The ultimate songwriting experience and opportunity for up-and-coming songwriters and singers to boost their skills and careers started Tuesday with the take-off of the Songster Bus.
The Songster Bus is a competition where songwriters are divided into teams and assigned hit songwriters mentoring them to write the best song possible while being on the road on a bus for seven hours. Country Music News International had the privilege to be on one of two buses observing the talents and the process. Before we boarded, there was a relaxed mingling at a hotel lobby. We say relaxed, because the contestants that we talked to were more looking forward to the friends they were making along the way (no pun intended) than nervous about what was ahead of them. When all were aboard, the mentors, super hit writers Dave Gibson and Bernie Nelson, made sure the participants felt at ease as well, providing their expertise and ability to seemingly without any effort at all provide the right words and the right chords at the appropriate times. It looked as if the process was orchestrated, but it wasn't - it was purely perfected professionalism.
For the songwriting challenge, the teams were provided a theme to go by while writing. The theme could be used literally or as an outline to create the song's ambiance. A challenge both teams on the Songster Bus we were on took on with vigorous glee. While eighteen wheelers swiftly passed by and were passed by, potential country hit songs were created. The bus was an actual tour bus, with comfortable grey leather seats in the front and the back along with tables complete with much needed cup holders. In the middle of the bus were the bunk beds, and for this occasion instead of providing rest for weary, touring musicians, they served as the perfect storage places for everyone's guitar cases.
Several of the songwriters had served in the military, so, in between songwriting creativity spouts and fine tuning of guitars, there were war stories told about lost buddies, heroes. That was very appropriate, since this challenge is only one part of a weeklong musical experience that has a Jamming For The Cause with Irline Mandrell, an Unveiling Ceremony of a "Remembering Our Fallen" exhibit and a Heroes Salute concert with Wade Hayes at The Nashville Palace as its Grand Finale.
Contestants came to Nashville from states like Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee among others, and found out about this contest in several different ways. Some from twitter, some from their boss and yet some earned their spot as winners of the Nashville Connection's talent show called Shine Night. There were also talented writers who qualified for their second year in a row, like for instance Hannah Clayton, who's aiming to become a Vocal Instructor and Bert Murray (Veteran), previous year's Songster Bus winner. Murray has released a concept EP and is working on an album with all original songs. Another participant, Gabriel Wren (Veteran), is unique in that way that he has only been singing and writing songs for a year. Still, he was as comfortable co-writing in this environment as any other songwriter. Come to find out, he has already co-written with several big names in the industry, has had songs chosen for TV-shows and has the well known Nashville Producer Buddy Hyatt as a mentor. For only being into music for that short period of time, that is already an impressive tenure.
Both Bernie Nelson's and Dave Gibson's songwriting teams finished their songs within an hour before arriving in Nashville. One competition participant, Pete Reddan, who also is a Veteran, expressed: "We have built the skeleton; the lyrics [the melody] and the structure, we only need to polish it a little". That they will be doing for two days with the help of music industry professionals, coaching them to have their song sounding as good as possible for their performance in front of the judges on Friday.
After seven hours on the road including a stop at a Sushi restaurant in Madison, Alabama, our Country bus arrived (perfectly synched in time with the Pop/Rock/Urban Crossover bus that came from Atlanta) to the Legislative Plaza in Nashville welcomed by press and supporters. First time competitor Shelby Lee Lowe said "It was less stressful than I thought" about the songwriting process. He walked off the bus with his team member country/singer/songwriter Bethany Kathleen, who was in Nashville for her fifth time. The producers Dave Brooks and Joan Betros held cheerful welcoming speeches receiving even more cheerful "yeay's" from the participants and bystanders.
The winner of the Songster Bus competition will have the honor of performing their song at The Heroes Salute Concert on Saturday, opening for Wade Hayes.
For more information, visit http://www.thenashvilleconnection.com/
Shelley Ridge for Country Music News International Magazine