The imminent threat of a thunderstorm didn’t deter music fans from attending the third annual Music City Hit-Makers’ Songwriters Under the Stars showcase outside the Cheekwood mansion in Belle Meade, Tenn. Friday night (Aug. 26). The sold-out outdoor concert showcased hit songwriters Brett James, Chris DeStefano and Rivers Rutherford performing several of their famous songs backed by the Music City Symphony.
The three songwriters combined have amassed 50 No. 1 hits and the evening of music felt like a hang with good friends as one minute the men poked fun at each other and the next raved about the song their pal just played. Often, the songwriters took the audience into the writing room as they frequently described how their hits developed in the intimate outdoor setting.
“We’re so happy to be here,” DeStefano said after introducing the Music City Symphony behind him. “We call them real musicians. They actually have to know how to read notes.”
He then prefaced his previous No. 1 hit, “Hey Girl” which was co-written with Rhett Akins and Ashley Gorley and recorded by Billy Currington, as “a pretty special song to me.” As he explained, the song holds many memories from when DeStefano was first visiting Nashville to write songs. He added that he quickly fell in love with the town and the people in Music City. Meanwhile, the more playful song that has a guy trying to pick up a girl took on a more serious feel backed by the symphony players.
Often, the evening felt like a night at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Cafe. After Rutherford performed Rodney Atkins’ “These Are My People” with the Music City Symphony, James explained that it’s rare for songwriters to rehearse before their performances.
“It’s sort of the Bluebird with a small orchestra. The beauty of doing shows like this is that guys like Chris, Rivers and I, we rarely play the song the same way twice,” James confessed. “One of the rules at the Bluebird is no rehearsals are allowed so we get in front of an orchestra and we have to play it the same way because they’re actually reading it off a page. They’re just not going to follow what we do. That makes it a little nerve-wracking so please bare with us if we mess up.”
James then performed the poignant “Jesus Take the Wheel,” a song he wrote with Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson long before Carrie Underwood won American Idol. Backed by the orchestra with soaring string features and piano accompaniment, the powerful song was a highlight of the set.
“We wrote it before this young little artist named Carrie Underwood won American Idol,” he shared. “It was one of those beautiful days of songwriting where a song falls out of the sky. As songwriters, we write silly songs and sexy songs and songs that you can dance to and most of the songs I write are stupid. Once in a while you write a song that actually means something to people and this is one of those songs.”
Additional highlights throughout the evening of music included James’ performance of Dierks Bentley’s “I Hold On” and Rutherford’s stripped down “When I Get Where I’m Going” followed by a surprise appearance by Chuck Wicks for “Stealing Cinderella.”
While the threat of a storm became apparent as the thunder rolled closer and lightning and rain soon filled the sky, the symphony retreated indoors as the three songwriters continued to play alone with their acoustic guitars, transforming the lawn to an intimate show with a fitting performance of Underwood’s “Something In the Water” and Rascal Flatts’ “Rewind,” before the skies opened up. The storm proved no damper on the night of music, though, as the concertgoers got the best of both worlds in the form of a symphony and a more stripped-down set at the Bluebird as the three songwriters continued to play alone with their acoustic guitars.