January 16, 2019
Nashville has no shortage of tours but only one of them takes place in a live music venue on wheels, hosted by genuine Music City songwriters.
Launched in 2017, the Nashville SongBird Tour combines live performances with a tour of country music landmarks and the historic Music Row neighbourhood; the epicentre of the music industry in Nashville.
It’s the brainchild of Patsy Bruce and her son Trey Bruce, both successful songwriters and prominent champions of the city’s country music scene. According to Trey, the lightbulb moment came when he was driving downtown and saw a tractor go past, towing a rowdy, beer-laden group of tourists in a wagon filled with bales of hay. It was a side of the city that left him cold.
After sharing his disdain with his mother, the pair came up with an alternative idea, far removed from the raucous party scene on Lower Broadway.
Their tour would weave history, culture and insider stories with an up-close listening room experience, similar to the popular songwriter nights at legendary venues like the Bluebird Cafe and Douglas Corner.
They mulled the idea over with industry friends – who agreed it was a winner – then acquired an ex-public bus from La Guardia airport and set about converting its luggage compartment into a stage.
If the tour really was to replicate the intimate experience of a Nashville open mic night, then it had to be done properly. We’re not talking busking on the tube.
Professional designers and sound engineers helped make the experience as authentic as possible, and Trey installed comfortable, theatre-style seating and concert lighting to set the tone. No expense has been spared in creating a magical experience for tour-goers, and it’s fair to say they’ve pulled it off with aplomb.
Every tour features two performers – an industry veteran and an up-and-coming artist. We’re lucky enough to have Emmy Award-winning Trey at the helm on ours. As well as running his own publishing company, he’s penned #1 hits for country music royalty like Randy Travis and Faith Hill, and counts ZZ Top and Reba McEntire among his production credits.
On the other stool is Taylor Goyette, who moved from Florida to Nashville in 2014 to pursue his dream of becoming a country artist.
As Trey explains, the young songwriters can’t get enough of being on the bus – not only do they get to perform alongside seasoned musicians with influence and connections, they have a ready-made, captive audience eager to hear their material.
The songs come thick and fast as we drive along the main avenues of Music Row, past small-scale commercial buildings and 19th-century houses now occupied by recording studios, publishing houses, record label offices and radio stations.
The district is the songwriting centre of Nashville, having grown from a single recording studio in the 1950s to a commercial ecosystem that now supports more than 200 music-related business and 56,000 jobs.
In between songs Trey regales us with stories of Nashville’s movers and shakers – brought to life by video clips – and points out landmarks like RCA Victor Studio B (tours available). The legendary studio churned out more than 260 Elvis song in the 60s and 70s, as well as hits by the likes of Roy Orbison and Dolly Parton.
We pass the former home of Hank Williams and the house where Tammy Wynette died in mysterious circumstances in 1998, before making a stop at Bobby’s Idle Hour Tavern, the last remaining live music venue in the neighbourhood.
If there’s one thing Trey wants us to take away from this whole experience, it’s that Music Row is under constant threat of redevelopment, due in part to Nashville’s rapid growth over the past ten years.
The neighbourhood is in a coveted location within the city, and Trey himself is spearheading efforts to help preserve its status as a national treasure and songwriting capital of the world. At Bobby’s Idle Hour – with its dive bar vibe, tiny stage and dollar-bill-clad walls – they’re certainly giving it everything they’ve got. Long may the music live on.
SongBird Tours run twice daily, take about two hours, and cost US$45 per person. Tickets are available online.
Head to visitmusiccity.com for more things to see and do in Nashville.
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