Wednesday, December 2, 2009
By Earl Watts
A few weeks ago we made it to Nashville for open-mic night at the famous Bluebird Café. I did manage to get on and do my song. I was doubtful that I would at first, since my number was 39 out of about 42 total. Luckily, some people left and it allowed me to get on with about 10 minutes left before the 9:00 closing time. Please remember, this was for a Monday night open-mic night and anyone from anywhere can get on to do their song. It runs from the worst to the best and every writer, including myself, likes to think we have something worth listening too. You have cowboys and cowgirls and suits and jeans, hats, country, pop and rock. It's just one of the places in Nashville where fantasy and reality is all mixed up in a batch of people like me who enjoy writing songs. It was nice to have Gary Glover ride along with Polly and me for support and good conversation.
Some of you who have progressed enough and are good enough to be invited back to play in "the round," like Jim Parker, Cristina Lynn and Jessie Smith, already know how the Bluebird works, but I'll give a little detail for those who don't: Since the Bluebird is so well known (Yes, I am proud to say I used the same urinal as Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine etc. etc), Barbara who is running the show has worked out a system to get the most people on in the shortest time. So you’re basically standing by the stage waiting for the performer before you to finish so you can hop right up, plug up and do your song. It's run very efficiently. There isn't a lot of time for conversation, introductions to songs before you perform or accolades after you perform. On the plus side, it's a good place to play with great atmosphere and you’re performing before a house full of writers who are baring their souls in a song just like you are so you have a lot of support. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in song writing. It's a good experience and sort of a little right of passage for "song writer wannabes" like myself.
I felt good about my song and although I was a little nervous, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be. I remembered all my lyrics and picking stuff without a problem. The exposure and experience I've gotten at "The Coffee Tree" has been the best stage freight therapy I could ever get. It was a real test for my song in as much as I was in a crowd of people who were from every age group and no one knew who I was other than Polly and Gary. When I'd finished I got what I felt was a better and louder than normal response. However, as I told Polly and Gary, the most encouraging thing was that a couple of people reached out to shake my hand as I was coming off stage (probably veterans since it's a soldiers song) and a couple more made it to our table to shake my hand. I really didn't see them doing that with anyone else. The last guy who came by had long hair and he shook my hand and just stood there for a moment like he wanted to say something but never did. I got the feeling he had a lump in his throat. It was like a connection that didn't need words and that made me feel really good. It made me feel like the song really does touch people on a feeling level. I'm very encouraged about the song. It's the first time it's been played to total strangers of all ages.
Anyway, it was a good experience and I'm glad I did it. However, although I left feeling like it was a good experience, I'm not so sure it's the best way, or even a stepping stone to getting something cut, or even getting it heard by an artist who might be looking for material. It is, in my opinion, a real mirror into the Nashville song writers scene and gives you a glimpse into what you’re looking at in the way of competition. While standing in line we spoke with people from New York and Boston who had moved to Nashville to be song writers. You have to come away realizing you’re in a crap shoot of monumental proportions against people who are better at the craft than you are, who will never have anything published or cut. It's not because they aren't good enough and even better than some of those who do make it big, it's simply because there isn't enough room at the top for everyone to be heard no matter how great they are. In my humble opinion, it all boils down to what I've said all along; "If you’re in it for any reason other than your love of doing it, you’re in it for the wrong reasons". If you’re in it for the love of doing it then it doesn't matter if it pays anything. Kristofferson once said that if selling shoes paid a million dollars and song writing paid nothing there ain't no way he would sell shoes. It's therapeutic and spiritual; that's the reward, and to be honest and realistic, the only one 95% of us will ever get, no matter how good we are.
Having said all this, and in all honesty, I'm not the least bit discouraged and in fact I'm encouraged. I feel like I've seen a glimpse of what's out there and I've come away thinking, "Hey, I'm not that bad at it, after all". It's like shooting craps. Every roll can be a loser or a winner, but that's what keeps it interesting. We're all gamblers in our own way.