It never fails.
I’m loading out after a gig – the sweaty, parched Dane that is left after 75 minutes of running around a stage throwing picks and making silly faces at whoever happens to be pointing a camera phone towards the stage (usually at Eric, not me). I’m haphazardly throwing my guitars into cases, anxious to wander back to the bus and discover what greasy, bad-decision after-show food awaits me in the front lounge. That’s when he/she approaches, seemingly out of nowhere…
“You were AMAZING tonight! Man, your solo on [insert mangled song title here] was siiiiick! I play guitar too, actually…”
Now let me interrupt – I love talking to fans. Seriously. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy being on the road so much. Being able to connect with people of all walks of life from all over this beautiful country affords me a vantage point on life that few get to experience, and I don’t take that for granted. No, the conversation I’m referring to here is the one that always seems to end with the following line:
“If you hear of any good gigs in Nashville, call me!”
It happens more often than you would think – and while it’s tempting to brush it off and assume the person isn’t actually serious, I know better… because I used to say it too.
As I’ve written before, I used to be terrified of Nashville. I saw no reason to move there, as I was certain I’d just get swallowed up by a big scary music industry full of guys who could play circles around me. As such, I thought it would be easier to simply remain where I was, make friends in Nashville, and then see if they would throw my name into the hat for good opportunities. As I began to do this, I received the same response from literally everyone I approached:
“Man, you just gotta be here.”
I didn’t get it. Why did it matter so much that I move there? I could just drive in and out for gigs. I even had family I could stay with. Why do I have to uproot everything for this to work? It’s the internet age for cryin’ out loud!
After being here for a mere four years now, I understand completely. Now, on the surface, there are some pretty practical reasons that this is true:
- The obvious: there are already a lot of great musicians in Nashville. Seriously – if I needed a drummer RIGHT NOW I could probably knock on doors on my street and find one within five houses.
- It’s generally more reliable to have someone in town. There is much less chance of your bass player’s car breaking down on the way to bus call when he’s driving 10 minutes instead of 4 hours. Much cheaper uber ride after, too.
- With few exceptions, most of the people who do live out of town but have good gigs were either already working with an artist before he/she moved to town or have been part of a gig for a long time and are able to live out of town as a result.
But these past few years have taught me that there are even bigger reasons to “be here” than mere convenience.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of the Nashville music community is the support its members provide one another. Don’t get me wrong – it’s competitive – but it’s not at all uncommon for me to audition against another player one day and have that same person throw me a gig the next. Whenever someone I don’t know reaches out to me for a show, the text ALWAYS starts with, “Hey this is [artist] – so-and-so gave me your number…” Every single great gig I’ve ever landed on came from someone else who was looking out for me.
When I say “You gotta be here” I mean it because I haven’t ever found a place like it.
Almost everyone I meet in Nashville is from somewhere other than Nashville. While the locals may joke and complain (I’m at least granted a pass for being a native Tennessean), there’s a pretty awesome truth on the other side of that: almost everyone who is here has made a great sacrifice to be here. Everyone had to leave something behind – family, familiarity, opportunities, whatever – to come here.
That’s what makes this town great – it’s full of people who took leaps of faith chasing after their dreams.
I know it’s getting crowded. I know I-440 is pretty much the third circle of hell during daylight hours. I know apartment prices are creeping up to “sell non-vital organs to make rent” levels. I know the music industry has a dark side that rivals Emperor Palpatine. This place isn’t for – and can’t fit – everyone.
But it’s for us. I’m thankful for our community, thankful for our friends, and thankful for the opportunities I’ve had that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. Most of all I’m thankful for those people who, years ago, responded to me with the same words I tell people now:
“You just gotta be here.”