Bob DiPiero

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our (lucky?) 13th time at a CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub. There was a very special guest star, announced well in advance, which made them sell out even sooner than they usually do (and they always sell out!).

In order to give the special guest, Dierks Bentley a little more time with the crowd, they only had four performers rather than the more typical five (though I’m just guessing at the reason).

For the first time in our experience, Bob DiPiero (the host of the series) sat at the left end rather than the middle.

DavidLeeMurphyDierksBentleyJimBeavers

Going from left to right:

Bob DiPiero is always a crowd favorite. I’m convinced that he could show up himself, and most of the people that attend these shows would come anyway. There’s no doubt that he’s written huge hits, and that many are great songs, but for as large a catalog as he has, he doesn’t vary it all that much from show to show (for my taste). I don’t blame him, as every morsel gets eaten up by the audience, so he’s playing to the heart of his fans.

BobDiPiero

David Lee Murphy played guitar and sang. We saw David Lee once before on September 9th, 2008 at one of these shows. He was excellent that night, as he was last night again. He’s a polished performer with a lot of hits. As I mentioned in my post the last time we saw him, he’s funny, but lower key than many of the others who come to this series.

DavidLeeMurphy1 DavidLeeMurphy2

Dierks Bentley played guitar and sang. We saw Dierks at Madison Square Garden on October 21st, 2009 when he opened for Brad Paisley. I covered that show in this post. If you read that, you know that Dierks was great that night. We were extremely excited to see him at our favorite club, in an intimate environment.

DierksBentley1 DierksBentley2 DierksBentley3

He didn’t disappoint that expectation, in that he was amazingly personable, funny, and he played a nice selection of his hits. Unfortunately, it wasn’t magical, since he was fighting some sort of throat condition (cold?) and as he himself pointed out, his voice wasn’t coming out as he and we all know it to be (he really has an excellent voice).

Jim Beavers played guitar and sang. Jim is incredibly funny in a totally self-deprecating manner. He was the target of both Bob and Dierks the entire evening, and he held his own both pushing back and piling on himself. He has written a number of hits and performed them well last night.

JimBeavers1 JimBeavers2

It was a fun show, with a slightly higher banter-to-music ratio than normal (something we both appreciate) with a very appreciative crowd. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd alone would have made it an event you wouldn’t want to miss, but for my money, the quality of the music itself last night was below the norm for these shows.

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our 12th CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub. We look forward to all of them (and buy our tickets the minute the shows are announced).

We were even more excited about last night’s show when our friend in Nashville told us that Jessi Alexander was very special. Since this is the same friend who recommended we see Jeffrey Steele live, we knew not to take her opinion lightly. :-)

I’m going to bury the headline down below, just because I don’t want to take away from the wonderful talented people who sang their hearts out and kept us entertained all evening with their stories. So, if you want the big news, you’ll have to keep reading, or skim/skip a ways down…

Sitting left to right on the stage:

BobJesseJonMark

Bob DiPiero was left-most this time (first time that he wasn’t in the middle in all 12 of our shows!). He’s always entertaining (musically, as MC and as comedian), but he was even more on last night. I think it was a combination of a few reasons, all of them positive, but one of them would ruin my headline surprise, so I’ll leave it at that.

BobDiPiero

Jessi Alexander sang and played acoustic guitar. Jessi sings beautifully and writes superb songs. She is a co-writer on Miley Cyrus’ huge hit The Climb.

Jesse2

I confess to knowing very few of Miley’s songs. I’ve never watched Hannah Montana, etc. However, we do watch a few hours of GAC (Great American Country) TV most weekends, and catch a number of the top videos of the week. The very first time I saw Miley’s The Climb video, I fell in love with the song. When Lois came back into the room I told her how shocked I was that I reacted so strongly to it.

Ironically, Miley’s movements in the video are distracting, so there’s nothing about the video that made me like the song. In fact, overcoming her overacting to fall in love with the song is what made me realize what an excellent song it was. So, it was a very nice treat to see/hear Jessi do it last night. I still love Miley’s version sonically. :-)

Jon Randall sang and played acoustic guitar (all forms, rhythm, flat picking, finger picking, etc.). Let’s get the bottom line out of the way first: he’s amazing!

Jon2

Jon has a great voice (absolutely star performer quality). He writes great songs (you’ve probably seen/heard Whiskey Lullaby, cut by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss). He is one of the best guitar players that we’ve seen at a CMA show.

Jon happens to be married to Jessi Alexander. That may be one of the reasons that Bob sat on an end last night instead of the middle, so that Jessi and Jon could sit near each other. Jon accompanied Jessi on every one of her songs, and they sang harmony together on both of their numbers, beautifully.

JesseJon2

Mark Sanders sang and played acoustic guitar. I couldn’t find a link to a web site or MySpace page devoted to him, so I linked his name to an old article (1997) that might give you a good background on Mark.

Mark1

He’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take it from me, he was recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of fame (Bob DiPiero is an inductee as well). He has written quite a number of smash hits, including one of our all-time favorites, I Hope You Dance (cut by Lee Ann Womack).

Mark is not much of a singer, and he pointed that fact out all night (in extremely funny fashion). He praised Jon over and over, and boy, is he right about that.

None of that matters. He writes extraordinary songs, plays the guitar well enough, and delivers the emotion associated with the person who actually conceived of and wrote the song, which is precisely what we love to hear!

In fact, all of the above would be enough for us to have been thrilled to see Mark last night. But wait, there’s more! If you order now… ;-)

Mark is one of the funniest, natural, spontaneous people we’ve seen (not just at a CMA show, but in general). He kept us in stitches all night. Mark has also written a lot with Bob (including some smash hits), so they know each other well.

Mark2

We believe that one of the of factors that made Bob a bit different (and better!) last night was their shared history, love of having a good time together, and knowing that Mark would make fun of anything Bob said that might sound serious. ;-)

We got to hear the story behind Daddy’s Money (a song we’ve heard Bob sing more than 10 times) and it was awesome! The inspiration behind the songs is fascinating to us.

Their banter was so funny that Jessi commented that she and Jon had to sit between them to keep them separated. :-)

BobJesseJonMark2

OK, finally, the buried headline.

About 1/2 way through the show, Bob announced that we had a superstar in the audience, and with some encouragement, he was likely to agree to come on stage. No extra prodding was necessary.

A minute later, rising from the second level was none other than Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry. He walked through the crowd and climbed on to the stage. He performed two songs (singing and playing acoustic guitar), both written by Bob DiPiero. The first was Montgomery Gentry’s first #1 hit, If You Ever Stop Loving Me. He followed that with the crowd favorite Gone (which the crowd begs Bob to sing at every show!).

Troy1

He was awesome. He commented that he hasn’t played an acoustic set in a very long time, and he was nervous, because he’s usually surrounded by the giant sound of a large electric band. Troy, no need to worry, we’ll be thrilled to welcome you back onto the small stage any time. You owned it! :-)

Troy2Troy3

Troy6

Another great CMA night at Joe’s Pub. The next one is expected to be in March 2010, no specific date set yet. Barring an unmovable scheduling conflict (and there might indeed be one if the CMA is near March 12th), we’ll be there!

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Wed night was our 11th CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub. It won’t be our last, we already have tickets for the November 5th show.

We were supposed to be at Zope this week, and were planning on missing this show. As I’ve noted before, on occasion, the show scores a major Country star, who also happens to be a serious songwriter (that’s a requirement!), and this show was scheduled to have Chuck Wicks in that role!

He’s a serious talent, but the fact that he’s a serious hottie probably weighed in Lois’ desire to postpone our trip south by a few days. Of course, Lois is no dummy, so instead of even hinting at that, she said to me that perhaps Chuck’s girlfriend, Julianne Hough might show up.

Chuck Wicks Closeup

Chuck Wicks Closeup

Well, I don’t stare at stunningly beautiful, talented women, so the prospect of sitting next to Julianne Hough wasn’t even slightly interesting to me, but I did agree to stick around for Lois. ;-)

There were four songwriters on the stage, with two additional people supporting Chuck (not atypical when a touring star shows up, though it’s usually only one supporter). Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Chuck Wicks played guitar and sang, and told some funny stories as well. He has an incredible voice, and sings every song with a real passion. He’s a very good songwriter as well, including the song we discovered him through, Stealing Cinderella, which he played to the crowd’s delight. He’s as personable and natural on stage as you could hope for in a performer.

Chuck Wicks

Chuck Wicks

Backing him up, both playing acoustic guitar, both singing harmony, beautifully, were two men named Jack (they never said their last names). They are half of Chuck’s band. I had to work too hard to figure out their names, but finally got it. Stars like Chuck should really do a better job of highlighting their band members on their website (he’s not unique, many don’t bother!).

Jack Sizemore sat behind Chuck, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. He was the primary background vocalist, but the other Jack sang a bunch too. Jack is very good on the guitar, and he sings wonderfully.

Jack Sizemore

Jack Sizemore

Jack Kincaid sat behind Chuck, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. He played smoking leads on the acoustic guitar, and when he sang, it was wonderful as well. The three of their voices blend so well together, it was a real treat that they decided to attend the show with Chuck!

Jack Kincaid

Jack Kincaid

He’s such a consummate guitarist, that after a few bars of other people’s songs, he started throwing in great leads on them as well. Unfortunately, Bob DiPiero cracked a joke about having to chip in to pay him (it was definitely a joke), and Jack Kincaid didn’t seem sure it was a joke, and he stopped doing it. :-(

Bob DiPiero played guitar and sang. He was his usual gregarious self, and entertained the crowd all night.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Marv Green played the guitar and sang. An excellent songwriter who has an excellent voice as well. Extremely relaxed with the crowd as well, telling a number of stories throughout the set. Thoroughly enjoyed all of his numbers.

Marv Green

Marv Green

Ashley Gorley played the guitar, electric keyboards and sang. Ashley is excellent on the keyboards, decent on the guitar and has a decent voice as well. Middle of the road in terms of the typical singer/songwriter that comes through these shows. That said, he’s in the top portion of the list as far as being a great songwriter. He’s got exactly what it takes, writing and collaborating on quite a number of giant hits. Lois was particularly blown away by Ashley!

Ashley Gorley

Ashley Gorley

Another fantastic night at a CMA show at Joe’s Pub. Already looking forward to the next one. :-)

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our 10th show in the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub. It won’t be our last. :-)

Last night’s show was awesome, among the best we’ve seen.

There were only four performers last night (which has happened before, typically there are five), but there were five people on stage (I’ll explain shortly).

Doing my usual left-to-right recap:

Keith Follese sang, played the electric keyboards and acoustic guitar. Keith is a fantastic songwriter, penning a large number of hits, getting big applause every time he started one of his songs. He also debuted a song that hasn’t been picked up yet, and from the audience response, someone should, and soon!

