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CMA Songwriters Series

CMA Songwriters London

By Lesley Hastings


Before I start, you need to know that for the past couple of years the CMA Songwriters Series evening, preceding the main London C2C Festival, has been the highlight of the weekend for me, so this year it had a lot to live up to! And did it deliver?

The answer is a massive YES, in bucket – loads!

Five of the best country songwriters in the USA on stage performing their compositions acoustically for three hours ( not the two as advertised!), no shortage of jokes and witty banter, confirmation that the cast of the Nashville TV series would tour here in June plus a surprise appearance by a country super-star were just some of the reasons this was an evening to remember for a very long time!

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the evening was all about the writers/artists taking it in turns to perform stripped back versions of their songs, explaining the inspiration behind their writing and generally chatting in between.



The smaller Indigo stage at the O2 provided a perfect setting (packed to capacity) and as in previous years the sound and lighting were superb.

The charismatic and talented Shane McAnally was host this year, introducing the incredible line up of Ashley Monroe, Charlie Worsham, Charles ( Chip) Esten and Lori McKenna, the biggest cheer being for Chip ( aka Deacon from the afore mentioned Nashville programme, which goes to show the power of a great TV show, he even brought along the personalised guitar strap viewers are familiar with!) . The rapport between them all was fantastic throughout the evening and the respect that they had for one another was a pleasure to behold, each listening intently to the others’ performances, when it could easily have descended into a form of ” songwriter’s competition”.

For most it was their first visit to the UK as musicians, and Shane opened proceedings with the appropriately titled ” American Kids” ( recorded by Kenny Chesney, he is mostly known as a writer and not a recording artist in his own right with a list of hits anyone would kill for, he even needed lyrics to refer at one point in the evening much to Chip’s amusement! ) with Charlie adding superb lead guitar, this being a recurring feature of the evening, wow can he play!!


Ashley’s opener ( to the delight of many) was her ” story of my life” song, “Like A Rose” , her pure and pitch perfect vocals ringing out loud and clear.


Charlie Worsham was up next, not someone I was hugely familiar with I must admit but he totally won me over ( for several reasons, i am sure the ladies reading this will know one of them!) and ” Mississippi In July” filled the auditorium, a song about his home State which was a perfect choice to showcase some incredible guitar picking as well as strong vocals ( ably assisted by Ashley, throughout the evening it was common for the artists to help out with backing vocals, great stuff!).


Chip seemed a bit in awe as he prepared for his opener, admitting he was among ” super talented” artists and was out of his depth, and warning us that ” Deacon isn’t here tonight”. But it seems that his TV character and in particular his two addictions ( alcohol and Rayna) have inspired his songwriting, and he kicked off with a fantastic composition “Sweet Addiction”. I must admit i wasn’t sure what to expect from him, but was mightily impressed throughout the evening by his writing, particularly lyrically, and his bluesy, emotional vocals. Oh, and he was very quick witted too! Even Shane quipped ” I’m glad we got Chip instead of Deacon”!


Last but definitely by no means least, it was Lori’s turn to entertain, seemingly a little more reserved and initially less confident than the others ( not sure why considering her fantastic pedigree!) and seeking some reassurance from the crowd before a beautiful rendition of ” Buy This Town” .from her 2011 album ” Lorraine”. Of the five writers it was her lyrics i connected with the most, due i am sure to me being ” a woman of a certain age” !

Round two, and it was the massive hit he had co- written for Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow” that was Shane’s choice, with most in the crowd singing along and adding “Hey ” and “Yeah” at the appropriate moments, which i am sure you will be familiar with! Shane was obviously both impressed and relieved at this reaction, as he then explained he was unsure of what we in the UK would and wouldn’t be familiar with or indeed offended by (the lyric about rolling up a joint in this song, maybe??) and had asked for advice with the set list earlier on in the day from his friend Annette….yes, OUR Annette Gibbons, founder of Think Country, how cool is that??

But fears of offending us were again quickly allayed when the audience called for Ashley to play “Weed Instead of Roses” next, after which Charlie was quick to say ” wow, we are on a roll here, in more ways than one”! and he carried on the ( now!) theme of this round with a hilarious and very cleverly written song ( co-written with Ashley, I believe?) ” I Hope I’m Stoned When jesus Takes me Home”.


Witty as ever, Chip said his next offering was “a song about meth” before apologising for the fact that it was actually just a good, old fashioned love song…….which turned out to be about his long time love affair with beer! Lori ( now much more relaxed it seemed!) jumped in with a confession that she was now totally screwed as she has no songs about weed or beer…….but then floored everyone with a really powerful song about escaping a controlling relationship ( sorry, the title escapes me, i was too busy listening to note it down!!)

Don’t worry, i will stop the blow-by-blow account of the evening here, but suffice it to say that the fantastic performances showcasing the talent on stage continued throughout the evening, interspersed with some (often) hilarious stories and (always) interesting facts about the songwriting process, until the final performance from Lori which made it clear why she was last in the line-up when Shane said to her ” let’s have THE song” and she proceeded to tell the story of how a certain multi- award winning song of hers came to be written.

Know which one I’m referring to? Its three co-writers { Lori, Hillary Lindsey and LizRose) are best friends, calling themselves the ” love junkies” and while staying at Liz’s house Lori mentioned she wanted to write a song called ” Girl Crush” ….on hearing this, Hillary picked up a guitar ( an old Chris Stapleton one it transpired!) and sang what would be the exact first four lines!

Don’t you just hate people who can do that??? As you can imagine the audience sang along with Lori and then with Ashley who took over lead vocals for the second verse, it was an appropriately special ending to a fantastic night and made me even more excited ( if possible!) for what was to come at the C2C weekend ahead.

But wait, you say, what was that about a ” country superstar” making an appearance? As you probably know by now ( thanks to social media!) Miranda Lambert appeared on stage to duet with Ashley on a song they wrote together while holidaying ( vacationing??) at Dollywood which Miranda released a few years back and which reached number 1 on the Billboard charts, ” Heart Like Mine”. Apparently ( as i heard Miranda say in an interview) this happens fair bit, if one of the two includes it in their set-list and the other is able to they will join them on stage for this co-write.

Early on in the evening Ashley had commented that she felt she was ” with family on foreign soil” and this was definitely a family i was privileged to witness at this Songwriters Series, I really hope the CMA continue the tradition next year! For in the words of one of Shane’s co-writes for a certain Kacey Musgraves, ” Family is Family”. This one will take a lot of beating, though! Let’s throw down the gauntlet…..


Annette Gibbons
Hi, I’m Annette, I have been a huge country music fan since the early 90s those were the days we were lucky enough to have CMT in the UK. I enjoy nothing more than listening to country music whilst having a cold beer (or a moonshine) with friends. I try to as many gigs as I can here in the UK and in the USA; I think of Nashville as my second home and I am lucky to have made some amazing friends in Tennessee. Think Country is something I am very proud of, I just want to share my love and passion of all things country music related with you all.
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