Nashville Unplugged gets to the essence of a song at the Rockwell Listening Room
What: Nashville Unplugged
When: 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 26
Where: The Rockwell Listening Room, 268 Main St.
Ten years ago singer and songwriter Aaron Benward began Nashville Unplugged, an intimate, acoustic, in-the-round storytelling and performance series that runs every Friday at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay.
Last year, Benward partnered with Park City-based singer-songwriter Ben Anderson and O.P. Rockwell owner Scott “Scooter” Thompson to present Nashville Unplugged to the Rockwell Listening Room.
The next session will be on Thursday, Dec. 26, and it will feature Benward, D. Vincent Williams, Monty Powell and Anna Williams.
D. Vincent Williams has written songs for Rascal Flatts and Ty Herndon, while Powell is known for his collaborations with Keith Urban. Anna Williams, who happens to be Powell’s wife, has written songs recorded by LeAnn Womack, Reba McEntire and Chris Cagle.
The idea of Nashville Unplugged is to showcase the songwriters who write the hit songs for artists such as Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea and Keith Urban, Benward said.
“Not a lot of people know the names of these songwriters, let alone recognize their faces,” he said. “So, the idea is to give music lovers a place where they can see and meet them, but also hear the stories behind their favorite songs.”
Oftentimes the songwriters’ performances are better than the recordings by the famous artists, according to Benward.
“The songs come from these writers’ lives,” he said. “Once you hear the story and the journey of how a song that found its way to Garth Brooks and became a world-famous hit, and when the original songwriter performs that song for you, it’s an experience unlike any other.”
The experience also touches the songwriters, Benward said.
“It’s rewarding for me to see the audiences moved by these songwriters, and it’s always great to see the smiles on the songwriters’ faces as they put their life and soul into the atmosphere of the room,” he said.
The Rockwell Room, which is located at 268 Main St., and houses J GO Gallery, owned by Jude Grenny and artist Curtis Olson, is the ideal place for Nashville Unplugged, said Benward, who has performed in venues ranging from stadiums to tiny holes-in-the-walls.
“The Listening Room is an environment that is aesthetically beautiful, located on a historic street,” — Main Street — in beautiful Park City, Utah,” he said. “It reveres and honors art, whether the art is on the walls or on the stage, and it’s become a premiere venue for the singer and songwriter.”
Scheduling the songwriters is easy for Benward, who has been a Nashville-based songwriter for 30 years.
“The songwriter community in Nashville is tight-knit, and these songwriters are my friends,” he said. “We have collaborated over the years, and they have played at the Las Vegas show.”
In addition to showcasing the songs, Nashville Unplugged helps the songwriters make a little money, Benward said.
“A major stream of income used to be royalties that were made through a sale of an album, cassette or CD, but with streaming and other ways people hear music, those sales royalties are gone,” he said. “So to create an income stream through a live scenario where they can come play their songs, tell their stories and get those standing ovations is so satisfying.”
Benward presents Nashville Unplugged at least once a month at the Rockwell Listening Room.
“During the peak seasons — winter and summer — we try to do it twice a month,” he said.
Last September, Benward, Thompson and Anderson took Nashville Unplugged one step further and launched the inaugural Park City Songwriters Festival, a two-day, in-the-round acoustic music event that was held in five venues on Main Street.
The festival attracted more than 50 professional songwriters, including singer-songwriters Anders Osborne and Steve Seskin, and Grammy President Paul Williams.
The 2020 festival dates will be Sept. 10-13, Benward said.
“We are making it bigger, and we are planning on having 10 venues that will present more than 70 singers and songwriters in that acoustic, storytelling format,” Benward said.
Benward himself got into singing and songwriting through his father, Jeoffrey.
“He was a gospel singer, and he put food on the table by traveling around the country singing at churches and writing songs,” Benward said.
When Benward graduated from high school, his father asked him what he was going to do with his life.
“I was on my way to play soccer in college on scholarship, but I told him I wanted to do what he did,” Benward said. “And for 10 years, I toured and traveled as an apprentice with my father, and he taught me everything he knew about performance, musicianship and songwriting.”
The two, under the name Aaron & Jeoffrey, recorded three gospel albums, which yielded 10 No. 1 Christian hits.
“When it came time to fly off on my own, I got into country music, a place I’ve been for three decades,” Benward said.
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