Songwriters such as CMA award-winners Shane McAnally (“Follow Your Arrow”) and Bob DiPiero (“Gone”) have long been the lifeblood of Nashville’s music community, with “in the round” performances in an intimate setting having become one of Music City’s most hallowed traditions. For the past decade, DiPiero has hosted the CMA Songwriters Series, a live show presenting some of country music’s finest tunesmiths on stage in various venues. The audiences may be bigger these days, but the performances are still built on the same principles that have driven countless “guitar pulls” through the years.
To mark the Songwriters Series first decade, the Public Television series Front and Center has begun airing episodes taped at those one-of-a-kind performances, and YouTube’s Country Now channel is taking fans both Front and Center and behind the scenes at the same time, with exclusive backstage footage from the episodes. The channel is currently offering a glimpse “from behind the lens” of the filming of Front and Center and the CMA Songwriters Series episodes.
Taped at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, the latest episodes feature interviews and exclusive footage with the likes of Little Big Town, Brandy Clark, Hunter Hayes, Sara Evans and Martina McBride, among others. Excerpts from the concerts can be seen at the official Front and Center website, with all of the complete episodes currently airing on Public Television.
In addition to sharing many of the hit songs they’ve penned, the performers tell stories about their writing experiences and inspirations. Shane McAnally — whose hits, in addition to Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” and “Merry Go Round,” include the Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” and Sam Hunt’s “Leave the Night On” — bounced between Nashville and Los Angeles before getting a Lee Ann Womack cut (“Last Call”) in 2008. Two years later, he scored another hit (his first of several) with Kenny Chesney.
“When Kenny cut ‘Somewhere With You,’ I felt like somebody kicked the door down and then everything I was doing seemed to make sense,” he tells Rolling Stone Country of the 2010 career-changing smash.
For his “Follow Your Arrow” Front and Center performance, McAnally was seated next to Clark, his co-writer on the tune (with Musgraves), and in keeping with the loose, causal vibe of the event, the two of them at times struggled to remember some of the lyrics, with McAnally even joking (in reference to one of the song’s more controversial lines), “Maybe I rolled up a joint,” before hastening to add, “I didn’t.” Singer-songwriter Charlie Worsham, who was also seated on stage, chimed in to help.
DiPiero, an Ohio native, has scored more than a dozen Number One country songs, including “Gone,” for Montgomery Gentry, “Blue Clear Sky,” by George Strait, and “Little Rock,” a 1986 hit for Reba McEntire. He scored his first chart-topper in 1983 with “American Made,” cut by the Oak Ridge Boys. He is also accompanied by Worsham, Clark and McAnally in a stripped-down version of “Gone” for the show (below).
Front and Center also spotlights performances from some of Nashville’s top-flight songwriters such as Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, Lori McKenna, Gretchen Peters, Liz Rose, Gordie Sampson and the Warren Brothers. Now in its fifth season, the program has presented an eclectic mix of country, pop and rock icons through the years, including Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Cyndi Lauper, the Avett Brothers, the Fray and more. Check local listings for airdates and times.