Last night I took Dad to see four of the stars of the hit (ish) TV show Nashville for his 60th birthday treat. To clarify, when I say ‘I took’, I mean, ‘He paid and I looked up the tube route’. You may be thinking, ‘Really? You’re sure that’s not just what YOU wanted to do for YOUR birthday?’ You cynics!
Background: My parents are seriously into bingewatching DVD boxsets. Over the past couple of years, they’ve consumed The West Wing, Breaking Bad, Suits, Mad Men, and more. Ever since Nashville first came out, I had been encouraging them to add it to their list, but was firmly ignored, probably because the only DVD boxset I’ve watched is The OC and I therefore don’t have enough experience in the medium to be taken seriously. Eventually, when I was living in Spain and not having the best time, I figured it was the optimum moment to capitalise on their (hopefully) missing me and guilt them into doing what I say, so I Amazon-ed them Seasons 1 and 2 out of the blue. I anticipated that Mum would probably fancy Deacon and Dad would probably fancy Rayna so there was something for everyone on a very basic level, but I also thought they might learn something about me. And they did! They learned that the best way to boost my confidence is to liken my hair to Rayna James’; they understand why it was really, really cool when my friend Maya went to the Opry; and they thank their lucky stars I was a talentless teenager and caused fewer problems than Maddie. I like to think Nashville made my parents love me more.
Anyhow, it turned out Dad was the much bigger Nashville fan than Mum. He was soon ‘Googling up’ information about the actors (‘Did you know they’re really sisters?’) and asking if the Bluebird Café was a real place. He found out that Gunnar (Sam Palladio) was English and ran with it. I sent him the link to a YouTube video in which Sam speaks in his English accent; three hours later, I found Dad still on the computer, trapped in his first experience of clicking on neverending ‘suggested videos’ and clearly much the wiser for it. Last night was enriched by the titbits of information amassed through Dad’s research. On the journey, he made sure we both knew all the actors’ real names: ‘So Dad, if you meet Scarlett, are you going to call her Clare?’ ‘Of course not! I’ll call her Ms Bowen.’
We arrived at the venue before the doors opened and Dad was intrigued by the other people waiting outside. When I asked him how he would describe the audience demographic, he replied, ‘Mysterious…’ As we took our seats and people-watched, he turned to me, struck by the number of women in the audience, and said, ‘Is the gender balance better at real country concerts?’ Sidenote: Any single men into country music in the UK, hit me up. Dad’s worried about me.
The actual concert was a pretty surreal experience. I couldn’t tell if the performers were TV actors, or musicians, or real people, or something else entirely. Chris Carmack came on stage first and sang a ‘Will Lexington’ song, inspiring a few daring women at the front to start dancing, much to the chagrin of those seated behind them. Throughout the evening, we kept awkwardly bobbing up and down as people decided to dance, and it was ceaselessly distracting when people kept getting up to go to the bar or go to the toilet and requiring everyone in their row to get up to get past them. I would’ve thought it was distracting for those on stage too but I know nothing. It was also peculiar to see people filming or taking photos on their phone in a seated theatre environment. I took one Snapchat and Dad told me off. The knowledge of traditional rules of etiquette in such a venue jarred with the modern day concert experience of a sea of smartphones above heads.
A note about the smartphones: I know I am incapable of taking any kind of quality pictures or videos on my phone, and I also know that there is a wealth of professionally made videos online that I could watch, and in this case, a whole freaking TV series (with an upcoming fifth season, as we were reminded a number of times). People tend to take videos of their favourite songs so they’re usually also singing along; the video must just be a swaying, blurred mess of their own singing voice, and I can’t help feeling that you would be better off enjoying the concert with your own eyes rather than through a camera. I was also mildly irritated by smartphones in the encore (skipping ahead a bit here) when everyone did that thing where they put the torch on and waved them around in the air. That’s cool when it looks good, when they light up the whole of a darkened O2 and we marvel at the power of the combination of a thousand little lights, but in a relatively small venue where the lights were already pretty bright, it looked bizarre to me. I didn’t see a sea of pretty fireflies, but a whole bunch of screens with low battery warnings.
It took me a few songs to get over the surrealism of the experience. Obviously, it’s a TV show, and people were yelling things in their frenzied excitement over Luke from The OC being in the same room as them; I must be getting old, but I think anyone who yells ‘Take your top off’ at anyone of either sex should get kicked out. Like, if they wanted to take their top off, they would do it without you telling them to, and it would surely detract from the music anyway. But I guess some people DGAF about the music if you’re sexy. #STOPOBJECTIFYINGMUSICIANS
Except that brings me back to the puzzle- are they musicians? Or are they actors? To me, most of the show was clean, polished, TV show music, which makes sense; but the moments that shone through the most for me were when the artists played their original music and I felt some glimmer of genuineness. There was some impressive showmanship; even Busted have given up jumping like Charles Esten (are we close enough for me to call him Chip yet?) and Chris Carmack did. Clare Bowen was a shimmering, sparkling, spinning fairy and Dad’s favourite voice of the show, although he reckons that the venue didn’t do her justice and that she would especially shine in a more intimate venue. But then, he had previously made the comment that he wasn’t expecting the music to be very good because it would be too loud.
In the interval, knowing Dad’s tendency to pretend to read the newspaper while watching The Voice and then comment authoritatively that singers are out of tune when they’re not, I asked him which singers he thought were out of tune. Turns out, he reckons all of them were. He specifically mentioned Sam Palladio, at which point I audibly yelped. I didn’t even know I could yelp. Sam Palladio was the highlight of the show for me. It could be because he’s on home turf, one of our very own who managed to undercover infiltrate Nashville and end up singing some of the best songs on the show; or maybe it was the heartbreaking story behind his song Wake Me Up In Nashville (It’s on YouTube somewhere- Dad: ‘I’d heard that story before. His parents must be sick of it by now.’) It surprised me that my favourite would end up being a boy from Cornwall, but I can tell you honestly that although I’m not into Gunnar as a character, I am brimming with Sam Palladio appreciation.
I’m going to finish this with some Dad quotes because really, this was all about him. I couldn’t get him to wave his hands in the air, or to transform his arms-crossed feet-planted stance into anything resembling dancing, but it was truly a thrilling time for him. When Deacon and Scarlett walked into the audience, his anxiety was palpable- ‘I hate audience participation and I think I hate performer participation in the audience just as much’. When he realised we were standing up and blocking the view of the people behind, he pointed it out to me with a cheeky little grin. And when, after the show, I asked, ‘So Dad, how did this compare to when you saw T Rex?’, he replied… ‘I had longer hair back then.’
Texts at the interval
Dad: This counts as ‘mild peril’. Everyone (except me) seems to want to dance.
Mum: Shake your stuff! No one knows you.
Texts at end of show
Mum: So?!?!?! Xxxxx
Dad: I was stirred, not shaken. Think the four cast members were a bit overwhelmed at the end by the warmth and scale of the applause and there was quite a moving final encore where they let the audience sing: very well in fact. Everyone except me knew the words and as most of the audience was female it was very sonorous.
Overheard on phone to Mum this morning
‘I have some doubts about the quality of their singing which Helen refuses to acknowledge’
Dad- ‘The audience went absolutely wild when Charles Esten came on… That’s Deacon… I suppose he’s mid-40s, ruggedly handsome and so appeals to ladies of a certain age…’
Me, eavesdropping and interrupting- ‘A certain age?’
Dad- ‘That age includes 25 apparently.’