Say goodbye to Beantown, Nola heads to Music City USA

Nola Rose Shepherd, December 1998

Nola Rose Sheppard has been a mainstay of the Boston country music scene for five years as the leader of Nola Rose & The Thorns. She went to Nashville for six months earlier this year to check out the musical scenery.

Where else in the world are there 35 clubs featuring live, predominantly country, music? You know it. Music City USA, Nashville Tenn.

If I took away nothing else from my time in Nashville, it was experiencing first hand the amount of talent living and working there.

Lucinda Williams, Paul Burch, Jim Lauderdale, Rosie Flores, Buddy and Julie Miller, Guy Clark, Vern Gosdin, Kim Richey, Lee Roy Parnell, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmy Martin, Tom T. Hall, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mandy Barnett, Trisha Yearwood, Jo Dee Messina, Sara EvansŠ.I saw every one of these people perform (okay, I was on a bit of a mission) within the first two months of being in Nashville, and I'm talking about seeing them in clubs for little money, not a big venue and having a chance to meet and speak with some of them.

I haven't even begun to list the amazing array of songwriting talent residing in Nashville which in itself is enough to leave me wondering "what the hell am I doing here! "

All in all, Nashville is a humbling yet inspiring environment in which to embark on the second phase of one's musical career.

When asked to write about my Nashville experience I hesitated for a moment - what light could I possibly shine on this place. As most who've been there know, six months isn't enough time to even scratch the surface.

So herein lies a novice's viewpoint - all I can say is go and experience it for yourself because there's no other place on earth quite like it.

One of my earliest perceptions of the Nashville music community is an overall sense of camaraderie - born perhaps from a bit of desperation, but fortified by the shared goal of making music.

Let's face it, the odds of 'making it' in this business aren't very good, but people continue to flock here in droves, persisting in the face of enormous competition, striving to improve and become masters at their craft, be it artist, songwriter, producer, etc. and knowing full well there's no guarantee of success (i.e., money or fame).

As Kathy Burkly, another recent defector from Boston observed, you can tell the relative newcomers by the look of disappointment that creeps over their face as they realize it's going to be a long and most likely not very profitable haul in Nashville.

On the other hand, this is the town where most things can and do happen for many. Now having said all that, when you get into the serious music business side of Nashville, and the stakes go up (I can only say that I haven't experienced first hand what that world is all about), I would imagine it might be just a tad more cutthroat. Hopefully someday I'll have more to say on this subject.

My first week in town, my hubby Kit's friend John "Poncho" Garshnick, (former Bostonian) brought me down to Music Row to play my CD for a (former Sony) producer. Now, of course, nothing came of that meeting for months, but I was just thrilled to have actually had any business to take care of on Music Row.

That thrill lasted briefly - yes they will listen but you better have something powerful, commercially appealing or interesting to say because if you don't there's about 1,000 people behind you that day who think they do.

The pearl of wisdom gained from this producer was "talent is overrated." He tells us he sees hundreds of talented singers a year, but persistence and dedication are the qualities you need to make it. Good advice!(And, of course, everyone's got their piece of advice they want to share. It was suggested to me that I cut my hair short and drop the Rose on Nola Rose because overall I looked and sounded too much like a girl from Iowa! Mmmm....)About a month after arriving, Linda Jack, a songwriter with whom I'd done demos for in Boston had also decided to move to Nashville. One of our first truly Nashville experiences was playing at The Bluebird Café on Monday night. You get there at about 5 p.m. get in line and take a number, and maybe you'll get a chance to perform your two best songs to an audience of other hopefuls. Bonded by ignorance and eagerness, the audience listened to and cheered on each performer, good and not so good.

Our turn arrived and with wooden legs strode to the stage feeling like we'd never performed before, awed by the fact that us Yankees were picking and singing at the famous Bluebird.

Nothing concrete came of that experience, but you've got to get out there and get your feet wet somehow. These are the types of opportunities that abound in Nashville.Billy Block's Western Beat Roots Revival is another venue for seeing great music as well as an opportunity to perform your own. Currently, the Tuesday night gig is held at The Exit Inn. Not only does Billy have his pulse on the burgeoning alternative country scene, presenting some wonderful acts (four acts per night for $5 ­ Kit just saw Connie Smith perform) to the general public, but there's also a Hillbilly Jam which occurs after the hired performers are finished where folks like you and I can perform to whomever is still in the club.

It was on one of these nights that I got up on stage to sing while Rosie Flores played guitar.

Now for a little big-name Reba experience. Visiting NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association Inc. - an excellent organization for networking with other songwriters and people in the business as well as organizing frequent seminars) one night, a woman came in looking for background singers for a video.

Linda spoke up to volunteer me, and the woman tells us that Reba is doing a video next week of "What If" and needs people for her choir. We're thinking, 'right, Reba sends some woman out looking for anybodies to be in her video,' but hey, that's the way it happened.

It wasn't a glamorous experience, (long days standing around with lots of other choir members and practically no money), but I did get to meet Reba, and now I get to tell people I was in a Reba video. Good padding for the resume. These things happen in Nashville.

I was lucky in that I had a 'risk free' opportunity to go to Nashville - 'risk-free' thanks to a supportive boss and understanding husband. Knowing that I was more than a bit apprehensive about leaving Boston for Nashville at this point in my life, not being a fresh faced kid and all, my boss asked me last year "why don't you go to Nashville and give it a try and see what happens, we'll hold your job for you."

And although Kit wasn't able to go with me at first since he was finishing up a gig which ran through December, he reminded me Nashville was the place to pursue a serious career in country music.

He held onto our apartment in Brighton and visited when he could - and often enough to decide that he'd love to relocate and as soon as possible. I, on the other hand, took a little more convincing - I'm going to really miss my old Beantown!!! Once we found a house (real estate is a steal in Nashville even with pay being considerably lower), the decision was a lot easier.

Maybe I did learn somethingŠ regardless, we're off in December, ready to live life in the south and immerse ourselves in the time-honored tradition of paying our dues in Nashville. A magical town where anything can happen - if you're there long enough.

But wait, there's moreŠ. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to have something in print and not include my gratitude for all the people who have supported me and the band in the past. From Hillbilly at Harvard to the MCMAA to the folks at Johnny D's to the many musicians I've had the pleasure to work with, the people who showed up to our gigs and made us feel so appreciated, thanks a million.

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •