Photo credit: Jason Davis/Getty Images for HGTV
Thursday morning. Day One of CMA Fest 2018 and I had opted out of any very early CMA craziness because I knew I would be busy enough for the rest of the day and night. My first order of business was a 1:00 PM Ashley McBryde show at the HGTV Lodge (a very cool looking structure, but that place needs SEATS something fierce). I was really looking forward to this one for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because I am a huge fan!
In the event that I wasn’t granted media access for CMA Fest this year, I had purchased a 4-day ticket so I would be able to get into the Nissan Stadium shows and Fan Fair X. That also made me eligible to enter the contests for artists meet and greets and private shows. In all the years I’ve been attending CMA Fest, I have NEVER won anything. I’ve watched all of my friends win multiple times. I just never did. Until this year. I took a chance and dumped all 35 of my entries into the Ashley McBryde HGTV Lodge show and I actually won! It was a good thing too, because even though I did get media credentials, they were not good for the HGTV Lodge. This was a great bonus.
The not-so-fun part of winning this prize was the required arrival time, which was one hour prior to show time. A very long line of fans waited to enter the building, myself included. We baked in the hot sun for more than an hour in some cases. When I considered the fact that I wasn’t really anywhere near the front of the line, I still ended up fairly close to the stage anyway. That worked out well after all of that unwanted sunbathing.
It was standing room only, and since I’m a short girl, I dealt with the problem all short girls do, tall people. Of course, you can’t ask them to move if they were there first, so you park your short self as close to the stage as possible, and stretch your neck as far as you can in any direction to see what’s happening.
As it turned out, I could see McBryde just fine from the shoulders up, it was her guitar that was shrouded by a tall guy with a ball cap. I managed to catch the entire show on video, which I consider a major victory. I had a strong signal the whole time, which was a miracle by itself. Then my friend “ball cap guy” stayed relatively still, so I really didn’t need to move the camera around much while his head danced (because like Lee “I Don’t Dance” Brice, neither, apparently, does “ball cap guy’s” head). This resulted in a decent picture that didn’t need much editing to remove the shakiness. I can thank him for that much.
Starting just about on time, McBryde entered the stage with half of her wavy brunette hair braided along the right side of her head with the left side looking as it normally does. From where I was standing, facing the stage on the right, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was different at all with her hair. It was only when she turned her head sharply that I could see the braids. She dressed in her typical casual manner as well. Red t-shirt and a denim vest, just what fans expect and hope for. Nobody ever wants her to come out and do a show looking too glam.
Ashley McBryde. The female country artist that somehow managed to finally crack the code on how to remain true to herself and rely on her talent to get through the Music Row maze of industry A&R people and VIPs. It may have taken 11 long years to get there, but she did it, giving hope to a whole new generation of young women that have been yo-yo dieting, frying their hair, and spending every last cent trying to create a wardrobe that some label person is going to consider the “perfect formula”. Never mind that some girl has a vocal range that reaches from Nashville to the heavens and can probably play guitar and write songs better than a lot of guys in town. Women have long been held to a much different standard.
McBryde is showing everyone how crazy that frame of mind really is. People WILL listen if the talent is there. Females can dress comfortably and they don’t need to starve themselves to death to look good on stage, and she sounds AND looks damned good.
McBryde talked about the heat and how having as much hair as she does made it even hotter. She also gave some good advice to her fans. “Drink water, drink water, drink water, because I know y’all are gonna drink everything else later on.” She mentioned how she’s getting used to having others do her hair and makeup and how she was covered from head to toe in spandex. She offered to show us the spandex but said it might not be very video-friendly and no, there were no undergarment fashion shows, so don’t even bother looking for one online. You won’t be finding any.
She played a short set that included songs from her current album, Girl Going Nowhere, kicking it off with “Radioland”, an upbeat number heavy on pop culture name drops. Something I personally live for in songs. It’s one of my very favorites from her new record and I thought she really knocked it out of the park solo. I desperately wanted to go into full-out fangirl mode but I resisted. I was going to try and video the whole show for one, so that would have been awkward right there and secondly, I was also fading fast from heat exhaustion. I left it to the masses crammed in the lodge to do the cheering for me. In other words, I took another one for the Think Country team!
McBryde then told a story about “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” and how that song got written “because I was bad at math” (referring to a high school algebra teacher who told her a career in music was just a pipe dream and she was, in fact, a “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”). She mentioned that her co-writer on that song, Jeremy Bussey, was in the room somewhere and she wasn’t going to embarrass him by pointing him out, but she did thank him for writing that song and then proceeded to play it.
After that, McBryde told a quick story about how she and her friend Blue Foley were on the road opening acoustic for Brothers Osborne and they had stopped outside of Quincy, Illinois to gas up the truck. When it was time to get back on the road, Foley asked if she was ready to go and McBryde said, “Hell yeah, home sweet highway!” He replied, “Shut up. We’re writin’ that as soon as we get back.” That’s how “Home Sweet Highway” was born, and obviously, that’s what she played next.
It was interesting to hear her do this one all by herself, rather than with the band. It sounded cool, even though she herself admitted it isn’t often that she does it alone. I feel like she gave it all she had, but in a way, I sensed she felt she was almost being unfaithful to her band a little bit. I just get the impression that this is “their” song as a unit. A road family. It was great as an acoustic number, but I think she really comes to life when performing it with her band.
Next, she gave the crowd a choice of songs. Did they want to hear “American Scandal” or “Livin’ Next to Leroy”? It was unanimous. It was one loud, “Leroy!” that echoed through the entire HGTV Lodge. McBryde told the audience that Leroy was a real person who lived in Starke, Florida. “Not a bad guy. Good person. Bad mistakes.” For anyone unfamiliar with this song, I would probably refer you to my review of McBryde’s album Girl Going Nowhere first, but I’ll save you the trouble (go read it anyway, it wasn’t half bad) and tell you it’s an oddly uplifting song about some seriously dark content. It’s great songwriting by Ashley McBryde and Nicolette Hayford.
The breakout song for McBryde was “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”. It was the song that first introduced most people to her, and she saved it for last at the HGTV Lodge show. Long story short, it was written by three songwriters who all had a crummy day and NO song was supposed to be written that day at all. The little dive bar in Dahlonega is The Crimson Moon. It all boils down to songwriter Jesse Rice’s car breaking down at the exit near that bar. He managed to drag himself into The Crimson Moon where singer/songwriter Shawn Mullins (“Lullaby”) was playing and where he met Kendra, his future wife.
There’s more to this tale and if you watch the YouTube video of the show that I’ve included, you’ll get those extra details and if you read the interview that Annette Gibbons and I did with McBryde back in February of 2018 at CRS, you’ll get even more. Am I convincing you to go back and do some homework? I sure hope so. We’re big fans of this artist. We’ve done OUR homework just to make yours really easy for you. Go check it out. It’s right on our website. Search “Ashley McBryde” and you’ll find all of it. It’s well worth it.
It goes without saying that everybody knew the words to “Dahlonega”. There was one point where McBryde just stopped singing and let the crowd go for it. Nobody missed a beat. Every lyric, right on the money. In fact, I would bet most people in that room could have handled the lyrics to every song on her record. Her fan club is called “The Trybe”. Many of the people at the show were wearing “The Trybe” t-shirts. Her following is devout and growing all the time. As she puts it, “I’m an 11-year overnight success story.” She’s put her time in. She deserves everything she’s getting right now. She remains humble and kind and the talent is definitely there. It’s undeniable.
I’m so glad I won entry into that show. Here’s my CMA Fest advice. If you want to win something really bad, dump all your entries into one pot. I’ve never done that before and I’ve always lost. I tried it once and it worked like a charm. That’s “insider information”. Oh, wow. That was so hard to type without laughing. “Insider information”. I’m rolling my eyes at myself. I really am, but hey, it worked for me! Don’t ask me about the wristbands for the meet and greet after the show though. I didn’t have one. I don’t know how they were obtained and even if I did, I would have probably given mine to someone else. I had to hit the “Home Sweet Highway” and go let my dog out, not to worry though, I’ll be catching McBryde in Jacksonville, North Carolina in August. That’s a story for another time…
Ashley McBryde can be found: