As someone who considers Nashville their home away from home, I was devastated when my trip was cancelled due to the pandemic. I knew it was the right, safe thing to do and I honestly wouldn’t have considered going, given the potential to get stuck there, but I was still incredibly upset. Even though it can be a very stressful time (with all the unknowns and potential for surprises), it’s one of my favourite parts of the year; I was hugely disappointed to miss out on Tin Pan South, Song Suffragettes, seeing my Nashville friends again, visiting my favourite places, and so on. So many things were cancelled but that was one of the hardest.
I knew NSAI were hoping to reschedule Tin Pan South for later in the year but as the pandemic went on, that looked less and less likely. But then they announced that they would be holding an online version of the festival, which was very exciting. There were considerably less shows than usual and some of the big names that always play were missing, which was unexpected, but I assume that that was to do with technical or pandemic-related issues. It was just a bit sad because there were certain people I was really looking forward to seeing again. But oh well. Hopefully I’ll get to see them next time.
I’d thought that I would have to get up in the middle of the night (never have time zones affected my life as much as they have in the last six months) to watch the livestreams, which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to, but then I discovered that the shows were available on the website the next day so I could at least attempt to get some real sleep and then watch the shows during normal waking hours. That was a very pleasant and much appreciated surprise, making my experience of it as a virtual festival so much better than expected.
I didn’t end up watching any shows from the first night. Both Tuesday and Wednesday were very long, stressful days for me and I just couldn’t manage anything more than I absolutely had to do. Fortunately there wasn’t anyone that I was desperate to see so it wasn’t a disaster. I would’ve liked to browse the livestreams afterwards to potentially find new (to me anyway), awesome songwriters – that’s always one of my favourite parts of the festival – but as far as I can tell, the livestreams only stayed up for twenty four hours and they were gone before I had time to look.
Aaron Barker, Jim Collins, and Mignon – I’ll admit that it took me a while to get used to Tin Pan South looking like my university lectures rather than a songwriters’ round. That definitely threw me more than I’d expected but I did still enjoy it. Mignon was the draw for me: she was great when I saw her back in 2017 (I think) at Song Suffragettes and she was amazing in this round. She was definitely my favourite. I really loved ‘I Got You’ and ‘Story of My Heart’ was a close second.
Desmond Child, Erika Ender, and Victoria Shaw – This one had some really good performances (especially Desmond Child singing ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ although I still have to see him perform it at a live round one day – I bet the atmosphere in the room is amazing!) but it felt very much like a series of separate performances glued together. One of the best bits of these rounds are how the performers interact and join in on each other’s songs and I really missed that.
Chris Barron, Jeff Cohen, and Toby Lightman – This show felt much more like a Tin Pan South round, with the writers chatting and joking around. I found myself smiling A LOT. The reason I picked this show was Jeff Cohen: I’ve met him a few times and seen him perform at various similar events and not only is he a great writer, he’s also a genuinely lovely guy. So I was really excited to see him play again. Toby Lightman was an awesome new find; I loved all of her songs but I especially loved ‘Breathe In.’ Chris Barron was probably furthest from my musical tastes but he was a great performer and had some hilarious stories to tell about the songs and about touring. So I really enjoyed that show and I think a big part of that was because it felt like a real show.
Kris Delmhorst, Mark Erelli, and Lori McKenna – I really enjoyed this round and I think a big part of that was that it was an actual songwriters’ round: it was the three of them in a room together. The conversation and interaction was so real and natural and that was really nice to see. I always enjoy seeing Lori McKenna perform and I love how she talks about songwriting. She played ‘People Get Old’ and ‘Humble and Kind,’ which I’m pretty sure is my favourite of hers. It’s so simple but so beautiful and so emotional, so heartbreakingly sincere. I also really liked Kris Delmhorst; I thought she was awesome. I especially loved her first song, ‘Wind’s Gonna Find A Way.’ They ended with ‘Girl Crush,’ a song I really dislike so I stopped the stream there. I wanted to finish on a positive, inspired note, which I knew I wouldn’t if I listened to ‘Girl Crush.’
I didn’t end up watching any of the Friday shows. The combination of lots to do and trying to fight off a headache just made it one thing too many to manage. Plus there wasn’t anyone I felt super strongly about seeing. So I just took the day off from Tin Pan South, especially as there were three shows on the Saturday that I needed to pack in.
Phil Barton, Seth Ennis, and Liz Rose – I really enjoyed this round because the three of them were just having such a great time, just having so much fun, joking around and being silly. They really didn’t let the virtual format put a dent in their show; they completely went to town, acting like they were playing Glastonbury and it was just so much fun to watch. I’ve always tried to go to the Liz Rose show at Tin Pan South so it was really cool to see her perform again, even if I have heard her perform some of the same songs before. I think I’ve seen Seth Ennis a couple of times now and he’s always great. I love his voice. But in this particular round, I think my favourite had to be Phil Barton. He just had so much energy; he was almost bouncing off the walls and it just made me smile and laugh and feel good. And there hasn’t been a lot of that to spare recently. He played ‘Skin & Bones’ (Eli Young Band), ‘Why Baby Why’ (Mickey Guyton), and ‘A Woman Like You’ (Lee Brice), which were all great. It was a really, really fun show – definitely the one I smiled most during.
Ryan Griffin, Carly Pearce, Riley Roth, and Emily Shackelton – This one was a very emotional show given that it was a tribute to busbee (an amazing songwriter who died last year, for those of you who didn’t know). It was very emotional with many of the writers performing important songs they’d written with him or songs they’d written about him since his death. Of the four of them, Carly Pearce and Emily Shackelton were my favourites.
Carly played her first big song, ‘Every Little Thing,’ which she’d written with and was then produced by busbee. Before playing her second song – a new one – she told the story of its inspiration: they were all at busbee’s funeral and Barry Dean was making a speech about him, talking about how it was just like him to have to get to Heaven first so that he could get the lay of the land and find all the best places to show his loved ones when they joined him. She just heard the song in that and pulled out her phone to write it down – she knew that, out of everyone, he wouldn’t have minded. The song was called ‘Show Me Around’ and it was absolutely stunning. I was in tears from the first few lines; it was a beautiful tribute but so heartbreakingly sad. Her final song was the last song that busbee had worked on, called, ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now.’ It was really powerful but I don’t think anything could’ve beaten ‘Show Me Around.’
I’ve seen Emily Shackelton before and I always try to see her if I can. She’s a gorgeous writer. She played ‘Doin’ Fine’ (Lauren Alaina), which is a song I love and then a new song, which I think was called ‘Killing Me’ that was super emotional. And then, before her last song, she spoke briefly about busbee. She talked about one of the last times they’d texted and she’d asked him whether he was writing anything. He replied, “I don’t think I’m gonna make any more music here, but I hear echoes of eternity.” That phrase has just enthralled me, ever since I heard it. From everything they said about him, he sounds like an incredible human being. She played a song she’d written not long after his death as she was trying to deal with all of her emotions, called ‘Raining For Months.’ It was so sad and so beautiful. She seemed especially emotional and I just wanted to reach through the screen and give her a hug.
Both Ryan Griffin and Riley Roth were good too; I particularly enjoyed Riley’s ‘Parents’ and ‘I Did This To Myself.’
It was a truly stunning round. It’s hard to choose a favourite because they all varied so drastically in mood and intensity but I think it’s safe to say that this one had the biggest effect on me and will be one that stays with me. I wish we could’ve all been there in person but since we couldn’t, I’m just so grateful that we could experience it at all. It was really special. Really, really special.
Chris Destephano and Emily Weisband – I immediately picked out this round because I love Chris Destephano. He was great: he told some great stories (and some great jokes) and delivered some really powerful performances. And Emily Weisband turned out to be a stunning new find (for me, at least). All of her songs were gorgeous but I particularly loved her unreleased song, ‘Sinning With You.’ It was just so delicate and beautiful. I also loved her performance of ‘Older Than I Am’ (Lennon Stella) and I definitely related to parts of ‘Getting Good’ (Lauren Alaina). It was a really, really good show, a nice balance of the first and second shows of the night and the perfect end to Tin Pan South 2020.
So it was a week of pretty incredible and emotional shows. Tin Pan South has never failed to inspire me and apparently the virtual experience doesn’t change that. Of course, it wasn’t the same as the normal in-person experience – it didn’t have that same magic that you get from being in a room with these other people who are so passionate about songwriting but that’s not exactly surprising. But having said that, it was still so wonderful and so special and I’m so grateful to NSAI and everyone who worked to make it happen because I absolutely loved it. Tin Pan South is one of the highlights of my year and I feel so, so lucky not to have had to miss out on it as I’ve had to miss out on so many other things. This year, we’re all making huge compromises and having to come to terms with months worth of missed opportunities and stolen joy and I’m just so grateful that this experience wasn’t one of the things taken away by the pandemic and lockdown.