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REVIEW: CMA Songwriters Series 2017, Indigo At The O2



This year was the very first time I was able to go to the annual CMA Songwriters Series at the Indigo after years of pure jealousy of the attendees! What a line-up we had in store this year – former Sugarland hit maker Kristian Bush, rising star Drake White, Grammy winner Maren Morris, song writing powerhouse Liz Rose and country legend Mac McAnally. Seeing such an amazing array of talent in an intimate venue like the Indigo is an absolute privilege, and the event gives the crowd a deep insight into the stories behind the songs, with great focus on the lyrics, song writing process and influences.

They each took turns to perform a song, with 5 rounds in total. Kristian kicked off the night with a solo rendition of ‘Stuck Like Glue’, brightening up the room with his unrivalled charisma and positivity. I’d be lying if I said I went there not expecting Jennifer to appear (and I think everyone else was too), but it wasn’t to be. Fair play to Kristian, he’s confident enough going it alone and he’s proving many people wrong with his solo ventures. A personal highlight was my favourite from his album, ‘Flip Flops’, a hilarious tale of a night out that went too far. “I think I might have kissed a palm tree and asked it to be mine” – if there’s a line to sum up Kristian’s sense of humour, that’s all you need. He had the audience singing along with another Sugarland classic ‘Baby Girl’, as well as his brilliantly quirky single ‘Trailer Hitch’ and ‘Love Or Money’ which launched his career. He recalled debuting it at the very first C2C and thanked the audience for effectively launching his solo career.

Next to Kristian was new rising star Drake White, who became the real breakthrough act across the C2C weekend. His album ‘Spark’ has really put him on the map and he’s being tipped by many as the next ‘big thing’. Watch this space. He probably got the biggest reaction from the audience; no mean feat when you’re on the stage with such an immense group. He brought sheer power and energy to the stage with his performances of ‘I Need Real’, ‘Story’, ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Back To Free’ and his new single ‘Makin’ Me Look Good Again’ which absolutely raised the roof and had people on their feet. Performance of the night. Drake has got it all; a cool, sleek image, incredible stage presence and a raspy, powerful voice that totally dominates a room and draws you in. Give him a few more years and I think he’ll be huge. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

The next artist needed no introduction. A fan favourite at last year’s C2C, Maren Morris returned as a Grammy winner, with 2 smash hits ‘My Church’ and ‘80s Mercedes’ under her belt. Maren is a trail-blazer for females on music row and her rise has been astonishing. You won’t find many better song writers around than Maren Morris and it was wonderful to hear her songs stripped-back and to hear the influences behind them. She performed the 2 aforementioned tracks, the former of course raised the roof, as well as her new single ‘I Could Use A Love Song’ (a personal favourite from her album), ‘Rich’ and ‘Bummin’ Cigarettes’ which is a bonus track on the deluxe edition of her album. Maren is a really interesting character; for such a small individual she’s got a very astute, sharp persona with a very dry sense of humour. Her distinctive style of song writing is a product of that and it’s no surprise she’s broken through so quickly. A very empowering artist and very inspiring to watch for up and coming song writers.

Liz Rose, although she hasn’t had a big solo career as an artist herself, fitted into the line-up like a glove, and it was clear to see how much respect each of them had for her song writing abilities. Liz has written/co-written some HUGE hits, incluiding the likes of ‘Girl Crush’, ‘White Horse’ and ‘You Belong With Me’. She came across as a very humble, rather shy person who didn’t feel worthy of being on the stage, and that made the audience connect with her even more. I think she’d openly admit she hasn’t got the greatest vocal, but to gain an insight into the writing process with some of the biggest acts in the world was incredibly special and it was a privilege to be in her presence. ‘Girl Crush’ was one of the moments of the night – she allowed the audience to sing the final chorus and she broke down in tears. One of those ‘I was there’ moments that we’ll remember for many years.

Mac McAnally brought a wealth of experience, stunning guitar skills and a legendary song writing catalogue to the event, wowing the audience from the off. I interviewed Drake White and Kristian Bush, both of whom couldn’t believe they were sharing the stage with him, and it wasn’t difficult to see why. He performed 2 Kenny Chesney songs that he had co-written – ‘Down The Road’ and ‘Back Where I Come From’ that provoked an instant warm reaction from the crowd. The highlight of his contributions for me was his unbelievable instrumental at the very end – it was truly mesmerising to watch and he gave everybody in the Indigo a lesson in guitar shredding. Unreal. Another very humble, funny character who brought so much value and talent to the event. “I would pay to see this” he said in admiration for his fellow hit-makers.

After my first experience at the CMA Songwriters Series, I can safely say I’ll be attending many more in the future. What a perfect way to kick off the weekend! We had the opportunity to witness 5 of Nashville’s best song writing talents showcasing their craft and showing us what it takes to ‘make it’ in such a competitive environment. A special mention must also be given to Ben and Crissie of The Shires who were awarded their very first CMA Award at the show; UK country fans should be incredibly proud of them and they’re opening doors and inspiring so many people.

If you haven’t been, make sure you fit it into your schedule next year. I can’t speak highly enough of it. A real highlight of the weekend and a night that will live long in the memory.

Dan Wharton

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