Nashville is made of circles. For example, observe this map:

Music City’s streets and highways form a series of “wheels” circling the downtown area, where you’ll find the state capitol, the impressive Bicentennial Park, the famous Ryman Auditorium, and the country music hall of fame, to name a few attractions. These “wheels” are connected by “spokes,” streets that run in toward the heart of the city from the outer edges. To get from one outer-most point to another you have two options. You could stay on the edge of the city and circle around a wheel to your destination, or you could find a spoke and drive straight into heart of the city and back out to the other side. As any native Nashvillian will tell you, those spokes are a more direct way to get wherever you’re going. But just as in life, sometimes you have to circle the edges for a while before plunging in headfirst.

Maybe it’s just me, but the business that gave Music City its name seems to mirror the city’s layout almost exactly. On the outer edges you have the ring of hopeful performers and writers and business folks, all circling and looking for a spoke that will take them in to the next ring. And at the center? Well, there’s fame and fortune, or – for those of us with more modest goals – there’s making a living. Between the two there are a million rings and levels of success, and the spokes that connect them all lead some people straight to the center, while others take more meandering routes.

Having circled the idea of moving to Nashville for a long time, I’d say getting ourselves here was a trip on a spoke. Now that we’re here we’re back on a wheel, circling the scene, studying the map, learning which spokes take you where, meeting our fellow songwriting pilgrims, and slowly, slowly working our way inwards. There’s a whole lot of traffic on this wheel, but we’re learning that when people honk at you, it’s mostly to say hello and welcome.

An open mic at “Bobby’s Idle Hour."
An open mic at “Bobby’s Idle Hour.”

Just like any good interstate, there are roadside attractions and pit-stops along this songwriters highway we’re traveling, and perhaps the most frequented of these are the writer’s open-mics. These are the gas-stations of the outer-most ring – as plentiful, as necessary, and as wide-ranging in atmosphere. Usually organized into “rounds,” where three or four songwriters take the stage together and take turns playing two or three original songs, these open-mics fill their lists with fifty, sixty, seventy performers on a first-come first-serve basis, and they can last as many as six hours. You might find yourself in a round at 12:30am with a thirteen year old hopeful from Georgia and a sixty year old writer who’s been in Nashville for thirty years, playing your songs to an audience of everyone in between. These are your fellow travelers, and they are the best thing about these pit stops. You make friends, you learn about other venues, you admire someone’s writing and maybe decide to caravan for a while. You build a network. And you get your music heard. There may not be any “big wigs” in the audience, but there are plenty of ears. And if you’re not being heard, you’re not going anywhere. Trevor and I have been frequenting several of these open-mics for about a month now, putting our music out there as diligently as we filled the tank of our moving-truck on our way to Tennessee. We figure, nothing tells the universe you’re ready for the next leg of the journey quite like a full tank.

Where the physical wheels and spokes of Nashville and the figurative wheels and spokes of the music business meet, you’ll find Music Circle.

Music Circle is south west of downtown, not quite in the heart, and the “spoke” that will take you directly there is the aptly named Music Row (otherwise known as 16th Ave if you’re looking for it on the map). Both the circle and the row are densely populated with the publishing companies, recording studios, and performance venues that give Music City its name. Though by no means the only place in the city “where the magic happens,” it’s worth a visit. Trevor and I aimed our borrowed truck in that direction just a few weeks ago, when we were lucky enough to play some songs for a friend in the business who was willing to listen. Here’s a little video peek into our first trip down that legendary lane with our trusty GPS navigator:

Like I said, Nashville is made of circles: the interstates, the songwriter’s rounds, even when you’re lost you’re going in circles! But we don’t feel lost here. We’re circling a goal, and our friends and families have surrounded us with rings of support and love. As we navigate the space in between, we remain connected to that goal and that support, and every turn is worth taking.

P.S. If you subscribe to our blog and received this post via email, you may need to view it on the actual website in order to see the maps and video. To do so, just click the title, “Music Circle,” at the top of the post. And thanks for following our journey!

Hello friends.  It’s been a while . . .

Trevor and I are hard at work prepping for our move to Nashville.  We’ve set a departure date of October 1st, the day after my 30th birthday, which strikes me as a good day to start a big, new chapter.  We’re planning to road-trip our way to music city, stopping to visit friends and family in Montana, Colorado, Missouri, and Illinois. (If you know anyone along that route who might like to host a house concert and/or let a couple of musicians sleep on their couch, please let us know!) Until then, we’re shedding our possessions, saving money, spending quality time with our family and friends, and playing music.  Here’s a photo of us singing at a wedding this past weekend, looking ready for Tennessee!


P.S.  We’re playing Sylvie’s newest song, “Stolen Flowers,” here.  Head over to our “Listen” page to check it out!

In an appearance on “Moyers and Company,” Peter Yarrow spoke of the power of music to connect people, build love, and create change.  I was reminded of this song by Bill Staines, which I’ve known since I was a kid.  It’s never meant more to me than it does now.

Trevor and Sylvie in costume for Act II.  Photo by J. Tanner.
Trevor and Sylvie in costume for Act II. Photo by J. Tanner.
“My life flows on in endless song
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real, though far off hymn
that hails the new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul
how can I keep from singing?
Sylvie and Trevor in costume for Act I.  Photo by J. Tanner.
Sylvie and Trevor in costume for Act I. Photo by J. Tanner.

Greetings from Ventura, CA!  Last Saturday night marked the opening of the third run of Lonesome Traveler, the play that first brought Trevor and I together back in 2011.  “A journey down the rivers and streams of American folk music,” Lonesome Traveler is a night of rich and storied music performed live by a group of actor/singer/songwriter/musicians.  This is the music I grew up with, thanks to my parents’ record collection; this music made me want to pick up a guitar and sing.

“And in the songs from long ago
we hear our own hearts beating
in every word and every note
their message still repeating.
So to the chorus of the past
we add our voices ringing
and write the yet unwritten songs
how can we keep from singing?

Every person in this cast has a personal relationship to this music, and to music in general.  It drives us all in various ways, and it has created deep bonds among us. Strangers when we met, two years in to this project the cast of Lonesome Traveler is a true family.  It is pure joy to step out on to stage with people whom I love and trust so deeply, and I know that these relationships will last long into the future.

“And when we gather all as one
we know the ties that bind us.
Our numbers strong, we carry on
and leave no one behind us.
And stronger still in harmony
a new hope we’ll be bringing
until the world turns to song
and everyone is singing.
Until the world turns to song
how can we keep from singing?”
Cast and (partial) crew photo.  The picture might be blurry, but the love is clear.
Cast and (partial) crew photo. The picture might be blurry, but the love is clear.

P.S.  Those of you who are familiar with the hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing” may have noted the unfamiliar second and third verses I’ve quoted above.  In a truly “folk-like” collaboration, those were written by the cast of Lonesome Traveler and are sung proudly each night at the end of the show.