Each time the CMA Songwriter’s Series comes to the UK I leave the room at the end of the night slightly aww-struck at the talent on stage. This year was no different. Not only was the musical talent there for all to see but once again the songwriters doubled up as comedians particularly Kassi Ashton who regularly had the audience roaring with laughter. What had been a perfect day in Gateshead, chatting to the four writers turned into a perfect night as they shared the stories behind their songs, hosted by Tenille Townes, the first round began.
Tenille in particular had a way of making the audience cry! The Alberta native had a sweet endearing personality but when she sang it was powerful, and in the second round she told us the story behind Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking), how she went to visit a small community who were all so supportive of each other which struck Tenille but when she found out the reason - a car crash that had injured four of the students she had been working with and killed their friend - Townes was overwhelmed. The girl who’d tragically lost her life had received a scholarship to play basket ball in college and in the gym during high school graduation her Jersey was hung on the wall. The song brought me to tears and I wasn’t the only one wiping a tear away at the end. The lyrics “How do you make a snowflake and are you angry when the earth quakes?” Really stood out to me as a beautiful bit of songwriting.
This wasn’t the last of her powerful songs as she went on to play When I Meet My Maker and Somebody’s Daughter - a song she wrote with Luke Laird and Barry Dean about a girl she saw stood at the side of the road holding a cardboard sign. In the interviews I’d done before the show they had all asked if I was staying to watch and I told them I was and was bringing my Gran who was soon to turn 80, Tenille remembered and caught sight of the two of us in the crowd and wished my Gran a Happy Birthday and the crowd applauded her on the milestone birthday whilst Kassi asked where the cake was! After the show she greeted my Gran like she was greeting a long lost friend - why is this important in my review you might ask? Well partly because she’s now my favourite Canadian and because it was lovely to meet artists like Tenille who just love every moment of touring the UK, and love every fan!
Ashley was sat in between Tenille and Kassi, in the first round she played one of my favourites off her debut album Better Boyfriend and she discussed the dating scene in Nashville and her and Kassi exchanged bad dating stories, this continued throughout the night and with Kassi’s hilarity and Ashley’s background in improv comedy the pair had us in stitches! Better Boyfriend is one of Ashley’s comedy songs and lyrically it is so well crafted. When Tenille introduced her she said she sung like the prettiest bird and it’s true, her voice is unique and sweet! She went on to play Wish I Wanted To which she explained by using the analogy of a salad... it’s the healthy option, just like moving on but not the option you’d necessarily choose. Both my Gran and I, being fans of her fathers music (Glen Campbell) as well as hers, were delighted when she picked up the Banjo and told us she began playing the instrument for a part she was playing in a show in college but that she took it up seriously when her dad asked her to play Gentle On My Mind when he went on tour to New Zealand and so she played the song dazzling the crowd and the other writers with her Banjo skills. She played her favourite off the record Nothing Day and paid tribute to her Dad at the end of the night as she played the song she wrote for him Remembering.
Kassi Ashton... where do I begin with Kassi? I think she’s one of my new favourite people! I want to be more like her, in every way! She was so down to earth and funny. In the first round she played her single about her hometown California, Missouri which she explained was the one song she always needed to write. As her and Ashley told their dating stories, they got onto the topic of prom and ended up demonstrating the prom picture pose with each other. She then played Lie To Me which was about breaking up with her older boyfriend (the one that was too old to go to prom). Then she talked about one of her other singles Taxidermy which even though it wasn’t written by her it was written for her by friend and fellow creative nation writer Natalie Hemby. She really blew the room away with her powerful vocals during The Straw and Hopeless, two very well crafted songs with clever lyrics and great melodies! She has to come back to the U.K. soon, not just because we want to see more of this very talented singer and songwriter but because my Gran has promised to bake her a cake!
The last writer in the round was Chris DeStefano, I recognised the name when he was first announced, he has a string of number 1 hits to his name! Equipped with his guitar and a stomp box the first song he played was last years Super Bowl and Olympics (on US TV) theme tune, The Champion, a song which Carrie Underwood sung and it featured rapper Ludacris. This meant that of course there is a rap section which Chris pulled off superbly! As is the norm in writers rounds as each one sung and played the others tried to harmonise or play along, this worked well when Ashley joined in on Chris’ chorus’ their voices blended so well together. He played Rewind which was cut by Rascal Flatts who were always one of Chris’ favourite bands before he became a successful songwriter. He played his latest single which he released just last week called Wide Open, and it was during this song in particular that I realised just what a great singer he is, he has a lovely tone! He also played From The Ground Up which was partly about his own grandparents and took on new meaning when he became a Dad. I hadn’t realised he’d written that song, which is often what’s great about these writers rounds. For his final song he sung Something in the Water a song which Carrie took to the top of both the Hot Country Songs chart and the Christian music charts and won DeStefano and his co-writers a Grammy. Many of the crowd knew the song and mimed along, they were a respectful crowd who’d listened intently all show. Afterwards they chatted to the crowd, signed autographs and took pictures. It was a fantastic way to end what had been an incredible night!