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NYCS Swag Spotlight: Lori McKenna

Lori McKenna

Photo Credit: Becky Fluke

Our Swag Spotlight this week is not a rising artist but an established, veteran songwriter responsible for some of the most prolific and important songs in our generation of country music. Lori McKenna was born and raised in Massachusets and still resides there today with her husband whom she married when she was 19 years old. Growing up the youngest of six children, McKenna’s family were all musical whether they sang, played in a band or wrote songs, she was immersed in the musical culture from a very young age. She jokes as she tells us that in her house it was “Jesus and James Taylor”. Other musical influences included Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Carly Simon, and Carole King to name a few, always leaning heavily into the singer-songwriter genre.

“I have the strangest voice in my family, all of my siblings can sing really pretty, what happened to me?” she laughs. “I learned over the years that even though it’s different, least I have a distinctive voice.” When she was 13 her older brother who loved to write songs taught her that once she learned three chords, she could write music and so she did. “I always wrote songs as a means of therapy, some people have a journal, instead I would write a song.”

She married Gene, whom she met in the third grade and they had three children very quickly, her eldest is now 20. She explains that it wasn’t until her third child was born that she ever even thought about letting the world hear her music. She went to open mic nights and made a record, Bittertown, which is celebrating it’s 15th anniversary this year. “I just kept following it, I always followed my music, it was always luckily a step ahead of me,” she tells us. “I battled with confidence issues, I didn’t know I was worthy of doing it outside of my house, for the most part, I’ve been so lucky that it sort of pulled me. I tell my kids to stick their neck out, even if it sounds stupid, they should try it anyway.”

The turning point in her career was Bittertown when songs from that album were pitched around Nashville, and Faith Hill decided to cut four of them. Although she didn’t grow up listening to country music, she completely understood why her lyrics identified with that audience and landed her a publishing deal in Nashville. She credits Music City with giving her some of her very best friends, the people that she co-writes all of her music with.

Now a mother of five children, McKenna made the poignant decision to keep her family together and not uproot everyone to move to Nashville. “I realized a few years back, the benefit for me and not living in Nashville is, I’m not an everyday writer, I have tons of friends that write every day, my brain just doesn’t work that way,” she laughs. “The benefit for me is, I’ve never for one second had any sort of bitterness towards the town of Nashville or the music that is created there. Every time I show up, I get off the plane and I am so excited to be there and to get in a writing room and it’s really like I get to have the best of both worlds”.

In the fifteen years since her life changed forever, McKenna has won two Grammy awards and has made history. In 2016, she became the first woman ever to win the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year two years in a row. Those two songs were “Girl Crush” which was written with Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose and recorded by Little Big Town and “Humble and Kind” which McKenna wrote alone in her pajamas in her home in Massachusets which was later recorded by Tim McGraw. The former was written one morning in Nashville, watch the songwriters tell the story below in Opry’s series “The Write Stuff”.

 

McKenna says later that day they had a co-write with Kimberly and Karen from Little Big Town and when they told them about their “weird” new song, they absolutely loved it. “The five of us were just sitting there and I looked around at the room and I was teasing and I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m the only one here without a Grammy’ and Karen said, ‘Lori McKenna, we’re going to get you a Grammy’. Sure enough, at the 2016 Grammy awards, the song won for Best Country Duo/Group Performance as well as Song of the Year, winning McKenna her first Grammy award. “To have that experience with them [Hilary and Lindsey] was such a Godsend, they had done it before, they knew the process and I was experiencing this really surreal thing with my two best friends,” she explains.

The latter, “Humble and Kind” had quite a different start. McKenna tells us how she dropped her kids off at school one morning, came back to an empty house and sat around in her pajamas, essentially making a list of all of the things she and her husband would want their kids to know and what they tell them over and over again as well as those smaller things that you don’t verbalize. She sang it into her iPhone and emailed it to Tim McGraw, who immediately knew he wanted to record it. “When he was telling me about all of these ideas he had for it, once he had recorded it like the music video, I couldn’t believe it,” she admits. “I was like what is he doing with this song, it’s not some big moment, it’s just a tiny little prayer for five little kids, then when I saw what he created from it, in a million ways that song would not be what it is if it wasn’t for Tim, for what he did, the vision he had for it was so much bigger than I ever would have imagined. “

The song also went on to win a Grammy for Best Country Song as well as McKenna’s second year in a row winning Song of the Year at the CMA Awards. For country fans who love McGraw’s version, be sure to listen to McKenna’s version below, which really emulates the simple little prayer and poem she initially thought of when writing it.

In celebration of Bittertown’s 15th anniversary, McKenna just wrapped up her Return to Bittertown Tour and released two of the standouts from the project, “Stealing Kisses” and “Bible Songs”. We caught her stop at Subculture late last month and we were mesmerized by the songstress and her legendary delivery of her music.

Listen to Lori McKenna’s full catalog below and keep up with her by following on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Everything You Need to Know About the Grand Ole Opry

Although Nashville is arguably the “place to be,” when it comes to country music, there is one place more synonymous to the genre than the city and that’s the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is an iconic music venue in Nashville, where people from all around the world visit to experience an unmatched night of music by a mix of country legends and contemporary country singer-songwriters.

The one of a kind live show has been going strong since 1925 when a Nashville radio station broadcaster, George D. Hay, introduced a one-hour radio “barn dance” show. Currently, the Grand Ole Opry holds the record for the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. History and nearly 100 years later, many talented artists have graced the coveted stage as both guests and inductees.

Most recently, Chris Young, Chris Janson, Dustin Lynch, Mark Wills, Kelsea Ballerini, and Luke Combs have been invited into the Grand Ole Opry by the likes of artists such as Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Trace Atkins, Little Big Town, and more. Some other members include Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins, Alan Jackson, and Trisha Yearwood. Currently, there are 68 standing members of the Opry. For a full list of all members, click here.

Photo by Chris Hollis for Grand Ole Opry

How Someone Becomes a Member of the Grand Ole Opry

Although many legendary and contemporary artists have the talent to become members, the process to be invited into the Opry is ultimately up to the show’s management; however, many factors are considered before someone is invited to join the Opry. It’s vital that an artist has both an influence on the country music genre, but also the support from the Opry itself.

The decision to invite an artist is one that is not made hastily. It involves considering the performers’ success in country music, including radio airplay, recorded music sales, touring success, industry recognition, career accomplishments, and staying power. Ultimately, an artist can be the hottest act right now but it’s most important to the Opry’s management that an artist continues to uphold the traditions and relationships that make the country music genre so special.

Performing often as a guest can also help an artist to obtain recognition and more notoriety from Opry’s management, and of course, increase their fanbase, as every generation attends the Opry performances.

Photo by Chris Hollis for Grand Ole Opry

How To Remain A Member of the Grand Ole Opry

In modern times, the first step to becoming a member is to receive a nomination by an existing member of the Opry. If an artist has received a coveted invitation to one of the most prestigious honors in country music then both the invitee and Opry’s management believe that the artist will stay true to the essence of the Opry, as well as, stay true to country music fans.

The Opry boasts on their website, “Opry membership requires a passion for country music’s fans, a connection to the music history, and it requires commitment.”

Artists who accept an invitation into the Opry are expected to “pay their dues” by performing at a select number of shows per year, and if they are unable to comply they could end up forfeiting their membership. Members are able to play at any show or host any show that they want. Back in the 1960s, artists committed to play 26 shows in a year; however, it is believed that 12 shows is now the magic number in the 21st century. Ultimately, Opry membership is for life but only if the members uphold the standards that the Opry set forth for them.

Photo by Chris Hollis for Grand Ole Opry

For most inductees, the Opry marks an accomplishment of a lifetime for them, something they have been dreaming about since they were kids. Stepping into that circle for the first time as an official member is a monumental feat for country music musicians. We’re excited to see who is invited to join the Grand Ole Opry next!

To keep up with the latest, follow the Grand Ole Opry on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. To check out the performers and buy tickets to the show, head to opry.com.

 

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Subscribe to our Weekly Round-Up here 
for ticket giveaways, meet & greet contests, upcoming events,
and all things country music in the New York metro area and beyond!

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New Opry Video Series “The Write Stuff” Dives Into Songwriting Stories

The Write Stuff

We’ve all heard and probably have been caught belting out the Grammy-nominated song Girl Crush” by Little Big Town but now Opry Entertainment is focusing on the writing of the song in its latest video series “The Write Stuff”. The first episode features songwriters Lori McKenna, Liz Rose, and Hillary Lindsey. 

It all started when co-writer Mckenna was going through her list of titles when she came across “Girl Crush.” She mentioned the title to Rose and when she asked what the song was about, McKenna wasn’t entirely sure. When they mentioned the title to Lindsey, she sat on the couch with her old Gibson guitar started playing the tune and sang the first four lines, just like that.  And the rest is history.

The trio, known as “The Love Junkies,” didn’t have a lot of time that day, so they didn’t look back once the lyrics were finished. However, they say if they did have time to go back and make edits, they probably would have changed the lyric “I want to taste her lips,”. That specific line was the main reason why fans had initially misinterpreted the real meaning behind the song, not realizing the story was about a woman who was jealous of her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.

The first episode of “The Write Stuff” (below) starts out with a clip from Little Big Town performing the song in the famed circle of the Grand Ole Opry and flawlessly goes back and forth from the songwriters sitting talking about the song and singing it, to the performance and back again.

McKenna admitted during the interview that they weren’t that confident that someone would want to cut the song, “We didn’t even know if it made sense. It made sense to us because we were all there when it happened, but we didn’t know if someone else coming in for the first time would get it right away.” Little Big Town did and released the song on December 14, 2014. The song debuted at #48 on Billboard’s Hot Country and would reach #1, where it stayed for 13 consecutive weeks.

Be sure to check out the episode of “The Write Stuff” and be on the lookout for future episodes which will include songs from Lee Brice, Hunter Hayes, and RaeLynn.

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Thank You for supporting Country Music in NYC & Beyond!

Subscribe to our Weekly Round-Up here 
for ticket giveaways, meet & greet contests, upcoming events,
and all things country music in the New York metro area and beyond!

+ Follow our country music adventures on InstagramTwitter & Facebook:

Opry City Stage Closes It’s Doors…

It is with great sadness that we share the announcement that Opry City Stage, New York City’s first 4-level country music honky tonk, has shut it’s doors.

Opry City Stage, the first spin-off of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, opened a few short months ago in December 2017. Upon entering the magnificent venue, guests were immediately transported to a place that seemed far outside of the New York City norm. Greeted by cowboy hat wearing staff and immediately having the opportunity to shop the venue’s general store, guests could head upstairs to the full service 2-floor restaurant which featured live music, dining and a bar, or continue to the 4th floor, “The Studio” where private and intimate events were held.

Although New York is statistically one of the largest markets for country music and what we believe is very underserved, it seems that the Times Square venue was just not completely prepared for the fast paced reality of New York City.

It was announced today that the parent company, Ryman Hospitality Properties, is temporarily suspending operations at the New York City location as the company evaluates the venue’s market positioning, concept and operating strategy.

Colin Reed, chairman and chief executive officer of Ryman Hospitality Properties issued the following statement:

“As we have shared over the past several months, our Opry City Stage venue has taken longer to ramp up its operations than we initially anticipated and has unfortunately underperformed our revenue expectations this year. We have decided that suspending operations at Opry City Stage while we evaluate the venue’s ground floor experience and operations is the appropriate course of action.  

I would like to thank both our New York City-based employees as well as the artists who have performed at Opry City Stage for bringing an authentic slice of Southern culture to life in Times Square. We look forward to sharing more details in the months ahead.”

Message shared on oprycitystage.com

Message shared on oprycitystage.com

 

Disheartened to hear the news, our team at NYCountry Swag sends our best to the Opry City Stage family and hopes that we can see a re-grand opening in the forthcoming months. Hopefully it’s not a good-bye, just a see ya later!

While we wait for more news, we are taking a look back on some of our favorite memories from Opry City Stage…

 

NYCountry Swag Founder, Stephanie Wagner & Managing Editor, Christina Bosch

NYCS Founder, Stephanie Wagner & Managing Editor, Christina Bosch

The History – Back in October 2017, Stephanie & Christina of NYCountry Swag took a trip down to Nashville where the Opry team treated us to a special tour of the incredible venue and it’s rich history. Sharing the story of the Grand Ole Opry, exploring the memorabilia and catching the live show helped us to capture a better idea of what to expect in New York City. When it came time to check out the NYC location, we were amazed at how much thought and detail went into everything from the design of the space to the menu, truly bringing an authentic taste of Nashville to New York. Check out more from our Nashville trip here. 

 

Bluebird Cafe Songwriters Night Opry City Stage

Photo Credit: Jim Belmont

The Bluebird Cafe Songwriters Series Over the past few months, every other Friday night, guests could head to Opry City Stage for a special Bluebird Cafe Songwriters Series Night. The Bluebird Cafe is an iconic Nashville staple and bringing that to the New York City venue was an important factor in truly capturing the Nashville experience. Guests had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of writers and stories behind some of their favorite songs, something very unique for New York where fans are generally subjected to the heavily produced shows and almost never treated to a stripped down show. Read more about the special songwriter style show here. 

 

Carrie Underwood Opry City Stage

Photo Credit: Nash FM 94.7 via Facebook Page

Carrie Underwood’s Album Release Party Reigning Queen of country, Carrie Underwood, celebrated the release of her record-breaking 7th studio album, Cry Pretty with fans at Opry City Stage. The eventful day included an intimate performance by Underwood, a Q+A with NASH FM 94.7 DJ Katie Neal, and an unforgettable experience for many country fans. The lunchtime party was simply just a taste of ‘what could have been’ for Opry City Stage. Check out more from the exclusive show here. 

 

Brett Young Opry City Stage

Photo Credit: Opry City Stage via Instagram

Front & Center: Brett Young & Carly Pearce Getting some live action in the heart of Times Square, country music artists Brett Young and Carly Pearce each performed a set for a special double episode taping of the PBS Special, “Front & Center”. NYCountry Swag was fortunately heavily involved in promoting the sold out show which gathered 360+ fans for the Monday night taping. Check out our recap of the event here. 

 

The Country Round-Up LIVE! Back in March/April, the NYCountry Swag team worked with Opry City Stage’s production team to bring our Weekly Round-Up E-Newsletter to life in this special episode which highlights country music happenings, events and a special glimpse into Opry City Stage. Check it out in the video above.

 

Live Swag Sessions Over the past year, NYCountry Swag has hosted over twenty Live Swag Sessions from different locations in New York City. With this, we invite some of our favorite country artists to join us for a Facebook/Instagram LIVE performance where the entertainer performs two acoustic songs and then chats with our hosts. Working with Opry City Stage, we coordinated Live Swag Sessions with Aaron Watson and Ashley Campbell.

 

Nash NEXT Competition at Opry City Stage

Nash NEXT Competition at Opry City Stage

The Local Talent – In it’s short time, Opry City Stage quickly became a great connection for local country music talent. Hosting live shows every day from early in the morning to late at night, whenever a country music fix was needed, New Yorkers could always count on heading to Opry City Stage. Local favorites like Lauren Davidson, Jessica Rose, Bobby McGrath and more had the opportunity to connect with fans and share their music with the country music community in New York City and beyond.

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NYCountry Swag looks forward to continuing to serve the New York country music community by bringing you the latest in country music news, reviews and events. Make sure you are subscribed to our Weekly Round-Up for upcoming announcements, ticket giveaways, meet & greet contests and more. Subscribe Below:

 

 

 

 

Win Tickets to The Studio at Opry City Stage…

New York Country Swag is committed to getting you into the hottest shows in New York City and beyond. That’s why we’ve teamed up with our friends at Opry City Stage to give away a few tickets to each of their upcoming events at The Studio.

To enter, head to our ticket giveaway page HERE and follow the instructions.

* One entry per person*

The Enchanting Magic of The Grand Ole Opry

Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

We are sure that you have heard the name Grand Ole Opry before but few people understand the sheer magnitude of what it feels like to stand in that building surrounded by the rich Nashville history of country music.  The Opry began as a simple radio broadcast back in 1925 and still to this day is broadcast on live radio.  Among a few other venues throughout the early years, the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville was the home of the show until 1974 when it moved to its newly built Grand Ole Opry House.

Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

Earlier this month, the New York Country Swag team was treated to an incredible VIP backstage tour of the Opry.  Walking through those hallowed halls, you feel the presence of all of the artists who have stepped into the circle, laughed backstage and made their mark on country music.  We were taken through the special entrance where all of the artists enter for the evening, past the wall of names of all of the current members and their mailboxes where fans can write letters and have it reach the artist directly.

Each dressing room is unique, with the decor emulating the reason for the room. One room that is particularly special is the “Into the Circle” which is set aside for artists to prepare for their debut Opry performance.  The walls are lined with photographs of the Opry’s most memorable moments including Garth Brooks, Little Jimmy Dickens, Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis hugging and much more.

Making your way to the side of the stage you can look out on the packed house each night, listening to their favorite artists who are standing in the same wooden circle that has stood the test of time.

Brooks and Dunn Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

Keith Urban Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

Keith Urban & Chris Janson Grand Ole Opry I NYCountry Swag

 

On that particular night, artists Maddie & Tae, Chris Janson, Brooks and Dunn and Keith Urban were among a few of the artists to take the stage. Highlights of the night included Brooks and Dunn performing together at the Opry for the first time in many years to sing “Believe”, “Red Dirt Road” and “My Maria”.  Closing out the night, Keith Urban performed with just his guitar, putting a different spin on his hits including “Wasted Time” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color”.  Inviting Chris Janson to the stage, to duet on  John Michael Montgomery’s 1995 No. 1 hit, “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” the performance was definitely one to remember.

New Yorkers are going to get the opportunity to experience the Grand Ole Opry right here at home with the opening of Opry City Stage in Times Square. The first home away from home, this authentic venue will have four levels of music and southern hospitality allowing fans from all over the world a chance to experience a real country music show. Be sure to follow along to find out more information on the opening and events here and on their social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.) 

For more on our ‘New York Country Swag Takes Nashville’ experience, click here.

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