Sure, I’ve had my frustrations with this city…I have ridden the music business rollercoaster long enough to have had my heart broken by this place quite a few times, and I’ve probably called it more than a few bad names over the years. But seeing the footage of last week’s floods that sent houses floating down the interstate, stranded and drowned people in their cars, washed away roads and homes, swept our beautiful downtown in a 52-foot deep river of water, buried the Grand Old Opry, the Opryland Hotel and Mall in sewage-filled lakes, and left countless people homeless in Red Cross shelters…seeing my friends injured and stripped of all their belongings…seeing my town declared a federal disaster area…that made my spirit ache. And the fact that I was out on the road at the time and had to learn about it from panicked friends’ phone messages, facebook photos and twitter feeds instead of seeing it on the national news…well that just made my blood boil.
So on the plane ride home, not knowing exactly what would be left to come home to, I decided to write a song about this city. I called it “City of Dreams”, and it poured out of me onto a tear soaked page. I finished the last line as the plane came in for a landing over a moonlit Nashville, looking out on nothing but a dark emptiness where the downtown core should be and the large areas of blackness where sections of city were under water. The next morning, I recorded a guitar/vocal version of the song in my home studio and uploaded it to youtube along with a slideshow of the flood footage and a plea to viewers to donate to the local Red Cross. It was the only way I could think of to try and help get the word out about what had happened to my city and its people.
I uploaded the video on Thursday. By Friday it had 3000 views. By the following Wednesday it was up to 14,000, and I got a call from Eric Legg, the engineer who recorded my “When You Can Fly” CD. “We’ve got a film production company called N Focus Films who wants to make your song into a video for CMT and GAC to help raise flood relief funds for the Red Cross” he said. “Ocean Way studios will donate the studio time to record it and I’ve got all of the musicians lined up to play for free. Everyone believes in your song and relates to it, and we want to make it into something special. We want you to gather all the artists you can find to help sing it, but we have to do it this weekend, so you only have 2 days to prepare. Can you do it?”
I said yes, took a big breath, hung up the phone and immediately started calling every artist, record label exec, manager and co-writer I could think of. And then I went to bed and lay awake staring at the ceiling, wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into. I’m just a songwriter – I’m not a big music mogul or a huge country star – who the heck was I to ask people to do something like this?!! But Thursday morning I woke up to a ringing phone and a full email inbox. The Nashville music business network had kicked into high gear, and the project was off and running.
Friday night at 9pm, I was at Ocean Way studio with some of the best session players in Nashville. They had been playing on records since 10am, but they stayed hours beyond their usual wrap time and played an incredible track for the song – for free. By midnight I was in my home studio charting harmony parts, deciding which line would work best for which artist, and singing a reference version of each part along with the lead vocal.
Three hours of sleep later, I was back at Ocean Way studios bright and early with Eric Legg and a team of engineers, a makeup artist, the production company manning the cameras, and 30 artists. Everyone was working for free, and everyone had checked their ego at the door. Blue Umbrella Promotions donated “City of Dreams” tee shirts for us, a local restaurant called Maggiano’s even stepped in to donate food for the recording marathon, and for the next six hours we all worked together, united in a spirit of charity and motivated by the losses we and our friends had suffered, to make magic happen.
It was without a doubt one of the most moving and humbling days in my career as a singer/songwriter. As the producer, I got to direct vocals by some of the most talented artists in Nashville – artists that I grew up listening to on the radio – as they stepped up to the microphone one by one to take turns singing lines. I got to stand in a room surrounded by a tapestry of incredible voices, teach them their parts and conduct them as they all sang the big “gang vocal” together in intricate harmony. Everyone was positive. Everyone was enthusiastic. Everyone patiently waited their turn to sing, and cheered on the others as they recorded their lines. I have never felt so honoured or so proud to be a part of this incredible Music City.
I’ll be back in the studio with Eric and the camera crew tomorrow, editing vocals and preparing for the mixing process. One of the talented engineers at Masterfonics called today and offered to master the song for free to prepare it for radio play. Everything is coming together. The plan is that by the end of the week, “City of Dreams” will be finished and ready for unveiling. I will keep you posted.
P.S. If you haven’t yet seen the original “City of Dreams” slideshow, here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvpG4lTSVmA
(Update: here’s the link where you can check out the final video from the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjoDpmNYaas)