CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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On Tuesday this week, Lois asked me to check if anything was going on at any of our favorite clubs for either Wed or Thu, the only two nights this week that we didn’t have plans yet.

This was highly unusual for Lois, given that we both tend to be home-bodies unless we are aware of a specific group that we like, or we have company. Anyway, I looked, and immediately saw something interesting at Joe’s Pub for Thursday, last night.

Joe’s Pub is one of a few sponsors (and they are the hosts) of a series called the CMA Songwriters Series (CMA = Country Music Association). As many of you know, Lois loves Country Music (as do I, though it’s not my favorite genre).

I knew this would be extra special for Lois, because unlike many people (I don’t have enough evidence to say most people), Lois takes a deep interest in knowing who writes the songs she loves. When a song comes on the radio, she can often tell me the specific writer (often not the actual performer). I can only imagine that this is not so typical of most listeners.

We snagged two tickets, and immediately called for dinner reservations. For only the second time (Kathy Mattea was the first time), they told us they were sold out for dinner, and we would have to stand at the bar. Since we got seated for Kathy with the same speech, we assumed we’d get seated last night as well.

We weren’t… Of all the people who stood for the entire show, we had the best spot. I was surprised that I wasn’t even a little uncomfortable standing for over two hours. Lois sat on top of one of the speakers. We were pleasantly surprised when she wasn’t asked to get off. In fact, one of the hostesses told Lois that this was her favorite spot to sit and watch the show from. 🙂

I took the opportunity of our new vantage to attempt a count of the capacity of Joe’s, which I’d always guessed at 125-150. While not scientific, I think I was spot on. I think the place can seat roughly 130 people, and there can be roughly an additional 20+ people at the bar.

The only advantage of standing, in particular where we were, which was the only non-bar place to stand, was that we didn’t order dinner or drinks. I love the food at Joe’s, and I’m nuts about their chocolate martinis. That said, I order them more to support the wait-staff, and to play by the rules and order the appropriate minimums to have gotten a table, etc. I had cereal (my usual dinner) back at the apartment at 9pm. 🙂

On to the show. We knew in advance that it was going to be four top songwriters. What we had no idea about was the format of the show (meaning, would they be on individually, in groups, etc.). Over 3/4 of the crowd had been to one of the previous CMA Songwriters Series shows before (as evidenced by their ovation when asked).

The format is excellent. All four performers come out together, and sit in chairs in a row across the stage. On a few songs, two play and sing together, and on two songs, even three perform together, but for the most part, each plays a song that they wrote while the other three enjoy the show, and they move on in order and keep going around.

It’s great because there is no need for an intermission, and no time is wasted while one performer leaves the stage and another sets up, etc.

The four songwriters that they showcased last night are all super famous (for their hit songs, if not for their names). In the order that they sat on the stage, and in the two photos included below, they were Bob DiPiero, Al Anderson, Ronnie Bowman and Chris Wallin.

Bob DiPiero and Al Anderson Ronnie Bowman and Chris Wallin

Click on either photo to see a larger version.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was hearing some great back stories about how songs get cut (put on albums). I know zero about how the music industry works behind the scenes, and it was all very interesting. All four of them are great showmen, and the banter between them was wonderful (much of it extremely funny).

One story (out of many) that struck me was Chris Wallin talking about a song he wrote. He explained that it was repeatedly put on hold, which is what happens when a band reserves the right to cut it, but hasn’t done that yet. During a hold, you can’t market the song to anyone else. In other words, you’re in limbo.

The song was released from hold a number of times, and put on hold (presumably) by another band. Finally, Trace Adkins did cut the song. Chris was (obviously) very happy. Unfortunately, the album never got released, so the fact that Trace cut the song, didn’t matter. Ouch!

After 3.5 years of this song kicking around, Toby Keith finally cut it and released it. It shot up to the number one country song on the charts. I believe that song was Love Me If You Can. There were a number of other great stories like this, including a very big hit for Al Anderson that didn’t get cut for eight years!!!

On to the performance itself. Of the four, only Ronnie Bowman (to me!) is good enough to be a full-time performer (mix of great voice, great guitarist, etc.). All four are fantastic songwriters, and good performers as well, but the other three don’t have the voices to pull off their own songs like the people who typically cut their songs. It was a great experience, to hear the songs as they were originally created, and we both loved the show completely.

Still, no one should mistake these performers for the people who ultimately make their songs famous. One specific example is Al Anderson’s Trip Around The Sun. I believe (but don’t quote me) that this was the song that took eight years to cut! It finally got recorded by Jimmy Buffet and Martina McBride. Al sang the song the last night. I enjoyed it, but since Al did it on his own, somehow, he didn’t sing quite like Martina sings her part. 😉

Aside from the basic difference in the vocal capabilities of most of today’s stars, there is a production (and typically big band sound) to the more polished recordings of the songs we heard last night. Last night was about the magic of hearing the creator interpret the song, and get loving adoration from the crowd for it. It was about the raw emotion of the song, not the polished final production that makes it big enough to become familiar to millions of people.

Finally, Chris Wallin sang a song that he claims hasn’t been cut yet. It’s about living life backwards, From the Grave To The Cradle. Wow, another brilliant song. If someone doesn’t snap that up soon, they’re fools. 🙂

Another great night out at Joe’s. At the end of the show, they announced that the next in the series is on January 16th, 2008, and it will highlight songwriters that have written songs for Rascal Flatts. Given that we’re going to see Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden two night later, we grabbed two tickets on our way out last night (and even saved the typical service charge that we pay when we order online). Cool!