Luke Laird takes his turn at the mic during Tin Pan South Tuesday at 3rd and Lindsley.

’Best friends’ Laird, Dean, McKenna delight opening night crowd at Tin Pan South

For a songwriting trio with armfuls of No. 1 country hits, a fistful of Grammy Awards, and the overflowing respect and admiration of their peers, mirthful modesty ruled the stage at 3rd and Lindsley Tuesday…

For a songwriting trio with armfuls of No. 1 country hits, a fistful of Grammy Awards, and the overflowing respect and admiration of their peers, mirthful modesty ruled the stage at 3rd and Lindsley Tuesday night.

Fans packed the longtime SoBro nightclub for the opening set of the 27th Annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival, there to witness the wit and wisdom of hit songwriters Luke Laird, Barry Dean, and Lori McKenna.

They’re each bedrocks of the songwriting stable at Creative Nation, the music company co-founded by Laird and wife Beth, who serves as CEO. A quartet of talented younger songwriters at the company — Kassi Ashton, Alec Bailey, Casey Brown, and Steve Moakler — shared the stage off and on throughout the night.

“It’s amazing,” Luke Laird said, “when you can wring songs with your best friends.”

And extremely talented friends at that. Not that anyone takes anything for granted, despite the hits and awards.

“There’s a lot of people here,” observed McKenna, she of 10 critically acclaimed solo albums of her own, scanning the crowd. “I’m scared!”

“I’m really good at filling time … “‘cuz I was just born for the stage,” Laird, with a whopping 23 No. 1 country songs to his credit, deadpanned from beneath his omnipresent baseball cap.

“I do sing flat,” funnyman Dean warned when it came time for his turn in the songwriting round, before adding, “The monitor sounds like I can actually play the guitar.”

“All these songs have the same chords,” Laird offered. “It all just depends on where you put the capo …”

And so continued the delightful pitter-patter throughout the more than two-hour set.

That’s the thing about songwriters. There are far more misses than hits. Which makes the stories behind writing the hits all that more enchanting.

McKenna related the process behind writing “Girl Crush,” the megabit for Little Big Town. Laird and Dean launched into a description of penning “Pontoon” — “My first No. 1, and his 10th,” Dean said of Laird — which was also a Little Big Town chart-topper after being turned down by both Dierks Bentley and Kix Brooks, Dean related sardonically.

“It’s true,” Laird said, laughing at Dean’s wisecracks.

Then there was Laird’s fateful tale of where and when he first heard Kacey Musgraves (at SoBro nightclub The Basement for BMI Night, at the urging of his wife).

That eventually paid off with Laird’s co-write last year of Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy.”

“Didn’t it win a Grammy?” McKenna wondered aloud.

“I know it did,” she continued, “because I lost my Grammy (nominated for “When Someone Stops Loving You”) to this song!”

Said Laird, “This wasn’t a hit song, but [the recent Grammy Award for Best Country Song] was a good consolation prize.”

The evening benefited nearby W.O. Smith Music School, one of the local music industry’s most cherished nonprofits, founded in 1984 by William Oscar Smith to make affordable, quality music instruction available to children from low-income families.

Produced by Nashville Songwriters Association International, Tin Pan South continues through Saturday at various Nashville venues. View the latest schedule on the Tin Pan South website OR click here to view details on NowPlayingNashville.


Read our latest blog post on Tips for Planning Your Stops at the 2019 Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival.