Anywhere else, a round is a couple of cold beers, but in Nashville, it’s a time-honored tradition where songwriters and performers share stripped-down versions of their songs and tell the stories behind them. In short, it’s a glimpse into what radio hits sound like before the studio treatment. And those rounds are the centerpiece of the 23rd annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival, taking place March 24th through 28th in Music City, with a stellar lineup announced today. Artists from Brandy Clark to Lady Antebellum‘s Hillary Scott will take the stage, along with some of country’s writing workhorses (Rodney Clawson, Shane McAnally, Natalie Hemby, among them), to exchange tunes and tales.
The largest songwriter festival in the world, which drew more than 350 performers last year, Tin Pan South has a unique history of mixing every aspect of Nashville’s musical infrastructure: the writers, the artists and the up-and-comers, showing just what it takes to create the lyrics to a country smash. This year’s lineup is one of the most star-studded yet, with Clark, Scott, RaeLynn, Vince Gill, Charlie Worsham, Ray Scott, Casey James, Kara DioGuardi, John Oates, Will Hoge, Angaleena Presley, Nashville‘s Sam Palladio and Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba joining rising talent like Josh Dorr, Joel Crouse, Maren Morris and Lucie Silvas for rounds.
“I’m so excited to be part of this lineup,” Silvas tells Rolling Stone Country. She’s set to perform with Morris, Ryan Beaver and Jeremy Spillman. “These are my friends — artists I love and respect and whose music happily sits outside the lines. Not one person in this round wastes time wondering where their music is going to land.” (Their music has landed in some notable hands, however: Eric Church and Tim McGraw have cut their songs.)
Tin Pan South is known as a place to catch once-in-a-lifetime moments (like Jason Isbell, Hayes Carll and Darrell Scott sharing harmonies on Isbell’s “Alabama Pines”) as well as providing a unique peek into what the writing room for some of country’s best modern albums may have looked like. Take 2012’s Tin Pan Round at Nashville’s Bluebird Café, where Kacey Musgraves played with Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and a then relatively unknown Brandy Clark, offering an inside look at the process (and the banter) behind the making of Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park. And last year, former American Idol judge DioGuardi performed a version of “Undo It,” the Number One hit she wrote with Carrie Underwood, getting up from the traditional confines of the stool for a spirited rendition that contained as much sass as the original.
“Tin Pan is one of my favorite times of the year in Nashville,” says Dorr, one of Rolling Stone Country’s Artists You Need to Know. “All of the best young and veteran songwriters get together and play all over town. I love getting to hear songs in their rawest forms, just a writer and their instrument.”
Certain to be a highlight of 2015’s festival will be Clark’s return — she’ll play at club 3rd and Lindsey along with McAnally (with whom she writes almost weekly, when schedules allow) and Josh Osborne. Tin Pan South might just be the place to preview some of the Grammy nominee’s new songs — or, if you’re lucky, maybe catch the next Brandy Clark.
“Tin Pan South is the mother church of all songwriter festivals,” says Presley. “As both a maker and fan of music, I absolutely love Tin Pan South for its unbelievable, cream of the crop talent pool. Only negative is that it’s hard to decide which shows to go see.”