CMA SONGWRITERS SERIES BLOWS INTO THE WINDY CITY
On Wednesday night, July 30, five songwriters brought their guitars to Joe’s Bar in Chicago to play their old songs, new songs and songs that are so recent they haven’t even been titled yet.
Such is the beauty of the CMA Songwriters Series, launched in 2005 to introduce fans to the faces behind the hits, the backstories of their favorite songs and ultimately to give the creative wizards of Music Row their just recognition.
Host Bob DiPiero and fellow hit songwriter Monty Powell congregated on the candlelit stage with Charlie Worsham and the duo Striking Matches for a two-hour set that had fans singing along, yee-hawing and standing in sheer disbelief at the talent displayed before them.
Songwriters Hall of Fame member DiPiero doubled as comedian (“I have T-shirts that are older than Charlie Worsham”) and leadoff performer with Tim McGraw’s No. 1 hit from 2009, “Southern Voice,” which DiPiero referred to as his “love song to the South.” He also played a number of other songs he’d written, including Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” Brooks & Dunn’s “You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl” and “Still on the Line,” which will come out on McGraw’s next album, Sundown Heaven Town, on Sept. 19.
At one point, DiPiero shared some thoughts on George Strait’s retirement. “I think he is just on vacation,” he ventured before playing Strait’s “Blue Clear Sky.” “When you are that good, you don’t quite. He is the Frank Sinatra of Country Music.”
With a cheering section encouraging him throughout the night, Worsham performed some of his own self-penned songs, most of which had interesting backstories. “I have only taken an Adderall three times in my life. The last time I did, I left my girlfriend at 10 PM and had completed the demo of this song by 10 AM,” he said before playing “Young to See.” The Joe’s Bar favorite also played “Mississippi in July,” “Trouble Is” and “Rubberband,” which he introduced as “the one that sold well under one million copies.”
“When you have been doing the same 10 songs for a few years now, you can sure feel vulnerable up here playing something new,” he remarked before introducing a yet-to-be-titled song that he has only performed live a handful of times. “I have just started writing for the first time in a couple of years, and I have really been firing it up in the last couple of months. To be honest, I’m just really bad at finishing songs.”
“We have been following Charlie (Worsham) around since his KingBilly days,” remarked Robin Aimone, 30, an avid Worsham fan in attendance from Chicago. “I loved hearing ‘Rubberband’ and ‘Trouble Is,’ and I really liked that song he didn’t know the title of yet,” she added, with a laugh. “It was just really cool to see them all combine together during these songs.”
A last-minute but welcome addition to the lineup was Monty Powell. Playing a set of his own tunes that included Keith Urban’s “Days Go By” and “Who Wouldn’t Want to Be Me” and a personal “Key of G Medley” (“The key of G has been very good to me,” he confided), he wowed the crowd with a brand new song that Lady Antebellum will perform for the soundtrack of the upcoming Nicholas Sparks film “The Best of Me,” with his wife Anna Wilson taking the part of Hillary Scott. “No one has heard this song except Lady Antebellum and the director of the new movie,” Powell told the crowd.
Perhaps the most raved-about performers of the night were Striking Matches, who shocked and awed with perfect harmonies and complete domination of the guitars they held in their hands. Gasps of “Oh, my God!” whispered throughout the audience during many of the duo’s six-string riffs. Seeming to prefer the chance to stand during each of their songs, Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman performed material that just might find its way on their upcoming album, including “Miss Me More,” “When It’s Raining,” “When the Right One Comes Along” and the song that had Joe’s Bar shaking at its rafters, “Make a Liar Out of Me.”
“Striking Matches were awesome,” said Bill Westridge, 58, of North Aurora, Illinois. “After hearing them tonight, I can’t wait for their album to come out. It’s still crazy to see how much people out here are loving Country Music on a Wednesday night, right here in the middle of downtown Chicago.”
“Real musicians playing real songs … what a concept!” concluded DiPiero with his distinctive grin at the end of the night. “What an amazing, amazing concept.”
For more on the CMA Songwriters Series, visit CMAworld.com.
PHOTOS: Matt Marton / CMA