Thursday, November 6, 2014

Music City Muttering

You need to hear this guy play. Unfortunately, that means taking a trip to Nashville.

I’m not in a honky tonk tonight.

I’m in Nashville for a music educators conference, meeting at the downtown convention center just a block from Broadway and its row of live music venues, but the live music I’m hearing right now is several blocks away from that incubator of country talent. Rather, I took the advice of the concierge at the hotel by the convention center and made my way to the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, and as I write this, I’m soaking up some tasty blues. So it’s not the kind of music one comes to Nashville to hear, but it’s still live, and it’s several notches better than an establishment this seedy could hope to attract in most other American cities.

The surprising thing, though, is not that I’m hearing blues tonight; it’s that I had to skip out on the conference schedule to hear it.

In fact, as beautiful and tuneful as this city is, the only reason I’m seeing and hearing any of it is that I serendipitously had the graduate credit I’m earning for this conference cut in half, and suddenly found myself free to hear music of my choosing.

Earning two credits at an AOSA national conference is not easy. One has to be present for 24 hours of workshops and performances, and there are only 25 ½ in the schedule. Arriving at midnight yesterday, I missed out on the one hour in that evening’s program. Still not impossible, though I would not be able to miss any other scheduled event—except I’m staying at the conference’s overflow hotel, nine miles away, and the shuttle back there leaves a half hour before tonight and tomorrow night’s programs end. One has to be present for an entire event to receive credit, so that would leave me an hour and a half short. I went to the credit table to explain my predicament, and they told me I had no choice but to drop back to just one credit, requiring 15 rather than 24 hours.
I grumpily accepted the cold reality of the situation, fuming over that missed credit that would have put me one closer to the top education step on my district’s salary schedule. If only the conference hadn’t been scheduled this week, during the Country Music Awards, and a week before Reynolds’s conference week, I could’ve taken an earlier flight, could’ve stayed in the official conference hotel, could’ve cooped myself up in the conference center from the time I arrived until I shuttled back to the airport, never seeing the light of day but getting that full 24 hours and two credits. I stayed grumpy for about five minutes, then came to a decision: this heap of doodoo was a blessing in disguise.
I can earn those fifteen hours just by attending my regular workshop sessions. That means I’m free to leave the conference center, walk around town, have leisurely rather than rushed lunches and, best of all, hear some live music that is decidedly uneducational. Which is why, instead of sitting in a sterile conference room hearing an official one hour presentation about Nashville’s place in country music history, I’m here, having a much better time.

Don’t get me wrong, the performances at conference are wonderful, and tomorrow night I don’t want to miss the Fisk Jubilee Singers; but seriously, AOSA:  do you really expect me to go to a music conference in Music City without hearing any local music? You know this is what we all want to be doing, so clear an evening for us and let us out. We’ll be in a much better mood come Sunday morning when we climb on our planes, knowing we had the chance to hear some of what this city is all about.

Gotta go. The next set has begun, and these guys are oh so good.

Postscript: as good as those guys were, they were nothing compared to the six-piece band that came next. The Stacy Mitchhart Band may be the best blues ensemble I’ve ever heard. Mitchhart sings sly, knowing lyrics, then melts the room with awe-inspiring guitar solos, all performed with almost demonic glee. A consummate professional, he stripped off and replaced a broken string, even trimming off the excess, without missing a beat. I would gladly have stayed in that balcony seat for the entire show--and according to the bar calendar, it was supposed to last until 1 a.m.--but that was not to be.

The band started playing at 9:15. At 9:40, I sadly offered my chair to a young man who’d been standing behind me, and headed back to the convention center to catch the shuttle back to my hotel. The 10:00 shuttle is yet another way in which this conference has not been designed with Music City in mind, and I could tell every other person on the bus shared my frustration. Unfortunately, there’s not much any of us can do about it, other than to make note of it in our evaluations.


But wow. Those 25 minutes may turn out to be the highlight of this trip.

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