Mental Podcast Show

TW: Mentions of depression and suicidal thoughts.

I’m still trying to pull together a post about my mental health before I went to Nashville. I was really, really struggling and even though I was still agonising over taking the Phenelzine again, it was this trip that pushed me to do it; I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it if I didn’t. But I was still struggling with what felt like surrender, like failure, when we left; I was still very depressed and having suicidal thoughts, not even two full weeks in; and I was fighting some pretty intense side effects from the meds throughout the whole trip. It was not an easy time.

GETTING TO NASHVILLE

The travel is usually somewhere between exhausting and a complete nightmare; I think many, many disabled people would say the same thing about travel, especially transatlantic travel. This year, it was hard for all of the reasons that it’s usually hard – I find airports stressful, I’m not a fan of flying, I find the whole experience uncomfortable and actually painful depending on the length of the trip, and so on – but it actually wasn’t terrible. For the first time, I was able to get a direct flight from Heathrow to Nashville and that made such a difference; I’ve always found the changeover and everything that that entails to be a particularly exhausting element of the trip. I didn’t sleep but then the eight hour flight was – the complicatedness of crossing timezones aside – during the day; I even managed to get some work done on the flight, something that I always plan but never achieve. And having the Meet and Assist service at the airports was, as always, a great help, making the whole thing easier, quicker, and less stressful. So it was definitely better than expected.

Unfortunately, I had the worst jet lag I’ve probably ever had going to Nashville. Usually I’m over it in a few days but I was struggling to sleep, waking up at all hours, constantly falling asleep on the sofa, and fighting exhaustion until about the last day. So that was frustrating and made some days more of a struggle than others but fortunately I was able to manage well enough that it didn’t ruin the trip.

THE COVENANT SCHOOL SHOOTING

We weren’t even halfway through our first full day in Nashville when the news of The Covenant School shooting broke.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what to write for this section because, honestly, I’m still processing how I feel about it; it’s been a very overwhelming thing to be even tangentially a part of because things like this just don’t happen at home. At home, you obviously hear about the mass shootings in America and you do stop and think all of the same things – “it’s a tragedy” and “no one should be able to buy automatic weapons” and “how do these awful things keep happening?” – but it’s so, so different to be there when it happens. And not just in America but a neighbourhood or so over from where it happened. (Not to mention that I know people who live around there; I didn’t know if their kids went to that school or whether they had family there.) It was very distressing and I couldn’t help feeling just overwhelmingly hopeless because more people are dead – more children are dead – and nothing will change. I didn’t know what to do with myself and all of my feelings; here were all of these lives being changed forever and I could feel my life being rocked by that. I was really shaken.

The festival hadn’t started yet but the two shows that I had tickets to that night were cancelled and I know that many others were too. I didn’t know what the right thing would’ve been and I didn’t know how I felt about any of it so I was kind of glad that the decision was taken away from me. That night, I ended up staying home and just feeling my feelings before I had to go out and face the world all day everyday for the next week and a half.

The festival itself went ahead, although it seemed that there had been some serious thought about whether or not to cancel at the very least the shows at the beginning of the week. I think that, ultimately, the consensus they came to was that music is a great healer and a great uniter of people and that, of the two options, going ahead was the right choice. Initially, the mood was heavy and somber and everyone performing had clearly thought very seriously about what they were going to play, what energy a song would be putting into the room and how it would impact everyone listening. The shows didn’t suffer for it though, the performances sincere and heartfelt. The mood did lighten somewhat as the week went on but the shooting was clearly still present in everyone’s minds, reflected in their song choices and in the heart they put into their performances. There were some cancellations which was a shame but obviously completely understandable; there was no ill will from anyone.

It was scary, being reminded that anyone could be carrying a gun, and so deeply sad that I’ve only just started to really process it, only just been able to pull the time together to do so. Having said that, it was really quite heartening to hear so many people – in Tennessee, a deeply red state – rage against gun ownership and criticise the country’s approach to gun control, including some who I would’ve assumed felt differently. I know that tragedies like these, especially in communities like Nashville, impassion people but I’m not sure if that would be possible if people were firmly at the other end of the scale.

I’m sure there’s more I could say but, as I said, I’m still working through it all. It’s a lot to process.

TIN PAN SOUTH

Over the years, my motivations behind choosing Tin Pan South rounds have changed. Sometimes I want to see my heroes and want to be inspired; sometimes I want to find new, exciting writers; sometimes I want to see friends who are playing; sometimes there’s a networking aspect; sometimes I want to see writers who’ve been recommended; sometimes it’s a mix. After everything this last year and the stress associated with the trip (and the Phenelzine), I’ve really struggled with music: my love of it, my trust in it. So, this year, I just wanted to go and see people that I knew would put on amazing shows; I wanted to be reminded of how much I love music and how much it means to me. So those were the shows I chose, the ones with people who I knew would blow me away to aid that. And they did.

It was a really, really great year; there were so many amazing people with so many awesome songs, all with interesting and inspiring stories. Listing everyone would take forever so here are a select few that really blew me away, that really made the festival for me…

Lori McKenna – I think anyone who’s seen Lori McKenna once will understand wanting to see her again and I’m very lucky to have seen her a handful of times now. She’s such a skilled songwriter with a really unique voice and some amazing stories. She has a great stage presence and such good chemistry with the songwriters she shares a stage with. And hearing ‘Humble And Kind’ is all but a religious experience, something I’ve said multiple times now.

Madeline Edwards – Madeline was an unexpected but joyful find. The show had just listed the people playing, including Laura Veltz who I’d wanted to see, but it actually turned out to be the group playing through most of  Madeline’s new album, Crashlanded, since they’d all worked on it. I had no idea what to expect but I absolutely fell in love with it (especially ‘The Biggest Wheel,’ ‘The Wolves,’ ‘How Strong I Am,’ ‘Heavy,’ and ‘Too Much Of A Good Thing’). She has a gorgeous voice, the lyrics are so smart and slick, the melodies adventurous but still natural and satisfying. I can’t wait to see her again when she tours here in July.

Michael Logen – While this whole round was incredible, it was Michael Logen’s songs that stuck with me the most. His melodies in particular were gorgeous and there were lyrics that just took my breath away. I wrote about this song in my Nashville Playlist (2023) post but my favourite song of his was called ‘Let It Be Love,’ a song that was basically about how everything we do should come from a place of love, something that was really moving given how the week had begun. The repeated chorus line of “Let it be love, love, love” got everyone in the room singing, singing together, it was a really special moment; it all but made me cry. I really, really hope he releases it.

Seth Ennis – I’ve seen Seth a number of times over the last eight years and he’s a great songwriter, a great singer, and a great performer. While I’ve always enjoyed his songs, the reason he stood out so much this year was the song he wrote about infertility, something several people in his life have dealt with, making it very close to his heart. It was a stunning – if utterly heartbreaking – song (I wrote more about it here) and I just fell in love with it on first listen. It was a deeply touching song regardless of the situation but it also felt like a really beautiful moment; it felt like a real honour that he would share it with us (and even more so since it was the first time he’d played it live). I really hope that someone cuts it because not only is it an amazing song but I think it could comfort a lot of people going through that struggle.

Cassidy Daniels – I only got to see Cassidy play one song since she was invited up to play during a round but holy shit, she was incredible. She has the most amazing voice that seems to rise and fall and tumble effortlessly in almost gymnastic fashion and the song she played was so cool, moody and atmospheric and intoxicating (I wrote about her and the song she played a bit more in my Nashville Playlist (2023) post too). I can’t wait to hear more from her.

Skip Black – I was introduced to Skip through Kalie Shorr’s album, Open Book, which is one of my favourite albums of all time, cowriting five tracks of the seventeen track unabridged version and producing or coproducing the whole album, so when I saw his name on the line up, I knew I wanted to see him in his own right. He has some amazing songs but I think my favourite of what he played was ‘The Longer I Live,’ recently released by Aaron Goodvin and Ryan Kinder. It’s a gorgeous song with such uplifting energy.

