Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Killer Nashville: Death in Music City

Dear Readers, as the title of this post suggests, I intend to speak on the subject of the mystery conference Killer Nashville, which I just attended on August 23 through August 26.

Wednesday: August 22 - If It's Too Loud; You're Too Old
Because I have never been to Nashville - and have always wanted to - I arrived a day early (Aug 22) with the intention of doing the music rounds.  I immediately found out that I could see Kenny Wayne Sheppard that very night, but I chose not to.  First of all, it would have been $50, which while not outrageous, did give me pause.  However, the real reason was that I wanted to experience the music clubs that are in abundance in downtown Nashville: along Broadway, Church, Commerce, and 2nd thru 5th Avenues.  I'm not kidding.  In this compact area there has to be a hundred music venues. My plan: hit about 5 or 6 of these seriously, drink some beer, eat some food.  Not an ambitious plan, I grant you, but I girded my loins nonetheless and pointed the nose of my rental car toward downtown, otherwise known as "The District".

From my four blocks away parking space, I could feel the music, feel the energy, and as I got closer, the sound got louder.  When I hit Broadway, music was everywhere, coming out of a dozen different clubs, folks standing on street corners (or in the middle of the block for that matter). And it wasn't just Country (although there was plenty of that). Withing the span of two blocks I heard Raggae, Rock, Folk, and every type of Country music you can swing a stick at.  I picked a club where the blues was streaming out the door.  In fact, from the street, the sound was sweet.  A blond woman was singing, "Piece of my Heart' the old Janis Joplin/Big Brother and the Holding Company song.  The lead guitar player was tight and knew his way up and down the neck.

I went in.

Immediately, I realized something.  In order to be heard from the street, the mix inside the club/restaurant was much too loud.  The words, and even the lead were lost in the clang of the rhythm guitar and the thump of the bass.  Gone was the anguish of a woman lamenting the faithlessness of her man.  I hung out for about two songs then made my way back onto the sidewalk.  This proved to be the case in the next two clubs I experimented with.  I passed a club called "Margarittaville" which was indeed playing Jimmy Buffet material but once again the best sound was out on the street.  By now I was getting hungry.  I passed a place called "Tequila Sunrise" where a young musician was handing out flyers.  His band "The Springs" (it felt like an omen) reputedly had opened for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Brad Paisley, and Little Big Town.

What the hell, I gave them a try.  The beer was good and the band I'm sure would have been good with a different mix.  Maybe, I'm just getting old.

Thursday: August 23 - This ain't Chattanooga, son

Pre-registration for the conference was at 6:30, so I had an entire day to myself.  I would see the Country Music Hall of Fame, walk a few miles along the Cumberland River, drink a few more beers.

CMHF kicked butt.  There were old guitars and flowered shirts, rooms that played the kind of twangy music that used to make me cringe when I was tyke. In this place I loved it.  I learned about the Bakersfield Sound (Buck Owens and Merle Haggard), the origins of Country Swing (Bob Wills) and the Carter Family.  I saw movies of old shows at the Grand Old Opry and learned about Minnie Pearl, Junior Wells, and Hee Haw.  One whole room was filled with brass placards of where a hundred (probably more) folks were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Hank Williams, Reba, Flatt and Scruggs. Another was filled with gold records: Elvis, John Denver, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, hundreds of them.

The Cumberland River is on one side of Riverfront Stadium--where the Titans play--so as I was later walking along the river (99 degrees, 90% humidity - I think there's a saying about mad dogs and Englishmen, well now you can add me to that list), I heard all the music from the football game that would be played later that day.  I walked for about half a mile and came upon an army of roadies setting up for the annual Nashville Bar-B-Que.  It seems Grand Funk Railroad (I'm Getting Closer to My Home) and The Fabulous Thunderbirds (Tough Enough) would be playing on Saturday.  I asked one of the guys setting up how far I could walk along the river.  He said, and I quote, "This ain't Chattanooga, you know?"  With that cryptic question ringing in my ears, I walked on.  Within a another half mile I came upon a fort that was the original residence of the folks who settled Nashville.  I mean right there along that lazy old Cumberland River, they started a city.  I was impressed.

At 6:30, all showered and feeling like I now knew stuff about Music City, I made my way to the Hutton Hotel and registered for Killer Nashville.  I played Mystery Bingo (won a Hank Phillippi Ryan book), ran into old friends from other conferences, Laura Hayden for one.  Made some new ones.

Friday: August 24 - A tree fell on him.  He might be a little late.

It seems not only did a tree fall on Clay Stafford, the guy who started Killer Nashville, but on the way to the conference he was in a car accident.  But, he was expected to eventually show.  Anyway, here was the first full day of the conference and I had stuff to do.  I was on a panel (The Light Side, Humor and Cozies), and had book signing, but I had the morning to myself.

After the opening ceremonies - Clay Stafford did show - they had maybe the most famous Forensic Anthropologists who'd ever lived, Bill Bass.  This was the guy who started the famous 'Body Farm' in Tennessee.  Yeah that guy.  He showed us slides and told us of a case where an illegal fireworks factory exploded.  Out on a farm at the edge of town, a massive barn was being used.  From all evidence, one of the crew used a hand drill/stirrer to mix a batch of black powder ingredients. A spark set everything off.  Bodies and body parts flew through the roof and scattered the countryside for about a half mile radius.  Mr Bass actually had us laughing at gruesome slides.  It was fabulous.

So, it was only natural that from there I went to a class on writing humor.  This lady actually wrote comedy for sitcoms, political speeches, and even funerals of celebrities.  We learned about timing and what is off limits for comedy (according to her, nothing).

After lunch, I had my panel and waxed poetic about cozies, humor, and Bonnie Pinkwater.  I also made arrangements to interview (in this very blog, dear reader), my panel-mates.  Then came the booksigning.  And here, I think is where conferences like Left Coast Crime, Malice, and Killer Nashville could improve.  The signing itself is an hour, and all of the audience was invited. However, almost immediately, folks have to go to the next panel and the signing area is a ghost town.

Sisters in Crime, bless their hearts, hosted a party, with music and pretty darn good food.  I think these guys (mostly women actually) are fabulous.

Again, I had a evening on my own in Music City and now new friends to share it with.

Saturday: August 25 - Take Another Piece of the Heart Now Baby.

Saturday, at least mine, was set aside to sit in on things called Agent/Editor Roundtables.  Picture this: fifteen people bring the first two pages of their unpublished manuscript pass them out to fellow writers and two agents or editors.  The agents (and other authors, if there is time) then critique these works.  It was a lot like sky diving.  I did two of these and it filled my morning.

After lunch it was time to interview, two authors I admire, C J Box, and Peter Straub.  Well, Clay Stafford (yes the same guy with the mangled body. I'm thinking meds) did the interviewing; I just sat in the audience and listened.  Not bad, Clay.

Then a real treat.  A panel with CJ Box, Peter Straub, And Jeffrey Deaver, who I was told wrote a rock album (to accompany his new novel XO) with none other than  Clay Stafford.  A band, in fact the same band who played on the album, would perform that bad boy later in the evening after the banquet.  As always, Deaver was hilarious.

Then another party.  This time by Mystery Writers of America.  A lot of Hummus.

The banquet was great, made greater by the company.  A friend I had made at Malice Domestic was at my tab le and was a finalist in the Claymore Award (our host claims the award wasn't named after him; I'm not buying it).  She wrote a mystery set in 16th century England.  A lot of laughter, but in the end, my friend did not win the award (which is a sword sticking out of a stone).  Jeffrey Deaver was the toastmaster and gave a hilarious speech. At the end of the banquet, each of the guests of honor, CJ Box, Peter Straub, and a screenwriter named Heywood Gould (wrote Fort Apache, the Bronx, Cocktail, Boys from Brazil, and Rolling Thunder) was given a gift.  In true Nashville style, they were guitars.  I don't think any of them play.

Then came the dance, the band, and the songs from XO.  Music was loud.  The songs weren't bad.  I stayed for about five of them.

Sunday: August 26 - And I Shall Lay Me Down by the River

Truth is, I was exhausted and had to leave early.  I had eleven hours of flying ahead of me (for some reason to get me back to Colorado, American Airlines thought it a good idea to first fly me to Washington DC).  I had the best time, but I was ready to head back to the mountains.  And I missed my wife.  We had texted all weekend (she went camping with eight of her long time girlfriends) but I wanted to kiss her face and hold her hand.

And there she was waiting at the airport to take me home.

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