Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Luke Laird & Barry Dean Bring the Emotion to Tin Pan South 2017

The Listening Room was full of emotions during the Tin Pan South show, featuring Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Luke Laird & Barry Dean.

Written by Annie Reuter
Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Luke Laird & Barry Dean Bring the Emotion to Tin Pan South 2017
Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Luke Laird and Barry Dean; Photo: Libby Oellerich

The Late Late Night with Creative Nation showcase at Tin Pan South 2017 was one not to be missed and those attending the songwriters festival were well aware as the line to get into the show wrapped around the building and down the street of the Listening Room. For nearly two hours on Wednesday (March 29), those lucky enough to get in the door witnessed four of Nashville’s most respected songwriters perform up-close and tell the stories behind their hit songs.

Longtime friends and co-writers Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Luke Laird and Barry Dean, all writers with Creative Nation, played in the round and the evening tugged on the emotions. At one point, after several heavy-hitting songs were played, Dean joked that maybe Kleenex should be a sponsor while Laird advised the audience to take an Uber home.

“After a night of hearing some more of these songs you may want to call an Uber. There is going to be a lot of alcohol sold and a lot of picking yourself up off the ground,” Laird reasoned.

Fittingly, Hemby kicked off the round with her most recent No. 1 song, Justin Moore’s “You Look Like I Need a Drink.”

“If you live in Nashville you have to write a drinking song eventually,” she mused. “We’re a drinking town with a music problem.”

Lori McKenna; Photo: Libby Oellerich

Lori McKenna; Photo: Libby Oellerich

McKenna, the one songwriter of the four who doesn’t live in Nashville, then segued into a track called “Everybody’s Moving to Nashville,” which she wrote with Dean. Her performance inspired Laird to play a brand new song that he wrote about Music City.

“This town is full of dreamers,” he said. “One day about a month ago I was sitting under my writer room thinking how surreal it is to get to drive into Music Row every day. I moved here from Pennsylvania in 1997. I would say I’m living the dream because this is what I dreamed about when I was a kid.”

Laird has 22 No. 1 songs to his name and throughout the night he showcased his versatility as a songwriter as he played songs he penned for and with artists including Luke Bryan’s current single “Fast,” Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” and Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown.” Dean, meanwhile, brought the comedy to the stage. Prefacing his most recent No. 1 with Michael Ray’s “Think a Little Less,” which he wrote four years prior while on tour with Thomas Rhett, he warned the audience about his performance.

“This young man Michael Ray recorded it. When he sings it he looks great and he sounds great and he has this sexy thing,” Dean explained. “This will kind of be like when your dad likes your favorite rap song.”

Highlights of the evening included Hemby’s sultry performance of “Smoking Jacket,” which she co-wrote with Miranda Lambert and Lucie Silvas and is one of 10 songs she has featured on Lambert’s most recent release, The Weight of These Wings, as well as McKenna’s CMA and Grammy Award-winning Song of the Year, “Humble and Kind.”

“I love writer rounds. I would definitely go anywhere to do a writer round with these guys because they’re my favorites,” McKenna said. “Thank you all so much for listening to all our problems in the form of rhymes and supporting live music wherever you live. I’m going to sing you all a song. It is a very simple list. I wrote it in my yoga pants one day staring out my dining room window.”

And with that she hushed the packed room singing the song that Tim McGraw made famous alone on acoustic guitar. Laird would follow suit with his first radio hit, the equally poignant “So Small” that Carrie Underwood recorded for her sophomore album, Carnival Ride. Both tough songs to follow, Dean was well aware of this and instead of ending the night with the audience in tears he opted for the alternative.

“I hate to go from such a pinnacle of lyrical . . . those last three songs were just a wash of power. So, we’ll end on this song instead. At this point we have so many versions of how this song was written, I don’t actually know what happened. But I do know that Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird wrote it and I typed as fast as it would come out of their mouths,” Dean said of Little Big Town’s “Pontoon.”

He then asked Hemby to sing “Pontoon” because he thought the audience should get to hear it the way Little Big Town first heard the song. It was the right choice as the room clapped and sang with all four songwriters and left the venue in good spirits, likely humming along to the song during their Uber ride home.

Tin Pan South runs through Saturday, April 1.