The Station Inn, Nashville

A Song Writer’s Journey

by Kelli Kingrey-Courtney

I love to see that Nashville skyline and I couldn’t wait to return after visiting in January for the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association Awards (SPBGMA).

Monday, Aug 25, 2014

It is a 10-hour drive from Knoxville, Iowa, but our first stop was the Station Inn. We got front-row seats. The Station Inn is a very small venue so front-row seats are a big deal!

There’s nothing fancy about this place: a basic brick building dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it. When you walk in, the place has a very old feel: uneven wooden floors, a simple stage, neon lights over the bar, bluegrass posters covering the walls. The chairs and tables are mis-matched. It just feels comfortable but the best part is knowing you’re bound for some great entertainment. Tonight it was the amazing singers / songwriters Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson along with singer Val Storey and fiddle player Aubrey Haynie.

Just before the break in sets, Jerry Salley came in! I’d met Jerry briefly at SPBGMA and we had visited on Facebook a few times but for me, it was a big deal to get to introduce myself in person and shake his hand. I am such a fan of his songwriting and his singing.

What is it about his songwriting that gets to me? He has a way of putting words together — an enunciating them in just the right place — as to rip a hole right through your heart... in a good way!

When a song makes you stop thinking about everything else and brings a tear to your eye? You know it’s special! And Jerry has done that with so many songs. My absolute favorite is The Broken Ones. Look it up! You won’t regret it!

Tueday, Aug 26, 2014

We spent a good part of the day on Broadway Street taking in all the happenings. We stopped the Earnest Tubb Shop, hit a couple of touristy souvenir shops and heard some good music coming from Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. We found out how good the barbecue is at Jack’s on Broadway. There are lots of cool antiques — including lots of bluegrass and country instruments — at the American Pickers Shop.

And we also went to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. I was very moved seeing the displays about songwriters. Several of Alan Jackson’s handwritten songs are on display as well as those of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through the Night. There was quote from Hank Williams that struck me: “A song ain’t nothin’ in the world but a story just wrote with music to it.”

There was also several of Merle Haggard’s handwritten songs on display and tonight, we got to see Haggard perform at The Ryman Auditorium!

Neither my dad nor I had ever seen The Hag in concert (and he is my dad’s musical hero)! In fact, my dad turned to me and said, “I can die happy now. I’ve seen Haggard in concert.” The Ryman was nearly sold out and Merle didn’t miss a note!

He sounded just as great as he did on his original recordings decades ago. When he cut up and told jokes, he was ON. He played all his old familiar tunes we know and love — and what made it even better? Knowing he wrote those songs! They came from his heart!

It was a great night of entertainment and you cannot beat The Ryman. The acoustics are perfect in the Mother Church of Country Music.

It was also an exciting night for me because right before Merle Haggard went on stage, I met songwriter / producer Shawn Camp who has written major songs for both country and bluegrass.

Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

I went over to Rhonda Vincent’s house to pick up her hand-me-down clothes she had promised to give me when I saw her at SPBGMA. It is always great to see one of your all-time favorite singers and it is even better to find out she is so down-to-earth.

She gave me all kinds of different clothes she had just sorted out of her closet. There were some fancier stage clothes, some jeans, even t-shirts. For being the Queen of Bluegrass, she is definitely one who hasn’t let anything go to her head. Rhonda is a hard-working, sweet, down to earth woman and I look up to her for sure.

Then it was time for the BIG meeting. Daryl Mosley of The Farm Hands Quartet set up a meeting with producer Bruce Dees of Off Row Records. I met with Bruce and his assistant Michelle at Studio 19 on Music Row.

It was humbling to just be the building where so many big names in music have recorded. It was hard to stop thinking about those stars, their music, their songwriting. This was the studio used by Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Ringo Starr, John Conlee, even John Wayne!

Bruce showed me around the studio and then we sat in his office and he played the Farm Hands’ finished version of my song Down This Old Gravel Road.

Then he looked at me and said, “Kelli, what do you want to do?” I told him I would love to make my own album someday but right now I was mainly interested in getting some of my songs out there. He asked what I thought my best song was, I told him, and we all sat and listened to it. “How long have you been writing?” he asked. “It’s been a year this June,” I said.

He shot a look at Michelle and she did the same. Then he told me I had “it” and to “not stop writing.” I was asked to send him any more songs I write and said we would keep in contact. Coming from someone who has been in the music industry for 40 years — not to mention being an incredible guitar player for Ronnie Milsap — made for a huge moment for me. I floated out of Studio 19 on Cloud 9!

That night my dad and I went back to the Station Inn for more live bluegrass music and I picked up a souvenir t-shirt and a Shawn Camp album.

Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

We packed up and headed for home. Do I miss Nashville? Yes, terribly! For those of us who frequent music festivals, we joke about suffering from PFD: Post-Festival Depression. Well, I am pretty sure that’s a real thing and leaving Nashville felt 10 times worse!

Back in Southern Iowa, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip and on my songwriting. If I never go any further than I have right now, I am thankful. But in talking to a friend of mine, he, he asked me if I’d come back down to earth after getting home. I had to say I was really still in the clouds.

“Kelli,” he said, “Don’t get too grounded.”

September 6, 2014

plate 1. The Station Inn.

Ernest Tubb Record Shop Nashville

plate 2. Ernest Tubb Record Shop sign on Broadway

plate 3. Carl Jackson at the Station Inn!

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Nashville

plate 4. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge with the “Bat Building” as a backdrop.

Aubrey Haynie

plate 5. Aubrey Haynie, also at the Station Inn. We were on the front row!

American Pickers Shop

plate 6. Marathon Motor Works building where the American Pickers shop is!

Kris Kristofferson

plate 7. Kris Kristofferson’s handwritten lyrics to “Help Me Make It Through The Night” in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

Vintage Microphones, Nashville

plate 8. Vintage microphones in American Pickers shop.

Nashville Radio

plate 9. We found a vintage Nashville Radio sign in the same shop!

Merle Haggard, Nashville

plate 10. Merle Haggard performing on The Ryman stage.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville

plate 11. The Ryman Auditorium.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville

plate 12. The Ryman Auditorium

Studio 19, Nashville

plate 13. Studio 19 on Music Row. So many famous people have recorded their music here. This is where I met producer/publisher/artist Bruce Dees.

Photo credits: Kelli Kingrey-Courtney.

dogwood petal Kelli Courtney, Songwriter

Kelli Courtney, Bluegrass Songwriter

(Knoxville, IA) “There I was in Nashville [at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America’s National Convention]. I had bought a little camcorder, and I was trying not to shake.”

Courtney, a young songwriter from southern Iowa, was in Tennessee because she won a songwriting contest heralded by The Farm Hands Quartet, a bluegrass band populated with genre luminaries, like Tim Graves (dobro), Keith Tew (guitar) and Daryl Mosley (two-time nominee for bluegrass male vocalist of the year and songwriter of the year with SPBGMA).

“I met the guys in Kirksville,” remembers Courtney, “and then I saw the contest article in Bluegrass Unlimited. The contest was open for bluegrass songwriters who had never professonally recorded anything. I didn’t have any high hopes but submitted three of my songs to those guys.” One of those songs was Down This Gravel Road.

“I was sitting at my desk at work and got the email. I pretty much figured ‘It’s cool whatever song they pick and they’re sending all the losers an email ahead of time’ and then I opened the email and it said, ‘We’d like to let you know we chose your song as the winner and would like to record it!’ That was out of something like 70 entries!”

“I was totally stunned.”

And so, Courtney traveled to Nasvhille to watch The Farmhands Quartet sing her song and announce her win from the SPBGMA stage. “I do want to pursue songwriting,” she says. “I grew up with music.”

Kelli Courtney plays bass and sings lead vocals with her group Raydio Flyer where she is joined on stage by Scott Amos, Gary Fisher and Galen Briggs.

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July 19, 2014


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