By Jason Estopinal and Shannon Hutchison
When one sees a fundraiser entitled All for the Hall held for the County Music Hall of Fame, one’s first thought may be, “I think the Country Music Hall of Fame is doing OK … I mean … it’s a hall of fame … I don’t see the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto hosting a game for the betterment of the Hockey Hall of Fame.” But that would just mean that one wasn’t informed that the Country Music Hall of Fame was actually a nonprofit, educational foundation that does a lot of good for the music world. OK, so that was me … I didn’t really catch the vision as to why funds needed to be raised for a Hall of Fame. But I get it now. As a friend once told me, “Dude … we gotta preserve America’s past … and we don’t have that much truly American stuff.” Actually, he didn’t say “stuff,” but I edited a little for the kids. But he’s right — events like this will be remembered as defining Americana moments … and man … do those guys put on an event or what?? Club Nokia in LA hosted the Country Music Hall of Fame’s All for the Hall fundraiser on Sept. 23, which featured performances by Taylor Swift, Lionel Ritchie, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and Vince Gill. We were lucky enough to be there, and chat it up with some of the stars. Armed with just their guitars (with the exception of Lionel Ritchie and his big-ass piano), and their benches and stools, each artist shared their love of country music (which makes a lot of sense, right?), picked out their hits, sang each other’s harmonies, played each other’s backups, and told their stories about songs, the industry and why they love what they do. They played their No. 1s, and they played new music. And although the mix of artists may have seemed haphazard, their time together on stage highlighted a process that almost inevitably leads to good music (country or otherwise) — bringing the best of their fields, putting them in a room together, and seeing what comes out. There was something endearing about Taylor Swift, so named for her extremely “swift” rise to the top of the charts (just kidding … that’s her real name), explains how she wrote a song about Romeo and Juliet, as though everyone in the audience didn’t already know what she was talking about when she said “Ro–”, and something legendary about Vince Gill playing along to Lionel Richie’s Easy, only to have Richie tell him, “That’s good man, that’s good … you’re kicking ass.” I would do a lot to have Lionel Richie tell me I was kicking ass. And that was the tone of the night — moments of seemingly-random-but-actually-brilliant music. I think Taylor tweeted it best — it was truly a “magical” night. And on top of all of that, we got to chat with the ladies of the evening.
CMP: Why did you want to be here tonight?
TS: I wanted to be here tonight because it’s a lineup of people who have an extremely incredible priority based on the songs that they have written and the stories that they have told. Country music has that same priority and I’m just proud to be a part of this event because it’s put on by the Country Music Hall of Fame and it’s really important to give back to that because people need to know the history of country music. Also, selfishly, getting to hear Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill and Lionel Ritchie tell the stories of how they wrote their songs, and why, I definitely wanted to be here for that.
CMP: Is there one country album that you absolutely cant live without that was a big inspiration to you?
TS: “Come on Over” by Shania Twain. I feel like that album really opened up a lot of people to listen to country music who didn’t previously listen to it, and I think there’s something to be said for that.
CMP: You’re going to launch your album at the UN and your career is going international, how has it been to have fans around the world and to connect with them?
TS: It’s been a beautiful thing to get go to other countries and having brought the Fearless tour to Japan and the UK and Australia and Canada — it’s been so much fun traveling. Traveling more extensive this year is something I’m so excited to have on the schedule. International is so much fun because it’s all these experiences I’ve never had before, and it’s like a new adventure.
CMP: What’s been the reaction to “Innocent” since you unleashed it on the VMAs?
TS: Well, I gauge a lot of performances that I’ve done or songs that I put out and how people are reacting to them when my phone either blows up or doesn’t. Like, I got so many text messages from my friends and acquaintances all saying really great things about that performance, which was really wonderful. And also I read the comments I get on my Facebook and Twitter, and on my website forums, and that was really wonderful to hear that they all liked the songs.
CMP: This year, and last, the All For the Hall has been chalked full of legends, how does it feel being such a younger person, and is there any stress for when you get up there?
TS: I feel so privileged to be invited to this event because I feel like I’m up there on the stage with the best role models I could possibly have. People who have carried out the career of singer-songwriter with such grace and dignity and carried it on with such longevity, and that’s something I can aspire to. And really being up there with them, I think we’re all such different artists —we’re all going to bring something different to the table, and I think that’s going to be real fun. I said to Vince earlier, “don’t be afraid to noodle on my songs with your guitar,” because he has a tendency to at guitar pulls to just play along with people and I was just like, “please know you are so completely welcome to play on my music,” and he was like “Alright, I’ll do it.”
CMP: How did you first get involved in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and to what end do you participate?
EH: Well, I moved to Nashville in 1983, and it was shortly after that when I was invited to be a member of the board of the Country Music Foundation, which is the Hall of Fame, and I actually was president for a while and I don’t think I did anything but show up to the meetings and be kind of a cheerleader for that place — because it’s an extraordinary place. And besides, all the cool stuff like, you know, Elvis Presley’s Cadillac and Patsy Montana’s boots … I mean it’s an amazing archive for all the music, all the stuff that’s been written about them, all the video clips and all the photographs, just an amzing treasure chest — it houses the history of country music. I’m emeritus right now, I guess that means I’m retired from the board, but I’m still welcome anytime.
CMP: We heard there was some damage to the ground floor …
EH: I don’t think they lost anything, I think the main damage … I think water came up to the main stage in the Ford Theater, which is a fantastic little theater there in the Hall of Fame. But the flood happened in [May] and in August, they resumed their residencies, which they have one artist in residency for three to four weeks; you know one night a week, and it was Buddy Miller, and I was there for two of those performances — so they didn’t really miss a beat. Obviously there was some damage, the insurance covered some of it, but a place like the Country Music Hall of Fame is always going to incur operating expenses, so we’re just gonna be here to make sure it stays open, and that the people, the incredible staff that they have there who are taking care of those instruments and all that historical stuff … that we never have to close our doors — we can keep on going ’cause there’s always more stuff coming in, and history keeps marching on.
CMP: Tonight is a guitar pull, can you tell the people what that is, and about your first guitar pull?
EH: Oh wow … I don’t know if I remember my first one, but it started probably not in a venue, but in somebody’s living room – you know, songwriters in Nashville playing their material to each other. There’s a wonderful camaraderie that goes along with that. And somebody got an idea to do a show, probably at The Bluebird, which is still open, where songwriters can swap stories and swap songs and people would pay to listen to them. Well, this is just a slight extension where we’re mainly having artists who are also songwriters do their songs, or maybe somebody else’s. But you don’t bring a band and it’s just a wonderful fundraiser ’cause there’s not a lot of expenses. You don’t have to pay for production, you don’t have to bring drummers — not that I have anything against drummers. But I’ve participated in these the last three years, and before that a few years ago — we were raising money for campaign for A Landmine Free World, with John Prine, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joan Baez, just to name a few — we would a have a different group of people almost every show, and I find it very enjoyable because it’s different every night, you don’t know what songs everyone is going to do and also you get to listen to the show as well as participate.
CMP: Any memorable one?
EH: Oh, they all were, of course it was wonderful to be on stage with Joan Baez over in England we did one — I actually tried to be Joan Baez.
CMP: It’s very exciting that you’ll be playing with Kris Kristofferson, do you remember the first time you guys met?
EH: Gosh I’m trying to think — I feel like I’ve known Kris forever. Obviously, I became a huge fan first probably by hearing his songs played by other people and then kind of discovering him as an artist. But no, you’re asking a person who’s been around too long to remember the first time I met someone, but I’m just glad that I did.
CMP: Country music has changed a lot since you and Kris started. How does it feel to have such a talented younger person like Taylor Swift, whose genre might be a little bit different?
EH: I know kind of what you’re saying. You know, as music becomes more … I don’t want to say “global,” but the point is the pure forms of music, like the blues and country music … I mean, they came out of a certain social situation and a certain historical situation. Now, everybody listens to everything, at least I do. And I think most people listen to lots of different kinds of music, and as an artist, you’re influenced by all different kinds of music. Now, I think that’s healthy — I think that’s how every generation reinvents itself artistically because that’s as true for a young artist today and all the music they hear, global music, being able to have access to the real pure forms of music from decades ago … that’s as true for what’s influencing them as somebody who grew up cut-off in the hollers of Appalachia where they only heard one kind of thing. That’s not true for anyone anymore —we have access to everything. So it’s only right that … who knows why you’re touched by something? You know you might hear some electronic music and you’re a traditional artist and you just go, “yeah, I love that.” That doesn’t mean you’re going to put it in your music, but it somehow has an influence on you.
CMP: Are you working on anything right now?
EH: Yes, I have a new record coming out in the spring.
CMP: Who is producing it?
EH: A fellow named Jay Joice.