An Evening At The Ryman

by David Reuter

The day finally arrived and at 6:15 PM Curt Collins and I were sitting next to each other winding our way through the streets of downtown Nashville on a crowded shuttle bus. After a ten minute ride the bus pulled to a stop and opened its doors. As I stepped out into the cold evening air I looked up at the sign on the front of the red brick building and read Ryman Auditorium.

There is no way to describe how you feel as you walk through those giant wooden doors of the Grand Ole Opry and once we entered the historic building each step towards our seats seemed to transport us one step further back in time. As we followed an usher to the VIP section I swear that even the sounds of our footsteps across those creaky old wooden floors sounded like fiddles, guitars and banjos to me. It was as if the building itself was saying to us that, “only the sounds of music are permitted in this sacred place.”

The beauty of this famous concert hall is simply stunning and after seeing it close up I can understand why many people have called it “The Cathedral of American Country Music.” Since 1925 every legend in Country Music has walked out on that stage and performed. It was humbling for me to know that in just a few hours the words and the music of a song that I helped to write would echo through those wooden rafters.

Lee Ann Rimes was hosting the live show and since the broadcast was being taped for distribution in other markets the evening started out with the audience being recorded and filmed. We were instructed to clap and laugh and yell and scream so that they could film us and edit in audience responses later. After about an hour of comedy, laughter and sound checks, the house lights were dimmed and Lee Ann took center stage and sang the opening number. One cannot help but being immediately struck by her beauty and by her stage presence. When she sings, it becomes very clear why she is a star as she commands the stage and every eye is compelled to follow her.

By simple luck of the draw, Karla Davis was selected to perform last in the contest and she made the decision to close the show by singing our song Whiskey Got A Job to Do. Karla told us the day before that she wanted to end her performance that evening with an up-tempo rockin’ number so that the judges would remember her. She said that’s why she picked this song out of the ones we’ve written with her.

The first contestant to take the stage was Casey Lee Smith. He is an 18 year old High School Senior from Arizona who I would describe as a young blend of Keith Urban and Eric Church. Poised well beyond his years he plays a mean Fender Telecaster and from his first chord it was clear that he deserved to be a finalist because he knows how to get a crowd rockin’ and up on its feet. He can also deliver a song in a gentle and sensitive way and his second song showed that dimension of his artistry. After hearing his wonderful performance I knew that it was going to be tough for anyone to win this contest because True Talent can never be denied.

The second performer of the evening was Kendall Philips from South Dakota. She started her performance seated with an acoustic guitar and she sang a ballad that she wrote which simply silenced the house. I thought it was the performance of the evening. When Kendall moved on to her second song she struggled at moments. The house band at the Opry is filled with incredible musicians but Kendall seemed unable to tap into the musical energy that they were trying to feed her. Her movements seemed a bit forced on stage and sadly, originality faded from her performance. I felt sad for her because I could see that this was not going to be her night. She has a beautiful voice and there is clearly a place for her in Country Music but I knew that the final spotlight was going to be shining on someone else this evening.

The third act, Whiskey Row, was clearly the Crowd Favorite. Over 100 of their deeply loyal fans traveled to Nashville from California to support them. Their name Whiskey Row tells it like it is. They are a kick-ass hard rockin’ Country Duet who have been performing together for 15 years. Their harmonies were tight and exciting and after they finished their two powerful originals it was clear to everyone that they had vaulted into the lead and that it was going to indeed take a special performance to beat them.

That special performance came next when Terry Lee Spencer from Pennsylvania took the stage. I was told by several people that Terry sounded uninspired during the days of rehearsals running up to the show. People described him as being Good but not Great and many felt that he was a long shot.

Terry was there to prove otherwise because competition always has a way of bringing out the very best in some people. From the moment Terry started singing and playing I knew that I was watching a future Star in Country Music. He performed two original songs and his ability to feed off of the energy of the band made his performance Exciting and Dynamic and his guitar playing was Powerful. His voice is one that I am sure we will be hearing much more of in years to come. Terry pushed all those 100 year old Opry Ghosts off the stage and made room for his brand of Country Music and his performance clearly moved him ahead of the other contestants. Terry left the stage owning it.

After a very long TV Commercial it was Karla’s turn and as I watched her walk out onto the stage it was like watching the last Olympic Figure Skater of the evening take Center Ice knowing that they must have the performance of a lifetime to win. The contest was Karla’s to win or lose. Before Karla’s performance, Lee Ann Rimes introduced the judges who were all important A&R people, record producers and label executives. At that moment, you could feel the pressure and tension really start to build.

Karla’s first song was an acoustic original that she wrote and her performance was very powerful. The song was Fresh and Original and her sensitive arrangement with only guitar and fiddle provided an outstanding showcase for her voice. Her singing was direct and very moving to everyone at the Ryman and her Beauty and Poise were powerful assets. I knew that she had opened the door and created an opportunity for herself to win.
Next, a stage hand brought Karla out a second guitar and as she switched instruments I could hear her say "Thank You" to the stage hand and I saw him smile as if no artist had ever said Thank You to him before for his work and he said what I was thinking “Good Luck Karla Davis.”

Karla turned to the band and counted off the song and her soulful voice filled the hall in a way that no other voice had the entire evening. All I could think was how happy I would be for her if she won and how sad I would be if she lost because I was wondering if there was anything that I could have done differently to make that a better song for her. So many people had told us that Whiskey's Got A Job To Do wasn’t the right song for a Female Artist to perform and yet here was a young unknown woman who was risking everything on the energy and the message of our song. I thought it was an outstanding performance and the standing ovation affirmed my feeling but the crowd often Loves one performance or an Artist and yet the judges can see things entirely differently.

After Karla's performance the contestants all joined each other for a Garth Brook's medley while the judges tallied their scores. Lee Ann Rimes took the stage again and sang a final song as one of those Giant TV Checks written out for $100,000 was brought out and placed on stage. Lee Ann was handed the envelope and announced "Karla Davis Best New Country Act of 2010 out of 50,000 contestants in the Colgate Country Showdown."
Well, from there emotion took over for everyone and the rest of the evening was spent at a Victory Party. I think we got back to our rooms around 2:00 AM. Does it get ANY better than this?

David Reuter

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