NASHVILLE — Writer nights are nothing new to this old bird, but decided to catch Rob Snyder’s happening Revival 615 at the Tin Roof nitery near Music Row. Had a few good reasons really: Mainly, it was a kiddie benefit – Toys For Tots – a charity we worked with years ago while a Marine Corps recruiter in Omaha, Nebr.; promising talent; and also celebrated a birthday of a favorite nephew (Dec. 17, 2019).
Anyway, it proved to be a solid night of entertainment by top-notch tunesmiths, chief among them host Snyder, noted for “She Got the Best Of Me,” a four-week #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay 2018 chart for co-writer Luke Combs. Sharing the stage that evening, were Dan Smalley (signed to Big Machine Records), Kalsey Kulyk, Chris Canterbury, Blue Foley and the Tuten Brothers, Sam & Walker.
Enjoying the sounds as well was Country Music Hall of Famer Randy Travis, on the scene with wife Mary and a packed house, all hoping those hospitalized children celebrated a present-filled Christmas.
Kickin’ off the show was Smalley, who played a lick or two of Travis’ breakthrough hit “On the Other Hand,” in tribute to the guest of honor. Writers admire Randy as he also penned some of his best, notably “I Told You So,” “Heroes & Friends,” “Forever Together” and “Better Class of Losers” (the latter two with buddy Alan Jackson).
Snyder and writer Cody Walden launched Revival 615 (Nashville’s phone prefix) in liaison with club manager Morgan Kyle in May 2013, and soon it became one of the more popular “open mic” venues for writers to showcase tunes a la the more historic Bluebird Cafe. Crowds like it as it’s more laid back, akin to “a honky tonk church” and actually its performers pick ’n sing seated on a church pew.
Kickin’ off the song spree were Smalley and his “If I’m Bein’ Honest,” a confessional regarding feelings that nicely complement his romantic baritone. Follow-ups, “Love a Man (Who Breaks Your Heart)” and “A Thousand Angels (Watching Over Me)” no doubt helped convince Mike Borchetta to sign this bright talent to a roster boasting such winners as Rascal Flatts, Reba, Sugarland and Taylor Swift.
Sitting in the spotlight beside Smalley was burly, bearded Chris Canterbury, whose comedic chit-chat was as entertaining as his compositions. He hails from an oil refinery town – Haynesville, La. – where his blue-collared grand-dad labored in a gas plant. In honor of his Southern Baptist grandparent’s 1967 thrift-shop guitar, multi-instrumentalist Chris wrote “Silvertone,” an audience favorite. His debut EP contains such inspired cuts as “Crash And Burn,” “Where To Find Me” and “Another Sad Day.”
Next up was personable Blue Foley, another who confided his grandfather also made an impression on him: “Man, I didn’t know nothing, and a whole lotta expressions and ideas came from him.” In time, Foley contributed songs to such stalwarts as Ashley McBryde: “Tired of Being Happy” and “Home Sweet Highway”; Jason C. Miller (Godhead), “As Good Love Goes”; and Jason Cassidy, “Baby Come On.” We particularly admired his interpretation here on “My West.”
Country blues brothers Sam & Walker Tuten look like good prospects for a major label pact, considering their songwriting skills, winning way with harmonies, notably “Hallelujah” and “Time Was a Song,” and youthful good looks. As one scribe succinctly stated, “they’re bringing back classic country twang with a twist,” and poignantly singing, “They say life’s what you make it/I wanna make a little life with you . . .” Both majored in finance at University of Georgia before heading to Nashville and introducing themselves via a 2016 four-song EP “Southern Sunrise,” boasting their single “Sarah.” Yet another female song is their newest: “Monica.” According to Sam, “During our senior year in college, we took a trip to Costa Rica where I met a girl . . .” Oh yeah, and her name’s “Monica,” whose beauty inspired a first-rate single.
Prior to our departure, tall blonde Kalsey Kulyk, a newlywed cheered on by groom Eric Ethridge, has quite a tale to tell. Sharing the stage was co-host Snyder, an impressive 6’6” song-plugger, who wished a “Happy Birthday” to our birthday boy Steve. Rob (seen above) also sang us a new song, “If I Could Do It All Over Again,” then confided he’s been co-writing again with Luke. Hopefully their results may adorn another Combs’ CD.
Rob’s learned not to rush things. Admittedly disappointed Luke delayed “She’s Got The Best Of Me” until his fourth album, now Rob believes it was for the best. Following up Combs’ hits “Hurricane,” “When It Rains, It Pours,” “One Number Away,” gave it just the right traction needed for their co-write to score really big.
As a youngster, Snyder was first inspired by Guns ‘n Roses’ rock licks, but later seeing the Giulio Base 1999 film “La Bomba,” checked out the sounds of Buddy Holley, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, all perishing in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Rob’s played guitar from age 14, and later after losing friends to drugs and auto accidents, heard Randy Travis’ #1 “Three Wooden Crosses,” CMA Song of the Year (2002): “It’s just one of those songs that made all the hairs on your body stand up . . . (and) it made me fall back in love with the guitar and pick it up again,” feeling he, too, could compose such three-chord song salvos.
While earning a degree at Villanova University, Rob had a band, Paint On Face, which he described as Red Hot Chili Peppers meet Suicidal Tendencies (a thrash band). Come 2012, Snyder made the move to Music City USA, where his husky build landed him a job as a bouncer at a bar called The Losers. Later, he got a better-paying gig at The Winners club (sure sounds like a step-up). More importantly, the West Chester, Pa. native started writing songs, and then came an opportunity to launch The Revival mic night at Tin Roof, giving him a chance to meet fellow writers, who seek to bare their country soul, and has been at it ever since.
Kalsey leaned into the mic singing, “I can’t try to make you love me anymore . . . but I’m still here, I’m still me,” shushing the crowd. She’s been doing just that since age 3, when she first won a talent contest. Music’s played a big part in her life ever since.
At Easter time Mom gave her 13-year-old a guitar. But, sad to say, it wasn’t long before the high schooler was diagnosed with cancer (Hodgkins Disease): “I lost all my hair, but got a lot of song inspirations during my chemotherapy treatments, and began performing them shortly after. When people would come up to me to discuss my songs, it became clear to me that my music could make a difference, because lots of people had been through what I was currently going through. That’s when I knew I wanted to pursue this as a career.”
Now long since in remission, she wed fellow singer-songwriter Eric Ethridge, a fellow Canadian, in a romantic setting at the Haven Riviera in Cancun, Mexico, Dec. 6, 2019. She says, “It was more beautiful than I could have imagined.” He says, “She’s the most beautiful bride – and woman – I’ve ever seen. It was a moment of shock, thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is the woman I get to marry!’ It was magical.” They’re now plugging their new duet single “Let It Snow.”
Reckon grand-dads should dig this review, as Kalsey explains one of her more memorable ballads, “More Time,” she wrote “for my grandpa, who was diagnosed with cancer. He called to tell me that he wished he had more time to spend with me after that really bad news from the doctor . . . It’s pretty much a reminder to live your life to the fullest and never let a moment pass you by.”
We didn’t let the moment pass to pay our respects to Randy Travis. He said he remembered the night we met backstage at the Opry in the fall of 1985, when he was still an unknown short-order cook at the nearby Nashville Palace. I reminded him how he trembled so when we shook hands, and in asking him why, he’d explained he was about to make his Grand Ole Opry debut! Actually, Warners had just released his first record for them: “On the Other Hand” (which, of course, went to #1 the next year, on July 26, 1986).
The wheel-chair bound Travis (due to a recent stroke) insisted he remembered both me and my publicist pal Charlie Lamb that historic night. In suggesting good-naturedly to Mary, he was likely putting me on, she replied: “Don’t kid yourself. His memory’s still very good.” – Walt Trott