Nashville. Music City, USA. With the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry and country music artists living and working here, it’s no wonder most people automatically think of Nashville as a country music city. People come from all over the world to visit Nashville, mainly for the country music, but there’s something I find myself pointing out over and over like a broken record. Nashville is called MUSIC City, USA, not COUNTRY MUSIC, USA. There’s a good reason for that.
Nashville is also known for its songwriters. In fact, it’s known as “The Songwriting Capital of the World”. There are songs that you probably know and love that were written in Nashville, and that’s not all. Musicians come from every inch of the globe to work here. The best of the best. Many of them are playing any day or night of the week and not all of them are about country. Some can, and do, play country and whatever else they’re called upon to play. They’re good enough to play anything at the drop of a hat. The talent pool is gigantic here. It’s really quite fascinating.
My point is, we have country, rock, jazz, blues, punk, pop, metal, hip hop, R&B and the list goes on and on. Nashville isn’t a one-trick pony town. If you come here and you get stuck on country, you are missing out because some of the musicians that are playing in these other genres currently play, or have played with the biggest name bands around. What they’re doing in clubs here might just be something they do on the side for fun. These are some seriously talented people and you aren’t going to find that most anywhere else.
Annette Gibbons and I got to sit down with one of Music City’s most talented bands that is NOT country. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them numerous times and they never disappoint. They are Sam McCrary and The Mix. They are one of the best possible alternatives to country music when you just need to do something else during your time here. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, they’re a hit every single time.
We were lucky to get five of the guys together at one time. The only regular member unable to join us was Drummer, Kenney P., but I can tell you that Kenney is extremely talented and has a resume to back that up. He’s worked with numerous well-known R&B artists and toured nationally and internationally.
Without further delay, we can now jump into our conversation with this great group of guys and let them tell you what they’re all about and hopefully convince you to come out to a show when you’re in Nashville.
Think Country (Patti): Let’s go around the table and have everyone introduce themselves. We’ll start with Sam.
Sam McCrary: I am Sam McCrary and they actually let me sing. I get to stand out front and make jokes and stuff.
Marcus McCrary: I’m his brother Marcus McCrary and I try to sing a little bit – and dance.
Tyrus Sass: Tyrus Sass, main keys.
Carl Fields, Jr.: I’m Carl Fields, Jr. I’m the bass player and background vocalist, and I dance occasionally.
Grant Garland: Grant Garland, guitar and vocals.
Think Country (Annette): And do you dance? (Directing this toward Grant) I reckon you have the moves.
Grant Garland: Once in a while…
Sam McCrary: Yeah, we have a drummer too but he couldn’t come (Kenney P.).
Think Country (Patti): Somebody’s going to have to speak for him.
Think Country (Annette): Oh, I can be Kenney.
Sam McCrary: You know what? You’re doing a good job.
Think Country (Patti): Marcus will censor all of your Kenney comments.
Marcus McCrary: That’s right, I will.
Think Country (Patti): Okay, we’ll kind of go around the table and anybody that wants to jump in, give us a description of your music. Your sound. What is it?
Sam McCrary: I would say that we are like Funk Fusion. In other words, we take whatever you give us and we add a Sam McCrary and The Mix blend to it. We do rock, pop, funk, soul, rhythm & blues…
Think Country (Annette): Is it originals or covers?
Sam McCrary: We have originals and covers.
Think Country (Annette): I’ve only seen you guys on Facebook and you look like you have a lot of fun.
Sam McCrary: We evaluate the crowd when we get on stage and the first few songs are designed just to see who’s gonna dance, who we have in front of us, and what we have to do, so none of our shows are exactly the same. We’ve got a lot of the same songs, but we don’t do them the same way.
Tyrus Sass: I would probably say it’s like organized chaos, especially if I’m there. I would say organized chaos because there’s always a base for every song that’s uniform, so you know what to do with it, but at any time, someone can do something else that it goes completely left field, but we all go together. That’s the chaos part. (Everyone laughs in agreement) Like, literally, every time. There are so many things and arrangements in songs that we’ve done, that we don’t rehearse. Ever.
Marcus McCrary: Like, some of my hand gestures and calls that I have for my changing up songs, woo!
Think Country (Patti): I’ve seen those. It’s like you’re calling audibles.
(The whole group chimed in here with laughs of agreement that Marcus’s hand signals are indeed, like calling audibles on the field during a game.)
Marcus McCrary: Yeah, yeah, all the time, all the time! They have to figure out my hand signals too.
Grant Garland: I always forget what they are.
Think Country (Patti): I’ve got to say, I’ve seen you guys and you seem to do a good job of figuring stuff out really quick.
Tyrus Sass: That’s all of us though, because I’m telling you, if we start with “Kiss” (Prince cover), we know how everyone started, we tend to know where we’re going with it, but everything we’ve done in it is all a compilation of things that have happened on the fly at some point. It just happened to be one of the things we remembered the next time. There’s more stuff that we forget. That’s where I’m glad Carl records everything.
Carl Fields, Jr.: I’m kind of like the historian of the band. It just so happens I started recording a lot of our shows with my iPhone, and I would listen back and I would hear a random idea, say Tyrus, he might play an idea or I might play a bassline and I might play it one time around and Tyrus would catch on to it the second time around and next thing you know, the third time around everyone’s kind of catching on. That’s kind of how the arrangements develop. That’s just my two cents of my experience with The Mix. It’s like, rooted in all this funk and rhythm and blues and all of the music that our parents grew up on, but then we have some arrangements that are more modern, like pop or more jazz-inspired. Like Tyrus said though, some of that just happened on the fly. I think that’s the beauty of The Mix, ‘cause you get a “mix” of so many things.
Grant Garland: For example, we do “Sex Machine” by James Brown a lot. There’s a thing that we do in the bridge and I remember the first time Carl played it, because I think all of us that are here today were on the gig and it was a place in Antioch, Daiq’s.
Carl Fields, Jr.: That was the first time?
Grant Garland: That was the first time because Carl played it and then as soon as we were done, Tyrus said, “That’s the funkiest thing I’ve ever heard.” (Everyone was roaring with laughter)
Think Country (Patti): I think I need a tattoo that says that.
Grant Garland: And then I missed a lot of shows after that happened and then at some point I came back and all of a sudden, they were playing it.
Carl Fields, Jr.: That’s crazy.
Marcus McCrary: We never know what song is next either.
Think Country (Patti): So, no setlist?
Marcus McCrary: A song list, but no setlist, so sometimes it’s like, “Really? You’re really calling THAT song?”
Carl Fields, Jr.: Sometimes, I’ll give it up to both Sam and Marcus because they allow me to pay attention to an aspect that I haven’t. They judge, kind of, the crowd. They analyze the environment before the show and then during the show. It’s like, okay, we’ve got an older crowd, we’ve got a younger crowd, we’re gonna go the pop route or more old school funk, so it’s like they’re kinda paying attention to analyze to see what kind of songs and what sequence of songs we’re gonna do next. That’s something that I pay attention to as a future reference for if I want to lead a band, that’s kind of an important aspect. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you start.
Think Country (Annette): You know, we cover a lot of gigs and the setlist is written out so everybody can see. You see it once and it’s great. You see them again and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I know what’s happening now.” I like the fact that it’s always different.
Sam McCrary: Well, that comes from playing somewhere. I played at B.B. King’s with a band there, and every Friday and Saturday night we did the exact same songs, in the exact same order, every weekend, because we played to tourists so it really wasn’t the same two people that were seeing us, they were always moving, but for me, it was so monotonous. I can’t do that anymore. When you write out a setlist and you’re stuck with that setlist, whether the crowd has responded to you or not, that’s why you see a lot of rooms empty out, because who are you playing for?
Think Country (Patti): It’s because they’re seeing the same show again. It’s like watching the same movie 100 times in a row, well, unless it’s REALLY your favorite.
Sam McCrary: We have a lot of musicians that play with us. We bring in musicians. Most of the musicians that play with us on a regular basis are musicians that were brought to us by someone else that already plays with us, because we’re a hard band to play with. I don’t care how great a musician you are, you just can’t jump in and play with us.
Think Country (Patti): That was one of my questions. Sometimes it might be Carl on the bass, sometimes it might be somebody else on the bass. Do you have a smooth transition or is it a little rough with substitutions?
Marcus McCrary: We’ve got like three bass players and they’ve been playing with us for years now and they understand what we do.
Think Country (Patti): So, if you get some new guy, and you need someone on the fly, what happens?
Sam McCrary: We just have to make sure that we have one of our key players, either Tyrus or Carl on the floor with the new guy giving directions (one of the guys shouted out “Jesse’s pretty good too.”). Well, Jesse hasn’t learned all of Tyrus’s calls yet either.
Think Country (Patti): What does Jesse play?
Marcus McCrary: Jesse’s a bass player.
Think Country (Annette): It must be very intimidating, the first show they play with you guys.
Sam McCrary: I’m pretty sure it is. (Laughter)
Think Country (Annette): I bet you’re hard on them, aren’t you?
Sam McCrary: No. No, we’re never hard on anyone because basically if I look back and I see that someone isn’t really gelling with us, I’ll go back and tell ‘em, “Look, all we’re really doing is having fun. Just have fun. If it feels like work, then that’s the problem. Just go with it.” We’re so far out of the box and so many musicians are so used to playing in the box, and that’s why we have “Chaos” (pointing to Tyrus) over there to control the box.” (Uproarious laughter now)
Think Country (Patti): That’s it. You don’t want that box to be perfectly brand new, do you? You want it to be a little warped because that’s where things get more interesting.
Sam McCrary: Yeah, we want it to be a little bit flimsy because that’s where the things we do on stage come from. It comes from creativity, but it also has to be controlled.
Tyrus Sass: I definitely know my limitations and what I’m good at, like, in my opinion, I’m not the most creative player. I can come up with ideas but, one of the guys who plays with us as well, his name is Darius Mines, he’s another keyboard player, he’s a lot younger and he’s way more creative, to me, than I am. He’s probably one of those guys that sees sounds and hears colors if you know what I mean? It hits him here (gesturing to his ears) and it doesn’t go through any filters, nothing. It goes here and it’s there (gesturing to an invisible keyboard). I am more, it goes here, (points to his head, and makes sort of a whizzing gesture) figure it out, and this all happens in real time, it sounds crazy, but I’ll sit there and then I’m thinking, before I even do it, “Where can it go? Should it be just me or should I look at Carl and have him follow me?” All of that happens in a split-second while I’m playing something else. It’s hard to explain.
(Annette and I were both truly amazed by this. We talk to a lot of musicians and to hear something explained in this way really proves a point that I work so hard to drive home. Nashville musicians are among the best on the planet. They really are. Pay attention to every person on a stage when you come to this city.)
Think Country (Annette): So, how do you get new music? Say, someone comes along and says, “Actually, there’s a song, I really like it. What can we do with it?”
Marcus McCrary: Just like that. Just like what you said.
Think Country (Patti): Now, like you guys, like Carl, for instance, you play with some big names out on the road, right?
Carl Fields, Jr.: Right. Actually, by way of Tyrus. Tyrus got me the gig with Melinda Doolittle (“American Idol”, Season 6) who was a big name, and my first gig with Melinda Doolittle was a trip to Africa, Tunisia, and that was a very warm welcoming of a gig for me, and to this day, the best experience of my life.
Think Country (Patti): That had to have been absolutely epic.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Best week of my life ever. That was incredible. Once I did the wrap of that, I did a TV show, “American Supergroup” and that was a big opportunity. I’ve played with up and coming country artists, Payton Taylor, Murphy Elmore and a couple others, but yeah, I think the biggest for me at that time was Melinda Doolittle.
Think Country (Annette): (Recognizing some familiar names) Payton, Taryn…
Think Country (Patti): Yeah, she knows all of them too.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Oh, really? Wow.
Marcus McCrary: Carl has probably matured more than anyone in the whole group, as far as our core group.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Oh my God…
Sam McCrary: We used to call him “Youngblood”.
Think Country (Patti): Was he a little difficult to rein in sometimes?
Sam McCrary: Well, you know, he was just, young.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Not at a young age, but young musically. Actually, coming to Nashville and getting a gig with Sam and The Mix has really taught me a lot because I was fresh off of coming out of college at UT in Knoxville and I did the Jazz Program there, but I was just school-minded and so I came straight to Nashville for school back-to-back. I finished on a grant and I applied for Grad school and got accepted at MTSU and went straight to school, so even my first two years in Nashville I wasn’t really gigging, I was just a college kid, and I was a broke college kid at that. I was not playing any gigs but I was still going with the music. I had just started playing the bass at college sophomore year and so I wasn’t used to meeting musicians and gigging and understanding where the touring cats were at, but coming with Sam and The Mix and meeting some of the musicians who had been on tour and had the experience, that really taught me a lot about being able to catch on quickly and being professional. It taught me about being on time, how you treat yourself on and off the gig, character, a lot of those things I got to practice with early on with Sam and The Mix, and furthermore, things like stage presence, background vocals, dancing, I never did any of that until I got with Sam and The Mix.
Think Country (Patti): So, you owe these guys a little bit?
Carl Fields, Jr.: Yeah!
Think Country (Patti): Alright Grant, tell us what your background is.
Grant Garland: Well, I’m originally from Arkansas, which is the Funk Fusion capital of the world. (This generated a little bit, alright, maybe a LOT of laughter from the guys.)
Think Country (Patti): Yeah, I’ve heard that. (More laughter)
Grant Garland: So, it was kind of like what Carl said. I went to Arkansas State University but I was a Music Major, trumpet was my main instrument at that time, but I didn’t gig in college. I started gigging right out of college but I was still living in northeast Arkansas. It was just kind of a long road to get to anywhere where anything was going on. I mean Memphis was there. I did quite a bit in Memphis for several years, but really the first gig I had right out of college was not dissimilar to the way this band works in terms of you never really know what’s going to happen. The music wasn’t the same but it was one of those where I just got thrown into the gig and the guy that led the gig never told us what was goin’, so you gotta learn pretty fast how to latch on to whatever was happening. You gotta train your ear really quickly.
