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Nashville Orientation

Mike Sudhalter  |  June 6, 2007

Hello, I'm coming to you this morning from the Vanderbilt University campus in Nashville, and the incoming VU freshman are having their student orientation.

Meanwhile, I'm getting a honky-tonk orientation, one that started last night at the Wildhorse Saloon for the Chely Wright Reading, Writing, and Rhythm Foundation benefit.

It was an excellent show with several surprise guests, and I got a chance to meet several wonderful people involved with the event.

When I walked in the door, Kellie Pickler was in the middle of an impressive cover of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5". Then, she delved into her own tunes, including "I Wonder" and "Red High Heels".

After singing "Red High Heels", she auctioned off a pair for $1,000. Pickler has excellent stage presence, and it should be noted that she's even prettier in person than on the music videos.

The next star to perform was Danielle Peck and unfortunately, she only sang two songs. Emerson Drive celebrated their first No. 1 in their 12-year existence by performing the touching, "Moments".

I wasn't as impressed with Mindy Smith, who did a cover of Parton's "Jolene" that I thought was way too slow. But the crowd liked it and all three floors of the Wildhorse were jam-packed.

It's funny in Nashville that you always see people that look like the stars. One guy working the VIP gate at the Wildhorse looked like the late great Buck Owens. And I also saw look-a-likes for Peck, Doug Stone and Chris Cagle.

Tanya Tucker was a surprise guest at the show, and it was great seeing her for the first time, albeit in a limited set. She performed all her classics like "It's A Little Too Late" and "Trouble".

Taylor Swift really impressed me with her acoustic set. She sounds better on stage than on the record, and can work the crowd well for a new artist.

Keith Anderson was great too. He can really rock, keeping it country at the same time. I got a chance to chat with him about his native Miami, Okla. because I used live nearby it in Carthage, Mo.

I feel terrible saying that I missed the headliner, Ms. Wright. But I promise you, Chely, I had a good excuse. I was chatting with one of the recipients of her program, Rhonda Ellis, a music teacher in Searcy, Ark. who started a music education curriculum with emphasis on violins. The program was greatly enhanced by Wright's foundation. I'll share Ellis' remarkable story of the "Littler Fiddlers" with y'all later in the week.

After the Wright show, I checked out the row of honky-tonks and you can't go wrong with any of them.

Shelly Bush was performing at Robert's Western World, and she fronted an all-female band. They got play stone-country like "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels" and make it seem fresh. They could also do a rockin' country number. I hollered out "Texas (When I Die)", and they played it right away. They also did a funny version of "Luckenbach Texas" (With Shelly and Paula and the Girls).

After checking out the legendary Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, I went to Nashville Crossroads at 1:30 a.m. There was a traditional-sounding band playing to a crowd of less than 20 people. Then 10 minutes later, Mark Collie walked on to the stage and sang his hit, "Even the Man in the Moon is Crying". I know Collie hasn't had a hit in a while, but I didn't see that coming at all. Although I only heard one song, he's a great entertainer. I wish I could have heard more, but I don't think I've ever heard an established artist live at 1:40 a.m., other than on a live album.

Well, I'm off to a brunch at the Hard Rock Cafe for new artist Rissi Palmer then it's off to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Looking forward to seeing both the past and future of country music today.

:: Posted at 9:20 AM by Mike Sudhalter ::
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