Keith Follese

Keith Follese

Keith is wonderful on the keyboards, and good on the guitar. I don’t know if he ever had a good voice, but if he did, he lost it a while ago. He sings on key, so there was nothing wrong with it, but he’s more in the mold of the songwriters where you don’t wonder why he isn’t performing his own material.

For one number, he was joined on stage by his wife, Adrienne Follese (a songwriter herself). It was her birthday. They sang a duet. She has a lovely voice, and a sweet personality. No disrespect to Keith, but it would have been interesting to have Adrienne sing his/their songs with him accompanying her.

Adrienne Follese

Adrienne Follese

Bob DiPiero sang and played the guitar. He’s the host, and only regular performer at each show. He was on last night (as he is on most nights), doing a great job with his songs, and with the crowd banter as well.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Billy Currington sang and played acoustic guitar. This is one of those rare treats, when a real star performer (who happens to also be a top-notch songwriter!) attends the show. Billy has the current #1 Country hit, People are Crazy (it’s a really fun video as well).

Billy Currington

Billy Currington snapping a photo of the audience

Billy has a great voice, and plays rhythm guitar very well. I mentioned above that I would explain that there were five people on stage. Tucked in the right corner of the stage, behind the four performers, was Doug Collins (I’m pretty sure I heard the name correctly, but I can’t find any links to him!), who was there to support Billy Currington.

This is the same type of setup that occurred when Craig Morgan was at the CMA show last October, and he brought Mike Rogers along with him. Doug played fantastic leads all night (invisible to us, obscured by Billy), and sang harmonies with Billy on most songs as well.

Lois snapped this one photo of Doug while he was tuning up, which was the only time we could see him. It’s dark, and I adjusted it, and it’s still bad, but this is all I can offer up now. Sorry:

Doug Collins

Doug Collins

They were very polished together (as were Craig and Mike), which in addition to their generally better performing skills, raises the ante a bit more for the lonely singer/songwriter who performs at these shows. The only difference was that Mike sat right alongside Craig Morgan for that. I think it would have been a nice touch to have Doug sit next to Billy, but it wasn’t my call. ;-)

Jason Sellers sang and played acoustic guitar. He has an excellent voice, writes great songs, plays the guitar well, and gives a good performance all around. He’s also a story-teller by nature, and was extremely comfortable with the crowd. For those of you who are Country trivia types, his ex-wife is Lee Ann Womack!

Jason Sellers

Jason Sellers

They went around a bunch of times, each singing a song and telling a story (that’s the usual format). When they left the stage, it wasn’t clear whether they would come back. While there have been encores at most shows, sometimes, only Bob and perhaps on other returns. Last night, all five came back on the stage and performed another round, much to the delight of the entire crowd (the place was bursting at the seems).

They were on stage for almost exactly two hours. Two wonderful hours. We are currently scheduled to be out of town the next time they are set to show up at Joe’s Pub, but we’re seriously considering trying to change some things around to be able to continue our attendance at this extremely satisfying series.

Toward the end of the show, Keith Follese shared some excellent personal news with us. I already mentioned that his wife was there, and that it was her birthday. After she left the stage, she ended up sitting two tables to our left. At her table was their daughter, whom Keith introduced as a basketball player.

But, DiPiero prompted him to mention that a third generation of Follese’s were now officially in the music business (Keith is second generation). Keith then told us that both of his boys (ages 22 and 17) are in a band with other famous kids.

The band is Hot Chelle Rae. Keith’s kids are: Ryan Keith Follese and Jamie Follese. The other band members are: Nash Overstreet (son of Paul Overstreet, a longtime favorite of ours) and Ian Keaggy (son of the great Phil Keaggy, whom I was late discovering, but now count as a favorite as well!). They were in NJ opening for David Cook!

Was it all great? The show was, with no disappointments whatsoever. We had incredible seats (they gave away our normal table to someone who was a guest of one of the performers, even though we confirmed it last week). But, there was a row of people immediately behind us that were close to the rudest, loudest bunch of people we’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting next to.

When that happens, and I’ve written about it before, it’s almost always someone who isn’t a fan to begin with. They’re either on a date, and happened to randomly select a show to impress their date, or they’re along for the ride with friends, and don’t care to show respect to anyone around them, the performers included.

Last night was different, a first for us. The people behind us were obviously big Country music fans. For the few minutes that they stopped talking, they knew every word to every song from all of the performers. I was beyond impressed with their breadth. But, that didn’t stop them from talking nearly non-stop, at the top of their lungs.

The microphones on stage were set pretty loud last night (good quality, but high volume). Even so, when these people were screaming (without the aid of a mic), it was louder than the singer at that moment. They were sitting 10 feet from the stage, so there’s no way the performers weren’t aware of the distraction, and no amount of shushing from us or the people around them could slow them down.

I don’t get what the attraction is for paying to see someone you obviously admire enough to memorize their songs, and then interrupt them with your personal chatter, at top volume. I hope I never understand that, and I hope it annoys me every time it happens, because I don’t want to be callous to the effect it must have on the performers…

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our ninth CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub. Yes, we already have our tickets for the next one, which will be #10. :-)

They started at 6:35pm. This time, there were only four people on the stage, rather than the more typical five. There was a qualitative difference as well. As I’ve pointed out in the past, many of the songwriters are less-than-spectacular performers. On occasion, there’s a real full-time performer (e.g., Craig Morgan), or someone who could be if they wanted to be (e.g., Hillary Lindsey).

Aside from those exceptions (they were just examples, there are other professional performers on occasion), the talent level varies, pretty dramatically.

Last night saw three people, plus the ever-present Bob DiPiero, who were all excellent performers in their own right. In addition, they were every bit as interesting and entertaining in their story-telling as the more typical songwriters who are the backbone of this series.

From left-to-right on the stage:

Jimmy Wayne played the guitar and sang. He’s a singer-songwriter, meaning, he performs his own work, and cuts his own CDs, and tours. He’s opening for Brad Paisley this summer! He plays a superb finger-picking style on the guitar, and doesn’t need any further accompaniment to create an excellent sound to complement his singing.

Jimmy Wayne

Jimmy Wayne

Jimmy had a very rough childhood, and overcame more than most of us have to experience (thankfully so, on both fronts!). I thought he looked 25, but he’s 37. Because of his difficult upbringing, many of his songs are filled with those stories, including all of the anguish, but with hopeful or uplifting endings. In other words, he sings from the heart!

We enjoyed every one of Jimmy’s numbers, and his stories were touching and much appreciated as well. He has a winning smile. For the first time in our nine appearances at this series, we experienced women screaming to Jimmy about him, rather than just about the songs. If he wanted to go home with someone, he could have had his pick. ;-)

Bob DiPiero played the guitar and sang. Bob did his usual giant hits, and also introduced a brand new one that was just cut by Brooks and Dunn. Nice to know that when you hit the CMA Writers Hall of Fame, you don’t stop writing new ones. ;-)

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Scotty Emerick played the guitar and sang. Scotty is a master guitarist (again, an anomaly for this kind of show, but not unheard of). Jimmy Wayne is excellent, but Scotty is better, exhibiting more styles. Scotty often writes with/for Toby Keith, which meant we got to hear a couple of our favorite Country songs, Beer for My Horses and I Love this Bar (both huge Toby Keith hits!).

Scotty Emerick

Scotty Emerick

Scotty has a gorgeous voice (click from the above site to his MySpace page to hear four of his songs). Couple that with his guitar playing, and he could be a full-time performer. Unlike Jimmy, he concentrates more on song-writing. That said, he does have a CD out, and Lois bought it last night (signed, of course).

Aside from getting to hear the Toby Keith songs, Scotty also played some hysterical songs, including the first cut from his CD (also available for you to listen to on MySpace) called Love Me Like My Dog! I laughed out loud at each and every line in the song. Aside from being funny, it’s also a good song musically. He’s a real talent!

He sang another song that broke up the crowd on every verse as well, I’ll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again. If you want to see Scotty sing and play the guitar for yourself, then enjoy this YouTube version yourself:

Dean Dillon played guitar and sang. Dean was a professional performer for many years, so it was no surprise that he was excellent last night as well. However, he concentrates more nowadays on his writing, and it has more than paid off for him. George Strait has cut more than 30 of Dean’s songs!

Dean Dillon

Dean Dillon

I am sure that Dean and Scotty are good friends, and I think I heard them say that they have written together as well. That came across last night when they each sang harmony on the other’s songs. For example, in the video above, Scotty and Toby Keith sing harmony, and Dean played the Toby part last night (just for the harmony, as Scotty sang each of the verses).

In addition, Scotty played lead guitar on many of Dean’s numbers, enriching Dean’s performance very nicely. Well done by both of them.

As much as the crowd always goes nuts for anything/everything that Bob DiPiero sings or says, surrounding himself with three people who can all sing and play so much better than him is a testament to his committment to bring extrmeley talented people for us New Yorker’s to enjoy! Bravo Bob!

That’s it for the show. We had a little adventure that worked out in the end…

We walked to Joe’s Pub last night, something we haven’t done before. We got there in plenty of time, and were probably 20th on line. When we finally got in, for the first time ever, our name was not in the computer for a dinner reservation. Aside from being hungry, you need a dinner reservation if you want to sit. No reservation? You might end up standing, especially if the show sells out (which the CMA does nearly every time).

We’re super-regulars at Joe’s and were treated extremely curteously by the staff, who never accused us of lying about not having a dinner reservation, etc. They put us in a roped-off VIP area (communal seating) while they sorted it out. As they started putting other people in there with us, we heard the same story over and over, that these people also had reservations which were lost.

This was a first, and we’ve been to Joe’s so many times, so we’ll definitely forgive them.

10 minutes into the show (so two songs were played already), they came and got us and gave us a table. Well, not just a table, but rather our table, meaning, the exact table that we request in advance every time we call for a reservation. So, no harm no foul.

I got to eat my Tuna Steak, which was cooked to perfection! I also had a perfect Chocolate Martini (they make them so well there, it’s a crime not to order one!). ;-)

Next CMA show is July 30th. See you there! :-)

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our eighth CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub, and the first of 2009 (yes, there will be more shows in 2009, one is already scheduled for May 21).

The show started at 6:35pm (five minutes late), and was in the same format as most of the shows. There were five performers sitting across the stage. From left to right (with a picture of all of them together first):

CMA Lineup

CMA Lineup

Dave Berg played the guitar and sang. We’ve seen Dave once before, and loved him then, and last night again. In that post, I mentioned that he sang the first verse of one of his big hits (If You’re Going Through Hell) mimicing Bob Dylan. Last night, he did the entire song like Dylan would, except for the chorus. If you closed your eyes, you would swear Dylan was on the stage.

Dave Berg

Dave Berg

Dave was on comedicly as well, keeping the audience chuckling whenever he opened his mouth (other than to sing). He has a great stage presence, and gets along well with all of the other performers (many of whom he’s co-written with).

Sarah Buxton sang and played harmonica. She’s a rising star in the Country world. She has a raspy, powerful voice, and she hits notes in a wide range. I enjoyed her singing and her songs (at least two of which were co-written with Dave Berg, and one with Bob DiPiero). She has a bit of an over-the-top stage presence (not just when it’s her turn to perform), that was a little off-putting in the beginning. In fact, Lois never really got over it.

Sarah Buxton

Sarah Buxton

At some point in the evening, I got over it, because it started to feel real to me, rather than just put on, but who knows. One of her big hits (co-written with Dave Berg) is Keith Urban’s hit Stupid Boy. It’s autobiographical about her first husband (she’s divorced, and not remarried). It makes a lot of sense when you hear her back-story, and then hear it sung by a woman, and less so when Keith does it, even though it’s a nice song then as well…

To cut her some more slack, there was a reporter from People Magazine in the crowd, who was apparently there specifically to cover her (she’s the only one of the five that appears to be actively pursuing a performing career, in addition to being a songwriter). I think she was playing a bit to the reporter, and the rest of the guys on stage seemed perfectly happy to support her in doing so.

She’s definitely talented, and I won’t be surprised to see her continue to gain in popularity and success.

Bob DiPiero sat in the middle, as usual, running the show. He started this series, and is the one constant in every show. He’s a big-time hit with the crowd (there are many people in the crowd who consider him their favorite, in each show, even though large portions of his selection are repeats each time). He rarely disappoints, and last night he was really on (which he often is).

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Rivers Rutherford sang and played guitar. He’s awesome, in every respect. I’ve mentioned a number of times that the quality of the performances can vary dramatically, as these are primarily songwriters, not performers. Some have less-than-stellar voices, some play the guitar passably, etc.

Rivers Rutherford could be a performing star (IMHO). He has a fantastic voice, is a superb guitarist (one of the top two or three that we’ve seen in the eight CMA shows, but not like some of the superstar guitarists that are full-time professional guitarists that I’ve covered many times). In addition, his stage presence is fantastic. He’s funny, his timing is perfect, and he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, the entire evening.

Rivers Rutherford

Rivers Rutherford

His guitar playing is so good that he’s the only person who has ever taken a guitar-only solo during our many CMA shows, and the crowd loved every second of it (including his hamming it up and standing and toying with the crowd while his fingers flew on the frets!). Bravo! Coming back to Dave Berg’s humor, at just the right second, Dave joked that he “remembered when he gave Rivers his very first guitar lesson…”. :-)

Rivers Rutherford Standing

Rivers Rutherford Standing

Casey Beathard sang and played the guitar. He’s an awesome songwriter (many top hits), an excellent singer, and very solid guitar player as well. Personable, funny, and a very gentle (but excellent) stage presence.

Casey Beathard

Casey Beathard

After Rivers’ little romp on the stage during his guitar solo, Casey cracked up the crowd by standing for about five seconds (with one foot on his chair), emulating Rivers, then saying “That’s all I got…” :-) Of course, later on, Dave Berg did something similar, as did Sarah. It was funny, and a touching tribute to their respect for Rivers’ playing ability.

In total, they were on the stage for a very delightful 110 minutes. We’re already looking forward to May 21st. :-)

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Another day, another CMA Song Writer Series concert at Joe’s Pub! ;-)

Seriously, in addition to this being our seventh such show, it was also our second night in a row. The only repeat performer was the host, Bob DiPiero.

I will have some things to say a little later on that will feel less flattering than I’ve been about previous shows, but it’s truly not meant to be that, so I feel the need to start off with a bottom line first: this show was excellent, and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!

Sitting left-to-right on the stage with a shot of all of them first:

CMA Writers Series 20081030

CMA Writers Series 20081030

Jonathan Singleton was a newcomer for us. In addition to not having seen him live before, we hadn’t heard of him. But, we did know one of his big hits, Watching Airplanes which was cut by Gary Allan. Jonathan was probably the strongest guitar player from last night’s bunch, and he has a nice voice as well. He put on a good show in general and we enjoyed him, though his songs haven’t gotten to us like many of the previous performers in this series. He’s solid, if unspectacular.

Jonathan Singleton

Jonathan Singleton

Bob DiPiero couldn’t be exactly in the middle, since there were four people on stage last night instead of the more typical five. ;-) I’ve noted in the past (including in yesterday’s post) that Bob typically plays the same five giant hits at each show. Interestingly, and thankfully, that changed last night (perhaps he’s reading these posts). ;-)

He opened the show with one of the usual numbers, The Church On Cumberland Road. But, when it came around to him again, he picked a song that he hadn’t played in a while at Joe’s (I’m not sure he ever played it while we were in attendance). Then the next time around, someone from the crowd yelled out “Play Blue Clear Sky”. He told us a really long and funny story about how George Strait came to cut the song. Here’s a much shorter version of the story.

On his next turn, he also sang something that he normally doesn’t play, but then finished up the show with another of his standards. He was funny all night, and kept the crowd entertained with his stories and music.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Chris Wallin was next in line. We had seen him before in this format. It was his first time at Joe’s Pub (last night was his second), and it was our first time at the CMA Song Writers Series (though we’ve beaten him in between). I wrote about what a great writer Chris is the last time we saw him. He’s phenomenal. He has a sonorous voice (rich and deep), but he has trouble keeping from drifting off key. It doesn’t bother us at all, but he’s one where I’m not surprised he’s not a full-time performer (as opposed to Hillary Lindsey from the night before!).

Chris was as warm and funny last night as he was the first time we saw him. He seems like the kind of person I would love to hang out with.

Chris Wallin

Chris Wallin

Rodney Clawson was on the far right. We didn’t know his name but certainly recognized a number of his hits. Included among them last night were Sweet Southern Comfort (cut by Buddy Jewell), a song I really love. He also performed Lost In This Moment (cut by Big and Rich). He has a long list of hits cut by major stars.

As a performer, he’s completely solid, but also not of the caliber of the performers from the previous night. He comes across as a terrific guy, and there’s simply no doubt that he’s a prolific and wonderful songwriter.

Rodney Clawson

Rodney Clawson

No encore last night (I’ll explain in a second), but they were still on the stage for nearly two hours (probably 10 minutes shorter than the night before). Like I said at the beginning, an excellent show. Here’s another shot of all of them together on stage:

CMA Writers Series 20081030-2

CMA Writers Series 20081030-2

Now for some color about last night. On Tuesday, the show was effectively a sold out performance (I counted two empty seats, but I bet they were sold, but the people just didn’t show up). This is typical of all of the CMA Song Writers Series shows. In addition, not only do they sell out every show, but they also have the longest lines awaiting the opening of the doors, always.

The only show at Joe’s Pub that we’ve ever attended where we had to stand throughout was our first CMA event (the one where we first saw Chris Wallin). Clearly, there is a very loyal fan base for these shows.

That said, last night was the least attended show we’ve been at for any artist at Joe’s Pub. I estimate that the place was roughly 1/2 full (perhaps 75 people). They seated the audience throughout the club, spaced out nicely, so that it didn’t really feel empty at all, just a little roomier than usual. In addition, the audience loved the performance (entusiastically), so there was a decent energy and applause in the room for every song.

For that reason, I believe that DiPiero made the right call not to do an encore, but to simply stay on stage the same amount of time, and gracefully and graciously exit. When the place is full, it’s very hard to avoid an encore, because enough people start a clapping (and possibly standing ovation) fest, that it becomes infectious. Last night, I suspect it would have fizzled, so they didn’t risk the embarrassment.

I choose to highlight this to make a different point. One of the running jokes on stage at these events is that of being surprised at the number of Hillbillies in NYC. This is true to some extent. After all, these shows sell out every time (until last night).

And yet, NYC was unable to sustain a single country music radio station. The one station we had (and it was a good one), folded years ago (perhaps as many as 10, though I’m not sure). If you don’t have XM Radio in NYC, you don’t get Country Radio. So, on a number of occasions after one of these concerts, Lois has commented to me that this was proof that there are real Country fans in NYC.

True. In fact, when Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban all sell out Madison Square Garden, and you can see that all of the fans know every word to every song (meaning, they aren’t there just to see a star that they haven’t heard of), and Martina McBride and Dolly Parton sell out Radio City Music Hall, clearly, there are 10′s of thousands of Country fans in NYC.

Still, when CMA chooses to put on back-to-back shows at a small venue like Joe’s Pub, the drop-off from one night to the next was jarring. I don’t think the economy suffered that much more one day later. I think that the regular sellouts at Joe’s come from a core crowd, with a number of them unable or unwilling to make that commitment on consecutive days.

When DiPiero asked the audience last night how many people had attended a previous showing in this series, I’d say that 80% raised their hands. When he just mentioned that they had been there the night before, roughly 60% of the audience whooped it up indicating that they had been there for that show too (we recognized a few people on the line before the show).

So, as much as we loved the opportunity to see this series on back-to-back nights, I think they do better when they space them out. That won’t be a problem for the next show, which was just scheduled for March 19th, 2009. That’s a little too much time between shows for our taste, but hey, you can’t have it all! :-)

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our sixth time attending the CMA Song Writers Series at Joe’s Pub. Tonight will be our seventh. ;-)

We’ve enjoyed every single rendition, including last night. As I’ve written before, the performance abilities of the multitude of writers can be quite varied. Some are quite raw, while a few are close to professional-level performers. Last time, we missed a real professional, Josh Turner, who only appeared in the 9:30pm show, while we attended the 6:30 one.

Last night, we didn’t miss out. Joining the regularly scheduled writers was Craig Morgan, a superstar in his own right (both as a writer and as a performer). Just this past week, he was inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry!

Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

CMA Song Writers 20081029

CMA Song Writers 20081029

Mike Rogers is the head of Craig Morgan’s band, playing a number of instruments (normally). Last night, he was there to play guitar with Craig (though he took some incredible leads when supporting some of the others on the stage as well). Mike’s guitar playing is star quality (after all, that’s what he does for a living, as he’s not the typical songwriter that appears in these shows). In addition, his harmonies with Craig were simply outstanding.

Mike Rogers

Mike Rogers

Craig Morgan was in town doing the Today Show on NBC in the morning. Lucky for all of us, since he would normally be a solo headliner in a much larger venue than Joe’s Pub. His voice is silky smooth, with tremendous range. He’s delightful interacting with the crowd, and there was zero sense of a swelled head, given his recent induction into the Grand Ole Opry, or his otherwise considerable stardom compared to the rest of the people he shared the stage with.

Oh, and did I mention, he’s a great songwriter, and therefore fully deserves to share the stage purely as a songwriter? I already mentioned Mike Rogers above, but the fact that Craig brought Mike along made for a super-professional performance whenever it was Craig’s turn. The two of them sing beautifully together, and Mike is a superb guitarist.

Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan

Bob DiPiero held court in the middle, as he always does. He’s a natural, and always has the crowd (and the rest of the writers) in stiches throughout the show. Since he’s at every show, some of the schtick is a little repetitious. That said, it’s delivered perfectly, and the crowd eats it up every time, so we enjoy it over and over as well.

Likewise, while Bob has a large repertoire to select from, he has a handful of mega-hits, and he plays the same five songs at every show. Again, it’s possibe that he would be skinned alive by the crowd if he didn’t play them, so I completely understand. We too tap and clap along each time, because they are great songs.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Hillary Lindsey was the one female on stage last night. She defines the enigma that is the music business to us. Her songwriting is incredible, both alone and in collaboration with others. While her guitar playing is weak (but acceptable), her voice is as good as it gets, and her performance (sharing the true emotion of various parts of the songs) was as good as it gets as well. So, why is she not a superstar performer in her own right?

I don’t know the answer to these kinds of mysteries. Carrie Underwood (who is an extraordinary performer) doesn’t play an instrument on stage. She simply has a stunning voice. So does Hillary. Carrie is gorgeous (that doesn’t hurt when you want to draw a crowd). Hillary is extremely attractive as well, and clearly didn’t have (or need!) a team of stylists and makeup artists to prepare her for this show. Perhaps she’s simply not interested in being a full-time performer. I wish I knew the answers to these types of questions…

She added wonderful harmonies to songs that the other writers sang, making her overall contribution to last night’s show outstanding!

Hillary Lindsey Brett James

Hillary Lindsey Brett James

Brett James sat on the far-right of the stage. He too has an excellent voice, plays the guitar reasonably well, and has a terrific stage presence. He too is a prolific songwriter with a number of top hits to his credit. He too writes well alone and in collaboration. What was particularly interesting is that he specifically collaborates with Hillary Lindsey, many times, for many years.

They co-wrote Jesus Take The Wheel, Carrie Underwood’s first smash hit! On his Wikipedia page, you can see a number of other great songs he’s written (or co-written), including Blessed (with Hillary Lindsey) and Who I Am (with Jessica Andrews, who made the song a #1 hit).

What made last night a treat, is that since Hillary and Brett co-wrote a number of the songs each performed, they were able to sing stunning harmonies on them as well (Jesus Take The Wheel was but one example).

Brett James

Brett James

So, while we’ve truly enjoyed every show, and are looking forward to tonight’s performance as well, last night was definitely special, in particular due to Craig Morgan and Hillary Lindsey! Thanks to all five performers for making last night very memorable!

They were on stage for just under two hours including a rousing one-song encore. After the show, Lois sprinted to the back to tell Hillary how much she enjoyed and was moved by her performance (and songs in general). She snapped this photo of Hillary while waiting patiently, and then indeed got to share her thoughts directly with Hillary.

Hillary Lindsey

Hillary Lindsey

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we attended our fifth CMA Songwriters Series concert at Joe’s Pub. We’ve enjoyed every single one and last night was no exception.

The format was identical to the past ones (at least for the early show). Five Country songwriters, siting side-by-side on the stage, taking turns doing songs of theirs that have been big hits.

Here’s what the lineup looked like last night:

CMA Lineup

CMA Lineup

I called out the distinction between the early and late shows even though they are normally identical. Last night, Josh Turner (a major Country star) was joining the set for the later show at 9:30pm. We didn’t have the pleasure of seeing him, as we much prefer the early show and he wasn’t announced as an addition to the late show until after we had our tickets.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the performing abilities of some of the writers don’t quite live up to the versions cut by the stars, but we don’t mind a bit. Recently, some of that has changed, as the caliber of the perfomances has gotten a bit better (as I reported last time). Last night continued that trend.

From left-to-right on the stage:

Sam and Annie Tate, an award-winning husband-and-wife team. While they performed separate numbers (accompanying each other on their respective guitars, and singing harmony), they often write together. Together, they won the SESAC Songwriters of the Year award.

Sam Tate Singing

Sam Tate Singing

Annie has a MySpace page. Sam sang quite a number of incredible songs, including Going Through Hell, which also won Song of the Year. That was co-written with Annie, as well as Dave Berg, who blew us away at the last CMA Writers Series show. Annie had a bit of a cold, so she didn’t take every opportunity that was given to her to perform, but when she did, she was incredible, including singing Somebody, made famous by Reba McEntire.

Annie Tate

Annie Tate

All of the shows come with a good deal of humor. Last night was no exception, and Sam was particularly funny in telling stories leading up to each of his numbers. Annie is very quick witted, and interjected wry remarks into stories told by the others throughout the evening. Sam reminded me a bit of Bill Engvall, both physically, and in his sense of humor. :-)

Sam Tate Storytelling

Sam Tate Storytelling

Bob DiPiero sat in the middle (as always). He’s the leader of this series, and host of each show, in addition to being a regular star performer. He was totally on last night. His selection was the same as it always is, but they are top hits, that the crowd goes nuts singing along with him, so even though he has way more songs he could play, he’d probably be lynched if he dropped any of these favorites. He’s in the CMA Songwriters Hall of Fame!

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Gary Burr was next. This guy has an excellent voice, and was probably the most talented guitarist of the five last night (though all of them could hold their own). In addition to being a great writer (he too is in the CMS Songwriters Hall of Fame!), an excellent singer and an excellent guitar player, Gary is hysterically funny, and extremely quick as well. He and Bob are very good friends, and they rode each other all night long, keeping the audience in stitches!

Gary Burr Singing

Gary Burr Singing

Gary Burr Joketelling

Gary Burr Joketelling

David Lee Murphy was at the rightmost edge of the stage. He too (like Gary) has a superb voice. He also plays the guitar well. He too is quite funny, but significantly lower-key than Gary or Bob. He too is long-time friends with Bob, and they co-write on occasion. He too played hit-after-hit that the crowd sang along with.

David Lee Murphy

David Lee Murphy

All-in-all, another great night enjoying Country Music in NYC (yes, generally thought of as an oxymoron…). We already have tickets to the next two installments of this series! :-)

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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We’ve been to three previous shows in this series and loved all of them. The first one, was the only show we’ve had to stand the entire time at Joe’s Pub. We were away a few weeks ago and missed one show. Last night was another in the series. We didn’t find out about it until last week, but were lucky enough to get tickets. These shows always sell out.

Here is a shot promoting the sponsors of the series. They deserve the attention!

CMA Sponsors

CMA Sponsors

As I’ve mentioned in the past when reviewing these shows, typically, these aren’t the most polished performances by seasoned performers. It doesn’t matter. There is a raw power to hearing a song (that you know well!) sung by the person that actually wrote it. You often get a completely different image than the one you associate with the star who made it famous. They also tell some great back stories, which are interesting and often hysterical as well.

In the past, there has been an occasional ringer in the bunch. By that I mean someone who does indeed perform a lot, and therefore raises the level of the performance beyond the others. One notable example of that was Ronnie Bowman. He’s been a star in his own right for ages, and deservedly so. As you’ll see below, all four guests (Bob DiPiero is always there) were great performers!

Last night there were five people on stage. The one staple is the host for each of these shows, who is also in the CMA Writers Hall of Fame, Bob DiPiero. He always does a great job as both host, and performer, and last night was no exception. The crowd loves every story he tells and every song he sings.

Here’s a broad shot of the stage:

CMA Lineup

CMA Lineup

He sat in the middle of the stage. The format is the same each time, all of the artists sit on the stage together, but they go one at a time in line singing one of their famous songs. The others join in on occasion but often, the songwriter is doing their song solo (Bob is the most common accompanist).

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

With that, I’ll name last night’s performers as they sat on the stage, left-to-right:

Chris Tompkins had an electric keyboard in front of him. He’s excellent on the keyboards and sings quite nicely. His songs are fantastic. The crowd loved every second of Chris. He’s a Grammy winning songwriter, for the Carrie Underwood hit Before He Cheats.

Last night was Chris’ wife’s birthday, and she’s pregnant as well. I had the privilege of sitting shoulder to shoulder with her, so I got to congratulate her personally, and tell her how awesome her husband is. They were definitely having a blast being in the Big Apple. :-)

Chris Tompkins

Chris Tompkins

Karyn Rochelle was next, with her acoustic guitar. Karyn only played the guitar on her own songs, but she also sang backup for some of the other artists. She has a stellar voice, and of course, by virtue of being invited to this series, writes great songs as well! She penned Kellie Picklers hit Red High Heels (for example). Bob joked (though it was clear that it wasn’t really a joke!) that Kellie sings it like Karyn, rather than the other way around!

Karyn Rochelle

Karyn Rochelle

On the other side of Bob:

Dave Berg played acoustic guitar. He has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well, and writes fabulous songs. He has a great stage presence as well. He did the first verse of one of his big hits in Bob Dylan’s voice, and it was a hoot!

Dave Berg

Dave Berg

Jedd Hughes (an Aussie!) rounded out the group, playing the acoustic guitar. Of all the performers we’ve seen in the four times we’ve been to this series, Jedd is the best musician. His guitar playing is superb and the others often highlighted him playing lead during their numbers, which was always good for a big ovation from the crowd. He sings well too, and writes beautiful songs.

Jedd Hughes

Jedd Hughes

So, we have loved all four of these. Last night we already purchased tickets for the next one in the series, September 9th. We also bought tickets to one of my favorite groups, The Duhks, for the next night, September 10th. The Duhks are the reason we discovered Joe’s Pub to begin with, so it will be great to see them there again!

Last night was different (and in that sense very special) from the other CMA Writers Series shows. All of the performers were individually polished and collectively much more polished than previous shows. We’re happy even when that isn’t the case, but when the performances also match the quality of the writing, it’s just double goodness! :-)

Since we purchased our tickets late, we got a little bit of a shock when we were told that no dinner reservations were available. That meant that we’d be standing again, like we did the first time we attended one of these shows. That’s simply not fun for us (even though we did love that show!). Luckily, and thankfully, Lois called two days in a row to check, and indeed one table opened up. It turned out to be our favorite table, so that ended up being a wonderful surprise as well!

My Seared Tuna was perfect, as was my chocolate martini (which I hadn’t had at Joe’s in many months!). Welcome back chocolate martini, I missed you! ;-)