The annual NRA convention was held in Atlanta, Georgia this year and their lifestyle brand, NRA Country, hosted a singer/songwriter event with some country artists. Carl Black radio, a streaming station which is an extension of the Carl Black network of auto dealerships, was one of the sponsors and we got tickets through them.
They had the low key event on Friday, April 28th, at the Atlanta Tabernacle, an historic church that has been repurposed as a live event facility, now owned by LiveNation. We expected, knowing as many people, including President Trump, were attending the NRA meeting a large crowd, so after getting tickets at the Roswell dealership we got town a little before the show. Parking was easy and once we got inside the Tabernacle was surprised how big it was. There weren’t many there, and after show started not many more showed up. Disappointed for the artists, but made for a cool, intimate night of songs.
Josh Thompson was the main reason we went, as we don’t get to see him often much anymore, and when they introduced him they said he was the first ever NRA Country years ago. Along with Josh, was Lyndsay Ell, Chris Janson, and Cary Barlowe. After being introduced they went round robin style between the 4 of them playing their songs both that they had cut and ones they’d written for others.
Chris was probably the “biggest” name of the group, and he started the evening off singing his recent #1 “Buy Me a Boat.” Chris made his acoustic sound even bigger since he played his harmonica and had a foot pedal for a bass drum, so he was a one-man band. Really filled up the space with sound. He joked about how many of his omnipresent Mountain Dews he had had that Friday, and so the drum probably gave him an outlet for his energy.
Chris later played 2 more of his own songs, both new ones that should be on next album. “Fix a Drink” was to come out May 5th (appropriately on Cinco de Mayo), it is very much in the vein of “Boat”, and “Redneck Life” which is one of my favorite new ones with a great line about how the “he didn’t choose the Redneck Live, the Redneck Life chose me.” He also did 2 songs others had cut, LoCash’s “Love This Life,” and Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah,” which everyone now hearing behind Ford ads, but ironically it was written about Chris’ chevy truck. He said he remembered being out mowing the yard with a push mower when he got the call Tim was cutting the song. He wrote that with the guys from LoCash and they’ve all talked about what a life changing song it was for their careers.
Lindsay Ell we hadn’t seen in a little while, so was nice to catch her again. She usually has an electric guitar, so to see her acoustic was different, but she such an amazing guitar player she made it sound as good. She recently released her debut EP on Stoney Creek this past March, and she did several songs from it, including current single “By The Way.” She talked about working with Kristian Bush (of Sugarland fame) producing her EP and how they cut a complete version of the John Mayer album “Continuum” as a way of getting in the right mind set for her recording, and she ended up including Mayer’s “Stop this Train” on her “Worth the Wait” EP. Lindsay sounded great, but truly her blues-influenced guitar playing is spellbinding.
Josh started out playing a song that Tim McGraw had used as the title for his 2015 album, “Damn Country Music.” He played his first ever #1 song with Jason Aldean recently getting “Any Ol’ Barstool” to the top. If you listen to those 2 songs and Chris’ song “How I’ll Always Be” that Tim McGraw also cut you hear a really kinship in their lyrics, but up on stage I couldn’t tell how familiar the two of them were with each other, but they should write together.
Josh did 3 songs he’s released. “Way Out Here,” which he said was what inspired NRA Country to get in touch with him. “Daddy had a Beer in his Hand” is on his recently released “Change: The Lost Record,” a collection of songs recorded at his former label around 2011 that he just got to self-release. The song was inspired he said by a Polaroid he’d recently seen of his late father with him and his sister in it that his mom showed him. Last song he did was his first single “Beer on the Table,” which Stacy and I can say is the song that started it for us all the way back in 2009.
Cary Barlowe was the one songwriter we had never heard of till that night, but wow did he surprise his with his singing. He started out talking about stopping by the liquor store on the way to write in a Gatlinburg cabin, with his wife another songwriter Hillary Lindsay, and buying some “American Honey” liqueur and that helped inspire the Lady Antebellum song. Some songwriters write because they are more suited to that than singing, but when Cary started on Honey, he sounded great, was really impressed. He did Dustin Lynch’s “Where It’s At”, Florida Georgia Line’s “Sundaze”, Billy Currington’s recent “It Don’t Hurt Like it Used to.” The song he seemed to most feel for is an album cut on Little Big Town’s “The Breaker” entitled “Beat Up Bible,” which he said was inspired by finding a family bible and thinking about what it must have been through, and he wrote it at a Key West writing retreat. The range of songs he showcased was pretty amazing with great stories.
The crowd for the NRA Country event never got large, but they were engaged and it was a fun way to hear these artists songs in a different way along with the storied behind them.
When we left we explored downtown Atlanta, including a ride on the Sky View ferris wheel, which was right next door to the Tabernacle. Then walked over to a late night diner, the Metro Cafe that had some karaoke including some guy singing “Hicktown,” seemed an appropriate end to the night.