The CMA songwriters series was launched in 2005 in a pub in New York City as a way of giving fans a way of seeing where the country hits they loved came from in an intimate setting. Since then it has played more than 75 shows in 13 cities. Having expanded in 2012 and 2013 to London and Ireland, this show seems to go from strength to strength having featured over 125 of music’s most gifted story tellers who together have 61 CMA Song of the Year nominations.
Thursday night, as a wonderful curtain raiser to this weekend’s C2C Festival, the Songwriters Series came to London at the fantastic venue that is IndigO2, if ever a venue was built for the series this is the one. And country music fans came from all over the country and beyond for a chance to see the show. In fact most fans, myself included, bought tickets without even knowing who the line up was going to be, such is the attraction of the format.
Last night’s line up was Shane McAnally, Ashley Monroe, Charlie Worsham, Charles Esten and Lori McKenna. This was a great line up as McAnally, who was the host for the evening, and McKenna are two of Country Music’s hottest properties at the moment. McAnally has co written most of Kacey Musgrove’s songs along with hits for Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan to name a few. Meanwhile McKenna is currently best known for co writing the CMA award winning and Grammy nominated song ‘Girl Crush’ for Little Big Town along with releasing several successful albums of her own. Ashley Monroe is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and one third of the Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Angeleena Presley. Hailing from Tennessee, her second album ‘Like A Rose’ received widespread acclaim and last year saw the release of the excellent ‘The Blade’. Charlie Worsham is a revelation for me. Live it is easy to see how he has spent time as a session musician and how that has made him the rising start that he is. His singing and superb guitar work were a constant pleasure throughout the evening. Finally, Charles “Chip” Esten has become famous to fans of Country Music with his portrayal of Deacon Claybourne, surely everybody’s favourite character in ABC’s “Nashville”, but was a wonderful and popular addition to the line-up.
The evening took the format of a series of rounds and lasted a full three hours. At the end there was still the feeling that everyone would have been happy to keep going; the musicians seemed comfortable, the crowd were loving every minute and it was probably only the constraints of the venue that stopped the team going on all night. The line-up said they had been told of the enthusiasm of UK audiences but still seemed surprised by the knowledgeable reverence of the capacity crowd. Such was the standard of every one of the performers it would be impossible to pick a favourite, each performer told heart warming stories of how the songs were born and how they got into music, each one perfectly complemented the other and to watch the mutual respect and enjoyment of each other reaffirmed the reasons I love Country music. These are stories of life told by the people that have lived them; Country music really does seem to come from the heart.
As the evening came to a close, we were treated to a guest appearance by Miranda Lambert, the six time consecutively winning Academy of Country Music female vocalist of the year. She sang with her band mate Ashley beautifully and was simply the icing on a perfect cake. However, as Chip sang ‘One More Song’ brilliantly with Charlie Worsham’s awesome guitar backing, the highlight was yet to come. The lovely Lori McKenna sang ‘Girl Crush’ and then with the encouragement of Shane, a guy of quite incredible talent himself, the crowd sang a verse back to her. There can’t be anything as amazing for a songwriter as this and Lori was clearly emotional. The team continually told the crowd that they “affected them much more than they were affecting the crowd”. They may think this but from my experience in the crowd as one of the lucky ones to get a ticket, I can assure them that the warmth and expertise of this evening will live in the hearts of the audience for the rest of their lives, we were truly affected.