Saturday night the Music Division hosted a hand-clapping, foot-stomping evening with the Country Music Association‘s Songwriters Series. The assembled songwriters lined up on the Coolidge stage with just their voices and acoustic guitars, and although the Coolidge is not exactly a small venue, the spare instrumentation helped bring out a musical intimacy seldom found in studio productions. Bob DiPiero played host to what may be the only Library of Congress panel whose guests donned cowboy boots and silver lame. Even Music Division Chief Sue Vita wore her cowboy hat and fringed jacket to introduce the musicians.
The evening was structured “in the round” - all the musicians were on stage during the entire show, supporting their fellow songsters as they each took their turns performing a song they wrote. DiPiero (whose biggest crowd-pleaser of the night was “Gone,” originally recorded by Montgomery Gentry) engaged in convivial stage banter with his fellow musicians for a warm, conversational program. Among his observations was that you could say anything you wanted about a person as long as you closed it with the phrase, “bless their heart.”
Little Big Town followed DiPiero and didn’t waste any time launching into their number-one hit ”Little White Church, ” which was just nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group.
In a mixture of awe and exasperation, Brett James (whose songs have been performed by Carrie Underwood and Kenney Chesney, among others) asked, “How do you top that?” But their shimmering harmonies were followed by James’s distinct voice on songs like “Crazy.” James admitted that growing up in Oklahoma he had dreamed of writing songs for the likes of rocker Bon Jovi, and never knew he would get his wish – James performed “What Do You Got,” recently released on a Bon Jovi Greatest Hits collection.
The country music stereotype is that of the dysfunctional family and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” but Lori McKenna (whose songs have been performed by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) puts that to rest – mother of five and married to the same man for twenty-two years. Her performance of “The luxury of knowing,” (available as a bonus track on a Keith Urban CD) was a highlight of the evening. DiPiero was especially impressed – “If that’s the bonus track, do the other songs cure cancer?”
The night closed with the whole group joining in on what DiPiero called the Country Music National Anthem, the Carter Family standard, “Will the Circle be Unbroken.”