Honourable mentions to Kassi Ashton, Barry Dean, Nicolle Galyon, Bethany Joy Lenz (she is just a born performer), Jeff Cohen, Ben Earle, Jenn Bostic (what an incredible voice she has), Phil Barton, and Jeffrey Steele. I mentioned many of these in my Nashville Playlist (2023) post.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lauren Alex Hooper (@laurenalexhooper)

It was a really amazing year with so many amazing people. I don’t think I can choose a favourite round but my two favourite were the Madeline Edwards round and the round with Michael Logen, Bethany Joy Lenz, Jeff Cohen, Jenn Bostic, and Ben Earle. Those two rounds were just off the freaking charts. All of the rounds were good (even the ‘less good’ ones were still really good – it’s just that the bar for ‘good’ was so incredibly high) but those two were some of the best I’ve ever been to.

TORNADO WARNING 

On the Friday night, there was a tornado warning; some of the venues cancelled their shows and the tutors warned us to be home early. None of the locals I spoke to were worried (and neither was I to be honest, having been in town for multiple warnings over the years, all of which came to nothing) but I understand why the tutors were being cautious; even though we’re adults, they do feel some degree of responsibility over us and more so, I think, in potentially dangerous situations that we have no experience of at home, like tornado warnings. So we were encouraged to go home and stay there but those of us who were feeling brave (or just not worried) ended up hanging out together at one of the group’s Airbnbs, having a chill little party. Calling it a party is probably a bit generous given that we just sat in the courtyard in the pre-storm heat, talking shit and having a good time, but it was so nice: at the beginning of the week I’d known one person and there I was, hanging out with a group I was only just getting to know, having a really nice time and just feeling so normal. That was kind of amazing because I never feel normal; I cannot remember the last time I felt normal. So not only was it good fun but that made it yet another special experience in a very special week. Phenelzine was definitely a big part of making that happen but there’s something special about Nashville that has always made things possible for me that I’d never imagined would be.

Even though I wasn’t seriously worried about a tornado, I did keep an eye on the weather and ended up leaving a bit earlier than I otherwise might’ve because things did start to get a bit wild – wind and rain and the air was only getting heavier. I’d been invited to stay but my Airbnb was only a few minutes away so I said my goodbyes and zipped home. Before going inside though, I stood out in the wild weather. It wasn’t any worse than the storms we occasionally get at home and I love storms: there’s something about them that makes me feel so alive, like everything is heightened, like every atom in my body is in tune with the storm. It kind of makes me feel like I have superpowers, like I could control the weather myself; I love it.

So it was actually a really good end to the day and apart from some pretty strong winds and heavy rain, we were all no worse for wear in the morning.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES 9TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW

Song Suffragettes is one of my favourite parts about going to Nashville and getting to go to an anniversary show only makes it more special. They play two shorter rounds instead of the usual longer one, plus they honour an incredible female songwriter with the Song Suffragettes Yellow Rose of Inspiration Award; she gets interviewed by another very cool female songwriter. This year Natalie Hemby (yay!) was being honoured, interviewed by Maggie Rose, so it was a very special show to be at.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Song Suffragettes (@songsuffragettes)

The first round was Morgan Johnston, Valerie Ponzio, Carter Faith, Robyn Ottolini, and Shelly Fairchild with Grace Bowers on guitar (she was an incredible, incredible guitarist and that’t not even taking into account how young she is), plus Mia Morris on percussion plus a song of her own. They were all great and I’d seen both Carter and Robyn before when they came to London on the Song Suffragettes tour last year. So it was cool to have some familiar faces and some brand new ones. I wrote about several of the songs played in my Nashville Playlist (2023) post but I want to include my favourites here too. I love Carter’s ‘Leaving Tennesse.’ It’s so gentle and comforting to listen to, simple and sweet but so heartfelt. I wrote in my earlier post that I think the reason it resonates with me so strongly is that, while I’ll likely never be able to live in Nashville – for multiple reasons that aren’t worth getting into here – it does feel like a part of me stays in Nashville every time I go home, a part that I reunite with every time I return. So, in a way, I don’t ever leave Nashville, don’t ever leave Tennessee. I also loved Robyn’s ‘Heart Less’ and I loved the twist in the chorus lyric; it was beautiful and I hope she releases it.

The second round was made up of Jessica Willis Fisher, Carmen Dianne, Haley Mae Campbell, Gina Venier, and Victoria Banks, with Mia on percussion and with her own song on the round. I’ve heard her song, ‘No One Cares,’ but it honestly never gets less funny; it’s so snarky and sarcastic and fun and her ability to play with rhythm, both in her melodies and her instrumentation, is amazing. My two favourites songs of the night are a tie between ‘Giving Up’ by Carmen Dianne and ‘Nora Jane’ by Gina Venier. Carmen was playing bass, which was really cool (the musicianship of this show was the most impressive I’ve ever seen from Song Suffragettes – it was amazing), and her vocals were fantastic. Her song, ‘Giving Up,’ had some really strong parallels to a painful experience I’ve been in but it was really empowering, with compelling lyrics and a bold, rebellious melody; I’m obsessed with it. My other favourite was ‘Nora Jane’ by Gina Venier, a song about the fear of coming out to her family that ends with her family accepting her and her girlfriend fully. It’s a beautifully written song and a story that is still incredibly uncommon in country music; I can see why so many people feel validated by hearing her story and why they feel like she’s telling their story too. I can only imagine how much bravery it took to write and perform this song – with America, the South, Tennessee, ‘Christian Values,’ and so on being the way they are – and so it felt like a real honour to be trusted with her story, with her opening up and being vulnerable.

Then Maggie and Natalie and came out to rapturous applause. Maggie asked a lot of really interesting questions, which Natalie answered, her usual dry, irreverent self; as always, she was full of funny stories, like writing for A Star is Born and a room full of highly successful, highly thought of songwriters all passing on what became ‘Shallow.’ I’ve always loved Natalie for her openness and her sincerity, even though she’s full of jokes and sly humour, and I love that while she is confident in her abilities, there’s no ego: she’ll talk to you and engage with you, especially about songwriting regardless of how ‘good’ you are – you don’t need to be the next whoever to be worthy of her attention. She’s just a lovely, genuine human being – how could you not love her?

After the interview, she played three songs. The first was a new song that was really beautiful. The second was ‘Rainbow,’ which Kacey Musgraves released (the two of them wrote it several years back with Shane McAnally). She’d just played it at the funeral of one of the girls killed in The Covenant School shooting; it was apparently her favourite song. I think, as a song, it’s always meant a lot to her and that has only grown over the years as people have attached their own stories to it. And the third and final song she played was ‘Crowded Table,’ which she wrote with Lori McKenna and Brandi Carlile for her group project with Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires. She started to play it but then changed her mind, unplugged her guitar, and started the song again, climbing down from the stage and walking through the audience as she played. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that and apparently no one has ever done it at The Listening Room. It was a very sweet, special moment, perfect for the last performance of the trip.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lauren Alex Hooper (@laurenalexhooper)

When the show was over, I got to catch up a little with the people I know from Song Suffragettes and I finally got to see Natalie, the two of us not having being able to catch up while I’d been there. We were both just so happy to see each other and it was a really lovely moment. It would’ve been nice to have a bit longer to catch up properly but I’m not complaining; it’s such a long way and a long time between visits that I’m always delighted to see her at all.

OTHER THINGS

Hanging out with my Nashville people – After six visits, I have a few really lovely friends, both in the industry and not, and although I didn’t get to see all of them this time, I did get to see most of them and it was so, so lovely. I obviously don’t get to see them very often so catching up and spending time together always feels really special and precious. I met one of these friends on my very first night in Nashville, back in 2016, and we’ve stayed friends through some real highs and lows despite the distance; I feel really lucky to have had and to still have that.

Hanging out with the group from my university who’d also travelled for the festival – An unexpected joy this year was hanging out with the group from my uni that were there at the same time. The first time I went, I went with people from my classes so I knew most of the group and it was really fun but ever since, I’ve been going independent of my university; I’ll see the university group around but I don’t usually end up spending time with them for whatever reason. But this time, I spent quite a lot of time – at and between shows – with various people from the uni trip. I only knew one person before we arrived but they were all really easy to talk to, all really fun and really lovely. As I said, we even had a chilled little party one night. So that was a really nice bonus and I made plans with several people to write together when our schedules allow. I also got to hang out with the tutors on the trip, something that also hasn’t happened much on previous trips; everyone’s just so busy. They’re really..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *