At the 20th Anniversary Kickoff Celebration honoring the legacy of Musicians on Call (MOC) at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theater in Nashville, a concurring theme throughout the night was passion.
Founded by Michael Solomon and Vivek Tiwary in 1999, Musicians on Call started as a humble idea to bring music to the hospitals where their loved ones were taken care of. It’s since grown into a program that’s brought music to the bedsides of nearly 750,000 patients in 10 hospitals around the country, not only uplifting their spirits, but bringing a distinct sense of healing. While patients benefit from the experience, so do the volunteers, tour guides and MOC staff members.
One of these people is Warner Music Nashville Senior Vice President of Artist Development Shane Tarleton, who received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony. A 13-year participant as both a volunteer and event coordinator, Tarleton was also instrumental in establishing a MOC program at Alive Hospice in Nashville. He’s been a part of such powerful experiences as a child excitedly hear music for the first time after a successful ear drum surgery to comforting a hospice patient in their final moments. “We console people in the room whenever the person has passed and you realize what a very special, humble, holy moment to be a part when somebody leaves the world,” he reflects. “To be able to be there and just ease them through the transition with music is amazing.”
For Music Heals Award recipient Lauren Alaina, her time interacting with patients gives her a sense of pride and fulfillment. She started her journey with MOC in 2013, visiting the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and Nashville Veterans Affairs. The “Road Less Traveled” singer was so humbled by the accolade that she cried when she heard she’d be receiving it. “This is about more than just the fact that I can sing and that I’ve got this amazing life, somehow, it’s about my character,” she says gratefully. “That people feel this way about me is so humbling, and makes me feel so proud.”
Alaina recalls a visit to the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital when she entered the room of a young girl who had cancer. The girl began crying happy tears when the singer came in, telling her that she’d been listening to her music all day. “That little girl’s dealing with a whole lot more than most adults have to deal with and I just thought, ‘I’m a lucky lady to be able to do that.’ I gained as much from that experience as she did,” Alaina says. She also notes MOC’s impact in light of her stepfather Sam Ramker, who passed away from stage four cancer in 2018. “I think Musicians on Call gives you a good perspective of what’s important in life,” she observes. “I spent the last year in the hospital with my step dad, and it’s a scary place to be. Musicians on Call brings love and light in a time of sadness and darkness. It makes you a better person to be a part of that.”
Nashville star Charles Esten felt the deep impact of MOC’s mission when he traveled to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas after the horrific mass shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival in 2017. Following a performance for a group of medical staff, he experienced a harrowing moment when he sang for a patient who was unconscious, surrounded by her family. “I was very blessed that I got to meet some of those patients later once they come through all that and they were doing so much better,” he says. “I can’t describe how moving that is.”
For Cale Dodds, MOC symbolizes connection. The “Take You Back” singer ties it into his passion for performing and establishing a genuine bond between himself and the listener, regardless of the size of the audience. “The best show on a big stage with a full band and thousands of people, can never do what happens with just me and my acoustic in a hospital room with a patient – it’s special,” Dodds says, citing some of the most impactful moments with MOC as when he gets to witness the power of music infuse a patient with positive energy, inspiring them to sing along and engage with the music.
“Seeing their reaction is I feel like why I was supposed to do it,” he describes. “I love being able to provide an emotion with my ability… to use that and know that I’m using it for a reason that’s bigger than me makes me realize why it was given to me in the first place. It’s a good reminder of the blessings that we all have on a daily basis.”
After a solid opening set from Dodds, the evening culminated in a headlining performance by Blake Shelton, who turned the intimate venue into an arena concert experience. He beckoned the crowd to offer suggestions of songs to perform, leading to a unpredictable set that included a cover of Conway Twitty’s “Goodbye Time” that he recorded for his 2004 album Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill and the novelty track “Playboys of the Southwestern World” off his 2003 album The Dreamer. The latter had The Voice star pledging to donate $5,000 if he messed up the performance, but instead committed to giving $10,000 after he sang it successfully. He rounded out the hour-long set with tried and true hits including “Sangria,” Honey Bee,” a duet with Alaina on “Lonely Tonight” and “Ol’ Red.”
The celebratory show generated $330,000 for MOC, marking the highest amount raised at a Nashville-based MOC event.