Behind the music |

Behind the music

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

Wearing jeans, sitting on stools and cradling their guitars, the three performers at Zoom last Thursday night were likely unrecognizable to the crowd just finishing dinner. Even their names Georgia Middleman, Tony Haselden and Allen Shamblin might not have rung any bells.

But as they took turns, each singing a song they wrote, things became a lot more familiar.

Middleman, Haselden and Shamblin are hit Nashville songwriters for country music’s most famous voices Faith Hill, Wynona Judd, George Strait and Keith Urban, to name only a few.

The artists came to town as part of the 25th Anniversary of the opening of the Bluebird Cafe, and the cafe’s fifth year flying songwriters to the Sundance Resort, a relationship that began as part of an initiative to grow the cultural programming at the resort, according to Sundance spokeswoman Lucy Ridolphi. This year’s concert series began with a special anniversary event at Sundance, and will continue for three more weeks on Thursdays at Zoom and on Fridays at the Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon, featuring a new trio of songwriters each week.

Sundance finds a kindred spirit in the Bluebird Café, in the way it discovers and launches the independent voices of original artists.

The café opened in 1982 as a restaurant with a Sunday night featuring new songwriters, and has since morphed into a legendary music club that serves dinners. By way of example, the café’s owner, Amy Kurland, lists the following as part of her "Dozen Memorable Events" on her Web site:

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No. 3: Mary Chapin Carpenter’s debut performance. Nov. 10, 1987.

No. 6: Nanci Griffith as an opener. Apr. 15, 1984.

No. 10: Chris Isaak causes a rain of footwear. July 29, 1989. ("Mostly memorable because the show was sold out," says Kurland. "We had a desperate call from a president at Reebok. We got him in, and the whole Bluebird staff got new shoes.")

The café is a place where Middleman, Haselden and Shamblin, at various points in their careers, got a break and where they continue to play original music to this day.

Recognizing the No. 1 hits, like Shamblin’s "Don’t Laugh at Me," recorded by Mark Wills, or Haselden’s "That’s My Story" recorded by Collin Raye, was only part of the attraction, however. Like the café, the performance was about the writing, the storytelling and the songwriters’ personal connection to their lyrics.

Middleman explained that her song, "Baby I’m In" was inspired by a line from Goodwill Hunting, spoken by Robin William’s character, Dr. Maguire.

"We Were In Love," made a hit single by Toby Keith, began with an old photograph of Shamblin found of himself as a teenager.

And sometimes the songs they performed hadn’t been released yet, like Haselden’s song "That Was Almost Me," about how he doesn’t regret breaking up with his high school sweetheart.

"Garth Brooks has one called ‘Unanswered Prayers,’ you heard that song?" asked Haselden, before he sang it. "This isn’t it .I didn’t write that song," he kidded the audience. "But if I did, this is what it would sound like."

During the two-hour concert, the sound of the songwriter’s voices carried over to the street, and passersby stopped with their dogs and kids to lean in from the parapet overlooking Zoom’s outdoor dining. Sometimes as many as twenty, elbow to elbow, loomed above and many stayed well after the sun went down and the warm air turned cold, just to listen.

Still, the songwriters appeared to appreciate the night the most, excitedly singing their own songs, and chiming in to harmonize with each other every once in a while.

"It’s really the highest compliment when someone else sings your song," said Middleman afterwards. "But it feels so good to be able to do this," she confessed. "It’s really a hidden thrill for us to sing our own songs."

Coming up at Sundance’s

Bluebird Café series at Zoom

July 26

Al Anderson, Dean Dillon, and Scotty Emerick

Al Anderson, who has been involved in nearly every aspect of the country music industry, wrote "You’re Gonna Be a Sorry Man" recorded by Hank Williams, Jr., in 1988. New country artists who have sung his songs include The Mavericks, Hal Ketchum, Deana Carter, Lee Roy Parnell and Leann Rimes, who helped to turn Anderson’s song, "Big Deal" into a hit in 2000.

Dean Dillon has been in Nashville for three decades, and has written George Jones’ 1983 hit "Tennessee Whiskey," as well as 11 of George Strait’s 52 No. 1 hits.

Scotty Emerick is best known for his collaborations with Toby Keith. His credits include Keith’s "I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight," "Beer For my Horses," and "As Good As I Once Was." He has written songs for Willie Nelson, George Strait and Sawyer Brown.

Aug. 2

James Dean Hicks, Richard Leigh, and Marc Beeson

James Dean Hicks began his country music career at the age of 10 appearing as a regular on the "WSM Midnight Jamboree." At 13, he had opened concerts for Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Since then, Hicks has written hits for the Oak Ridge Boys and Sammy Kershaw. He also wrote the lyrics for Kenny Chesney’s "Grandpa Told Me So."

Richard Leigh co-wrote eight No. 1 songs and captured the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year for "Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," recorded by Crystal Gayle. Reba McEntire, Billy Dean and the Dixie Chicks have also sung his songs.

Mark Beeson, raised in New Mexico, moved to Nashville in 1990 to begin his career. His songs have been recorded by Steve Wariner, Ronnie Milsap, Chicago and Reba McEntire.

Aug. 9

Roxie Dean, Kent Blazy, and Leslie Satcher

Roxie Dean, is a songwriter and a country singer in her own right. Dean has written tracks for Reba McEntire, Tamara Walker, Jolie Edwards and Chely Wright. She co-wrote the current single "Why They Call It Falling," which is sung by Lee Ann Womack.

Kent Blazy worked with Garth Brooks in 1987, when he was still an emerging artist on the country music scene. "If Tomorrow Never Comes," was a song that helped to launch Brooks’ career, and the two have since written eight more songs together.

Leslie Satcher traded Paris, Texas for Nashville to write songs for the likes of Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, and Willie Nelson. Satcher performs often at benefits throughout the United States alongside friends Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Paul Overstreet. She is currently working on her second album.

Tickets at Zoom are $80 and include a meal. For reservations, please contact Zoom at (435) 649-9108. A credit card is required at the time of the reservation. Cancellation policy: You must cancel 72 hours prior to the performance otherwise your credit card will be charged $25 per person. For reservations and information about additional performances at Sundance Resort on Fridays, please call Sundance’s Activities Desk at (801) 223-4567. Tickets to the Bluebird Café series at the resort are $25.