Chris Wallin

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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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!