HAPPY WANDERER: A beer, dog and a Moon-pie


CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM: July 8, 2011

The sign at the bar reads “Recession Special — A beer, dog and moon-pie for 5 bucks.”

I put in my order and grab a stool near a neon sign next to a wall of old cowboy boots.

It’s lunchtime at Robert’s Western World honkytonk, and the band is just warming up — a duo with a cowboy on steel guitar and a petite, red-haired gal on vocals. I’ve traveled 2,300 miles to see this.

Ever since the country music station in the Bay Area changed its format, I’ve been left with no choice but to fly to Nashville for my fix. Now that I’m here, I’m making the rounds.

“You’ve got your troubles, I’ve got mine.” Roger Cook wrote that song and a slew of hit singles, and he’s onstage at the Bluebird Café.

Nashville's iconic Bluebird Cafe

It’s the 29th anniversary of this celebrated nightclub for songwriters and the top names in Nashville are here — Marshall Chapman, Annie Sellick, Jimmy Hall and Jonell Mosser, to name just a few. Just watching them bare their souls, songs and stories is so heady it’s led me to an epiphany. I need to be doing this someday.

It’s not so far-fetched when you consider what Nashville has to offer the novice songwriter. It starts with the story.

“It’s reported you’ve been drinking and a-runnin’ ’round with men and going wild.” Tom T. Hall wrote the hit “Harper Valley PTA” from a childhood memory he had of a gutsy gal who confronted his small town Kentucky school board. At the Country Music Hall of Fame, you can hear recordings of Hall and other top writers as they share their tips. The museum even has live sessions with songwriters.

Me, "playing" guitar at the famed Ryman Auditorium

Once you’ve come up with a story and put it to music, it’s time to hit the studio. In Nashville, that’s the easy part. For $20 you can cut your own CD at the Ryman Auditorium — the famed “mother church” of country music where the biggest names in Nashville perform. The Ryman provides the studio and the sound engineer, and you provide the talent.

Get your song on CD and come full-circle back to the Bluebird. On Mondays they have Open Mic Night, when you can try out your material, meet other songwriters and polish your performing skills. You may be nervous, at first, but the Bluebird is like playing in your living room. It’s a cozy, 100-seat venue where you feel like you’ve known folks your whole life, yet some of the most significant songwriters in the country play here. That’s why the Bluebird is so special — you get to see the “heroes behind the hits,” as they say.

So this songwriter thing is totally do-able. I’m moving it up on my bucket list, just behind winning the lottery and buying my own private plane.

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