It’s now Sunday, eight days into this new world of a waterlogged state of Tennessee. And although the Gulf oil spill is still the lead story in the national media, about to decimate ecosystems and local fishing industries across the Gulf, I just read an article that suggested the floodwaters in Tennessee could impact the Gulf fishing industry as well. Local fishermen in Gulf communities are fearing that as the floodwaters from the Cumberland River empty into the Mississippi River, the inherent rushing waters will push a large portion of fish into the oil. So far, most of my writings about this disaster, as well as the writings of others, has been about the effect that this flood has had on the people of Tennessee including the loss of life, the destruction of homes, businesses, and infrastructure. But what kind of effect will the flood have on nature, ecosystems, wildlife, and the environment at large? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, we will continue cleaning up, rebuilding, and moving ahead. I urge you all to help continue spreading the news of this disaster, as the minimal national media coverage we have received, will likely fade in the weeks to come.

If you would like to learn more about what is happening here, there are a series of well written articles that can be found at A telling photo journal can be viewed at And the following YouTube video also sends a strong message

It’s now Saturday, May 8th, one week into this life changing event, and I find myself feeling still off balance, having difficulty focusing on some of life’s normal routines. The images of an ocean of brown murky water coming within a half-mile of our house, cars submerged on interstate lakes, and neighborhood houses underwater continue to work their way towards the front of my mind.

Last night I worked in a nightclub in Bellevue, a gig I’ve played countless times before. As a musician, I had been looking forward to a night of music with friends, hoping and expecting it would help return some of us to some kind of normalcy. It was the first time I’d seen these friends since before the flood, and it was pretty hard to talk about anything other than the weeks catastrophic events.

My friend Nick from Bellevue was home Saturday when the rain first began, and lost electricity sometime that night. On Sunday, still without electricity, he was unaware of what was going on, and decided to drive down to see an afternoon movie. As he approached the movie theater, he was horrified when he saw the entire building submerged in three or four feet of water. My friend Danny from Kingston Springs, lives on a Hill, and while his family and home are fine, some nearby houses had been washed away. He had also learned that the Harpeth River near his house, normally spanning 115 feet across, had swelled to a staggering 2900 feet in width. Another friend, Doug from Bellevue, said that his home was fine, but other homes nearby were damaged or destroyed. Doug works as a plumber, and revealed that he’s already been fixing water damaged boilers, and while he believes many units can be saved, he is hearing about some profiteers claiming all water damaged boilers need to be replaced. Yet another friend, Pam, also from Bellevue, told us of working at the now filled to capacity Microtel Inn, where her duties now include shuttling flood refugees back and forth from the hotel to local stores to buy bare essentials. Everybody I spoke to had been touched by this event in one way or another, and we are all feeling a deep sense of connection, as this new common ground we will forever now share.

We started playing music around 7 PM, and the experience was almost surreal. I remember playing songs, yet feeling completely disconnected from the activity I was partaking in, almost as if I was watching myself from the other side of the room. The notes were all coming out right, but my mind was 1000 miles away, struggling to push back the images of horror that occupied my mind. The first 50 minute set seemed to happen in slow motion, with little reaction from the room full of somber patrons, eating their dinners and talking quietly. The night felt heavy and sluggish, and what is usually a warm-up set for our typically spirited group, felt more like a funeral march. Although the next set was more of the same, we were able to shake off some of this weight for the final part of the night, the music finally cutting through this dense air of disaster.

On the local news this morning, I learned that Hickman County, 50 miles southwest of Nashville, has been hit exceptionally hard by this flood, as over 100 bridges throughout the county have been crippled or destroyed. “The town of Centreville, and much of Hickman County, for four days, was an island unto itself, with no radio stations, no telephone service, AT&T or cellular, it was all out” stated Centreville’s mayor, Bob Bond. The county is still in emergency response mode, and thousands of feet of water line have been destroyed, rendering drinking water for the county’s 20,000 residents unsafe for the next 2 to 4 months.

