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The Dec. 4 concert, headlined by Grammy-nominated quartet Little Big Town and featuring songwriters Bob DiPiero, Lori McKenna and Brett James, showcased some of country’s best acts while staying true to the LOC’s mission of telling the stories behind the songs.
The CMA Songwriters Series, which is in its seventh year and organized nine shows in 2010, has a similar purpose. The concerts were born at Joe’s Pub in New York City and are meant to give songwriters a venue to perform their own material. The combination of performers onstage was different at each event, and the only holdover was DiPiero, a gregarious songwriter originally from Ohio who serves as emcee.
“I wasn’t born in the South, but I got there as fast as I could,” he told the crowd Saturday as he introduced himself.
The artists took turns singing songs they had written — DiPiero has penned music for popular artists such as Tim McGraw, James is a star in the songwriting world and has worked with Carrie Underwood and Jon Bon Jovi, and McKenna has written for Faith Hill — and often sang along with their colleagues.
Some of the highlights included Little Big Town’s harmonious rendition of their most recent hit, “Little White Church”; James’ solo version of Kenny Chesney’s “Out Last Night”; and to close the show, a performance of the classic country anthem “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?,” with all seven artists performing together.
McKenna’s presence onstage added diversity to the show in a few ways. For one, she was the only female artist who performed solo, and her music, with its themes of raising a family, complemented DiPiero and James’ mainstream riffs on classic country topics like partying and chasing women. And McKenna, who grew up and lives in Massachusetts, is a true Northerner, prompting DiPiero to say, “She’s a Yankee, but we like her anyway.”
Over the years, DiPiero and other artists have found that their music resonates with fans, whether they are performing in the Deep South, along the Pacific coast or in Washington, D.C. Country music, they say, has nothing to do with geography — or labels.
“After shows, when we’re talking to some of the fans, what we get most of all is, ‘You know, I don’t even like country music, but whatever it is y’all are doing, I like,’ DiPiero said. “What we’re doing is just stripping it down to a great song by a real voice. At that point, it just comes down to good music or bad music. There’s no genre. You can hear the twang, but with a guitar, it could be a rock song, a folk song, country or something else.”
DiPiero, who performed at the Library in March and will return in the spring, expressed his excitement about the partnership between the Library and the CMA in a uniquely Southern way.
“I feel like a missionary, preaching the hillbilly gospel,” he said.