I doubt that anyone knows who coined the term “Nashville guitar pull,” but the concept of songwriters getting together and taking turns showing off their wares has been going on in Music City longer than hot chicken. Now an established concert format, it’s a treasured part of Nashville’s musical identity with several rooms featuring “writers in the round” and no better place to experience it than the famous Bluebird.
But come every spring now for 27 years, a handful of venues (ten this year, including the ‘Bird) get in the writer showcase mode for Tin Pan South. This festival, sponsored by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (“NSAI”), brings over 250 artists and fans from all over the world for five evenings of songs played by the folks who wrote them. It’s a well-organized concert schedule featuring four folks on a stage “pulling” together for four to five songs each at venues hosting both early and late sets.
It’s a fun event but can sometimes test a listener’s patience level as the roster is heavy with unfamiliar artists. Some may get your attention though, not through their name, but by the titles of the hit songs they’ve written. But every year, yours truly hones in on a choice show or two featuring some of my favorite local songsmiths. On this night, like I last did in 2013, I just couldn’t resist the Big Yellow Dog Music showcase upstairs in the cozy confines of the City Winery Lounge.
Once again, friends and musical partners in the band, Skyline Motel, Daniel Tashian and Kate York, were on the Yellow Dog bill. This time these two “old-timers” were joined by some young talent, Tenille Townes and Keelan Donavan. The comradery amongst these four was strong after obviously having spent writing and recording time together in various combinations. There was a sincere joy they shared in getting this chance to play live together in front of an audience.
While these four all loved reminiscing about the times they’ve shared together crafting the songs they played this evening, there was one thing that three of them could not say enough about. That was the heartful congratulatory joy they all had for Daniel Tashian who recently grabbed Grammy, CMA and ACM Album of the Year awards as co-producer of Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour record.
Daniel, who is also front man for pop-rock should-be superstars, The Silver Seas, was also co-writer of several tracks from Golden Hour. Tonight, he boldly stepped into some unfamiliar territory and gave rough but respectful solo renderings of two of those cuts. One of them, Slow Burn however proved to be a real treat for the others sharing the stage who giddily got to sing backing vocals on one of 2018’s best songs.
Tashian rounded out his set with two new songs, one of which comes from his just released children’s record, I Love Rainy Days that is an absolute must for any young’uns on your gift list. Finally, he really threw me for a loop when introing his last song as “his big hit.” While my brain was thinking he was being sarcastic about something from his underappreciated band, he was in fact referring to his #1 hit for Josh Turner “Hometown Girl.” His intro mentioned how this song proved to be a life-changer for him in terms of his musical confidence. Like the Kacey cuts he sang early, it didn’t have that usual Tashian charm, and I think he was a bit relieved after he had made his way through it.
Attention to Tashian’s recent awards coming from the stage aside, it was obvious from the audience reaction that tonight was an unintended showcase for the talent of young Tenille Townes. After her strong Tashian-produced 2018 EP debut, Living Room Worktapes, Townes hit the road opening on the Miranda Lambert / Little Big Town tour. There Tenille caught the attention of many new ears, and she is now readying the release of her major label debut LP on Columbia Nashville later this year. It was apparent that most of tonight’s crowd came to see her and she surely did not disappoint them. Such a caring and clever writer and a brilliantly charismatic performer, in my book, she’s a can’t miss for success.
New to my ears tonight was another young fresh face in that of singer-songwriter Keelan Donavan. Perhaps a little behind the career progress of Townes, he nonetheless should see a bright future ahead. There was a bright and joyful contagious enthusiasm in his musical delivery. His songs have a modern flair with a respect for tradition even though he missed the Joni Mitchell connection to his song “Like a Radio,” mentioning Springsteen instead. I’ve added Keelan Donavan to my musical watch list.
Finally, Kate York reminded us that she is one of the best writers in Nashville today. One of those whose songs are better known than she is, York however is a fine presenter of her songs. Her delivery is simple but the songs themselves command you to listen. Her song selection also included one of the Skyline Motel tracks that gave a small glimpse into the musical chemistry that she has with Daniel Tashian. If you have yet to check out this musical foursome that also features Sarah Buxton and Ian Fitchuk, you need to. It’s Fleetwood Mac without the drama.
So, what made this guitar pull so enjoyable? Getting to watch four artists who work with each other in writers’ rooms and recording studios have a blast playing together on stage in front of real people like us.
- Where You Are (TT)
- What I Want (KD)
- Strangers (KY)
- Nightbird (DT)
- The Way You Look Tonight (TT)
- Maybe I’ve Already Won (KD)
- All My Worry (KY)
- We Can Ride (DT)
- The Thing That Wrecks You (TT)
- Like a Radio (KD)
- Bitch (KY)
- Slow Burn (DT)
- White Horse (TT)
- Change My Mind (KD)
- Bound Together (KY)
- Oh, What a World (DT)
- Somebody’s Daughter (TT)
- Catching a Dream (KD)
- Champagne Makes Me Cry (KY)
- Home Town Girl (DT)
Tenille Townes – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
Keelan Donavan – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
Kate York – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
Daniel Tashian – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar