by Bob Doerschuk
In 2005, Bob DiPiero was already a giant in Nashville’s songwriting community. The Youngstown, Ohio, native had received two CMA Triple Play Awards — in 1995, for Faith Hill’s “Take Me As I Am,” Reba McEntire’s “Till You Love Me” and Neal McCoy’s “Wink,” and in 1996 for George Strait’s “Blue Clear Sky,” Ricochet’s “Daddy’s Money” and Vince Gill’s “Worlds Apart.” Other honors had come his way as well, including recognition by the Nashville Music Awards in 1998 and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville Songwriter of the Year in 2000.
Even so, a few questions kept nagging at him. “There was a while that I was thinking, ‘Why am I on the CMA Board?’” he remembered. “‘Am I just taking up space? What can I contribute?’”
The answers presented themselves quickly, as discussions began about moving the 2005 CMA Awards to Madison Square Garden in New York City. In reviewing plans for that historic decision, DiPiero noticed that something was missing. “There was no representation for the songwriter. So I picked up the sword for the songwriting community.”
Remembering that epiphany, DiPiero raised his fist heroically and, as he often does, broke into laughter. In fact, though, back in 2005 he did voice his concern to CMA Board Chairman Kix Brooks and President Victor Sansone. They responded swiftly, authorizing DiPiero to work with CMA Marketing Coordinator Kyle Quigley, now CMA Senior Manager of Event Programming and Special Events, to implement something suitable in tandem with the Awards. DiPiero came up with the idea of adapting the “songwriters in the round” format pioneered in Nashville at The Bluebird Café. Quigley, meanwhile, helped DiPiero confirm Tim Nichols, Jeffrey Steele and Craig Wiseman as participants and scouted Joe’s Pub as the venue for what would become the first of many New York installments of CMA Songwriters Series.
“We did two shows that first night,” DiPiero said. “The first was mostly industry people, so we were preaching to the choir. The second show was mostly civilians. And after we’d finished, these people started searching us out and going, ‘I don’t even like Country Music — but whatever this was, I like it!’ From that moment, CMA Songwriters Series started gaining momentum, to the point now where both of our shows in September, with Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson, Kendell Marvel and myself, sold out in an hour — and everybody in the audience knows every word to every song we do.”
This momentum carried CMA Songwriters Series to new markets last year, in September at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and two in Chicago during October, at Joe’s Bar and the Chicago Country Music Festival in Grant Park. Even more auspicious was its debut at Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress, during the 2010 March CMA Board meetings in Washington, D.C.
DiPiero played his now established emcee role that night with Kix Brooks, Lorrie Morgan, John Rich, Randy Scruggs and Victoria Shaw participating. “There was a goodly amount of senators and members of Congress there. So where it can get a little smoky and blue when you get to the second show at Joe’s Pub,” he noted, with a laugh, “we were very respectful of where we were.
“But like all the other CMA Songwriters Series shows, it was totally unrehearsed,” he continued. “And personally, I love that. All we did was a soundcheck. I tell the performers, ‘We’ll go around four or five times, so be prepared for that. But I don’t care what you play. If you wrote it, play it.’ I might try and make sure the show is flowing and we don’t get bogged down in three Jack-and-Coke songs, but basically I say the least amount possible, which is very hard for me. I have no clue what’s going to happen, but as the song says, I hold on loosely.”
This spontaneity is appreciated both by writers who also perform as artists and by audiences seeking insight into the creative process. Even DiPiero admits to learning something at each show. “As a matter of fact, that happened just recently,” he said. “Right before Craig Wiseman sang ‘Live Like You Were Dying,’ he started talking about how he learned to play guitar at church camp — and then he sang a real simple church camp song. I guess it really hit me and I could see where ‘Live Like You Were Dying’ came from.”
As of today, DiPiero has cut three albums, won three dozen BMI Country and Million-Air honors and racked up his 15th No. 1 hit with Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice.” Still, he values what he has achieved through CMA Songwriters Series and looks forward to its return Dec. 4 to Coolidge Auditorium with Brett James, Little Big Town and Lori McKenna (ticket information: www.loc.gov/concerts), as well as upcoming performances in New York City on Nov. 2 with Eric Church, Luke Laird and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, and Nashville at Limelight, Nov. 9 with Josh Kear, Brett James, Rivers Rutherford and Chris Young. The Nov. 2 show is sold out, but tickets are still available for Nov. 9 at www.LimelightNashville.com.
“We’ve reached a tipping point,” he mused. “The collective consciousness is ready to accept this kind of show. It’s totally unrehearsed and there’s no set list, but it’s real and very authentic. That’s why I’m just as much a fan as a performer at these shows.”
On the Web: www.BobDiPiero.com
© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
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