Mac McAnally: The Songwriter’s Songwriter music musings zach claytonThe older I get, the harder it is to impress me musically. Call me a music curmudgeon, but after hundreds of live shows, the “wow” moments are rare. A double “wow” took place on Friday March 21, 2014 at the Franklin Theatre. Mac McAnally. If you know about Mac, that is all I need to say. If you don’t know Mac, read on.

Officially, Mac is a singer, songwriter, producer, and a musician. He is the reigning CMA Musician of the Year and that is a spot he has held for 6 years running. His songs have graced the albums of country stars from Alabama to Sawyer Brown to Kenny Chesney and some beach bum named Jimmy Buffett.

zach clayton, mac mcanally,

Zach Clayton and Mac McAnally.

I first learned of Mac at a Buffett show at the old Starwood Amphitheater (sigh). Buffett would introduce “Nashville and Muscle Shoals’ own – Mac McAnally” and they would do a couple of songs together. Over time, I would always see him playing at Buffett’s Nashville shows and noticed that my favorite Buffett songs were those written (or co-written) by Mac. Through the years I was lucky enough to see him a few times:

  • A benefit concert at a mega-church in Brentwood with Mac, Skip Ewing, Paul Overstreet, the late Paul Davis.
  • A Mac only show at the Harbor Docks restaurant/bar in Destin, FL. There were only 30 people there that night.
  • A monthly gospel-themed show called Sam’s Place at the Ryman hosted by Gary Chapman.

I mention those so you can appreciate that Mac doesn’t do major tours or a lot of solo shows. His main gig these days is being a permanent member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.

The setting was the Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin, TN. It was a very intimate setting with probably only 225 or so seats. The show sold out in less than a week. If you have ever watched VH1’s “Storytellers” show, this was the setting. Before every song, Mac would get introduce the song, explaining the deeper meaning, why it was important, etc. For the majority of his almost two hour set, it was just him, his six different guitars, and a grand piano. Below are the most memorable moments for me:

  • Telling the story of how he met Chet Atkins for the first time and Chet was asking him how impressed he was with a “flutter” he did on the guitar on the second track of side 2 of his first album.
  • Having the set list in his phone which he checked occasionally to see what was next.
  • Telling the story of getting his first gig in honky-tonks making $250/week at the age of 13.
  • Kenny Chesney calling to say that he wanted to record a Mac song. Not a particular song, but any song – “You pick it out”.
  • Buffett hearing Mac’s first album and telling him that he loved it and that it was special. Mac said that became the beginning of not only a musical relationship but a strong friendship.
  • Talking about trying year after year to learn a particular part in Duane Allman’s “Little Martha”, only to learn that it was two guitars. He played this as his final number, perfectly, on one guitar.
  • Bringing fellow Coral Reefer Peter Mayer and percussionist Eric Darken on stage for a few numbers. Darken was in the studio with Chesney & Mac when they worked out “Down the Road”.
  • Having his Facebook followers choose one song out of three to be included in the set list.
  • Mac invited the people in the audience to meet him in the lobby after the show. He said he would talk, sign, and take pictures for as long as it took. He did.
mac mcanally,

Mac McAnally plays the Franklin Theatre, Franklin, Tenn., March 21, 2014.

Well, I guess I have gushed enough about the show. In summary, it was a rare chance to sit and listen to one of the great musicians and storytellers in this town do his work.  He is a true songwriter’s songwriter and a musician’s musician.


For a nine minute primer on Mac, go to:

P.S. For the purists, here is the set list:

  • Blame It on New Orleans
  • Café on the Corner
  • Miracle
  • All These Years
  • Socrates (the song with the flutter Chet asked about)
  • This Time
  • Junk Cars
  • Medley – Old Flame/Two Dozen Roses/Thank God for You
  • Down the Road (with Peter Mayer)
  • Meanwhile (with Peter Mayer)
  • The City (with Peter Mayer & Eric Darken)
  • (Nothing Like) A Sunny Day (with Peter Mayer & Eric Darken) – Facebook followers choice
  • Singing in Your Cage (Peter Mayer solo song)
  • On Account of You (with Peter Mayer & Eric Darken)
  • Heard It Through the Grapevine (with Peter Mayer & Eric Darken)
  • Back Where I Come From (with Peter Mayer & Eric Darken)
  • It’s My Job – [my personal favorite]


  • A Pirate Looks at 40 – tribute to Jimmy Buffett
  • Little Martha – Duane Allman song (see above)

The only downside is that with a catalog as large as Mac’s, there are always those left out songs such as You First, Southbound, Changing Channels, Love in the Library etc. Finest Craft Beers from America’s Best Micro Breweries- 728x90 banner