There’s something about a round which is very special. To the initiated it’s a Nashville tradition. In truth I’m not certain where it started but its most celebrated home is The Bluebird Cafe on Music City’s west side. On any night of any week you’ll find a first and second house filled up with music loving locals and increasingly, visitors to the city, keen to experience one of the most celebrated experiences the home of country has to offer. The interesting adjoined to all this is that the songwriters in the round may not be familiar to any of the audience; it’s the songs that are the stars.
On nights when I’ve sat sipping a cold beer and eating some fried shrimp, served in holy silence by the most sensitive waiters in the world, I’ve been amazed to hear the raw, unrecorded version of a song I have loved forever. One night a couple of years back I had the amazing experience of hearing a song I’d co-written that week being performed. I then had the un-nerving experience of joining the round and inflicting one of my own on the assembled congregation.
The format is simple. The writers gather in the centre of the room and seated round them at tables and a few (latecomers only) rows of chairs and a couple of barstools are the audience. One of the four will launch into a number and for the best part of two hours with a short intermission four songwriters will tell stories, sing songs made famous by a variety of artists (sometimes including themselves) and your heart will get broken and put back together as you walk out to the cool of a Tennessee night. For $20 or so, it’s possibly the cheapest, best night out ever.
There are legendary stories too. A couple of years ago Kacey Musgraves told us the great story of how she met Ruston Kelly after spying him one night at The Bluebird. It was music of course… but love and marriage followed. We are not expecting that at our annual Celtic Connections round this week although we have had one or two great friendships. We think John Murry met his next producer on a smoke break after one of the nights we hosted. At the Bluebird the story goes that one night in a quiet corner of the room an up and coming singer called Garth Brooks was in to see what was happening. It was there he heard a song he knew was perfect for him. On the night he heard The Dance he told the writer, Tony Arata, ‘When I get a record deal, I’m going to record that song.’ You probably know how that one worked out.
In the AC round this year we have three great writers and some fabulous guest musicians. From Idaho along with guests John McCusker and Michael McGoldrick we welcome Pieta Brown. From Vancouver BC, for a return to our round, Frazey Ford and her band. And all the way from Liverpool, Robert Vincent. There will be stories, a few laughs, the occasional tear and two hours of song after song from three wonderful artists. We’re on air from five past nine this Tuesday evening unless you are lucky enough to be joining us at the earlier time of seven at the recording in Cottier’s Theatre in Glasgow.