In 2012, my wife and I attended a gospel-and-arts conference improbably named “Hutchmoot.”
(For a glimpse of what a Hutchmoot is, check out these beautiful videos, both made the year we attended: What Is A Hutchmoot, Hutchmoot 2012 Highlights.)
While there, I was struck by a feeling, a way of relating that I couldn't quite name.
At first I thought it was kindess, but I know kind people in Pennsylvania. Then I thought it was humility. But it wasn't just humility. Finally, during a conversation with Andrew Osenga, I understood the difference. It was the absence of an attitude I've experienced nearly everywhere else.
At length, this attitude goes something like, "We carry the world's best music everywhere we go. We download the great books at will, and read them on our pocket computers. Why would you write or sing without world-class abilities? And why should we care if you do?"
In short, it amounts to, "Leave art to the professionals."
But folks at Hutchmoot seemed to believe everyone should make as much art as they wished - as if, together, our contributions make a mosaic of glory, each tile contributing no matter how bright its color.
Months after Hutchmoot, I was still mulling over this Nashvillian attitude toward creativity, and feeling sorry for myself.
I'm not a world-class talent. But if I lived in Nashville (I thought) maybe I would still be welcomed into guitar circles, and front-porch sings, and tea-lubricated writer-ey conversations. Since I can't consider relocating, I tried not to think about it. And that failed, so I felt sorry for myself. Until, more than a year later, I had an uncharacteristically bold thought:
What if I did the welcoming?
Characteristicly timid thoughts followed quickly. What if nobody came? What if they came, but nobody had fun? What if my friends thought I was making an excuse to perform? What if I was?
You probably know the voices. Partly to spite them, I mentioned the idea to my wife, and she encouraged me to pursue it. Over the course of several conversations, it developed into something we call "Pub Night."
As the name suggests, I decided to bribe potential attendees with beer from a nearby micro-brewery, glass-bottled root-beer, and my wife's killer spinache-artichoke dip.
We also decided to split the evening into two sessions. The first, our Gunslinger Session, would be like a miniature open-mic: One musician, one instrument, one song each. But the second, our Sidekick Session, was the the most satisfying to me, because it was inspired particularly by my time at Hutchmoot.
Rules for the Sidekick Session: Bring a chord sheet, find a buddy, and pair up on the spot to perform the song together.
By matching inexperienced musicians with more seasoned players, we hoped to give beginners a chance to perform without the pressure of carrying a song. Like a three-minute mentorship. This would be my attempt at incarnating the Nashville Spirit; providing a place for the mosaic to shine.
I emailed over a dozen people: Men and boys from church, a couple guys from work, and Dan Kulp, who I met through the Rabbit Room even though he lives just across town. They all said they would come. And then, of course, the voices came back, but it was too late to back out.
The night came, the guests came, and the voices were wrong. To my relief, the Gunslinger Session went smoothly, and the Sidekick Session worked exactly as I'd hoped. Guys who only knew two chords paired with experienced gig-playing musicians. Awkward singers followed along with strong-voiced songbirds. A four-piece band spontaneously formed and, if you've never heard Coldplay's "Yellow" done with banjo, ukelele, guitar, and cajon, we all feel sorry for you.
The guests (and I) were so encouraged that we've held Pub Nights several more times, and plan to keep it up indefinitely. If you'll be passing through Grove City, PA, let me know. There's always room in this mosaic for one more tile