduced the headline artist, commenting something like "the Texan could sure fill a pair of blue jeans" -- which elicited screaming cheers from the young ladies in the audience! Even tho' the Brazilians and I were way back in the grassy area and thus Patty and George looked small, I was still glad to be there! And I've been glad ever since, since it's still the ONLY time I've been to a George Strait concert. Plus it was a great experience of Patty, and I'm liking her more and more over the years. And I judged the venue itself to be a good experience.

But alas! when I returned to Nashville in mid-2008, I was puzzled that I didn't hear on the radio or read in the newspaper anything about concerts at Starwood Amphitheater. I credited this to a name change, since so many things in Music City had had a name change in my absence. But then somebody at Operation Stand Down informed me that Starwood was defunct. This was rather distressing news for a music lover such as yours truly. Not as distressing, perhaps, as when Gaylord Corp. killed Opryland Park over a decade ago. But the lesser distress is due mainly to having experienced merely that one evening at Starwood, compared to dozens (perhaps hundreds) of days and evenings in the themepark, and those with a great variety of musical styles and artists!

So, as I drove past the old location and looked thru the bushes and small trees lining the roads, and I could see that even tho parking asphalt was still in place there was no sign of the stage and permanent seating. And of course there was a for sale sign. Yes it was a somewhat sad moment for me. But I find comfort in the lyrics of a song Patty Loveless recorded after she appeared at Starwood. "Life's about change and nothing ever stays the same."

The GMA & the Dove Awards in Nashville

This past week the Gospel Music Association held its annual convention here in Nashville. (I remember that when I first became interested in Southern gospel music, the National Quartet Convention was held here every year, but then it moved to Louisville.)

Thursday evening the GMA's Dove Awards were presented in a televised show in the (new) Grand Ole Opry House. One could wish the awards had been presented in Ryman Auditorium, which still bears on its keystone the name "Union Gospel Tabernacle". But be that as it may the GMA passed up the opportunity to connect with real history in a really historical venue.

Steven Curtis Chapman, one of my favorites among currently-active artists of the contemporary Christian music genre, received the Dove Award for Artist of the Year. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound received the Dove for Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year for "Reason Enough", and the Gaither Vocal Band got the one for SG Album of the Year. Jeff & Sheri Easter, a husband and wife duo whom I've esteemed since I became a fan of SG music in 1991, garnered two Doves, for Bluegrass Recorded Song and for Bluegrass Album.

Point of Grace received an interesting Dove, for Country Recorded Song! Interesting, because I've liked this female quartet (actually currently down to a trio while one member takes time off for child rearing) ever since I heard them live during the Billy Graham Crusade in Nashville's Adelphi Colosseum in 1999 -- but I had considered them to be of the contemporary style. Well, I became aware that they were on the edge between contempo and country when after my return to Nashville last year they were guests on the Grand Ole Opry more than once. And also I heard them live again in concert in the chapel of Trevecca Nazarene University (practically next door to Mercury Courts where I live)last September. Point of Grace is terrific, however one classifies their musical style!

Fifteen Years of C.C.C. -- v. 1

Today, the 25th of April is the exact anniversary of fifteen years for Bill Cody on WSM, serving as deejay for the weekday morning show "Coffee, Country & Cody". This being Saturday, the on-air celebration was yesterday morning.

And what a celebration!

Please know, dear reader, that I've listened to Bill Cody for more than just 15 years! You see, I first heard him as "Buffalo Bill Cody" on San Antonio's KKYX-AM 680. I still remember how very surprised I was when we moved from Devine, Texas, to Clarksville, Tennessee, in 1994 (not being aware that Bill was no longer at KKYX, since I listened to Christian radio much more than country radio at that time) and I tuned in to WSM one weekday morning -- and there was Bill! I didn't listen that much to the station at the time -- except for Opry nites -- since I preferred Southern Gospel on my radio.

But since moving into Mercury Courts last August I have found it impossible to pick up the chief Southern Gospel station here, and so have "settled" for tuning in "The Air Castle of the South" most of the time. And listening to "Coffee, Country & Cody weekday mornings has gotten my day off to a great start most days! Part of the secret of the allure of the show is that Bill has a sidekick, WSM's sports reporter Charlie Mattos, the resident "Yankee" on the WSM staff. There is an endearing chemistry between the two personalities. Even tho' the show is okay to listen to on days when either Bill or Charlie is absent, I much prefer the two together and their usually very amusing conversations.

On Friday's show, to celebrate Bill's fifteenth anniversary with the station, there were numerous airings of congratulations from all manner of listeners and co-workers, and some fine in-studio guests. One was Sarah Buxton, a young lady with whom I was unfamiliar, but from her conversations with Bill the two have been acquaintances for a good long time. At one point Bill asked her about her first encounter with a "star" after coming to Nashville, and she told about doing something musically with Martina McBride and then being invited to Martina's home. Once there, Sarah realized that -- wow! -- she was in MARTINA's home, but the star herself was just being "so regular".

Another in-studio guest was Whitey Shaffer, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Like many songwriters, Whitey has also performed songs. And he was ready to sing and play guitar there in the studio, for Bill and the audience. But the song he was going to play is one that George Strait had recorded (and with which he'd had a hit), and Bill had already played it. So Whitey had to go with another song he had written.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrating Music City's Famous

This is April, and in Tennessee, unlike in Texas, the WHOLE of April is a REAL month of Spring. This includes abundant rainfall, which makes this the "greenest State in the land of the free."

Nashville certainly DID receive plenty of rainfall over the weekend, which led to an indoor contingency for a celebration that was initially planned for outdoors. It's a biennial celebration, and at the one last November the weather was such wintry bluster that it really would've been excellent to have had an indoor contingency for it too!

The biennial celebration to which I refer is the Induction Ceremony for the Music City Walk of Stars. The one back in November was on the Ninth, just before I commenced this blog; it surprises me that I ignore the Walk Induction in my first blog. But whatever. . . I went to that Induction because Martina McBride and Randy Travis were two of the inductees. And I've liked both of these country stars since they first hit the airwaves in the 1980s. In fact I liked them BEFORE either became members of the Opry cast. That day was indeed a wintry bluster, so I didn't stick around for the other inductions, even tho' the last of the six was Trace Adkins and I like him, too.

But as I said, today's Induction came with an indoor contingency plan, It was in the Visitor Center at the Broadway and Fourth Ave. corner of the Sommet Center. Part of the Visitors Center is round, being at the bottom of the round tower that tapers upward here. It has a wall of glass windows, looking out on the Nashville Convention Center across Broad, the honk-tonks of Lower Broad, and Ryman Auditorium just up Fourth. This is where the actual ceremony would be held, and seating was reserved. So I sat in the rectangular other portion of the center, before the ticket windows for the Sommet.

As with the ceremony last November WSM's Bill Cody was Emcee, and was dressed in a nice suit, green shirt and blue necktie. Before he opened the program, talented guitarist David Andersen, "The Ambassador of Music City", played instrumental entertainment for us. Six people were inducted this time.

Dr. R.H Boyd was a posthumous inductee. He was important a century ago in National Baptist publishing, and was key to the preservation of traditional African-American music, the music of his people. His descendant, Dr. T.B. Boyd, represented him on the dais during the ceremony.

"Cowboy" Jack Clement, casually dressed in a blue Western jacket and open-neck shirt, is a local Tennessean who performed music but spent most of his life in discovering and producing other who became country music stars.

Mike Curb is the name in this class of inductees that I had known of the longest. You see, for decades I've heard the Mike Curb Congregation -- a singing group probably best known for Disney "It's a Small World". But apparently Mike and his family have been more influential in the production aspect of music, with Curb Records and other endeavors. Know also, dear reader, that the Curb name is on a major new building erected on the Belmont University campus.

Cece Winans is probably next to Mr. Curb the name I've known of the longest. I can remember years ago when she sang gospel duets with her brother Bebe. Then she launched a solo career, and remains quite popular in gospel circles. During her acceptance speech she put things into perspective: her faith and her family are above her singing!

Josh Turner is a name I was surprised to read on the list of inductees, since he's comparatively new to country music popularity -- his first hit "Long Black Train" being less than a decade old. At 31 he's also the youngest inductee ever. But when Bill Cody gave his biographical sketch of young Josh, I could understand that his rise has definitely been meteoric -- sort of like George Strait's two decades earlier! Like Cece, Josh's acceptance speech contained testimony to his lively Christian faith.

Marty Stuart, the final inductee, is also the only inductee who is a member of the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. But he's almost a "Renaissance Man", with personal efforts in writing, photography, preservation of country music and the mementos of country stars. And he has his own, self-named television show on the RFD-TV channel. See my post of 24 February for my attendance at taping for that show.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Christ is Risen! It's "Hallelujah!" time in Nashville

Wow! Yesterday was SUCH a DAY! ! !

This Sunday of celebrating the Resurrection of the Nazarene commenced with my attending Sunrise Service and Breakfast at First Lutheran Church in downtown Nashville. (My current home church lacks a Sunrise Service.) It was very liturgical -- e.g., lots of standing and kneeling, recitation of the Nicene Creed and giving each other the Sign of Peace. "Liturgical" hardly bothers yours truly, however. And this Sunrise Service also had plenty of great, good-quality music and song! In addition to the congregation's choir, we had a choir visiting from Oslo, Norway. In addition to organ and piano, we had an eight-piece chamber orchestra. At times one of these elements did a "solo" performance, at times on varying combos. And they probably all collaborated at one point or another. The finale was "Hallelujah!" (commonly spoken of as the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel's "Messiah") and it was, well, a "hallelujah!" moment!

A delicious breakfast followed in the fellowship hall downstairs. Then I bused across town to Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples). I was a little late for Sunday School, which choir director Julie Duemler facilitated. (Pastor Jay is involved with Associate Pastor Michael, in a "Pastor's Class" for young people in ECC.) Our topic was the first written account of the Resurrection, Mark 16:1-8. We discussed the well-known and generally-accepted fact that this Gospel originally ended at verse 8, with the women fleeing the empty tomb, afraid! And what does such an abrupt ending to the story signify? What did Mark intend? How does it draw the reader (or hearer) of Mark into the story and pose the question: how do YOU complete this story?

Then it was time for Julie and choir members to leave, to practice in the adjacent choir room. We actually practiced THREE specials for today's Worship: a sung call to worship and a Closing "Thine Is the Glory" as well as the Anthem "The Strife Is O'er". All included accompanists in addition to organist-pianist Marie Wiggins. These were Gene Lovelace on trombone and Joseph Hartley on trumpet. None of the pieces may have matched Handel's "Hallelujah!", but all were impressive and uplifting and JOYFUL nevertheless!

And we got TWO excellent sermons! The children's message, led by Saundra Horner, featured expressions of excitement about the meaning of this most special day of the Christian Year. The children's remarks -- some as responses to Saundra's questions and some ad lib -- built the message. The children drew ALL present into the excitement of the Resurrection! (Saundra later told me that she had intended that the children DO the message; she was simply facilitator.) As I listened and observed, I considered Jesus' insistence that one must have the mind of a child in order to get into Heaven.

Pastor Jay's sermon touched me deeply, too, if in a somewhat different way. He really underlined the meaning of our celebration of Christ's Resurrection, by a series of illustrations. Each illustration presented something or somebody dead (or as good as dead or deeply hurting) that experienced a return to life or a renewal of life. One was the organ, which got fried last summer (a lightning storm just after I arrived in Nashville), and was "declared dead" in a letter from a repairman. BUT NOW it's performing again! Another was last Wednesday's East Nashville Cooperative Ministry Lenten luncheon hosted by our church. Far fewer folks attended than had been expected, and so a huge amount of catered food(which was de-e-e-elicious!) was left over and threatening to go to waste and be a liability rather than a profit or break-even for the caterer. And with some quick messaging from the church we had an impromptu church supper of leftovers (also de-e-e-elicious!) the next evening before our Maundy Thursday Worship done with East End UMC. And so. . . what could have been a disaster got "resurrected" into a "extra" event for us!

In the same way, Christ's Resurrection turned the disaster and tragedy of the crucifixion into that which gives meaning to the Christian faith!

