How good are the musicians in Nashville

Country music in NashvilleDream about a great career

Sarah Kirkland closes her eyes. She throws back her brown mane - and sings fervently. About the impossible love for this guy, whom she met at a rodeo, a do-it-yourself, that she senses from the beginning. Yet she is inexplicably drawn to him.

A typical country song with a typical country theme in a rustic country setting. The audience in Judge’s Vinegarroon, in German: the judge’s scorpion, squat on wooden blocks and stuff huge portions of shrimp and french fries into wooden barrels that have been converted into tables.

Sarah Kirkland is young, in her early to mid-twenties. She is sitting on a bar stool in high heels, skinny jeans and a top that is too tight. Beside her is an angular-faced lad and an ethereal girl. All three play guitar and sing the chorus together.

The audience takes note of Sarah's appearance rather casually. When the first song fades away, a few hands move in polite applause - nothing more. Sarah is good, very good in fact. But in restaurants like Judge’s Vinegaroon, live music is only background music for dinner. Anyone who performs here has just made it to one of the lowest rungs on the success ladder in Nashville, Tennessee, the self-proclaimed Music Capital of the World.

Half an hour later: the performance is over, the instruments are dismantled. Sarah orders a beer at the counter. The concert was part of the Writer's Night series of events.

"Three or four singers perform together, each presenting three songs. We accompany each other and help each other out with harmony singing, like a small band. That's a nice thing. There is no money for it, not even a tip. We make it up Fun and to introduce our songs. "

Writer's Nights are only available in Nashville. Ten or twenty such events take place here every evening during the week. This is good for clubs and restaurants that can offer their guests live music without having to pay for it. It's even better for visitors, who can see promising young singers all over town. And for the musicians themselves?

“You get to know other musicians. For a girl like me, who has just finished university, this is extremely helpful. I meet other songwriters and exchange ideas with them. This is how I build a network. One thing leads to another, until I hopefully run into someone who believes in me and my music. "

Sarah Kirkland has been in Nashville for six years. She quit her job as a beautician twelve months ago and is now concentrating on her music. She's from Knoxville, a three hour drive away. The city at the foot of the Smoly Mountains is rich in musical talent. But the music industry is concentrated in Nashville: agents, managers, record labels, recording studios, concert promoters.

Small successes are important

Sarah has a mini CD with three songs on the market and a mini hit with "Bachelorette". More like mini-mini, as she says, and not in the charts either. The song is a hit at bachelorette parties and hen parties. Publishing is an important step in her career, Sarah thinks. A few thousand singers like her live in Nashville, and a few hundred new singers are added every year. With her single, Sarah hopes, she stands out from the crowd.

The next morning, a Saturday morning. Meet Sarah Kirkland on the corner of Broadway and 5th Avenue in downtown Nashville at Legends Corner. At the traffic lights in front of the music club of the same name, a cardboard guitar with the likenesses of country stars such as Hank Williams, Patsy Kline, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. A street musician tunes his guitar. He's young, probably not yet 20. Opposite the Bridgestone Arena, a multi-purpose hall that looks like a stranded UFO. The Ryman Auditorium is on a side street. Until the 1970s, the Grand Ole Opry took place there, the longest-running radio show in the whole country - since 1925 it has been held in front of an audience every Saturday. It has been broadcast from Opryland, an entertainment complex outside the city, since the mid-1970s.

“There's music everywhere in Nashville. This is a city for dreamers, people come here to live their dream. "

“There's one honky tonk after another here on Broadway. Honky tonks are bars not much bigger than a hole in the wall, with live bands playing traditional country music. This is where 'The Stage', quite famous, has been in a lot of films. There Jimmy Bufett’s Margaritaville, part of a restaurant chain, very popular with tourists. "

Diagonally across from the record shop of the singer Ernest Tubbs, who died in 1984. Every Saturday at midnight there is the Midnite Jamboree, the second oldest live radio show in the country. Sarah's goal is 'Robert’s', 'The home of traditional country music and Brazilbilly', as it says on the neon sign. Sarah grins. The club is owned by Jesse Lee Jones, at least that's what he calls himself. Jesse Lee is Brazilian, hence the name of his band: Brazilbilly. At Robert’s the greatest of the greatest played. When they were pretty little, of course.

On the stage of the dim Rachel Hester bar: medium-length brunette hair, sneakers, greasy blue jeans, fancy old-fashioned blues. Already optically the alternative to Sarah Kirkland. And also musically. Rachel plays pure country with no echoes of pop music.

Rachel's band is made up of old studio cracks, Sarah explains, the musicians are some of the best you can find in Nashville. First and foremost the bass player, a lanky guy with a trilby on his head and a narrow-brimmed hat. Jay Weaver, Sarah whispers, from Dolly Parton's band.

"I can't help it but I'm still in love with you", in the original by Hank Williams. That's what the audience, mostly elderly people, want to hear at this time of the day. Two couples start dancing. In front of the stage a plastic bucket with the inscription "Tips", tip. It's well filled with dollar bills.

"I've also played on Broadway, but that's not for me. People want to hear covers and you have to do it to get a tip. Ledute want rashviolle: I'd rather sing my own songs, and you can't do that here . This is more of a job. "

And Rachel does that well. She winks at one of the dancers, a man with snow-white hair and horn-rimmed glasses - a ten dollar bill sails into the bucket. Then there is a break. The two women greet each other - they know each other in Nashville. Where Sarah Kirkland is still playing through Writer's Nights, Rachel Hester has made a little further progress on the ladder of success. She appears regularly in Robert’s day program. Saturdays and Sundays in the morning. Wednesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon. If someone cancels at short notice, she can also answer in the evening.

Drunk people tip more

"There are people who come here because of me and my music. Still, I'm not the only one here, I'm one of very, very many. Of course I believe in myself, but I grew up here and I know how it is Lots of musicians come from elsewhere and put all their eggs in one basket with no idea what to expect. They were the best in their hometown and here they meet the best from all the other small towns. The competition in Nashville is great , very hard."

Rachel knows what she's talking about. Her father is Hoot Hester, who is an excellent fiddler. In the 1970s he came to Nashville from a small town in Kentucky, stood on stage with all sorts of singers or recorded records in the studio. But he did it, really did it when he received the offer 13 years ago to join the house band of the Grand Ole Opry. A stroke of luck, says Rachel, he has had a steady income ever since.

Jay Weaver, the bass player, stands with the two women, a beer can in hand. He too knows the ups and downs of the music business.

"Last year I went on a world tour with Dolly Parton for six months. But that's one of the things: I've been waiting for a call from her for a while now. Or, as we say here: one day of chicken that others lose their feathers. Time runs it's good, then you have another bad year. When I'm not on tour and don't have a studio job, I play on Broadway. That’s how a little money comes in, I have fun and socialize. "

Sarah and Rachel grin. So far it has been more like feathers for them. Sarah has put together a band and has organized gigs in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York. The interest it arouses in the metropolises, so their calculation, would hit back on Nashville. So far it has not worked out. Rachel goes a different way. It only takes place in the Nashville area. She also works in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a huge interactive museum.

"With that I can make ends meet. I really enjoy my part-time job. I only do what I like, from that point of view I'm already successful."

Back on the stage. A song by Patsy Kline, one by Garth Brooks - much to the delight of the audience. Rachel is an excellent guitarist and soulful singer. In smaller music metropolises like Austin, Texas, it would be a big number. Sarah Kirkland would also have an easier time elsewhere.

"Sure, I could go back to Knoxville and play in small bars there. I could make a living off of that. But I want more, as much as possible, global success. And that can't be achieved by singing in a bar in Knoxville . "

On the other hand, Nashville is also full of musicians who didn't make it. They play day in and day out in the bars on Broadway.

Nobody wants to give up their dream

"It's easy to get stuck here. It's not a bad thing if you can live with it. But you shouldn't have any illusions: In the past, the stars of tomorrow were discovered here, and many musicians from outside believe that it is still the case. But those days are over."

Jesse Lee, the Brazilian owner of Robert’s, joins Rachel on stage. Together they sing "Long black veil" by Johny Cash. He doesn't do that to everyone, Sarah remarks. There is envy in her voice.

"Long back veil" is the last song. The next band is already waiting in front of the stage.

Fifteen minutes later: Rachel is sitting on a bar stool and counting the tip.

"85 dollars for each of us, that's good for three hours on a Saturday morning. Saturday morning is always difficult, people are not yet drunk, there is little tip around. On a good evening, when it is really full, do it we over 100 dollars a nose. That's really good, we live here and have no expenses, neither for fuel nor for hotel rooms. "

The next band also came up with a celebrity, with Chris Scruggs on guitar. Old country nobility says Rachel, her grandfather was a bluegrass legend, and his mother is singer Gail Davis. Chris himself is a gifted songwriter and a sought-after studio musician. He too sometimes gets up with Rachel Hester.

"When I'm on stage, I always tell the audience: These musicians are really expensive, when they play with the stars they get a few thousand dollars a night. And here on Broadway they get up for three hours for $ 85 the stage."

Rachel Hesters packs up her guitar. A brief nod for their musicians. Tomorrow they will perform together again - unless someone calls and offers them a better paying job. Sarah Kirkland is thoughtful. The way up is long. She knows that anyway, but today she realized it again.

"Somebody once said to me: 'If you have self-doubt, take your guitar and play'. Then you will know again why you are here. Write a song about it. That inspires you, you want to play the song on stage and everything is fine. You know, the worst part is giving up a dream. "