I don't do a lot of writers' rounds in Nashville any more. When I do, it's usually because somebody has invited me to be a part of one that they are putting together. I very seldom schedule my own.
When I first came to town, I played out all the time. It seemed like a good way to meet other writers, and possibly make industry connections. I have some great friends that I met while playing my songs, or waiting my turn to play my songs. I was living here without my family, and trying to make the most of my time. I went just about anywhere I could in order to share my music with people. I have often joked that if there was a gas station in Antioch with an open mic on a Sunday night, I was there.
I still go out from time to time. I enjoy going to the Douglas Corner Café, where my friend (and hero) Donnie Winters hosts an open mic on Tuesdays. I even put the bartender Rhonda Wey in a song on my "One More Night In Nashville" album. I enjoy the camaraderie there, and the picking on the back deck usually outshines what's going on inside.
Mostly, I just got tired of playing the Nashville writers' nights game. There is almost nowhere in Nashville for a songwriter to do more than two or three songs, and those are usually interspersed with other writers doing their two or three songs. Most writers' nights in Nashville are a way for the venues to get free entertainment, and to make money off of the writers. They usually aren't real particular about the level of talent as long as they have people in the seats spending money. I go out of town and play shows of 2+ hours of all original material. I get paid, respected, and usually fed well by venue owners. I get to show more than the tip of my catalog's iceberg to audiences who are appreciative. It feels pretty good. Then I come back to town to a scene that doesn't support its lifeblood at all. They expect you to be excited to come to their venue and spend money while waiting your turn to perform for no compensation, and often while sitting through performances that aren't worth the time it takes to listen to. I can cook better food at home than what's offered at most music venues. Why should I want to spend $30 or more for my wife and I to have dinner at a place where I am performing for free? I can't remember the last time I was even offered a free soft drink at one of these places, much less anything to eat.
I should mention here that Ri'chard's Café (which is just two hills over from where I live, and only five minutes in the car) in Whites Creek lets me play from 45 minutes to an hour by myself. They don't pay me, but they feed my wife and me, and I usually get some good tips. It's a deal for them, and I'm okay with it. We're scratching each other's backs.
I get approached all the time by folks who want me to come play at their "writers' night at this new place". I mostly make excuses not to say 'yes". I was recently contacted by a friend who was starting a night at an upscale bakery in Bellevue. He was booking some great writers and performers. The menu at the place looked interesting. He said he would check with the owners to see about some consideration, food-and-drink-wise. It turns out that there was none, but I didn't find that out until I got to the venue. I brought two of my friends who are world-class performers. We had an hour. Basically, four songs apiece, but we also played and sang along with each other. We rocked that joint. It was fun. I knew the host was trying build up something good, so I agreed to do it again in February.
I got a message this morning from my friend, the host. It seems that the venue owner wants to "age format" the writers' night, and is demanding that I add at least one "younger" writer to my round. She wants to cut the music back from three hours to two, and have at least one-third "younger" writers. Never mind that the writers who have been performing have written and/or produced huge hits (one of them is in the Thumbpicker's Hall Of Fame), bring crowds that spend money, and can generally be twice as entertaining as many performers half their age.
I'm not knocking younger writers. I know some brilliant ones. Sometimes I'm in rounds with them. They are good because they are good, not because they are young. The notion that younger is better is misguided at best, and I won't be there to witness it when (if) this venue owner realizes the error of her ways. I even told my friend to tell her she could kiss my ass, and I don't generally talk that way. He said that he wouldn't tell her that, I told him to tell her I said it. Some of the writers have said that they don't think it's right, but they will play anyway. That's not me. I wish more people would stand up for the fact that the venue owners need people like us way more than we need people like them.
None of us are getting any younger, but some of us are still getting better.
Happy New Year!