A point that Pastor Jay made in conjunction with these examples, as with the Resurrection of the Savior, is that what is resurrected is not necessarily the same as what was lost in the first place! This struck me as an excellent point, considering that the body of the Risen Lord was obviously different in some ways from the one put to death on the cross of Golgotha! His closest followers didn't immediately recognize him. And he could pass thru locked doors and come and go at will -- and yet could eat food and allow doubters to touch the wounds!

Pastor Jay mentioned also that hope is a theme, even THE theme, for today. Hope!

To which I'd say, "Amen!"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Holy Days to all of y'all!

Every year, on the Saturday that falls between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday I send out in e-mail an inspirational message. Here it is in full:

Today is Saturday. Yesterday was Friday -- a Friday that on Western calendars is labeled "Good Friday". We call it "Good Friday" and we remember.

But what do we remember on this one Friday every year? We remember that the one and only perfect and innocent man who ever lived was put to death as a criminal. We remember that the one human who did not deserve death died at the hands of angry men. We remember his torture, his passion, his hanging stark naked on a cross for hours in dreadful pain before he breathed his last. We remember that a friend took the body down and placed it cold and bloodied in the friend's own tomb.

Now what, pray tell, is "good" about all that? Why should we call the day "Good Friday"? We call it "good" because of what we'll remember tomorrow. Tomorrow we celebrate that this same Jesus the Nazarene, Anointed of God to be our Savior, was raised on the third day after that horrible death. We celebrate that the power of God Almighty conquered death and triumphed over the death of the Son and raised him back to life!

He who died for our sins came out of that tomb. He's alive! Forevermore!

And his resurrection ensures us that, sinners tho' we be, culpable as we are in his death (to ransom us sinners), we who place our trust in this Jesus the Christ will also be resurrected after death. We, too, shall live forever in the glorious presence of God and of our Savior! Now, THAT'S "Good News"! That's the reason we call yesterday "Good Friday". Without what happened then and our remembering it, what we'll remember tomorrow on Resurrection Day would be incomplete, and lacking in real meaning.

But Christ who died is risen! He is risen indeed!

May the Lord bless you with His grace and peace and JOY as you celebrate tomorrow. Hallelujah!

Your brother, in Christ,
Glen Alan Graham

Nashville, Tennessee
born again on Resurrection Sunday of A.D. 1969
(I'm 40 years old in the Lord! Praise his name!)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Palm Sunday begins what many Christians know as "Holy Week". It's the final week of Lent, commemorates the Passion of our Savior, and leads up to the Sunday of Christ's Resurrection.

Wednesday of Holy Week Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) hosted a luncheon for members of congregations which participate in the East Nashville Cooperative Ministries. Lunch was provided by a catering company with which church member Allison Witt is connected. The food was delicious and included garden salad, chicken tetrazini and something new to me: artisan's bread. Some of this latter featured slices of a loaf that included olives and it was scrumptious. After the meal there was a brief slide presentation (actually PowerPoint) about the work of the ENCM.

Unfortunately, there were far fewer folks attending this luncheon than anticipated, so we had lots of food left over, and the specter of a financial loss for ENCM and/or the caterer. (In earlier years the organization had sponsored as series of lunches during Lent, but this year simply the one which we'd hosted.) The solution was a hasty calling around ECC(DC) and East End UMC. The latter church was already going to join us for a Maundy Thursday evening service, and some of their members would be joining with the ECC Choir for the musical selections. Plenty of folks showed up from both churches for the impromptu dinner, and the food didn't go to waste!

The joint Worship of the two congregations was rather awesome, kind of a spiritual nourishment to parallel the physical nourishment of the impromptu dinner. Only the order of worship was hardly "left-overs"! Indeed, I'd not been to a service on a Maundy Thursday that was quite like it. The word "maundy" is Old English for "mandate" or "commandment" and refers to how while Christ was observing the Last Supper and instituting the Lord's Supper, He also gave His one new commandment to His disciples: that we love one another. This new "maundy" is repeated three times in John 13 and 14; this repetition impresses yours truly that THIS IS IMPORTANT information, so let's heed it!