Think Country (Patti): How did you get introduced to these guys?
Grant Garland: Tyrus. Tyrus gets everybody everything.
Think Country (Patti): Tyrus is like a headhunter.
(Someone, and I couldn’t make out who it was on the recording, then said, “Tyrus is the nucleus of this family.”)
Think Country (Patti): Tyrus, tell us your background, since you’re the headhunter of the band here obviously. We’ve got to know where you came from.
Tyrus Sass: Well, I am the son of a Marine and teacher, so we moved around a lot. Grew up in the church. Started playing at 14, probably like most of these guys was self-taught, didn’t do any lessons or anything. My brother is also a full-time musician, out of Atlanta. Started playing at 14, moved up here in 2000 for MTSU.
Think Country (Patti): Where did you live, well, where was the last place you lived before you moved here? I know you said you moved around a lot.
Tyrus Sass: Virginia, but I lived in seven states before I was 18, so Virginia was the last one. Well, actually it wasn’t Virginia. It was Memphis, Tennessee for my senior year of high school.
Carl Fields, Jr.: It was MILLINGTON. NOT Memphis. It was MILLINGTON. That’s where Justin Timberlake is from. Justin Timberlake says Memphis, it’s MILLINGTON.
Tyrus Sass: Justin Timberlake’s grandfather was one of my teachers. Right. Trojans baby! It was Millington. A tiny little town outside of Memphis.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Tyrus and I actually went to the same high school and my grandmother taught Justin Timberlake.
Think Country (Patti): See, that’s a cute little factoid, isn’t it?
Tyrus Sass: Yeah, Millington, Tennessee.
Carl Fields, Jr.: MILLINGTON, TENNESSEE.
Tyrus Sass: NOT MEMPHIS.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Justin Timberlake says Memphis, it’s not Memphis. It’s Millington. MCHS Trojans!
Think Country (Patti): Oh, don’t worry. We’re gonna tag the (insert expletive) out of MILLINGTON, TENNESSEE. It’s gonna be on the map now and we’ll make sure everyone KNOWS exactly where you guys AND Justin Timberlake are from.
Tyrus Sass and Carl Fields, Jr.: Yeah!!!!
Tyrus Sass: Justin Timberlake’s grandfather used to say, “Yeah, my grandson, he’s a singer with this group. The kids seem to like them. ‘NSYNC’ or something like that?”
Think Country (Patti): Never heard of them before. I’ll have to look them up. (Laughter)
Tyrus Sass: Yeah, he’s blonde. I’ve heard he’s pretty good, but then I went to college for a Recording Industry Major and actually had no aspirations of being a full-time musician. I really didn’t think I was good enough to do it because in my family, although my Dad used to play with a lot of people before he went to the military, there was no one tangibly that I could look at, that I could point to, who I knew had done it professionally. So, it wasn’t something that was in the realm of possibilities for me. I was doing internships as an engineer before I graduated. Then I graduated in May of 2004 and I got a call for my first gig with a Christian artist the same week. So, my first job out of college, I graduated May 15, 2004 and May 17, 2004 I was on my way to Grand Rapids with the Christian artist. I went from playing on campus to doing arenas within seven days. It was only supposed to be three weeks and it ended up being four years, so, it took someone trusting me enough to do it professionally for me to realize I could do it professionally. At that point everything changed for me. Then I had the confidence. I knew I could play, I didn’t know I could do it to that level, and it happened so quick that I didn’t have a choice and I refused to drown. You either swim or sink, and I’m never going to sink. It’s just not going to happen. So, showing myself that I can learn 14 songs in two days and memorize them and not read music, it was a proving ground to myself. I was like, “Okay, I can do this.”
Think Country (Patti): Then, here we are. Well, no, there had to be something in between.
Tyrus Sass: Well, yeah because there was that, then I moved to Atlanta for a little while, came back and I did a cruise ship gig, a cruise ship contract believe it or not. I did a cruise ship contract on the Norwegian Breakaway.
Think Country (Patti): Annette’s a new fan of cruise ships.
Think Country (Annette): I couldn’t afford Norwegian.
Tyrus Sass: It is expensive (laughs). I did two-consecutive four-month contracts and when I came back from the last one that’s when a good friend, that’s when Melinda (Doolittle) called. She was like, “Hey, I wanna switch over my band…”
(I had to interject something here. I couldn’t help it.)
Think Country (Patti): I just have to tell you this. I think I told Carl this before but, my Mom was like the biggest Melinda Doolittle fan in the universe. When she was on “American Idol”, my Mom thought she should have won the season and she was so disappointed when she didn’t.
Carl Fields, Jr.: A lot of people thought that way.
Think Country (Patti): When my Mom reads this, she’s gonna be like, “Can I meet these guys?” So, if my Mom starts stalking your pages she’s nothing to worry about. She’s 75 years old and harmless.
Tyrus Sass: That’s awesome.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Yeah, that’s all good!
Think Country (Annette): Sam, you started this whole group, or you and Marcus together. Tell me how it all started.
Sam McCrary: Man, I left B.B. King’s, and when I left there I basically had to start from scratch because I had been on a tourist stage for so long that everyone who knew me was a tourist, no one lived here. I basically started in little bitty bars, negotiating prices and deals with bar owners just to get us a place and build up a crowd which happened very quickly. My first real gig was on a Tuesday night at a small bar in Antioch called Ralph’s, which changed to F5 after that. It was a Tuesday night. What happens on a Tuesday night?
Think Country (Annette): Was it just you two? (Referring to Sam and Marcus)
Sam McCrary: Actually, my brother, I brought him along after we had already got started but we were still at F5 at the time.
Marcus McCrary: He had invited me to a show. I had my own band at the time which wasn’t really doing too much, and he invited me out to a show and I came to another show, and when I came to the second show he invited me up on stage to sing a song and I was like, “Okay”, and I did. Then I came to ANOTHER show and then he was lookin’ at me like, “Are you comin’ on stage or what?” (The group laughs) So, that’s how I ended up leaving my band and doing this. (More laughter)
Think Country (Annette): How long has it been going?
Sam McCrary: Basically about 10 years, and we don’t have to make calls anymore.
Think Country (Annette): Do you mainly play Nashville or do you travel around?
Sam McCrary: We play EVERYWHERE. At this time next month we’ll be in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri playing, what’s the place called?
Marcus McCrary: Some private backyard.
Sam McCrary: No, we’re playing a bar the first night. I can’t think of the name of it right now, but it’s beautiful out there. They treat us like royalty. Backwater Jack’s, that’s it! It’s beautiful. You would think it’s like a resort somewhere out in the Caribbean or something. It’s huge. They have swim-up bars and stuff.
Think Country (Patti): So, if we want them to play at the “Ritz McClintic” in Hendersonville or something, we can’t afford these guys. (Me, just joking around, which generated a good round of laughter, but I would LOVE to have The Mix play our backyard someday. True story. I would be the hit of my neighborhood, just sayin’…)
Think Country (Annette): There’s a direct flight to London now, you can all come over and play.
Sam McCrary: Sounds good. I’ll put that down on the calendar right now.
Think Country (Annette): I’ve never actually seen you guys live, so I’m going to turn up at the first gig, what, in just a couple of words, am I going to experience?
Marcus McCrary: Explosion.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Energetic.
Marcus McCrary: Surprise!
Tyrus Sass: Yeah, energy. To be fair, out of the bands that play covers in Nashville, we don’t do any songs that are any different than what anybody else is doing with the exception of the one original. Everybody’s playing “Kiss” (Prince cover), everybody’s playing Earth, Wind & Fire, everybody’s playing Michael Jackson, everybody’s playing Bruno (Mars), everybody’s playing Justin Timberlake, with the cover bands that aren’t playing country music. It’s the same songs. The difference to me, and a lot of these people I know personally, a lot of us know personally, I think the difference is the experience. I don’t even enjoy doing a lot of covers. There are very few people in town that I will take the time to do these 9 to 1’s, that’s a long time, you know. So, if I’m doing it, it’s got to be fun and this is one, as far as that’s concerned, this is the priority in this city for me. Then there’s like one other. Grant (Garland) who is also an artist in his own right, does weddings and he’s an artist too, so he does his own original stuff, I’ll do it with him and maybe one or two others, but it’s the energy. It especially matters if you like the people you’re playing with, which is why I think we get along, because truth be told, there are so many times when we play where we could be making a whole lot more money elsewhere. When you were asking earlier about when we have substitute musicians how it goes, how that usually goes is that Sam will text me or call me and say, “We need this and this. Who should we get?” I’m not just thinking about who should play the gig. I’m thinking about who’s going to get up there and ADD to what we’re doing, because it’s a SHOW, it’s not radio. This is a visual. When we’re up there and we’re doing our dance moves and you’re doing something completely different (looking at Marcus, which generates a lot of laughs, including from myself, as I’ve seen their show enough times to understand and trust me, Marcus is a SHOW WITHIN A SHOW, he’s awesome), BUT, he’s so energetic, they don’t care. We’re playing, but if you’re standing there just kinda like, when we get to the bridge of “Sex Machine” and we’re all doing the side to side thing and you see everybody doing it, you want people that are like Snoop, Loren Clark, drop that name, bass player subbing for Carl. I remember the first time he played with us was at Acme (Feed and Seed), which for us is like our biggest show downtown.
Think Country (Patti): They pack ‘em in at Acme.
Tyrus Sass: That’s like, we can’t just get somebody who can do “okay” for Acme. We need somebody who can jump in and hit the ground running, which is why it’s important to have a great ear. Reading music is not going to help you with this show. You gotta be quick and you gotta have feel. Snoop, I remember when we got to that part and I turned around and he was doin’ all the moves and he didn’t know anybody in the band except Kenney, you know, but he jumped in.
Sam McCrary: So, he was in.
Think Country (Patti): Except Kenney! Wait a minute, Annette is standing in for Kenney, remember? Any comment Kenney?
Think Country (Annette speaking as Kenney P.): I can do the moves.
Tyrus Sass: The energy is the biggest thing and when we’re doing it as a unit it’s translatable, you can definitely tell. They find you after the show.
Sam McCrary: I love the way you guys interact. You guys always look like you’re having fun, but that’s because we are. Me, I tell people all the time, if I call an individual and I say, “Hey, do you wanna play this weekend? We have a spot this weekend, do you want to play? If the first thing they say is, ‘How much is it paying?’”, I usually don’t call them back. You know, because basically, we get paid. One thing I always make sure of, even if I don’t make what I think I’m supposed to make, my musicians are going to make what they’re supposed to make. I’m going to take care of them. My priority is not to have someone on stage that’s just watching the clock the whole night. I need someone that’s gonna interact and do what we do on stage, otherwise we won’t be able to do what we do.
Think Country (Annette): So, how often do you play at Acme?
Sam McCrary: At least three times a month now. We started out just twice a month. We were doing every Saturday, now they’ve got us back to back a couple of weeks and then they try to spread it out a little bit.
Think Country (Patti): So, chances are for our readers who are just “country’d out” (yes, I made up that phrase) and they want to come and see you, there’s a good chance they could possibly catch you guys at Acme at any given time they might be in Nashville?
Sam McCrary: Yeah, we’re pretty much three weekends at Acme.
Marcus McCrary: We usually do a late show at Acme too.
Think Country (Patti): Which is good because you can do country, country, country all day long and then you’re like, “you know what, I gotta change it up” and there you are.
Marcus McCrary: Right.
Think Country (Annette): Do people ever request songs and ask you to play something like “Wagon Wheel”? In Nashville everybody does that. Do people ever try?
Sam McCrary: Well, occasionally. Most people, when they come, they’ll look at us and walk up and they’ll ask, “Um, what kind of music do you guys play?” Then I look and I say, “Do you like to dance?” They’re like, “Yeah.” Then I say, “We got you covered.” I did have a table once that asked, “Are you guys gonna play some 90’s country?” I said, “No, probably not.” They got up and left, but you’re in downtown Nashville, a lot of people come to see country music, the thing is, now in downtown Nashville it wasn’t this way five years ago, but now in downtown Nashville, if you start at 5th Avenue and walk all the way down to 1st Avenue, there are 20 bars before you get to Acme which is on 1st, with country music artists in the window, and they’re all playing everything you want to hear. Do you want one more bar in Nashville playing exactly what you’ve been listening to in every place you’ve been going to all night?
Think Country (Annette): It’s MUSIC City, it’s not Country Music City.
Sam McCrary: That’s right.
Think Country (Annette): I’m a big country music fan, this is Think Country, and this is what I do, but I love live music, and a lot of people that come to Nashville they come because they hear about country music. I come because there’s so much more to Nashville. The country music is fantastic, but there’s so much more.
Think Country (Patti): That’s what we have now on our website. We have a separate section called “Think Nashville” where we direct people to other things in Nashville, like restaurants or other types of music. Which is something I want to ask you guys really quick. Just shoot us your favorite place to eat in Nashville.
Sam McCrary: I’m gonna say The Southern.
Tyrus Sass: The Southern.
Grant Garland: The Chef and I
Think Country (Patti): So, two votes for The Southern already.
Think Country (Annette): I’ve not been there, I think we need to put that on our list!
Think Country (Patti): I haven’t been there either. It definitely needs to go on the list.
Carl Fields, Jr.: My favorite brunch spot is The Southern. I agree with that. My favorite hot chicken spot is Prince’s. My favorite Thai restaurant is Bangkokville in Antioch and if I’m downtown and I just need something to eat, I check out The Distillery because I really love that baked mac and cheese with the hot chicken on it.
Marcus McCrary: The sushi at Acme. Second floor at Acme has a sushi bar, it’s the best.
Sam McCrary: Not only that, but you would not believe the bourbon selection upstairs at Acme.
Think Country (Patti): You don’t need a special VIP pass to get upstairs at Acme, do you?
Sam McCrary: No. They have bourbon on the shelf at Acme that you can’t buy in the liquor store.
Think Country (Patti): Oh look, Annette’s thinking, “I’m supposed to come home with whiskey…”
Think Country (Annette): I think I need to go get some mac and cheese with hot chicken and then some whiskey…
Carl Fields, Jr.: Yes!
Think Country (Patti): (Directing this question to Sam and Marcus McCrary): Now, you two guys are both Nashville natives, right? You’ve seen all of the changes happening to Nashville. I read a comment the other day, it was after the shooting at Opry Mills Mall. The comment was in a news station’s Facebook Live feed and it said that people from the north are moving to Nashville and turning it into the devil’s playground, and I thought, “Oh gosh, is that what I’m doing? I hope not”, but what do you think about a lot of the changes going on since you’ve lived here all your life?
Sam McCrary: When I walk around downtown Nashville, I look around and I think this isn’t the same city that I remember, but I also step back and I look at it like, if I didn’t live here, this would be a place I would want to come.
Think Country (Patti): Thank you for saying that!
Sam McCrary: I go to places and I find places that are just like Nashville and I take it for granted because I live here and I’ve watched it grow little by little by little to what it is now, so it doesn’t have the same effect as coming from somewhere and going, “Wow, look at that.”
Think Country (Annette): I’ve been coming to Nashville for 25 years and I think about how different Nashville was then to now. Now, I’m happy for my daughter to come and you feel safe walking around, 25 years ago I didn’t feel safe walking downtown. I think it’s changed.
Sam McCrary: It’s changed dramatically.
Think Country (Annette): Not all for the good, but mostly.
Sam McCrary: And as for the devil’s playground, the devil will play anywhere that you let him.
Think Country (Patti): Thank you, that’s just it, and I’m pretty nice. I promise you, if I’m gonna have a playground, it’s gonna be a good one. You can let your kids play on it and all that. (Laughter)
Think Country (Patti): Alright, we’re right at the end, so, when you Think Country, what do you think?
Sam McCrary: Well, I think country has changed. When you look at Taylor Swift, is Taylor Swift still country, or what exactly is Taylor now?
Think Country (Annette): She’s very clever.
Sam McCrary: The first time I saw her she was on the music awards singing to Tim McGraw and I was like, oh, that was interesting, and now look at her. So, to what do I think about country, I have to say, what do you consider country? There are a bunch of artists I like that I don’t absolutely know that I would consider them country. Maren Morris, I listen to her music and it’s like a gangster rap beat to a country song. That’s basically what it is.
Think Country (Annette): I think with more and more young people coming through with so many musical influences, you’re going to get everything in it.
Sam McCrary: So, is that country or is that pop? Like, where are we at?
Think Country (Annette): Florida Georgia Line does it…
Sam McCrary: I think the door is wide open. They’re (Florida Georgia Line), to me, like The Mix, they’ve taken country and done a little funk fusion to it.
Think Country (Patti): They are like The Mix. A lot of artists are doing a mash-up of things and that’s just the way things are going. Well, because you guys aren’t country, I did a little spin on that traditional question and since we’ve added the newer section, “Think Nashville” to the website, I’ll ask you this, when you Think Nashville, what do you think?
Think Country (Annette): If somebody were to say to you, “Why should I come to Nashville?” “What makes you think about Nashville?”
Sam McCrary: I think we’re Nashvegas now. I mean, I think we have a little bit of everything.
Think Country (Annette): One thing I think of is the restaurants. It’s really getting renowned for the food now, isn’t it? Again, it’s not just music.
Sam McCrary: That’s funny because people used to come to Nashville and ask, you know, “What should I eat when I’m here?” At first people would try to get it to be like barbeque and we’re not really known for barbeque. We have barbeque places but nobody comes here for “Nashville barbeque”. Now there’s Nashville hot chicken, which is Prince’s, which is a good thing, but even so, I think if you come to Nashville you come for a conglomerate of things now. You’re coming for the atmosphere downtown. Our downtown atmosphere, you’re walking down the street, not even on the weekends, you can go just about any night of the week and you can barely walk down the street there’s so many people. We’ve got sports. We’ve got hockey, we’ve got football.
Think Country (Annette): You’ve got soccer.
Sam McCrary: We’ve got soccer now.
Tyrus Sass: I was thinking about this the other day. We have a lot of venues. I remember one time last year, Adele was at Bridgestone, John Legend was at Ascend, this is the same night, or maybe it was Janet Jackson, somebody was at The Ryman, there’s so many venues.
Think Country (Patti): That’s just the big venues.
Tyrus Sass: Right, that’s just the big venues. That’s what I’m saying. When I lived in Atlanta, the thing I did like about Atlanta was you could hear Gladys Knight on a random Thursday and the next week Michael McDonald would be there on a Tuesday night. You could look in the paper and any week you could go see a great artist, and in Nashville it’s starting to be like that. There’s always somebody at The Symphony and they’re really good artists, so it’s really turning into something, and there are very few artists I’ll pay good money to see.
Think Country (Patti): It’s getting really expensive to go to shows now.
Think Country (Annette): Especially when you add in the flight.
(Everyone laughed at that)
Grant Garland: It’s still Music City. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Most people, I think, would agree it’s maybe one of the three biggest music markets in the country. The thing that’s different about Los Angeles and New York compared to Nashville is that it’s the music that drives Nashville.
Carl Fields, Jr.: When I think Nashville now, I think it’s something that’s actually beautiful and forward-thinking, like modern. A city that attracts a lot of young people who are into modern culture and who want to experience different cultures, not just country now, like what you said earlier, it’s not just Country Music City, it’s Music City. I think Nashville now is starting to display that diversity. Like having Sam and The Mix at Acme and having people come and hear us, I’ve personally been told that we’re like a breath of fresh air, or they’re glad that they heard us because it changed their perception of Nashville because they thought Nashville was all country, but they now saw the city has so much more to offer. I think that’s what is really starting to develop here is modern culture. This is forward-thinking, it’s progressive, it’s everything. It’s a melting pot of cultures just waiting for each one to have its lane equally being shown. I wish more of the venues would experiment with some more of these pop or funk bands.
Think Country (Annette): FGL House does, right?
Carl Fields, Jr.: Yes, FGL House does.
Think Country (Patti): Maybe we’ll be the ones to drive that and get more venues to get on board with this interview.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Absolutely.
Sam McCrary: Some of these places, where everyone is so focused on honky tonks, every now and then, it’s alright to throw a little funky tonk in there, you know?
Think Country (Annette): On the rooftop of FGL House on a Friday or Saturday night, there’s no country music being played up there.
Think Country (Patti): No, they’re playing pop and hip hop, that sort of thing.
Carl Fields, Jr.: Yeah, that’s me. I play in that band every Friday night 6:30 to 9:30. We do like pop and we throw in some alternative rock and stuff, but the vibe and whole energy is like party music. We’ve got young people coming in, but that’s like the whole energy, it’s a modern culture.
Think Country (Patti): I just need to throw in, like, Printer’s Alley. Bourbon Street (Blues Bar). I love that place so much. It’s a different thing. People sometimes overlook it because they’re so focused on country and while you’re here, take a day to see something else. Go see some blues, go to a rock club…
Think Country (Annette): Enjoy the whole of Nashville.
Think Country (Patti): Right. Go experience all the music, because we have the best of the best right here.
Sam McCrary: I don’t think people realize how many of the Nashville music community is out there playing for us, how varied the artists are. Country bands that are out there, they use the exact same musicians that play in my band. Tyrus, for example, plays for Jonny Lang. I have so many different musicians here and actually, the guy that Tyrus is playing for, Mike, he’s with Rascal Flatts, and you know, there’s so much of the Nashville music community that’s out there playing with all these bands, not just the country music, people are coming here to find us.
Carl Fields, Jr.: The music community in Nashville is open, it’s very welcoming. I am a testament to that. I’m new here. I didn’t grow up here. Tyrus and other cats have been gigging and working in this city 10 plus years, and for newcomers who want to get a start, people are willing to help and get you a gig and introduce you to people. This is a very big music circle and as long as you’re willing to put yourself out there and meet people and be prepared to work hard, you will get around and your character will speak for itself.
Sam McCrary: It works both ways. Once you’re in that circle if you’re not trustworthy or professional-minded, it’s going to get out quickly. If you do the things you’re supposed to do within the circle, you’re gonna grow, but if you’re one of those guys that’s just worried about getting paid, you’re probably not gonna get very far. The bad word spreads just as fast as the good.
Think Country (Annette): That’s probably a good place to wrap things up. It’s been so great talking with all of you. Thank you so much.
Think Country (Patti): It’s been a lot of fun guys. Thanks so much. We hope everyone gets out to see one of your shows.
(Pretty much in unison all of The Mix: We do too!)
Sam McCrary and The Mix can be found: