Nashville musicians find their own way to living free

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

by Jorge Encinas

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—As people eat, drink and chat in downtown bars, the city’s many musicians perform for anyone who will listen.

For many of these performers, the music is as much about making a living as it is about doing what they love, despite the long hours, competition and limits on what they can play.

Playing at the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley, near Church Street, on this May afternoon is a large man with a thick beard and big smile. Corey Mac, 34, bandleader and creator of The Corey Mac Show, is surrounded by seven other musicians.

Some in the audience watch the band intently, while clapping their hands and tapping their feet. Others concentrate on their own conversations.

It is a similar scene for Kyle Bruich, 29, bandleader and guitar player for Lady and the Gents, performing at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Broadway.

Both bands play covers of well-known songs from many genres, but on this night the covers are mostly classic rock and country music. Playing covers of other people’s music instead of original material is common in Nashville, Mac and Bruich say.

“The majority of the time a club wants you to come in and play music people know so they can sing and dance and drink,” Mac says. “Imagine every bar is ‘Cheers.’ Everybody wants to…know Norm, everybody wants to sing the song. That’s the vibe, that’s what you’re always going for.”

Bruich, a native of Arkansas, grew up learning to play the blues and classic rock on his guitar and never really favored country music. However, that changed as Bruich began to earn his living through his guitar. Much of what he plays in Nashville are covers or a genre he was not always a part of, but he does not consider it selling out.

“I made more money playing country music,” Bruich says. “I’ve done other jobs, and I’d rather play guitar every day than do something else.”

Bruich says he has grown to love country and how happy people become when he plays it.

“Some people might call that selling out or whatever it is, but to me, it’s like I get to play my guitar every day,” Bruich says. “I don’t view that as sacrificing anything. If I had a job I hated to go to every day, then that would be selling out.”

Mac shares that sentiment. “There’s a lot of people that have issues with what it is to make it and what that means,” he says. “For me, it was always if you could make a living playing music and hanging out with your friends, you’ve won. My old man did 40 years at the same place, killing himself, 4 a.m. to 3 o’clock in the afternoon, like, forever. Bless him, because I could not do that.”

Shane Douglas plays a cover of a Rolling Stones song at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley, Nashville, Tenn., in May. (Photo by Jorge Encinas)

Under the purple and red stage lights of Bourbon Street Bar sits a lone guitarist and singer. Shane Douglas, from Shane and the Money Makers, plays alone for a sparse crowd of 14 patrons.

For Douglas, it is a chance to make some extra cash before he goes on the road to play his next set later that night. While making a living from performing requires long hours, hard work and perseverance, Douglas says he would not have it any other way.

“I’ll take any gig, you know,” he says with a smile. “Because if you say no, someone (is) waiting right around the block to come in and do it for less money, or free, and they’re going to have a job and you’re not. So you got to be willing to go work at it.”

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