A Different Side of the Brain

erica bryan, beaverdamusa.com, behind the micPeople have asked me if I can write songs while touring. I didn’t really understand why they asked me that because I assumed you could just write all the time and then perform and I didn’t see how there would be any disconnect. However, as I’ve gotten more busy with my tour schedule this year, I’ve realized that there really is a disconnect.

In 2013, all I did was write songs. I would co-write with people on weeknights and weekends, I would write lyrics during the day at my day job, and felt like I was a writing machine! (Not every song was a good song…but it was still a song!) I only played 2 shows that year, so almost all my energy was dedicated to writing. After my big writing stint, I had plenty of new material to start playing shows with in 2014. 

So this past year, I dedicated all my time to performing. I thought I could still keep writing during weeknights, but came to realize that after being my own tour manager, booking agent, publicist, and band leader, I had no creative energy to devote to songwriting. It was really sad! I would try to sit down and write a song…and nothing came out! Words were inexplicably harder to form. I’m no brain expert, but I started realizing that maybe there is a different part of your brain you use when writing songs. It wasn’t that I ran out of stuff to say (which is a relief!), I just hadn’t used the other side of the brain as much. 

Now that my touring has wrapped up for the year, I’ve been coaxing myself back into writing gear. I spent this past weekend house sitting for someone, and literally did nothing but sit at the piano and write songs all day long. For three days I pounded out new lyrics and melodies, came up with new ideas, and completed 4 new songs. One morning, I couldn’t sleep and got up at 3:30 am. Instead of lying in bed, praying to fall back asleep, I decided it was time to get up and write more music! That song ended up being called “Coffee at Midnight,” for obvious reasons [because I couldn't sleep!]. 

As an artist, it’s easy to feel like you’re not “doing anything” if you’re not on the road playing, but I’ve had to give myself a break and realize that if I don’t have good songs to play, the touring is irrelevant. So although on paper this time looks “quiet” and less flashy, it’s turning out to be very productive. I’m excited to keep writing and creating, and look forward to the time when I can share my new music with you all! 

Mac McAnally: The Songwriter’s Songwriter

beaverdamusa.com 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, beaverdamusa.com

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, beaverdamusa.com

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.

Zach

For a nine minute primer on Mac, go to:  www.youtube.com/embed/ShF-d8FGICE

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]

Encore

  • 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.

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