On Friday night (Sept. 14), New York City’s Opry City Stage held their first true songwriting round, as part of The Bluebird Cafe Songwriter Series at The Studio. Approximately 100 people were able to experience the iconic Nashville-originated “in the round” phenomenon, right in the heart of Times Square.
Songwriters, Tony Arata, J. Fred Knobloch, Don Schlitz, and gifted harmonica player Jelly Roll Johnson mesmerized the audience with their talents for a two-hour musical awakening. In true “in the round” fashion, each hitmaker took turns going around in a circle, sharing personal anecdotes, stories behind their penned lyrics, engaging with the audience, and of course, singing songs that they have written for famed country music artists.
For the first round, Arata started the night off singing “Here I Am,’ written for Patty Loveless, sharing the importance of the lyrics, focused on how addiction effects relationships. He would later sing some of the crowd’s favorites of the night, including Garth’s Brook’s number one single, “The Dance.”
“I’ll always remember writing this, and right after I did, I played this at The Bluebird Cafe [in Nashville]. Garth [Brooks] and I had just befriended each other, and he said if he ever got a record deal, he was gunna do it. And I was so thrilled, but at the time Garth was doing construction and selling boots, and I was loading trucks at UPS. So obviously we were right on the cusp of greatness.”
On the other hand, Schlitz, who shared that it was his first time taking the trip to play here, stated “I’ll play you the first song I’ve ever had recorded. Up to that point, they just weren’t that good. A lot of songs about trucks. I was so far ahead of my time.”
Fans got a kick out of the writer’s humor and showcased their approval, singing along, as he began to sing “The Gambler,” written for Kenny Rogers. Schlitz played another Roger’s classic later on in the night, “The Greatest,” which the audience also seemed to enjoy.
Next, Knobloch entertained the room with his pop record written for none other than Faith Hill entitled “If My Heart Had Wings.” One of the more poignant moments of the night was the songwriter singing and sharing the background of a song, written for and with Don Williams that was never recorded. Knobloch explained “He became ill and never wound up going to the studio at all. This is the one that almost was,” before singing the lyrics “Everybody needs a rock that they can lean on / you’re mine / you’re mine.” The room was completely still and quit, during this beautiful tribute.
All along, Johnson showcased his skills, playing harmonica, while the writers sang and played acoustic guitar. The men of the night were inspiring to the listeners, as they truly played a full range of country songs, from songs that everyone loves to songs that were never recorded. Overall, the authentic Nashville-like “in the round” experiences a success, even in “the city that never sleeps.”
Head to www.oprycitystage.com for information and tickets for the next songwriting series slated for Friday, September 28th.
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