Mesa, AZ — Songwriters doing “rounds” is a staple in the Nashville music scene, but it is a rare treat to the Metro Phoenix area. The CMA Songwriters Series launched in 2005 and has brought a little of that Music City culture to cities all over the world. The CMA website claims that the series has featured nearly 200 gifted storytellers who collectively have 100 CMA Song of the Year nominations. The 2019 season show that graced the intimate Piper Theater stage at the Mesa Arts Center was a stellar all-female cast.
Leading off the rounds was Liz Rose, who also acted as the MC for the evening. She has one of those 100 CMA Song of the Year nominations mentioned above for co-writing Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” (which just so happened to also win the category).
Rose introduced the other songwriters; Mickey Guyton, Ingrid Andress, Jillian Jacqueline, and Marti Lynn Dodson, and then kicked off the music with a song that she wrote with “a little girl named Taylor”. The song was the Grammy Award winning “White Horse”, and of course the little girl was Taylor Swift.
Batting second, Texas native Mickey Guyton launched into her latest release, “Sister” (Capitol Records Nashville). Guyton has a powerful and alluring voice and an incredible knack for writing relatable songs. Her energy and emotions were on full display as her face lit up hearing great hooks, and as her tears fell after hearing Rose singing the emotional “When You’re My Age”.
An audience favorite was her new song, “Rosé” that was a fun drinking song for a more sophisticated palate. The ladies shared the fact that their drinks on stage were not exactly just water, which added to the vivacious atmosphere.
Rose and Guyton were accompanied by a guest acoustic guitarist, the sole male sitting upstage of the main line up. Ingrid Andress, however, was playing her Nord Stage 3 keyboard for her own piano accompaniment. Andress has writing credits with Sam Hunt and Alicia Keys, but it was obvious that she has that special style and presence to be a star in her own right. Her lyrics are fresh and honest and cater to her generation more than most modern country songs. Andress shared the stories behind “We’re Not Friends” and “Both”, each song being unique and candidates for crossover audiences. On the other hand, she proved that she has a firm foundation in country songwriting too as she played “More Hearts Than Mine”, her first single released after being signed to Atlantic Records / Warner Music Nashville.
Next up was Jillian Jacqueline who poured her heart and her angelic voice into each of her songs. It is so interesting to hear the stories behind the songs. Jacqueline shared the entertaining story of sitting on the floor at Keith Urban’s house working on “If I Were You”, a song on which he sang harmonies and played guitar.
Her well crafted lyrics on songs like “Sad Girls” and “Hate Me” brought the “feels” to room. Jacqueline commanded everyone’s undivided attention with the stripped down sound of her voice and her Gibson acoustic guitar, the ideal definition of a singer/songwriter.
Rounding out the lineup, wearing a beautiful flowing dress and stunning red shoes, was Marti Lynn Dodson who founded and fronted the band Saving Jane. Among her song selections was the Saving Jane hit “Girl Next Door” which had fans of the song tapping their feet and singing along. Dodson played an Epiphone acoustic guitar that sounded amazing.
Tucson Musicians Hall of Fame inductee, LeeAnne Savage was in the audience and is a long-time fan of Dodson. Savage noted, “The song “Cheerleader” was one of my favorite bops of 2000, however her song “Quarterback” takes the listener on a journey involving date rape, social media bullying, and the imbalance of power between victim and perpetrator. Great songwriters hold up a mirror to society in an effort to create dialogue around difficult topics. This song does just that.”
There were plenty of songwriters in the audience that were basking in the glow of this group of women who have honed their craft and found success in a very tough field. Songwriter Angel Pizarro said, “I loved the experience of being so close to songwriting greatness along with the feel of being at a friend’s living room; and as a songwriter I appreciated the value of being there, learning while being entertained. I’ll never forget this evening!”
Setlist for the Evening
- Liz Rose – “White Horse” (recorded by Taylor Swift)
- Mickey Guyton – “Sister”
- Ingrid Andress – “We’re Not Friends”
- Jillian Jacqueline – “Hate Me”
- Marti Lynn Dodson – “Breakers” (recorded by Thompson Square)
- Liz Rose – “When You’re My Age”
- Mickey Guyton – “Brand New”
- Ingrid Andress – “Both”
- Jillian Jacqueline – “If I Were You” (recorded by Jillian Jacqueline feat. Keith Urban)
- Marti Lynn Dodson – “Quarterback” (recorded by Kira Isabella)
- Bailey Claywell (student songwriter) – “I Will Rise”
- Liz Rose – “You Belong With Me” (recorded by Taylor Swift)
- Lourde Childs (student songwriter) – “Faithful”
- Mickey Guyton – “Rosé”
- Ingrid Andress – “Lady Like”
- Jillian Jacqueline – “Sad Girls”
- Marti Lynn Dodson – “Girl Next Door” (recorded by Saving Jane)
- Liz Rose – “Girl Crush” (recorded by Little Big Town)
- Mickey Guyton – “Better Than You Left Me”
- Ingrid Andress – “More Hearts Than Mine”
- Jillian Jacqueline – “God Bless This Mess”
- Marti Lynn Dodson – “Things I’ll Miss”
The touring group of ladies and the sponsor US Bank made a stop earlier in the day to visit with the teachers and students at The Phoenix Conservatory of Music (PCM) and give a master class in songwriting. The visit was part of U.S. Bank’s Community Possible giving and engagement platform and its Places to Play partnership with the CMA Foundation. Many of the students and teachers came out to attend the show and two exceptional students were even granted the opportunity to share the stage and play their original songs. Bailey Claywell was accompanied by keyboard player Michael Rodriguez as she sang their original song, and later Lourde Childs brought the house down, singing and playing guitar on his original. The students received a well-earned standing ovation.
Each of the featured writers were able to play four of their songs as they took turns showcasing their personal favorites. The highest energy and audience engagement occurred as Liz Rose sang her second Taylor Swift song of the evening, “You Belong To Me”. Everyone in the room, on-stage and off-stage, was singing along to the infectious chorus. One especially enthusiastic fan of the song was even pulled out of the audience to come up and sing on stage with the group.
It was a great evening with a diverse array of songs from some truly gifted songwriters. As the end of the evening approached each writer saved their best song for their last round as they each said their good-byes.
Jon Iger, the President of the Arizona Songwriters Association, was in attendance and had this message for CMA Songwriting Series participants:
“Thank you ladies of CMA for a very inspiring day! A day of amazing writing and performing talent! The same goes for the PCM students! We (Arizona Songwriters Association) have worked on several events with PCM, and they are doing outstanding work with their students and the music community! And being a long time member of CMA, I know the great work they continue to do with schools! Hope to see you again real soon!”
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
CMA Songwriters Series – Mesa Arts Center 8-21-19
Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved