First Person

You Sing I Write Says Goodbye To NYC

A Thousand Horses

(Posing with A Thousand Horses after an interview at New York’s Bryant Park)

I vividly remember my first time visiting Nashville. It was the summer of 2009 and my two friends, Deana and Wendy, convinced me to join them on a trip to Music City for the annual CMA Music Festival. I must admit, I had little knowledge of country music back then besides Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban. Midway through the festival, though, I was sold on country music. So much so, I remember telling one freelance writer I met that I wanted to move to Nashville ASAP. Her advice to me: build your career and reputation in New York first. In Nashville everyone covers country music and it’s much harder to break into the field but in New York, I’d be the big fish in a small pond.

Looking back on a blog post from 2009, that initial spark and desire to move to Nashville is apparent:

Being in Nashville for CMA week really opened up my eyes into the country music realm and I was so glad to be a part of it. Somewhat of a newbie to the genre, what I saw this week were some of the most down-to-earth, appreciative and welcoming people in the business and it’s so refreshing to see the stars so receptive and engaging with their fans. I just may have to make a yearly trip to Nashville from now on!

Little did I know that yearly trip would turn into a desire to pack up all my things and move to Tennessee! When asked how I, a Jersey girl, first got into country music I always tell the story of this first trip to Nashville and my first experience attending a press conference at CMA Fest. Definitely a fish out of water, I had little knowledge of the country community and press conferences. I had never attended a press conference before and I didn’t realize you had to shout at the artist to get your question answered. Darius Rucker was the first artist to come through the room and as all the journalists yelled to get their questions answered I simply sat there with my hand raised. In that moment I felt so out of place and questioned my even being there. The last question was asked and Darius was being ushered off the stage by his publicist. But then he stopped and looked right at me.

“You have been so patient this whole time. What is your question?” he asked, pointing to me.

Darius Rucker

(Darius Rucker after he answered press questions in Nashville during CMA Fest)

I didn’t even realize he was talking to me so I turned to look behind me but sure enough he was addressing me. In that moment I was sold on country music. Having covered pop music for years, I really don’t think Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber would have even noticed me, let alone asked what my question was as sincerely as Darius did.

Since 2009, I have covered the country genre for Marie Claire, AOL, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Country Weekly and CBS and have gained some of my favorite New York memories thanks to the genre. Meeting Lady Antebellum at a Miranda Lambert concert at Terminal 5, then my first interview with Lady A a week later at City Winery. Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown Band being my first concert review for Rolling Stone. Spending the day with Keith Urban. The list goes on and on.

With all that said, I think it’s safe to say I built up my country music cred in New York and now it’s time for my next adventure — moving to Nashville. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Every morning I wake up at 4 a.m. with a minor freakout. Is this the right decision? Am I going to get work? All I know is in New York and New Jersey! While all my family is up here, I won’t grow as a writer and as a person unless I jump out of my comfort zone every once in a while. So, I am moving out of Brooklyn July 31st. I’ll head down to Nashville mid-September after spending some time with friends and family in New Jersey. It’s a huge leap for me, having grown up and gone to college in New Jersey and not knowing many people in Nashville but it’s something I have to do. I know I’ll always regret it if I don’t.

To celebrate, and say proper goodbyes, I’ll be doing it the only way I know how: by hosting a concert! Next Thursday, my roommate Leah Taylor and I will be putting together a show at Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side from 7-9pm including performances by Hide & Seek, Eugene Tyler Band and Leah Taylor. Come by early for happy hour and stay and enjoy some free live music. The night will be bittersweet for sure, but I have good reason to believe Nashville is the best decision for me career-wise at this moment. In the meantime, I aim to update this blog more often on my adventures, bands to watch and interviews. Stay tuned for another exciting chapter for You Sing, I Write!

Features News

Q&A: Jennifer Gilson, Co-Owner of the Living Room


(Editors Note: I interviewed Jennifer Gilson last year for another publication that since folded. Since the article was never published, I thought it’d be helpful for local musicians to know what she looks for when booking acts at the Living Room.)

For over a decade, New York’s the Living Room has been known as an intimate place to witness live music. Co-owner Jennifer Gilson explained that she decided to open the venue shortly after her waitressing job at Sin-é ended when the café closed. The Irish café, famous for where Jeff Buckley performed and recorded Live at Sin-é, booked many musicians, some of who suggested Gilson open her own venue.

“Sin-é had a really low, intimate stage so I decided to keep that. That’s sort of what worked. Artists used to say, ‘This is great. I feel like I’m playing in my living room.’ That’s why I ended up calling it the Living Room,” Gilson said.

While the Living Room boasts well known and emerging talent, Gilson says she likes to maintain a comfortable, friendly atmosphere and on any given night you can expect to hear good music. With that said, she has some suggestions for bands hoping to land a slot on the Living Room stage and explains what she looks for before she books an act. Heed her advice below.

1. Don’t send elaborate press kits.

“It’s funny. People used to mail big press kits with their folders, head-shots and bios, sometimes with ribbons. What I would always do is put them to the side and just get my stack of CD’s and start listening. That’s what I do first: I listen to the music. I don’t see if they’re being signed or they can bring a million people or they’re friends with somebody. First it’s the music,” she said.

“If it’s something I like that I think would be great here, then I look into it further and I’ll listen to another song and go from there and see what an appropriate time for them to play might be. Another thing is I’ll listen to it and think, ‘Would I enjoy sitting through 45 minutes of this artist?’ Sometimes you can tell in a measure and sometimes you can tell by the second song.”

2. Sound good.

This might seem obvious, but Gilson explained this is crucial before she decides to book an act. An artist must sing in pitch, be able to play his instrument and have good lyrics. “I’ll love something that’s solo guitar straight folk and I’ll also love something that has a toy piano and some weird synth stuff and cool percussion. I don’t book one style of music, but it has to be good by my standards.”

3. Be honest about your draw.

“If you don’t really have an audience yet, try to go to open mics or play places that don’t require a larger audience and then build it up. If you say you can bring a certain number of people and then you don’t, we’re probably not going to want to rebook you,” she said.

But, if you are honest and Gilson feels you’re still a great fit for the venue she says “maybe we’ll do something at a time that doesn’t require you bringing a lot of people.” Their upstairs space, Googies Lounge, has a smaller capacity and an artist can play there to build his audience and eventually move downstairs to the bigger room.

4. Know the venue’s standards.

“To play at the Living Room you have to play at a particular volume. I have a rule with the staff and sound that if you feel like you have to put something in your ears, then it is too loud and you probably can’t hear the lyrics and you can’t hear the lead singer,” Gilson said. “Why should you protect a part of your body when you go out to have fun? It’s just not necessary and it’s more about good sound. If you have to play loud, then a rock club is probably more your place.”

5. Promote the show.

Once you land that gig, you have to do your own self promotion. “You have to bring people because whether it’s a show that has a cover or whether it’s one of our $10 suggested donation tip jar shows, we need people to buy drinks so we can pay our rent,” she said. “It’s not all about the bodies. First it’s about the music, but you have to get people in.”

Song of the Week

Song of the Week: “New York, New York”

I’ve been subletting my friend’s room the past month in New York while she’s been in Ukraine and couldn’t think of a better track for my last few days here than Frank Sinatra’s infamous hit, “New York, New York.” While I’ve done some tourist attractions (boating in Central Park and eating countless times at Shake Shack), this month has given me a newfound appreciation for the city that never sleeps. Additionally, it’s made covering shows easier and more enjoyable — never having to rely on catching the last bus back to Jersey.

Throughout the month I was lucky enough to catch some great New York bands like Mourning District as well as interview some notable acts like Better Than Ezra and The Ting Tings. While the Internet hasn’t been too reliable throughout my stay, in the upcoming weeks I’ll be posting all my interviews (audio and video). Stay tuned and let the magnificent Sinatra take it away . . .


Any last minute NYC spots you recommend checking out?

Song of the Week

Song of the Week: “New York, New York”

My first full week back in New York, what better song to feature than “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra? Such a classic! Reminds me why I want to move to the city that never sleeps . . . any apartment hunting tips for me?



New York Opens Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex

Last week I headed to SoHo to visit the recently opened Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in New York — definitely the best money I’ve spent in a while. From walking throughout three rooms of exhibits to watching a video of some of rock’s biggest icons live in concert, not to mention an autograph room where each musician’s signature lights up on the wall as their music is being played from speakers, there was something to offer every music fan.

As my friends can attest, I love quotes. So, the live footage of some of my favorite rock legends — Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin and more — was great, but even better were some of the quotes intertwined with each performance. Here are a few that stuck out for me:

“A live concert to me is exciting because of all the electricity that is generated in the crowd and on stage.” Elvis Presley

“Music has to breathe and sweat. You have to play it live.” James Brown

“The words are just as important as the music.” Bob Dylan

“Music makes me high on stage, and that’s the truth. It’s like being almost addicted to music.” Jimi Hendrix

After the video, everyone was ushered into the first of three galleries where we were given a set of headphones and hand-held audio guide to walk us through each area. With personal memorabilia from every band imaginable — from concert posters, numerous acoustic and electric guitars and clothing from many well-known musicians to Johnny Cash’s boots, Elvis Presley’s personal Bible with handwritten notes in the margins (the page on display read, “The Lord is the strength of my life he shall lead me.”), and Bruce Springsteen’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible (see below) there was so much to see!

The Doors, the Who, Metallica, Prince, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan — you name it, there was something to see from each band and musician. In addition to two rooms of band memorabilia, a third gallery focused solely on The Clash — complete with live concert footage and exclusive interviews as well as posters, tour outfits and band equipment.

Another interesting portion was reading notes to fans written by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones before they hit it big. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was seeing handwritten lyrics to infamous songs like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.”

I highly recommend the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for anyone visiting New York. They have a special holiday reduced price until January 2nd which I took advantage of, but if you miss that, it’s still well worth seeing for any music lover. I hope I didn’t give away too much of the exhibit, but provided a glimpse of what it has to offer. Be sure to visit and let me know what your favorite exhibit is! For more information, check out the Web site here.