Anyways, Maundy Thursday services I've attended previously -- which would be most years in the forty since I became a Christian -- focus on either the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus' washing the disciples' feet (often including a foot-washing during the service), or the new commandment to love. The foot-washing was Jesus' practical demonstration of what such love is -- an act of the will and of humble service to others, not just a warm fuzzy feeling.

When we the combined choir got up and sang the Anthem, "Silent was the Night", it was indication to all who heard that there would be more to this worship than what I was accustomed to on a Maundy Thursday. The Anthem was about the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, which followed the Supper, the foot-washing and the giving of the new commandment. And so, after we observed the Lord's Supper, we had what I would call a variation on a standard Good Friday tenebrae service. "Tenebrae" is Latin for darkness, and alludes both to the darkness of our Savior's suffering on that Friday (actually the crucifixion was almost certainly on a Thursday, since Jesus prophesied that he would be dead and buried three days and three nights), and to the gradual extinguishing of lights (candles and electrical) while the "seven last words" of Jesus are recited. However, the order was more involved than this; it was a recitation of the entire Passion narrative, and as passages were read by various individuals other individuals would go forward and remove a decoration or two from the chancel area. Such activity is called the "stripping of the church." This continued until even the communion table was bare and the cross in the baptistery was covered with black cloth.

In what little light was still around in the sanctuary every one of us left in silence. And the silence was to be kept out thru the parking lot to our departing on cars. And you know, dear reader? I for one certainly did NOT want to say a word any way! The impact of the service was that moving; one wished simply to reflect silently on the meaning of all one had seen and heard back there in the sanctuary of Eastwood Christian Church. . . .

Monday, April 6, 2009

Palm Sunday -- Pluperfect! Supernal!

This past weekend finishing up with Palm Sunday (also known as "Passion Sunday") was a time for supernal music for me! If you're unfamiliar with the word "supernal", think "heavenly"! And "pluperfect" is a verb tense, and also means "more than perfect".

However, "pluperfectly supernal" music began for me on Friday nite. I was listening to the Friday Nite Opry on WSM. Ricky Skaggs hosted the final half hour, which is a great start to how good that half hour becomes! I've always liked his style of singing, whether it's pop country -- he's one of the artists who along with George Strait saved country music in the 1980s from going so pop that "country-ness" would have been completely lost -- or outright bluegrass with great acoustics.

His first guest artists were my now-favorite quartet, Riders in the Sky. And wow! did my guys sound great! Among the two songs they did was "Timber Trail". This song took me back to my boyhood, growing up among the tall timbers of Idaho and listening to my folks' vinyl albums of cowboy songs, one of which was this song. Also on stage during this final half hour were The Whites. They sang "There's a Big Wheel" an up-tempo Gospel number.

Sunday morning I took the bus to church as usual, but unlike usual I didn't have to then wait awhile for others to arrive and Sunday School to begin. You see, Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) has a tradition of a Palm Sunday breakfast. We feasted on various breakfast casseroles, quiches and other breakfast items. Mm-mm-mm! Delicious!

Our Worship commenced with the choir filing down each side aisle and spacing out evenly. ECC(DC)'s Vandy D-School intern, Steven Gower, read Mark 11:1-11. Then Pastor Jay (Hartley), garbed in full Scots regalia, entered the main door playing "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (actually the melody is based on Beethoven's "Ode to Joy") on his bagpipes. He strolled up the center aisle, followed by Eastwood children bearing palm fronds; we the choir followed the children. Shortly afterward the choir and the children together sang a lively yet easy song, "Hosanna! Hosanna!"

Later, in our usual point in the order of worship the choir sang our anthem "Ride On! Ride On in Majesty" by Darst. Right afterward, Pastor Jay gave another of his terrific sermons -- I tell you, this brother can PREACH! -- entitled "The Passion and Com-passion of Jesus". I would not call it a standard or typical Palm Sunday or Passion Week message; it was broader than that!

Sunday evening I attended the third annual "Community Hymn Sing" at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. This featured not only the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Community Choir but other artists. And us the audience! Some of the listed songs and hymns were done solely by the professionals. But most were for all voices in the hall to sing. Guest artists who joined with the Symphony for various songs included Phil Keaggy and Jars of Clay. Singing a cappella was a choir of about two dozen Dominican nuns, clad in white habits and black wimples.