It’s a childhood dream for many people and some never outgrow the fantasy: Standing in the spotlight and holding a microphone while belting out a song on stage for thousands of adoring fans and bringing down the house with a stellar performance.
But how many people dream of being the songwriter behind the scenes of those popular hits? Where do the ideas come from and how are they translated into a tune?
Four songwriters from Nashville brought their songs and stories to the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in June for a “Nashville in the Round Singer-Songwriter” concert, which was organized by Madison’s own Eric Dodd. He will return in September, January, and March and bring other songwriters for the Cultural Center’s Music City Comes to Madison concert series.
“It’s a win-win to bring great artists to Madison and introduce them and their music to my community while showing off the places of my roots,” Eric told Lakelife the week before the concert.
Eric grew up in Madison, graduated from Morgan County High School, then took the scenic route to the University of Georgia where he obtained a music business degree. In 2014, he moved to Nashville to fully immerse himself in the music business. “I moved to Nashville to write songs and to hear the songs from the people who wrote them; and I think it’s the coolest thing for the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center to recognize the importance of that and for them to ask me to bring the songwriters here,” he said.
At the June 11th series opener, Eric performed the first song, “Don’t Give Up on Georgia,” a
song that, ironically, he wrote before he moved to Tennessee. He had the audience members echo back the lyrics “Don’t give up on me, don’t give up on me, don’t give up on me,” and called them “The Madison Choir.” After a robust round of applause, he shouted “We’re in the right place, y’all!”, to which one of the other songwriters quipped, “I dare you to say that when we get back to Nashville.”
The sarcasm, jokes, and subsequent laughter were like riffs flowing freely between each performance throughout the evening. Perched on bar stools in a straight line across the stage, each songwriter described the story behind their ballad’s beginning and then sang it solo, accompanied only by their acoustic guitar in true Bluebird Café fashion.
Name-dropping was plentiful in the stories thanks to the songwriters’ impressive resumes. Dodd has shared the stage with Sam Hunt, Old Dominion, Jake Owen, Corey Smith, Cole Swindell, Rodney Atkins and Sister Hazel, and has written songs for Colt Ford, Kalie Shorr, Allie Colleen, Spencer Crandall, Chanice Neal and many others. The other singer-songwriters in the June 11th “In the Round” included Grammy-Award winning musician and No. 1 hit songwriter John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band; No. 1 hit songwriter Marla Cannon-Goodman, who has written multiple hit songs for many artists from George Strait to Eric Church and Blake Shelton; and 25-year country music journeyman Brice Long, who has had his songs recorded by superstars such as Garth Brooks, George Strait, Chris Stapleton and Hank Williams Jr.
“I’m working with the best songwriters in the world,” Eric said in his chat with Lakelife. “I have about a dozen cowriters that I’ve gotten in the groove with.” They meet regularly in small groups for songwriting sessions, and the first thirty to forty-five minutes is spent having a cup of coffee and figuring out what mood everyone is in. It’s usually during that time over a cup of coffee that generates the “hook” of a song, Eric said.
“The best lines of songs come in conversations with friends, when they’re talking about what they’re going through or what they’re thinking,” he explained. “Other times, it’s a beat or groove that someone feels, so the music comes first before the lyrics. …The best situation is when nobody has an ego about their line, so we all collaborate to get the best song.”
The songwriters’ stories of what sparked the lyrics, the failures or obstacles faced, and how the songs got picked up by famous performers, all seemed to bring new life to ballads that may have become stifled by familiarity. Audience members readily sang along with the performances. Renditions of new or upcoming releases added some unexpected spice to the two-hour performance.
“I’m just more grateful than ever to be performing live music again,” Eric said of the opportunity, and added that he was excited to bring other songwriters for the three remaining concerts in the series.
Check the Cultural Center’s website, mmcc-arts.org, to learn of the lineup, dates, and ticket information as it becomes available.
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Story by Lynn Hobbs; photos by Lynn Hobbs and T. Michael Stone, as published in the July-August 2021 issue of Lakelife magazine.