The combined talents of Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen alongside frequent collaborators Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne amass countless No. 1 songs that include everyone from Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley to Miranda Lambert and Sam Hunt. The friends and co-writers kicked off night one of the 25th Annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival on Tuesday (March 28) at The Listening Room in Nashville where the evening served as part writers round and part comedy show.
Ramsey, Rosen, McAnally and Osborne have been writing together for years and that camaraderie was showcased throughout their 90-minute set as the good friends frequently finished each other’s sentences and poked fun at each other. Osborne kicked off the round with his previous No. 1 hit with Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16″ which he co-wrote with McAnally and Ross Copperman.
“We’re going to play some songs for you guys,” he told the packed room. “Hopefully you’ll know some of these. We are not all collectively Old Dominion but half of us are.”
McAnally then jumped in, pointing to Ramsey and Rosen while telling the crowd they were Old Dominion and he and Osborne were Young Dominion as the audience laughed. After back-to-back No. 1 songs with McAnally’s “American Kids” which was a hit for Chesney and Rosen’s “Sangria” which topped the charts for Blake Shelton, it was Ramsey’s turn to play.
“I remember moving to Nashville and wanting to be a part of Tin Pan South and I couldn’t afford to even come into a show so this is nice to be here,” he reflected. “It’s even weirder that I’m about to play a song that’s a hit that I wrote that I also am in the band that performs it. It’s pretty mind blowing whenever that happens.”
He then segued into Old Dominion’s most recent No. 1 with “Song for Another Time” as fellow band member Rosen assisted on guitar and harmonies.
While Sam Hunt wasn’t in attendance, that didn’t stop the songwriters from teasing that he was about to come out to the stage as they all have written with the singer. Osborne performed Hunt’s latest single “Body Like a Back Road,” which he wrote with Hunt, McAnally and Zach Crowell while Ramsey played “Make You Miss Me,” which he wrote with Hunt and Osborne.
Though many of the songs showcased throughout the night hit the top of the country charts, success didn’t always come easy for the four songwriters. In fact, it took McAnally 15 years before he had one of his songs cut.
“I know it probably looks very easy for us and it is,” he deadpanned before getting serious. “But it was really, really hard for about 15 years. I’m the oldest of the bunch. I moved to town in ’94 and I didn’t have a cut until 2008 and if someone had told me when I got here it would have took that long, I would have quit. I’m not going to tell you it’s going to take that long, but it takes what it takes and I wouldn’t trade one second of it. We are living our wildest dreams.”
Rosen further pealed back the layers about the struggles a songwriter faces on the way to a hit. One of his early successes was with Chris Young’s 2012 single “Neon,” which peaked at 23 on the charts. While it didn’t get as high up as he had hoped, he joked that it did pay for half of his credit card debt. The following year he would garner his first No. 1 with The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two,” which he wrote with McAnally and Brandy Clark.
“This is the song that got me all the way out of debt. I remember the day it was No. 1, I think it was the No. 1 party and my parents were coming to town. I had to borrow money because my bank account was going to bounce but I promised I was going to be able to pay it back,” he recalled with a laugh. “I swear I’ll pay you back. Just hang in there, Dad.”
Additional highlights included Osborne playing his recent hit with Chesney and P!nk’s “Setting the World On Fire” while McAnally jumped in to tell the story and chastised him for writing it about the night they both won a Grammy for co-writing Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round.”
“Let me do this intro for you. This is a song he wrote about the night we won the Grammy together. God, lifelong dream to win a Grammy and we won it together,” McAnally said. “That night he and his wife, they set the world on fire in Los Angeles. He came back and was telling Matt Jenkins and Ross Copperman about this wonderful night.”
“I thought who better to write it with? Who could understand that night better than Ross and Matt? Nobody. I couldn’t think of anyone,” Osborne teased before segueing into the song.
All joking aside, sometimes each songwriter’s music can leave as much of a lasting imprint on the writer as it does the listener. Prefacing his performance of Chesney’s hit “Save It for a Rainy Day,” which Ramsey co-wrote with Old Dominion bandmate Brad Tursi and the late Andrew Dorff, the singer/songwriter says the song has become very important to him.
“I thought of the idea in the shower. I had no idea what I was going to write that day,” he confessed, explaining that he had a 9 a.m. write with Tursi and Dorff before heading to an 11 a.m. session. “We had a two hour window. I was singing it on my way in and I was like, ‘Hey, what about this?’ We wrote it in about 45 minutes and we went off to our next write.”
Chesney wound up recording the song which Ramsey says “never happens” and then he heard a story from the recording session where the session players only performed the song once and moved on, which never seems like good news.
“The guitar player in the session told me he didn’t think that song would ever see the light of day because they only played it one time. It became a single and became a big hit and then we went on tour with Kenny Chesney. He’s a legend and we’re on stage every night, he brings us out, and we sing it to a stadium of 60,000 people — this song that we wrote in 45 minutes and the band recorded in three-and-a-half minutes. You could see the stadium light up,” he recalled with a smile. “It really became special to me, because we lost Andrew and we played it at his funeral and I play this song and I get it more than I did when we wrote it. It has become helpful to me now that we lost this friend. I play it and I miss him every time I play it and then I feel better every time I play it. So, it’s really a special song.”
Tin Pan South runs through Saturday, April 1.