Another news story told of concern for some of Davidson county’s immigrant communities, where many are still residing in water drenched apartment complexes. Although officials are trying to get them to relocate to shelters, many won’t leave, as they will lose their jobs if they aren’t at their usual place of residence for daily transportation pickups.

These kinds of stories are expanding exponentially, and although my family and I haven’t been injured or lost any physical possessions, we have been forever changed. We feel exposed and vulnerable, with a strange state of uncertainty now deeply embedded in our psyche. Many others we have spoken to have shared similar sentiments. It’s almost as if we were raped, held down and pinned to the wall by a mysterious powerful force for which there was no defense. I can’t imagine the feelings held by those who have it much worse, losing homes, businesses, everything, some even losing their loved ones, and my heart goes out to them.

I know things will improve slowly over time, and hopefully there will be a return to some kind of normalcy in the weeks and months ahead. But it is likely to be a new kind of normalcy, because so much has changed. For once you have lived through an event of this magnitude, seeing the devastation firsthand, and hearing the stories of those suffering, you are forever changed. The time is now for the people of Tennessee to be strong, hold your heads up, and move forward with strength, conviction and unity. I believe the human spirit is strong, and if we open our hearts and minds, we can, and will survive.

Wednesday, May 5th, marks day five of the Tennessee flood of 2010, and the story continues to unfold, with each new day giving larger perspective to the magnitude of this situation. This was the first day we had a chance to go out and see some of the damage firsthand, and what we saw is hard to put into words.

Several houses near the entrance to our development had received extensive water damage, their front yards looking like random flea markets of drying household items and furniture amidst dumpsters of debris and piles of water soaked carpet mounded on the lawns. An area about two or 3 miles further west on Highway 70 was exceptionally hard hit, with debris scattered across lawns amidst more piles of water soaked housewares. Several homes had received extensive structural damage, power lines were knocked down and laying on the street amidst broken asphalt, and a couple of concrete slabs revealed the location of houses that were swept away by the raging waters.

A couple hundred feet down the train tracks from the intersection of 249 And Hwy. 70, the force of water was massive enough to move entire sections of railroad tracks 8 feet to one side, with steel spikes ejected and lying on the ground amidst the giant steel rails, now concave and still connected to the ties. Just past the train tracks onto 249 heading towards Kingston Springs, the water line on the trees was 10 to 12 feet high, despite being a couple hundred feet from the Harpeth River, which normally flows about 15 feet below the plain.

Further down 249, just past the Kingston Springs high school, a large section of the road had been ripped up, with gigantic slabs of asphalt protruding in every direction, similar to road damage more typically associated with an earthquake. On Harpeth View Trail, a side street just past the middle school, a family could be seen sitting on the cement slab where their house once stood, one of several houses on that street that were completely washed away. About a mile further down 249 revealed that the elementary school had been under several feet of water, as was evidenced by the brown water line on the building and surrounding trees.

In Bellevue, just a few miles away from some neighborhoods that were almost completely destroyed, I stand in front of the water damaged kempo studio adjacent to the movie theater that has also been breached. In front of the movie theater, a police car blocks traffic from going west on Highway 70, as a massive landslide has completely blocked the road. All of this damage I just described took place within 10 miles of my home in Pegram, and only represents a fraction of the total amount that happened in these communities, communities that are a small piece of a far bigger jigsaw puzzle that now has to be put back together.

During a phone call to my friend Logan, he informs me that Clarksville, his town of residence, is still near its peak flood stage, with many businesses and homes still underwater. He also confirmed the rumor that the wastewater treatment plant has been underwater since Monday, and with the plant inoperable, Clarksville’s sewage has been flowing directly in to the Cumberland River. In a news article, Tisha Calabrese-Benton, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of environment and conservation, said a number of facilities upstream have been shut down as well. On the local evening news, I also learned that several counties are in a state of water emergency, as many water treatment plants have been damaged. Officials warn that while conservation efforts are underway, a stronger effort is needed.

Many that live in Tennessee, as well as other parts of the South, are always on the lookout for severe weather, with more people probably watching for tornado outbreaks than anything else. What I find most disturbing about this event was that this incomprehensible amount of damage was inflicted from a rainstorm. Even the most severe tornado outbreaks ever experienced in Tennessee pale in comparison to the amount of damage inflicted, and the total area affected by this rain event, an event that truly underscores the unyielding power of what a rainstorm can do.

It’s now Tuesday morning, May 4th, and the local news is announcing that while the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville has crested with the waters now receding, Ashland city and Clarksville are still at flood stage. Several city blocks in downtown Nashville are now without power as basement vaults are flooded. A caller on the morning news explains that their location, Pinnacle Hill in Kingston Springs, is a hilltop community that is still inaccessible, and that there are many families running out of food, with some in need of medical attention. There is water in the basement of the Opry House and the Country Music Hall Of Fame, both of which contain irreplaceable archives and memorabilia. Another news story shows a business owner standing in front of a sea of tractor-trailers trucks, his livelihood of 31 trucks and hundreds of trailers underwater and destroyed. Other video footage reveals roadways with damage that would otherwise be associated with an earthquake. The Opryland hotel, which accounts for 1/5 of the available hotel rooms in Nashville, announces it will be closed for months, inevitably leaving hundreds, if not thousands jobless. Hard-hit communities across the state share similar tragic tales ranging from loss of life to power outages, impassable roadways to pending water shortages, and homes and businesses either being damaged, destroyed, or completely washed away.

Amidst the disaster are a couple of rays of hope. The weather forecast predicts clear sunny days for the rest of the week, with only a slight chance of rain on Friday. Calls for volunteers are also being answered with thousands of people chipping in to help with the recovery process. A televised press conference in the middle of the day presents a steady stream of officials, each making announcements pertaining to specific areas of disaster relief. While the officials did provide much useful information, evidence of an overall lack of preparedness, organization, and communication is revealed, as the website they direct citizens to for disaster relief,, had not been updated since Sunday afternoon, and contained outdated information. One city official announced that floodwaters are unsafe and may contain raw sewerage, chemicals, and unknown dangerous objects, and to stay out of the water. A short while later another news story showed children playing in the water, and an adult attempting to water ski through floodwaters behind a pickup truck.

Upon calling a few friends that lived in neighboring communities, I learned the fate of a few other areas less covered by the news. One friend in Kingston Springs informed me that five or six houses had been completely washed away on his street. Another told his tale of driving home from a friend’s house with his three-year-old daughter on Saturday night, when a foot of water came rushing across the road and swept his vehicle to the side, stalling his vehicle. After 20 harrowing moments stuck in the rushing water, they were able to return to their friends house where they stayed until Tuesday, at which point they discovered a mile and a half hike was now required to get to their now in accessible home in White Bluff which sat intact right next to a neighbor’s house that was completely washed away.

A little later, a news story announced that the army corps of engineers was releasing water from the areas dams at strategic intervals. Throughout the day, I periodically switched from local news to national media stations such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and other national news programs, and was thoroughly disturbed to see the Tennessee flood getting little to no coverage. By mid afternoon, the CNN website used a small portion of this event as the lead story. Barely scratching the surface, the info put forth implied this storm mainly affected Nashville, when the reality is that it has impacted hundreds of thousands of people over thousands of square miles  With the loss of life is in the dozens, the economic and infrastructure damage , however, will likely be in the billions, as this storm system has produced catastrophic damage not only across much of Tennessee, but in the neighboring states of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kentucky.

This monumental 500 to 1000 year event, came with little warning. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which first made its introduction days in advance by way of big scary radar images on radar, this storm looked like a typical round of heavy rain and severe weather. No one could have known the system was going to stall right over Tennessee. Nevertheless, it did, dumping between 12 and 20 inches of rain, 28% of our annual rainfall, in less than 48 hours. And while it doesn’t have the dramatic buildup, high death toll, and scenes of looting, this event is potentially as ever far-reaching in terms of human suffering due to a natural disaster. While the local news of middle Tennessee has provided much coverage so far, most of this coverage has been for Davidson County, with minimal attention to the rest of Tennessee. The national news media has completely missed this epic disaster, with a few slight exceptions. While the oil slick off the gulf of Mexico, and the New York City car bomber, are certainly important stories, they are not the only stories. In the age of 24 hour news media coverage, there is no excuse for this kind of ineptitude and shortsightedness. Where are all the journalists hiding, for they have missed the quiet Katrina.

It’s now early Monday morning, day three of this epic event, and I awoke to a dark house, as we were still without power. Living in this world of constant connectivity and electric powered amenities allows for a lifestyle that we take for granted, even breeding complacency and cockiness in our falsely perceived roles as masters of the universe. As of this moment, the word vulnerable and insignificant doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of being trapped in your own neighborhood with all access roads cut off, no electricity, no Internet, and information coming only by radio, and others caught in the same predicament.

Starved for information, and needing some supplies we decided to reinvestigate the condition of the roads. After a quick visit to the main entrance revealed the main road was still under water, we slowly and carefully proceeded north on the only other main access road, 249, to Ashland City. It was a warm day, and the sun was now shining, giving the illusion for a brief moment that nothing was wrong outside of our development. This all changed when we saw some damage in the form of fallen trees, and scattered debris in the mud of some low-lying areas.

This particular road is not unlike many in middle Tennessee; rolling hills covered with thick forests, fields and pastures speckled with a few random cows and horses, sparsely scattered houses, and a few small family farms here and there. After about 10 minutes of driving on this road, we came to an area that was void of housing for a few miles, and an eerie feeling set upon us as a large desolate lake appeared to our right, butting right up to the road. Our concern quickly escalated when it became obvious that this lake was brand-new, and probably a field a couple of days ago, as we could see the roof of a submerged tractor-trailer truck cab near the distant shore. No sooner had we spotted the sunken truck, when the now horrifying view through the windshield was that of this new lake completely surrounding the road, with the pavement disappearing about 100 feet in front of us. The straight flat highway of asphalt ahead looked like an ominous runway off the edge of the earth. With water on both sides of the road up to the painted white lines, I carefully executed a three-point turn on this death road to hell, and drove back to our home.

I went over and spoke to one of my neighbors about the road conditions we had just experienced, and he informed me there was one access road open. The road had some problems and required some detailed directions as there were many turns, but it was passable, so we decided to make a second attempt. Along the way we saw a large section of a hill that abutted 249 had ripped away, so we pulled over to make sure the road was safe. The stunning view over the guardrail was that of a hill that looked like it had a large bite taken out of it, with uprooted trees and brush strewn about like matchsticks more than 100 feet below. We carefully retreated to our car and cautiously proceeded past this weakened part of the road on the opposite side.

After a long drive through the winding maze of obscure back roads, we safely emerged near the Wal-Mart on Charlotte Pike. Our newly revised mission was to fill up our car with gas, purchase some ice, dry foods, and water, and find an Internet café. A phone call from our neighbor notified us that the electricity was finally back on, so we skipped the Internet café and returned home. It was now Monday early afternoon, and we were finally getting our first viewings of the totality of the destruction this historic flood was unleashing throughout the state on local news television.

Some of the first images we saw reminded me of aerial pictures of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina; subdivisions containing hundreds of homes submerged under water almost to the rooftops, submerged vehicles stranded on roadways, mounds of debris, and cars stacked in piles like toys. We remained glued to the television throughout the day as new information and stories were developing exponentially. At some point in the afternoon, it was announced that the Opryland hotel was under 10 feet of water, and that 1500 guests had to be rescued. The entire area around the Opryland hotel including the Opry House, the Opry Mills Mall, and a parking lot in which our cars had been parked just 36 hours before were under 5 to 10 feet of water. Parts of downtown were being evacuated as water was now up to second avenue near Riverfront Park. Suburbs like Antioch, Bellevue, Old Hickory, and many others had homes, schools, and businesses underwater, bridges and parts of roads washed away, and people being rescued from their homes and businesses by boats.

The flood was impacting areas far beyond the city limits, as the Cumberland River was well beyond flood stage in Clarksville. One newscaster made the frightening announcement that problems in a water treatment plant might cause for raw sewerage to be dumped into the Cumberland River there. Power outages were widespread, Interstates were experiencing closures due to flooding, and President Obama began the process of declaring disaster areas in over 50 counties spanning almost half the state.

Signs of being ill-prepared for a natural disaster of this magnitude started to become visible as video showed children and adults playing in floodwaters despite the occasional newscaster warning that the waters can contain sewerage, chemicals, and dangerous objects. Some of the flooding downtown was being caused by one businesses ill advised attempt to pump water from its basement, and barely mentioned were city officials requests for citizens to conserve water despite water treatment and purification facilities being down. Early predictions stated that the Cumberland river wood crest by 3 PM at 51.5 feet (flood stage is at 40), but these predictions kept getting pushed back into the evening hours. The local news stations, which had done a fair job of covering the event up to this point, became an embarrassing disappointment, when the 10 PM broadcasts  showed rebroadcasts of events from earlier in the day, delivering no new news as to whether or not the waters were still rising or receding.

Physically and mentally drained, we decided to retire for the evening. Feeling relatively safe from the floodwaters on our hilltop haven, I can still barely comprehend all that’s happened over the past three days, and I still have feelings of anxiety and confusion. This disaster is far from over, and I’m sure that the tale of the great Tennessee flood of 2010 is just beginning.

In light of the recent flood disaster that has decimated middle Tennessee, I feel compelled to put my music industry blogging on hold temporarily as I feel this developing story is much more pertinent. As some of you may have read in my last two blogs, my family and I have lived through this catastrophe, and while we are okay, our state of Tennessee is being widely impacted with the complete repercussions of this event far from over. In the coming weeks I will continue to write about any Rhett Akins shows as they happen, as well as anything else interesting that happens within my musical endeavors, but at least for the immediate future, I plan to keep most of my writing geared towards this unfolding disaster.

It was just after noon on Sunday, May 1st, and the electricity was still down when we turned on our battery-powered weather radio. Now day two of the heaviest rainstorm we had ever seen, me, my wife Kelly, and our son Josh sat around the living room amidst an ambience of perpetual twilight, and listened to the computer-generated voice of Noah Weather Radio deliver a frightening and unsettling story. Round two of this marathon downpour had began in the early morning hours and was now causing many rivers across the state to reach flood stage. We were rendered speechless as this digital weatherman went down the list of where the different rivers in the different counties were about to, or already cresting, with the Harpeth River, about a half mile from our house in Pegram, Tennessee, among them. The list of road closures was also statewide, and hearing all of this news while sitting without electricity and in near darkness, seemed ever more ominous, as the voice telling the story was not unlike that of the Terminator, and void of all emotion.

I made a call on my cell phone to the power company, at which point I learned that the outage was widespread, but not much more. Unknowing of the duration of this storm event or the power outage, it was now time to take stock in our situation. We grabbed everything out of the refrigerator that could make for some cold meals; sandwich stuff, bread, cheeses, peanut butter, juice, and beer, and put it in a cooler with the remaining ice from our freezer. A house-wide search was conducted for all available flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, and board games. Confident that we were now set for a few days , I decided to walk next door and talk to my neighbor to see what he knew about the situation. He told me that the road at the bottom of our development hill is underwater, and that several houses in that area had been flooded. My mind struggled to comprehend his words, which seemed to just hang in the humid spring air, and this prompted further investigation as I just couldn’t visualize, and didn’t want to believe what I just heard.

Our house sits in the middle of a development near the top of a big hill, at least a hundred or so feet above the road below, and just a stone’s throw from the Harpeth River, one of several major rivers that snake through the valleys of middle Tennessee. As we neared the main entrance, the scene that came into focus was beyond words. Still raining heavily, we viewed the entrance to our development, and saw the top couple inches of a stop sign poking up out of the brown water from about 40 feet away, which was the closest we could get to the main street, now a lake spanning more than 100 feet across. To the left of the entrance, stood two beautiful two-story homes, now submerged in water that almost reached the second floor. To the right of the entrance, “Lake Harpeth” stretched as far as the eye could see, with several homes formally abutting the road now inaccessible and cut off, achieving an unwanted beach front status.

After a few minutes of taking in the eerie site, this natural disaster that was now a half mile from our home, we retreated to our safe haven on top of the hill. A few hours later the rain finally stopped, and we took a drive to check out one of the two other access roads. We didn’t get too far before we spotted another city truck blocking the road, and the impact of this flood was becoming more clear with each passing minute. From this new vantage point, we could see our community bank completely submerged, water 6 feet high, and above the windows. A brief chat with a city worker informed us that the garage next door was underwater, and that some people had to be rescued from the gas station by boat a little earlier in the day. We also learned that the power substation was underwater, and would require the floodwaters to recede before it could be assessed. After a few minutes of taking some pictures and video, we solemnly returned to our home.

We sat around the living room listening to the radio for news, as the darkness of night grew near. As we had no way to charge our cell phones, we stayed off them, reserving their power for as long as possible. We ate a little food, drank a few beers, and played a game of Scrabble to pass the time, but the mood was still a bit less than cheerful. In a typical power outage, one experiences minor inconveniences; a lack of the basic amenities normally taken for granted. But when the power goes out and you are stranded by way of a natural disaster, the feeling is much more of panic. Information becomes a commodity, as you struggle to gain perspective on your life situation. In an event of this proportion, without electricity, we lose almost all connection with the outside world, and are deemed naked and vulnerable, prisoners within our own homes. I hope the water recedes soon, and the power comes back on so we can reconnect with the outside world. Meanwhile, safe from the waters below, but cut off from what lies beyond, we wait, marooned on Pegram Island.

Saturday morning began for me at 5:30 AM, when I was suddenly awoken by the sound of a loud crack of thunder. By the time I dragged myself out of bed a short while later, a heavy downpour was underway, and our fair state of Tennessee was beginning to receive a walloping storm. On any other day this would have been less significant for me, but on this first day of May, 2010, Rhett Akins and band were leaving for an outdoor show in Alabama, and it was my job as tour manager to see it through.

All morning long, in between preparing for the trip, my wife Kelly and I kept checking the weather, and grew more concerned with every passing minute as the forecast was not good. During the 40 minute drive to the bus, which was exceptionally precarious due to the now torrential rain, I received a call from Rhett, who informed me he would be leaving late and driving himself to the show. We arrived at the bus, loaded up, and began the 130 mile drive to our destination, the small town of Hartselle, Alabama, just a little ways over the Tennessee/Alabama border.

The rain was relentless for the first half of the drive, and just when it seemed like our show was doomed, it gradually began to subside as we neared the Alabama border. I now received my second phone call from Rhett, and our newly found optimism was again put on hold when he told me that he just saw a car completely submerged underwater on the northbound side of Interstate 65. We all began to worry about our fearless leader (as well as our own fate) as we watched the news now showing video footage of the devastation this storm had just wreaked upon Arkansas, in the form of tornadoes, and Memphis, by way of flooding.

We safely arrived to our destination, a large open field in the middle of nowhere upon which a local business, Frederick Tractor Supply, was throwing a groundbreaking ceremony. As we pulled down the long gravel driveway, I first spotted the stage; two flatbed trailers complete with a green tarp “awning”, supported by two by fours. I now received my third call from Rhett who informed me that the radio stations were no longer playing music, but delivering storm news, and that I65, I24, and I40 around Nashville were now closed due to flooding. A short while later I was greeted by the owner who told me “I think we may have dodged a bullet on this one.” as I felt a few light rain drops on my face.

The light sprinkle was short-lived, and we hesitantly began our load in and soundcheck. Halfway through soundcheck the sprinkle returned and intensified, so we covered our gear and returned to the bus. Around 5:30 it subsided, and we finished soundcheck and waited for dinner, some home-cooked barbecue that was allegedly “the best in the county”. As we sat on the bus, the latest news reports were now showing a broader picture of the pending apocalypse that loomed just outside our door step. Flipping between the Weather Channel and CNN, we were horrified to see images of Nashville interstates that looked more like lakes filled with half submerged cars and tractor-trailers, viewed through a gloomy mist of grey.

It seemed surreal that we were getting ready to play a concert, while just 100 miles to our north there were more than 70 cars underwater on the roadways we had just traveled upon. Strangely enough, it never did rain again on our quaint little country setting, and we played a 90 minute show to an approving audience of 500 or so tractors and concertgoers.

After the show was over, our bus driver Steve informed us that I65 was now passable, but that another round of storms was on its way, so we made a hasty departure to try to beat the next storm. Fortunately, the ride home was uneventful, and we arrived safely back to our cars in a parking lot near the Opryland Hotel. A short while later, as Kelly and I neared our home just West of Nashville, we came upon a city truck blocking the road in front of some standing water, and had to take a detour to a secondary entrance to our development. As we pulled into the driveway of our home, we were greeted by a cold dark house as the storm had knocked out the power in our area.

It’s now noon the next day, again raining heavily, and I’m writing this by hand as we’re still without power. We learned the day before that a flood watch will be in effect for middle Tennessee until Thursday, as this storm was not yet finished. Yesterday it rained 11 inches and less than 10 hours, and before the storm is done, we could receive up to 4 to 8 inches more. So far at least eight people have died from drowning in what is being deemed the worst flooding the state has seen in over 30 years.

It’s not over yet, and I wonder what we’ll learn when the power comes back on. As I sit with a pen and paper, looking through a window at a rain soaked canopy of green and grey, I’m still amazed at how a mere 14 hour bus gig, the shortest in recent years, was one of the most stressful and terrifying we had ever experienced. While some weren’t so lucky, at least for our group, it looks like we might have dodged a bullet on this one.

It’s springtime, and festival season is upon us. The time of year for county fairs and outdoor music festivals is here, and along with it comes the unpredictable variable of the weather. Working as a tour manager and touring musician, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in situations where a concert promoter or event coordinator seems to think they have magic powers when it comes to predicting the weather. They all seem to have a crystal ball that literally guarantees them a clear day despite any meteorologists forecast.

First of all, anybody that plans an outdoor show is taking a big risk, as these events are booked months in advance with no way of knowing what the weather will be on the day of show. Outdoor concerts and events on the highest level, usually have stages with a roof, and optional sides that can be put up in the event of rain. This will keep the performers and equipment protected, although typically leaving the audience exposed to the elements. Concerts and events on a smaller scale have varying degrees of preparedness, and many have stages with less than adequate covering. Also inherent to many of these smaller “townie” style events are event coordinators that can be a little less than rational when it comes to contingency plans for bad weather.

A few years ago I worked an outdoor show in Alabama in the month of June. The forecast all week long called for heavy rain and severe weather for the day of our concert. On show day, we arrived around noon, and it was already lightly sprinkling. A local high school football field was the site for this concert, and a large stage, with a roof but no sides had been constructed at one end of the field. Earlier in the week, I had suggested to the event coordinator that if the weather was looking bad, to have the concert in the high school gymnasium. As the weather predictions seemed to be spot on, I again made the suggestion, as there was still enough time to move the event inside. Of course, I was overruled, as the event coordinator said that the gym couldn’t hold all of the people they were expecting, along with the line “Most of the bad weather is supposed to blow just south of here.”


Not. By the time we were ready for sound check a couple of hours later, the rain started coming down heavy, and a strong wind was blowing the rain across stage. We quickly covered our gear, while the sound company frantically covered their equipment with large tarps. A couple hours later, the rain subsided long enough for us to do a brief sound check, which turned out to be our only performance on this day. No sooner did we finish the sound check, when the sky opened up with a vengeance, soaking us to the bone as we ran for the bus. By 8:00PM, our official show time, the steady rain was now accompanied by lightning, and the soaked concertgoer’s standing on the wet field were told to retreat to their cars for safety. We were all on standby for the next couple of hours hoping that the weather would pass, but the radar showed otherwise. Even with the certainty of this night upon us, I’ll never forget standing outside of the bus in the pouring rain and arguing with the promoter, who was now practically begging us to perform on the wet stage, an electrocution waiting to happen. With rain dripping off the front of his hat and in between an almost constant barrage of loud thunder, I believe his words were “It looks like it’s going to clear up any minute now.”

That particular show was no exception. I, like many touring musicians, have been in similar scenarios countless times. In fact that particular summer, we were rained out four or five times. Without the proper advanced planning, some situations don’t allow much of an option. But sometimes a show could be salvaged at the last minute if an event coordinator would simply bite the bullet and realize that a smaller concert indoors might be better than no concert at all.

Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving for an outdoor show in northern Alabama. Our group is scheduled to perform on a couple of flatbed trailers covered by “an awning” at 8:30 PM tomorrow night. Earlier in the week I suggested to the event coordinator the possibility of renting a large “circus style” tent, complete with sides, as rain has been in the forecast for almost a week now. As of this moment, the National Weather Service forecast says “Thunderstorms are expected to become widespread during Saturday across northwest Alabama, and spread gradually eastward during the afternoon and evening hours. A few thunderstorms may be capable of producing flash flooding.” I guess we’ll soon find out if he went with my tent idea. Regardless, I’m hoping we get lucky, but experience tells me to be prepared to hear the words “It looks like it’s going to clear up any minute now.”

What is the real difference between a cover song and an original song?  For in reality, after a song is beyond the compositional stage of its life, it is forever “covered”, even by the artist or band that wrote it. I have been in cover bands that played three sets of top 40 covers and threw in a couple of originals. I have been in original bands that threw in the occasional cover. Both situations required me to know a list of tunes that I could perform well on a regular basis. Both of these situations can also allow for a song list to become predictable or even boring to the musicians performing those songs, regardless of who wrote them.

It is true that to be in a “cover band” you don’t need to know how to create or write music, but this is also true for many musicians in “original” bands. While some original bands write songs by total group collaboration, many do not. Most super-groups throughout history have had one or two members that did the bulk of the songwriting; Lennon/ McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Page/Plant etc. Regardless of how many members contributed to the songwriting of a given band, that band is still covering their material. How many hundreds or thousands of times have the Rolling Stones had to perform Satisfaction or Jumping Jack Flash? Do those songs still feel “original” to them?

I have been working for a country artist for the last six years, and for the most part, have been performing the same set list, occasionally adding some new material. Although I originally wrote some of the guitar licks and helped arrange some of this material, 200 performances later they feel like covers. Even if I improvise some guitar solos and other subtleties in these tunes during performances, the essence of these songs never really changes. I have many musician friends that work on other tours, and in most cases they are not a part of the songwriting process in those situations. They were hired by an artist or band, learned the required repertoire, and have been essentially “covering” that material all along.

There are many groups trying to establish their followings in the music scene that call themselves “original bands”, and these groups are trying to create a fan base around their original material. They go out and perform shows by “covering” their originals in an attempt to familiarize their audience with their songs, slowly over time. It is perhaps on this level that the biggest difference between covers and originals might be perceived, but ultimately, the typical audience simply hears and categorizes music as familiar or obscure and gives little thought, if any, to who wrote the material. The song either connects, or doesn’t, then this variable can have as much to do with the performance, as it does the song itself.

Many of the great blues and jazz artists of the 20th century had repertoires that were filled with covers or songs that were written for them. Some of the great rock groups that came out of the 60s and 70s started their careers covering blues tunes, and many megastars aren’t songwriters. Did Pavarotti ever write a song? Songwriting is a craft that takes great skill, but then again, so is performing. Why should it matter who wrote the song if you enjoy playing it, and your audience enjoys hearing it? To the audience, a song is just a song, and they either like it, or they don’t. So get used to the idea of covering songs, because the concept is as old as the hills, and in reality, after you’ve played a song once, it is forever a cover.