The 26th Annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival kicked off in Nashville on Tuesday evening (April 3). The world’s largest songwriters festival, for five days the men and women who pen the hits often heard on country radio are spotlighted through nightly showcases around Music City.
Ashley Gorley and Chris DeStefano hosted the first round of the festival at 3rd and Lindsley and brought along Brett Young and Morgan Evans as surprise guests. Throughout the evening, the camaraderie between the songwriters was showcased as each praised the other for the countless No. 1 hits and awards they have received.
Gorley began the round with Jon Pardi’s previous chart topper, “Dirt On My Boots,” and having amassed 37 No. 1 hits in his career, the three-time ASCAP Songwriter of the Year had the packed room singing along throughout the set.
“That’s probably the only song you’re going to recognize tonight,” Young joked as Gorley finished his performance.
Meanwhile, DeStefano chimed in, raving about Gorley’s massive catalogue of hits.
“He’s going to do all right in this town,” DeStefano noted. “He’s an up-and-comer. I think he’s going to do just fine. He’s probably gotten a cut since we’ve been here. That probably happened.”
DeStefano has plenty of No. 1 songs of his own, many of which he performed Tuesday evening including Carrie Underwood’s “Something In the Water” and “Good Girl.” Introducing his latest single with Underwood, “The Champion,” he said the singer had the idea to write a song for the Super Bowl. After she released it, NBC got on board and decided to use the track for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Proving a talented vocalist himself, DeStefano showcased his rapid fire singing ability when he launched into Ludacris’ rap on the track.
The evening marked a full circle moment for Young, as 3rd and Lindsley was the first Nashville venue he ever played before moving here. Following a heartfelt performance of DeStefano’s hit with Dan + Shay’s “From the Ground Up,” Young then warned that he was about to crush everyone’s thoughts on love while introducing his No. 1 hit, “Like I Loved You.” Asking the crowd to raise their hands if they’ve ever been broken up with and then to leave them in the air if while being dumped they heard the words, “I really hope that we can still be friends,” he got his point across.
“One little soap box moment from me to you — if you’re going to break somebody’s heart, you might mean it in the moment but you probably don’t. Even if you mean it, don’t say it,” he advised. “They’re not ready to hear it. You have at least three to six months until you can send them a text, ‘Hey, been thinking about you. You ok? We should get coffee.’ Then maybe you can ask them if they want to be friends. Give them six months. That’s just insult to injury. That’s just salt in a wound. Don’t do it.”
Later, Gorley would also lend some love advice when prefacing his most recent No. 1 with Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me.” Noting that Rhett has had many love songs about his wife, Lauren, they had fun writing a much different take on love.
“This is a song that’s the antithesis of all his songs about her where he had a moment in his relationship where he almost just became friends with her and let that be what it was,” Gorley notes. “If you know you love somebody, you gotta let them know or this could be you here.”
Evans joined the round after an introduction by DeStefano, who said he first met the singer-songwriter while on a writing trip in Australia. The two went on to pen Evans’ debut single, “Kiss Somebody,” which he performed.
Highlights throughout the evening included Gorley’s take on Luke Bryan’s “Play It Again,” which he said was the only song he’s ever had an artist put on hold from being sung over the phone. He and co-writer Dallas Davidson called Bryan because they wanted him to hear their finished track before they turned it into to their publisher and Bryan told them, “Don’t play that for anybody. I want to record it.”
DeStefano followed suit with an entertaining performance of his Bryan cut, “Kick the Dust Up” as Gorley whispered the vocals beside him.
Young closed the round with his second No. 1 as an artist and a songwriter, the poignant ballad “In Case You Didn’t Know.” Joking that he wished he had a fast song that made the audience want to dance, he admits that he doesn’t have any.
“I moved to Nashville to be a songwriter, that’s why I wanted to come here because this is where the best songs in my opinion were being written,” he said. “God has a funny sense of humor. I say, if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. I moved here to be a songwriter and I got a record deal in the first year that I was here because I was singing on demos of songs that I wrote. The dream was always to be on stage with guys like you. So, God planned it a little differently but he got me up here.”
Tin Pan South runs through Saturday (April 7).