“Nashville is like a country-themed Vegas,” remarked one performer sitting sidestage at the Acoustic Nation stage at this year’s Summer NAMM. “It’s great!” Her feelings seemed to match the sentiments of everyone there, including the winners of the Songwriters Sessions LIVE! Contest, hosted in June by Acoustic Nation and SongTownUSA. There were six winners, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
I had entered my song "Home" into the contest on a whim and figured I wouldn’t win. I’ve entered many songwriting and composition competitions, and winning wasn’t something that really ever happened. These competitions bring out some of the best performers and writers around, and so I knew my chances were slim.
But slim and impossible aren’t the same, and on June 19th I was informed that I would be playing for Clay Mills (writer for Darius Rucker, Trisha Yearwood, Lady Antebellum, and others), and Laura Whitmore (editor of Acoustic Nation) in Nashville at Summer NAMM 2014. I was shocked, excited, and completely terrified at the prospect of playing for people who write and critique music for a living.
I arrived at the Music City Center for check-in on the day of the performance. The center’s size is intimidating on its own, but when you walk past some of the most technically-skilled performers in the business on your way to the check-in counter you suddenly feel miniscule.
I got my badge and nervously made my way up to the Acoustic Nation Stage, which was positioned right outside of the trade show floor. People were coming in and out, and sticking around at tables and on the floor to listen to the performances going on at the stage. I saw a few people seated on a large sectional sofa next to the stage, and proceeded to introduce myself. The seated ladies were selected to play for a set that celebrated women in music, and informed me that I was in the right spot.
The minutes passed like hours before the stage managers told us the order of performance, and the overall format. Each musician would play, followed by critiques from Clay and Laura. After everyone had gone, the floor would open for questions from the audience.
Catching sight of our judges made things a little too real for me. I was about to play a song that I wrote and a magazine editor and a writer with multiple #1 hits, with Grammy nod or two in the bag were going to tell me what they thought about it. They could totally eviscerate me in front of strangers. Jenna Paone, one o f the other winners soon voiced my concern with plucky humor. It was good to know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. None of us knew what to expect, so we bonded over our mutual nervousness, laughing at our various ticks. Mine was shaky knees, while another girl said one of her hands was prone to getting cold or feeling numb.
I was the first to play, and I was praying that I just wouldn’t pass out. The stage manager smiled at me before he left the stage after making a few adjustments.
“I appreciate the fact that you’re not wearing shoes,” he remarked. “ You’re gonna do great!”
I sure hoped that I would.
Normally I blank out when I’m on stage, but I remember every detail of those five minutes, from where I screwed up my rhythms, to the woman in the audience with the reassuring smile. Clay and Laura offered a lot of good thoughts on how to strengthen my work, and forgave me my nerves.
After listening to the other performers play, I marveled once again at how I managed to worm my way into playing alongside such talented people. On top of being excellent writers and performers, they were genuinely nice people. We took photos with each other after, exchanged contact info, and shared some big hugs.
I hadn’t even expected to win. I entered the contest because I thought it was silly to let an opportunity pass by. And, because people voted and the judges decided, I was able to do something that certainly wasn’t on my summer to-do list. So, I guess that’s the moral of the story, folks: do what you love and take a few chances with it. As Bilbo Baggins said, “There’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”