Dallas, Tin Pan North and the Grand Ole Opry

6:59 pm last night…musicians and stage crew were running willy-nilly all over the place…I was fighting my way through the crowd to find my spot on the stage next to Pam Tillis…the techs were plugging my guitar in and setting up a microphone in front of me…I was strumming my guitar and singing a few notes to check the monitor mix…then it was 7:00…and up went the red velvet curtain in front of me to reveal thousands of screaming fans while the drummer counted us in…and I was PLAYING MY FIRST GRAND OLE OPRY ON LIVE TV!!!

What an amazing weekend. I got the call a couple of days ago, asking me to play acoustic and sing high harmonies for Pam on several shows – we played the Friday night Opry with Emerson Drive, two more Opry shows on Saturday with Darryl Worley, Hal Ketchum and Mel Tillis, and then we rode the bus down to RiverStages in downtown Nashville today to play the big CMA FanFest Festival outdoor stage. The televised Saturday Opry was particularly great, because it was a really special night for Pam – she got to induct her dad, Mel Tillis. I was even able to arrange for backstage passes for two of my cowriters, Shane Yellowbird and Troy Kokol (pictured below – they have the current chart-topping Canadian country song “Pickup Truck”, and like Mel Tillis, Shane has also overcome a stuttering problem by singing).

Anyhow, all of this excitement just landed in my lap the moment I got home from Toronto, where I was playing a few gigs last week. I performed in the “Source of the Song” concert series in Glen Williams (which also featured Cindy Church), and I also headlined the Toronto NSAI Tin Pan North Songwriters’ Festival, where I shared an acoustic set of original songs with country songwriter/artists Colin Amey, Jamie Warren and Chris Ward. I hadn’t met Chris before, so I didn’t really know what I was in for…but when he began to play the first few chords of his huge Alannah Myles hit “Black Velvet”, I thought I was going to fall off my stool. What a treat to be able to sing along with that song on stage!!! After the show, I had to tell him “thank you”, because that song was probably responsible for about half the tips I collected to earn my way to Nashville when I used to perform it back home, years ago!

Actually it’s been a whirlwind around here for a while, because a couple of days before I flew up to Toronto, I also flew down to Dallas to accompany Pam Tillis on some live TV & radio shows. My friend Mary Sue Englund (low harmonies and acoustic) and Pam and I performed as a trio on the “Good Morning Texas” TV show, and then we visited KHYI radio 95.3 FM to play a few songs.

You have to be ready for ANYTHING when you’re doing live shows…Pam had asked me to learn 3 songs for that radio gig, and I knew them inside out…but literally in the last minute before we went on air, she changed her mind and decided that we should play something new that I had NOT practiced, or even heard before! So I fished around in my purse for something to write on, found an old receipt and a lip-liner pencil, and wrote down what I could grasp of the words while she sang it to me…and then it was 3, 2, 1…off we go, live on the biggest Americana radio station in Texas with a song I’d never played in my life!

But that wasn’t the end of it! As the DJ was signing off, he said “Pam, how about if you and the girls close the show with one of my favorites, ‘Shake the Sugar Tree'” – and it was 3, 2, 1, off we go yet again, singing and playing a song I had never played before, LIVE on the radio!!! But the funny thing is, I have a great memory of forcing my sister to sit in the car with me for HOURS singing along with the fantastic harmonies on Pam’s “Homeward Looking Angel” record…and “Sugar Tree” was one of those songs…so actually, it all came back to me anyways, every note of it! That’s one of the most surreal things about playing with Pam – I keep having flashbacks, seeing myself singing high harmonies along with “Maybe it Was Memphis” in my old Chevy Sprint…and this afternoon, I got to do the real thing, on stage next to her!

Well, that’s about enough excitement for me to last for a while. I’m going to sign off – I have to get some sleep, because I have a full week of cowrites coming up. But it has been an absolute blast!

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