Over the years I have heard and engaged in many discussions about the validity of open mics and blues jams. Some argue that they only exist for club owners to have free entertainment and that skilled players shouldn’t play for free, others argue that it’s the only way for some to obtain exposure, connections, or experience, and some agree with both sides of the argument but don’t care and just want to play, often for a variety of reasons.

I have always been in the latter camp. My very first nightclub performance with a band came at the age of 17 at a local “hoot night” at a club called the Mill in Amesbury Massachusetts. The experience was a positive one, leading to several more sit-ins in the following months. These sit-ins allowed me to graduate from practicing in the bedroom, to playing full songs with a band in front of an audience. At these jam night, I also made friends with other musicians, locals, and even a couple of “lady friends”, and this was pretty exciting for a young kid who was barely out of high school. This was in the early stages of my development as a gigging musician, and helped me gain some valuable experience and confidence as a performer.

A couple of years later I was in music school and still attended jam nights regularly. I looked at jam nights as opportunities to road test some of what I was learning in school, it was part of the exploration process for me. After music school, I began playing professionally in a top 40 band, 3 to 4 nights a week. It was a great band, but pretty much a note for noter, not leaving much room for improv. At this point I began seeking out and attending many different jam nights and blues jams regularly. The basic attitude of “anything goes “found at many jam nights was an opportunity for me to further explore musical ideas and concepts. I also used jam nights and blues jams as a way to keep my sanity, temporarily freeing me from the restraints of my top 40 captivity. While not all of these were great musical experiences, some were, and I met some great players along the way, developing lasting friendships with many of them.

In the early 90s I heard about one particular jam night that was really happening. It was a cold Monday night in the middle of the winter, when I first arrived at an old rustic club called Colbys in the small town of Rochester New Hampshire. The place was packed and the band was rockin’ as I walked in carrying my Fender Strat and Marshall amp. The first thing I noticed was that the whole place was just alive with energy, everybody was really listening to the band, even clapping and singing along at times. The group that hosted this weekly event was the Ron Jones band, and they played a mix of rock, blues, and country, very well I might add. There weren’t many jammers there on that particular night, and after the band heard that I could play, they had me play with them for an entire set. It was an extremely rewarding musical experience, and I didn’t view it as something I was doing for free, I was simply doing something I love to do.

I returned often to Colby’s over the following months participating in many great jams as well as a nightly ritual called the Dr. Pepper, in which shots of 151 rum were lit on fire, dumped into a row of beers, and then consumed quickly by the band (by the way, don’t ever drink and drive). On one particular night I walked in and heard an amazing guitar player sitting in with the band. Simply put, he was one of the best guitar players I had ever heard. I was intimidated at first, but upon the encouragement of the band, I set up to play a few tunes with this fellow. From the first note we played together, everyone knew it was going to be good, it just felt right. We jammed for over an hour, engaging in some great band interplay, and became instant friends that night.

I eventually lost touch with my new guitar buddy, but continued playing in bands and using jam nights as a musical outlet. Over the years, I made mental notes about the stronger players I would encounter, and when a player would leave my band, I would sometimes hire players that I had previously met at jam nights. On more than one occasion, I would bring my band to a jam night and use it as an opportunity to audition live for the club owner, sometimes obtaining work from this approach.

By the early 2000’s I was burning out on the New England nightclub circuit, or lack thereof, and began to think about relocating to a place with more music industry. I had heard some rumors that my old guitar buddy had moved to Nashville and was doing quite well there. I tracked him down, called him up, and even though we hadn’t spoken in 10 years, it was as if our conversation picked up right where it left off. He understood my frustration with trying to earn a living as a musician in New England, and suggested that I check out Nashville. A couple of weeks later my wife and I made the drive to Music City and my old friend greeted us with a smile. He graciously took us around to all of his hangouts, introduced us to his friends, and gave me the scoop about Nashville. A couple of months later we made a permanent move to Nashville and my old guitar buddy was instrumental in helping us get situated.

Since being in Nashville, I have attended a few jam nights and blues jams. Over the first year I spent a lot of time going to the Fiddle and Steel in Printers alley. Sometimes I would have to wait all night, but eventually I would get to sit in. It wasn’t advertised as a jam night, but it seemed to be kind of an unofficial sit-in after the first set on weeknights. After about a year of going to the Steel regularly, one of the relationships I made there led to an opportunity to work as a guitar tech on the Toby Keith tour. That tour lead to other tours. I have been working as a professional musician ever since. I wonder if I ever would have come here if I hadn’t met my guitar buddy at a jam night.

So, what have I gained by going to jam nights?

1. Friends
2. Experience
3. Confidence
4. Ability
5. Bandmates
6. Connections
7. Gigs
8. Social Skills
9. A Career
10. A Lot Of Fun along the Way

Why does it matter if a nightclub owner profits from others playing for free if those who are playing for free can also find ways to benefit or “profit” over time by doing so? Jam nights, open mics, and blues jams have been around for decades and are what you make of them. They can be great and they can be terrible, sometimes within the same night. You might have to search hard to find one with a group of players or vibe that fits you. You might have to make repeated attempts at any given jam night to gradually work your way into the niche, and you probably won’t get discovered at a jam night as the next “superstar”. But I believe, with the right approach, a jam night can be a useful tool for some. For me, they have helped me discover myself.

A light rain was falling as we drove our tour bus down the long dirt driveway leading into “the Clubhouse in Rye Patch”, the concert venue in which we would be performing on this night. Buried deep in the woods of Ludowici, Georgia, the view out of the bus window was quite picturesque as we passed some horses in a field on one side, and a gazebo in the middle of a small pond on the other from which an inviting sign put forth the words “propose to get married here.” After getting the bus parked, I directed some stagehands to load our gear into the performance area, an open sided breezeway complete with “that dirt floor charm” and air that smelled of barroom pleasantries and rabbit poop. Randy Hauser, the other headliner, was scheduled to play after us, at 10 PM, and his band was in the middle of sound check as I scoped out the room. A couple of hours later, after Hauser’s boys had extensively checked the system, it was our turn to set up and sound check in this room now half full of people, and we proceeded to the stage. An hour or so later we retreated to the dining hall for a catered meal of pork, chicken, mac and cheese, steamed corn, and fried bread, which was followed by some showers in the bunk house.

Sometime around 6 PM, the first of three opening acts took the stage and began the night with a pounding rendition of the rarity “Sweet Home Alabama”, complete with double bass drum fills throughout. This over-the-top band of locals was an explosion of kinetic energy, and they proceeded to entertain the crowd with their hour plus set of cult classics. With the following two openers of this music marathon each playing close to an hour, the night was running behind, and it was just after 9:30, before we took the stage. By this point of the night, the place was wall-to-wall, and the audience of 1200 festive Southerners, ranging in age from infancy to 80, was now  spilling out into the courtyard. Our five piece group delivered a walloping performance, and the crowd reaction was magnanimous, one of our best receptions so far this year. During one point of the performance, a couple of kids hopped up onto the stage, singing and dancing along. This prompted a couple of “young ladies” to follow suit on the opposite side of this small and already overcrowded stage. The feisty ladies had difficulty showing restraint, and their dancing quickly evolved into more of a grinding-like motion. By the end of the song more people were trying to get on stage which prompted some “security personnel” to start grabbing folks and handing them off the back of the stage. In the middle of the next song another girl hopped onto the stage, however this time, one of the house sound engineers grabbed her bouncer-style and she was gone almost as quickly as she appeared. This prompted one of the “security personnel” to hop onto the stage and place himself strategically between me and Rhett, who was standing about 5 feet away. For this, he received an instant rejection notice from me, and he vanished quickly as well.

We finished our 60 minute set to a roaring applause that didn’t subside until we climbed back on stage for an encore. Rhett strapped on an electric guitar and proceeded to play some licks before launching into Tom Petty’s “Last Chance for Mary Jane”. After a few verses, the song morphed into “Breakdown” followed by a few riffs of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” and then into Pearl Jam’s “Alive” before returning the final dual lead guitar onslaught at the end of this carefully executed, fly by the seat of your pants style jam.

Our performance now finished, we quickly began to strike our gear amidst a chaotic stage that was now being rushed by Randy Hauser’s crew. We loaded up our bus, and a short while later Randy Hauser and band took the stage as I began to chase down the promoter for the settlement. Hauser’s performance was followed by the “Daisy Duke” contest, during which time another local band was setting up for the “after concert-show”, a strange ritual held by many local bar owners across the land.

A short while later and we were all back on the bus driving away, talking about the night amidst Rhett’s impersonation of ‘Damone’ from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. It was another fun weekend in the deep South and we were headed home.

This day began like so many other days on the road, waking up on a tour bus to the view a hotel parking lot in the middle of nowhere. On this particularly warm spring day we were scheduled to play a multi-band extravaganza in Vienna Georgia, and after a couple of hours at the local Country Inn and suites, we set off to the concert site on other side of town. As we pulled down a long dirt road, the view of the “Pig Jig” festival grounds came into focus. An array of crudely built, weathered shacks and buildings that kind of reminded me of a movie set that fell somewhere between an imaginary western and a redneck Ewok village.

Upon our landing, I was greeted by Mack, the festival promoter, who direced some stage hands to unload our gear. I walked over to check out the stage, a large outdoor “shed” style structure in which Colt Ford and his band had just finished their soundcheck, and helped guide our gear into place. A couple hours later, after our soundcheck, I organized a hotel run for the band to get some showers and downtime. When we returned to the concert grounds around dinner time, there was already a good size crowd building, and some of our group retreated to the hospitality area for some “pig and fixin’s”.

The concert begins with a local acoustic duo, RDR, who slowly began to wake up the crowd, now sweltering in the hot Georgia sun. Sonny Ledfurd, a three piece band from North Carolina, was up next, and the crowd seemed to really get into the bands tunes about drinking whisky, smokin’ dope, and “partying in my driveway”. Tyler Farr (from Colt’s band) then played a brief acoustic set just prior to our show, and the crowd was now thoroughly primed for Rhett and band. With the darkness of night now upon us, the mood was just right, and we launched into our 60 minute show of rockin’ southern country. The crowd responded warmly to some of Rhetts’ earlier hits as well as some newer material like “My Baby Looks Good in Camouflage” and “Duck Blind”. We finished our set with Rhett’s anthem “Kiss My Country Ass”, tore down our gear, and move it to backstage to wait for stagehands.

Upon spotting one of the stagehands backstage I instructed him to round up a few more hands to help deliver the gear to the bus. When 2 more husky fellows arrived a few minutes later, the first load of gear was delivered to our bus, after which the “hands” seemed to vanish into thin air. After another 5 minutes or so I call the promoter and “re-request” the stagehands. A minute later, one of the hands returned ahead of his co-workers and proceeded to walk right past me and the gear to briefly vomit around the corner. Our drunken helper returned and exclaimed “O.K., what’s next?” The other hands returned, we finished the load-out, and then we were done for the night. A few minutes later  Colt took the stage with his band to rock the 1000 or so in attendance. A little while later and we we’re driving off into the night to our next destination, “The Clubhouse at Rye Patch” in Ludowici, GA. We we’re all exhausted, but it was a fun day, and the show went well. In the end, fun was had by all at the Big Pig Jig.

Over the past 20 years or so, there have been many powerful innovations in the world of communications, and I often wonder if these changes have hindered society as much as they have helped it. The Internet, e-mail, cell phones, Facebook, texting, these things are supposed to make our lives easier and help people become more connected with each other, but do they really? When I look back to my life as a teenager growing up in rural New Hampshire in the 1980s, I see a world so far removed from the world of today, that images come to mind of my great grandparents living in the era just before the streetcar. Let’s take a look back, shall we?

The year is 1983 and I’m a 15-year-old sophomore getting ready for school. Just before heading out the door, I call one of my friends on a telephone that still has a cord on it. The line is busy, and there is no call waiting. Oh well, I guess I’ll just talk to him later, it wasn’t that important anyway (this will be the last opportunity to use a telephone for the next eight hours). Throughout the school day, the only conversations that take place are in between class and at lunch, for the most part. There are no constant distractions from texts or endless phone apps on my iPhone, because they doesn’t exist yet. With nothing else going on, I guess I’ll have to somewhat pay attention. During study hall, I take a few minutes to write a letter, with a pen and paper, to a friend who moved away. A Little later on, I’m home from school and flipping through the pages of an Encyclopedia Britannica for a homework assignment. I can’t just punch a word or phrase into a Google search for the answer, I have to pick out the right volume, think about the spelling of the word that I’m looking up, find it in its alphabetical place in the book, read about the subject to learn the answers, and then complete my assignment with a pen and paper.

Homework now done and I’m off to my part-time job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Without a cell phone, I can’t be reached easily at work, but then again, why should I be, I’m supposed to be working. On the rare occasion that there might be a family emergency, I can be reached on the restaurants business phone, but as that phone line is for the restaurants business, outside conversations from the workplace are an exception, not the rule. This leaves not much else to do but work, and engage in friendly conversations with my coworkers. I get home from work and there is a voice mail on the telephone answering machine. The message is from one of my friends about getting together on the weekend. As this is before the era when everyone walks around with a cell phone glued to their hand, it is the only message. Telephone communication was not so constant, as you had to be somewhere with a landline to speak on a telephone. This extra effort usually resulted in most people only leaving messages for things that were actually important. Jump ahead a couple of months to summer vacation and my dad has sent me to the local hardware store to buy some new hinges for a broken barn door. I talk to the owner of this small store, a store that, amazingly, always seemed to have at least one of anything you would ever need. The store owner not only produces the appropriate items, he explains some do’s and don’ts about correctly installing these items.

That was life in the pre-digital era. Conversations were voice to voice, either in the room, or by telephone. Applications for jobs or bank loans were also done with a face-to-face meeting, and you couldn’t tell someone you were firing them in an e-mail. If you wanted to learn something, you had to make a real effort, either by talking to an expert, looking something up in the family Encyclopedia, or even venturing out to the local library. People weren’t so easily distracted by advertising as there wasn’t yet a television or electronic billboard placed strategically throughout the day. Human interaction was more direct and personal. People communicated with their family, friends, and peers almost solely through the human voice. The very nature of this simpler and more direct existence also made it difficult for people to avoid honoring their commitments.

Flash forward to 2010. While some of us still occasionally use some old-school methods for communicating (like the phone), it is almost impossible to escape texting and e-mailing in our everyday lives, methods of communication that rely on the perception of the reader, limit the depths of our interactions, and only contain fragments of the human element we once took for granted in our daily conversations. Many choose, or are forced to live their social lives through Facebook and other social networking sites, where thoughts are amputated at 140 characters and we never actually “speak” to anyone. We are so pressed for time in this hyperactive world and our lives are often so fragmented, that we will Google the answer to a question, rather than learn the entirety of a subject. We will text or e-mail a coworker or family member from the next room, or watch television in school on a screen smaller than the size of our hand. The very nature of the Internet allows a veil of anonymity for many, and I believe that the downside of all this technology is perpetuating a certain degree of social ineptitude, and at times, a lesser degree of intelligence for some.

Of course there are some positive sides to all this technology. Research has become more practical and efficient for the masses, it’s easier now than ever to connect with lost family members, friends,  and peers, and wrongdoers have a harder time hiding behind their actions, to name a few. But with all these advancements comes responsibility. How do we as a society use the good that this technology has to offer without losing our basic humanness along the way? Are we really as smart and connected as we think we are?

A friend of mine recently said that his grandfather is always telling him that technology is the drug of today’s younger generation. I think I’ll twitter him to let him know I just posted this blog.

Nashville Tennessee remains a prime destination for many musicians, songwriters, artists, and industry professionals, and in light of the city’s unique musical heritage, this constant influx will unlikely stop anytime soon. But beneath the suggestive title of “Music City” is a place that for many newcomers might be more aptly titled “Mystery City”. For in reality, the Nashville music scene is a massive, diverse, competitive, and ever-changing community whose true scope and nature are near invisible to those not working within it. Becoming one of the few fortunate musicians to find work and acceptance within this community can be a formidable task, and even when those goals seem to have been achieved, sustaining that career long term can be just as challenging, as I have learned first-hand.

My Nashville adventure began like many transplants to Music City, a cross-country pilgrimage with a U-Haul full of belongings, some life savings, big ideas, and no clue about what I was getting myself into. That first year of 2002 would prove one of the hardest, with my wife and I both trying relentlessly to find employment, struggling to pay the bills, and earning the bulk of our income by selling off possessions on eBay while going out on the town at night to network. About one year into this new life, the networking paid off, and I landed a job as a guitar tech on the Toby Keith 2003 Shock ‘N Y’ all tour, a true financial lifeline. I have spent most of my years since that tour working for country music artist and songwriter Rhett Akins as tour manager, band leader, and lead guitarist. Along the way I have, and continue, to work some in-town club gigs and recording sessions and I still panic trying to pay the bills every winter when the touring season slows to a crawl. Overall, I am earning a living from music and I credit this good fortune to having an invaluable combination of skills, work ethic, and a friend in the music community who pointed me in the right direction.

This kind of good fortune is not the case for all who venture to Music City, and along my journey I have met many struggling musicians and artists who have had much harder luck. At a recent blues jam, I met a drummer who had been in Nashville for about a year. He had done a couple of gigs in town, but nothing consistent, and nothing that came close to paying any bills. He was doing his best to try to insert himself into the scene but wasn’t having much success. “How do you get a road gig, or any gig in this town for that matter?” he asked. I could see the look of desperation in his eyes as he told me that his savings were now all used up and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next.

Unfortunately, this kind of story is far more common in Nashville.

That conversation, as well as other similar tales, led me to the realization that the world outside of the Nashville music community knew very little of its inner workings, and that there is a real need for this information to be available to the masses. What originally began for me as a series of blogs and message board postings has now evolved into the soon to be completed book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” with its companion website www.survivenashville.com. Written from my perspective of being a working musician, the book outlines the structure and potential jobs within Nashville’s recording, touring, and nightclub communities. The basic job requirements, pay scales, and networking required to land those jobs are explored in great detail. Additional perspective in the form of several recent and ongoing interviews with music professionals will also be put forth, including A-list session bassist Mike Chapman, self-made indie artist Colt Ford, touring musicians, nightclub musicians, club owners, songwriters, engineers, managers, bus drivers, and more.

Nashville is a funny place. Everybody comes here to fulfill their dreams in music but most are unable to survive for any real length of time. Many of those who do survive long-term end up so trapped in the business end of things that their musical integrity often suffers. It seems that for many people, the Nashville experience isn’t what they hoped it would be. The key to surviving Nashville is to have a clear vision about your long-term goals, find different ways to earn income working within the current music scene while working towards those long-term goals, and use your relationships and connections from within the music community for financial survival and to achieve your long-term goals. None of this can be accomplished without some knowledge about the current state of the Nashville music community, a long-term commitment to this place and without building real, lasting relationships. It is my hope that this book and website will help some to accomplish their dreams.

In the meantime, good luck on the path.

Since first moving to Nashville in 2002 I have worked on several national tours, and for the most part, have had the luxury of traveling around on Prevost XLII tour buses, the luxury liners of touring. In my opinion, traveling by tour bus with a professional driver is, by far, the most comfortable and stress-free way to travel long distances with a group. Many musicians, past and present, are not so fortunate, and for some, “vanning it” is the only option. At a few different points during my touring years, I too have wound up in that category.

A couple of years into my life in Nashville, I played a handful of gigs with a regional cover rock band. On one particular weekend, we were hired to play at a biker party on top of Fredonia Mountain, a remote area far from civilization as we knew it, near the Tennessee-Alabama border (think Deliverance). Kelly and I left Nashville early afternoon driving in, you guessed it, a van (our trustworthy 2001 Dodge Caravan), loaded with my guitar equipment, a bag lunch, and some sleeping bags, as we were planning to sleep over after the show. The majority of the 130 mile drive was on Interstate 24, and we made it to our exit in just under two hours. The last 20 or so miles of the trip were on backroads, winding through hilly terrain, with a couple of small towns occasionally popping up out of nowhere. Keep in mind that this took place just prior to the era of affordable GPS technology, so we were relying on our printed out directions from Microsoft’s “Streets and Trips” to guide us.

After driving around for about an hour, unable to find the access road to the mountain, we realized we were lost, and stopped at a convenience store to ask directions. There were two guys standing outside their pickup truck in the parking lot, and upon asking them how to get to Fredonia Mountain, they answered in a dialect of hick that was so far removed from the English language it might as well have been Klingon. At this point, now afraid to step outside of our van again, we realized we were on our own, and began to backtrack using our printed out directions. After taking a series of turns onto, what the directions labeled as “local roads”, we turned down one particular gravel road that, at first, seemed like the most logical access point to the mountain. As this gig was on top of a mountain, and we were driving on mountain roads, with the directions literally reflecting each new turn we took, we had no reason to think we were on the wrong track. Any thoughts of such certainty quickly vanished when the gravel road upon which we were traveling emerged from the forest allowing us a horrifying view of reality. Kelly, who had been driving up to this point, stopped the van suddenly when we saw out of the driver’s side window, a sheer drop off about 3 feet to the left of the van. The view out of her window was that of treetops a couple hundred feet below us, and with the road being deeply rutted and on a downhill slope, we couldn’t back out of this predicament.

Already a mile or so down what was obviously an old logging trail, and no longer in cell phone coverage, we had no choice but to continue forward, in the hopes that this road might bring us to our destination. I got out and walked ahead of the van, slowly helping to guide Kelly through this dangerous section of road. After a few hundred feet, the drop-off section now passed, I hopped back in the van and we continued driving down this trail. Another mile or so of slow-going on this rough terrain and the dirt road became suddenly blocked by some fallen trees, making it obvious that we were going to have to turn around. Kelly, who was now in a near state of panic with dusk approaching, asked me to make the drive out. As there was no place to turnaround on this dead-end road into hell, I backed the van up for about a half mile to a spot that would allow a six-point turn. One more panic stricken ride past the lookout of death, and we emerged safely out of the forest.

We eventually made it to our gig (somewhat late), and as is it turned out, this logging trail brought us to within 5 miles of it. Unfortunately, the Microsoft provided directions, while bringing us to the base of the mountain, failed to show the dangers of these “local roads” and that the only safe access road was about 30 miles around the other side of the mountain. I wish we had a camera with us on that day, as our view out the van window of the valley of death was beyond words. The near perilous experience we lived through on that unforgettable day did teach us some valuable lessons we will never forget. Don’t ever completely rely on a Microsoft program to get you safely from point A to point B, always be suspicious of anything labeled “local roads”, avoid asking locals for directions whenever possible, and, always beware of the pitfalls of “vanning it”.


The Saturday morning of April 17 started out like so many other one-off’s for all of us on the Rhett Akins tour, and on this day, it was the Kappa Alpha fraternity house at Georgia Tech in Atlanta that would be our destination. This particular day began in a slightly more than typical fashion with Rhett’s son, Thomas Rhett, and three of his best friends tagging along for this southern spring adventure.

We arrived at the frat house late afternoon to be greeted by our contacts who were fairly organized, and they did a good job helping us get situated (if you’ve ever played a fraternity, then you know this is somewhat uncommon). We loaded our gear onto a plywood stage which was set up in the middle of a courtyard in the back of the frat house, and proceeded to set up and sound check amidst the backdrop of the downtown skyscrapers of this enormous city. This particular concert had an 11:30 PM start time, typical for a frat party, so we had a good amount of downtime between sound check and the show. A few hours later, after some dinner and a little chillin’ in the front lounge, I went out to the stage to get some things set for the show. Upon returning to the bus, I felt a little bit of that pre-show lag common with such late starts, and we all started talking about how we felt like we were ready for bed. Sorry everybody, show time is in five minutes!

The show began and a wave of energy quickly spread from the stage, through the crowd, and back to the stage in that kind of perpetual circular motion that only happens at a live concert. It’s amazing how quickly adrenaline will turn exhaustion into an abundance of energy, and now the night was really starting to evolve as we stomped through our repertoire. The packed courtyard was standing room only, and the receptive kids were singing along with Rhett’s earlier hits as well as much of his unreleased later material. Still going strong an hour and a half after we began, Rhett decided to pull out some old-school tunes, and the crowd of energetic youngsters, many of whom were still in their late teens, seemed to know every word of Allman Brothers classics like Statesboro Blues and Melissa, songs that were released years before these kids were even born. After I sang Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower to give Rhett a quick break, he launched into some more fun party tunes that kept everybody singing and grooving along, ending the electric part of this show with Hey Ho Let’s Go, by The Ramones, a song we had never played before that seemed to only further ignite the excitement of the crowd. Although we walked off the stage feeling exhausted, it was a good feeling exhausted.

It was now 2:00 AM and we had played nonstop for 2 1/2 hours, substantially longer than our typical concert, but not unheard of for us. Upon the relentless chanting for more, Rhett decided to send up his son, Thomas Rhett, to stand in for an acoustic encore. Thomas Rhett, apparently inheriting his dad’s uncanny ability to instantly win over a crowd, kept the party going strong for another 45 minutes, singing some of his favorite tunes. When Thomas left the stage, the kids, still wanting more, were then treated to a second acoustic encore by Rhett himself, who was apparently inspired by his son’s performance. Rhett announced “If it’s all right with y’all, I’m gonna keep singing until our bus driver gets here.” Of course, he thought our driver would be there shortly, which he would’ve, but because of a communication error, it would be another hour before he would arrive. By the time I finally went out to tell our fearless leader that we could now leave, it was 3:55 AM, bringing the total length of this concert to four hours and 25 minutes, what is certainly the longest Rhett Akins concert I’ve ever been a part of. Although the party had dwindled to a smaller size than its peak a couple of hours earlier, those who were left were still chanting for more as Rhett walked away.

As we drove off into the night, with a Waffle House as our next destination, we all sat around the front lounge of the bus, basking in the wonderment of the night. Even the fraternity’s security personell said we rocked. As far as Rhett Akins concerts go, it may have been the longest mile we’ve walked yet, and thanks to everybody that was there, it was another great Saturday night in Dixie!

Success is all about expectations, and everyone has their own definition of success. But is it possible that many people have currently, or previously achieved a major success in their life, but simply fail to recognize that success because it wasn’t what they expected?

My wife and I were sitting around yesterday talking about a great cover rock band that we used to go see frequently in the 90s, when we lived in New England. Most of the guys in this band worked day jobs and primarily played on the weekends. They were a fun, energetic, talented party band that played classic and modern rock. Over time, they built a large following, eventually packing every venue they played and getting paid well to do so. Every show they played was an event, with people showing up early, dancing and partying all night, and at the end of the night nobody wanted to leave. These guys were doing well enough to hire a production company that not only set up and ran a PA, they actually carted around and set up the band’s personal gear, allowing them to show up minutes before downbeat, making a rock star entrance every time. They even had girls falling all over themselves to make their acquaintances.

While they never wrote a song, made a recording, or even ventured outside of their region, they were the kings of the New England night club circuit for over 10 years. During that same time, I played in a rival band on the same circuit. Although we didn’t have quite as large a success, we also did okay. Looking back, none of the bands that played on this circuit, mine included, really viewed themselves as achieving a high level of success, everybody was still trying to “make it”. Flash forward another decade to Nashville Tennessee, and I’ve now played on concert stages in front of tens of thousands of people, in every state in the country. I’ve played in Canada, France, Switzerland, and on the Grand Ole’ Opry. By everybody’s definition back home, I have “made it”. While the numbers might be bigger, the concept is still the same. I’m still just playing music with a good band, to receptive audiences, and getting paid to do it. But now that it’s a “career”, while there are still some high points, there is also more pressure, and less stability. In reality, there is no real difference, it’s all just music and life. Now when I look back to my nightclubbing days in New England, it is with fondness and pride. I had already made it long before I moved to Nashville. Have you already made it, but just don’t know it yet?

This week, like most, has been a busy week so far, and my wife and I have logged some serious hours in our home offices. As we own our own businesses, our days are filled with constant activity; from website projects to advancing tour dates to writing projects to filing income taxes. Work, work, work, that’s what we’ve all been called to do, and as life becomes more expensive with every passing year, it seems impossible to ever get ahead. Pursuing a music career in Nashville is no exception, and this causes many to closely watch their budgets, often refraining from recreational activities. One thing that you can do in middle Tennessee, that costs only the gas it takes to get there, is visit one of its beautiful state parks, and yesterday, that’s just what we did, heading off to Edwin Warner Park with some water and granola bars just after lunch.

We’ve been to the Warner Parks many times since our first discovery of these magnificent shrines of nature five years ago, and on this particular day we tackled “The Red Trail”, perhaps the parks most challenging hike covering about 5 1/2 miles. As we hiked through this amazing place, which spans almost 3000 acres of deep woods terrain only 9 miles from downtown Nashville, the stresses of everyday life and business seemed to fall by the wayside with every step we took. The park is exceptionally maintained, with clearly marked trails, and at times, the sounds of the outside world disappear to be replaced by the sounds of singing birds, foraging squirrels, soft winds, and our own footsteps amidst the occasional silence. While it was an unseasonably hot spring day of 90°, the rapidly blooming natural canopy of the forest around us protected us from the hot Southern Sun as we retreated further into the forest. Our midweek expedition took us deep within this mystical place, climbing up and down steep foothills, across the high plateau, through Dripping Springs Hollow and onward past the Betsy Ross Cabin, ever surrounded by majestic timbres, large twisting vines, and immense floral wonders. After losing ourselves in this magical place for a little over an hour and a half, we arrived back at our car feeling reinvigorated, with a renewed sense of purpose and perspective.

It’s amazing how taking a real timeout can help recharge one’s batteries, kind of a spring cleaning for the mind and soul, and how sadly, we as a society, are not more in tune to such simple yet powerful concepts. We could all live richer lives if we could just simply learn to become more connected with the world just outside of our home, our offices, and the usual playgrounds of life. For in the often chaotic and overly hyperactive world we live in, if life is expensive, a walk in the park is still free.

What a funny world we live in. My wife and I went to our bank yesterday to open a new account for our website design business. During the 45 minute meeting with the branch assistant, the conversation steered towards the music business, at which time we discovered that our banker and I shared some common ground. That common ground being; we are both guitar players, we both have home recording studios, and we both are interested in the evolution of music as an artform. Interspersed between some short questions regarding our bank account, our music conversation evolved to cover some ground on current recording trends, theories about why the music industry isn’t what it used to be, where it’s heading, and how the affordability of technology has contributed to a world of mediocre music. It turns out that our newfound musical banker friend knew more about music, and the business of music, than many of my musician friends. This hard-core music aficionado had obviously invested a lifetime into his musical pursuits, and somewhere along the line, he made the smart choice of getting a real job. He can work on his music at night and on the weekends, without panicking the rest of the time to pay the bills every month.

Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, I thought of a friend of mine who is both a musician, and a realtor. I imagined this fellow showing a house to a prospective buyer, and how, if you met him in somewhere in the real estate world, you would have no way of knowing he’s a world-class studio musician, having played on countless gold albums.

This unsuspecting conversation in a bank office, reinforced some of my convictions.

We never know who we are really talking to. Whether someone’s a banker, a realtor, a dentist, or the Terminix man, in many cases, a person is much more than he or she might first appear.

The power and importance of conversation. Not only was our conversation interesting, and revealing, I now have a musician friend at the bank.

It’s smart for musicians to have other careers. The fact that skilled and dedicated musicians are working as realtors and bankers paints a telling picture about the music business.

And lastly, everybody wants to be a rock star.