Dave Berg

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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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! 😉