It sounds insane, I know, but I performed at the Ryman Auditorium on Saturday. I, Brandon Jazz — local instigator, venue manager and glam rocker — performed at the Mother Church while backed by eight of my hooligan friends. We showed up with instruments, walked onto the boards of one of the world's most revered stages to an audience of roughly 2,000, and we opened for the The B-52s ... AT THE RYMAN. RYMAN RYMAN RYMAN. I can say it a billion times, and it still doesn't make sense.
The B-52s gave us a shout-out during their set. Two members of my band met Brenda Lee — she called us "swell." I did a dumb rap that I wrote in my bedroom over a Paul Simon sample, and the crowd flipped out for our Michael Bolton cover. We walked onstage to a song by local punkers Diarrhea Planet, and we got away with it.
You're probably wondering how this happened. And to a goofball like me, of all people. Short answer? The Internet! Filmmaker Seth Graves and I made a silly YouTube clip mocking the outlandishly offensive, homophobic zealots of Westboro Baptist Church, and two years later that clip landed us on the most revered stage in town. The B-52s (well, their management) found the footage entertaining enough to give me the slot.
What was it like performing at the Mother Church? Surreal is one word. Un-fucking-believable is another.
I vomited. I second-guessed things I thought I knew about life, the universe and ... well, everything. My personal life unraveled; performance at my day job became nearly nonexistent. How do you prepare to perform on what one bandmate casually referred to at sound check as "hallowed ground" (Thanks, Dave!)? To play the Ryman is a pretty heavy thing to process, especially for someone whose "band" typically consists of my BFF Jerry Pentecost and a MacBook Pro. Brandon Jazz and His Armed Forces is really more of a performance-art project than a band. We don't strive for excellence; we strive for "bad-good." A song isn't finished until it makes us LOL upon playback.
My songs sound like the worst (i.e., best) parts of the coked-out '80s, and I've given up asking my "real" musician friends to waste their bandwidth on each new disasterpiece. I refer to us as "the most tolerated band in Nashville," because no one likes our music, but I can be charming, and people want me to book their band. In a town in which "singers" and "songwriters" are put on such a pedestal, I have found that "Let's Just Have Fun With It" is not a practical business model. And yet. THE RYMAN.
But what was it like? In a nutshell, it was like having your head explode all day every day for six weeks straight, and then playing a show while your head continues to explode. But it was OK! B-52s fans are some of the best people in the world, and I got to share the stage with several of my favorite local musicians — My So-Called Band's Dave Paulson, electro-pop troupe Hanzelle and local engineer and sideman Ryan Truso. As soon as Jerry counted us in, it was all smiles, high fives and unadulterated fun.
Following our performance, I spoke with comedian James Austin Johnson about how much easier it is performing to a full house anywhere than at Springwater for three people who don't care. Cliché be damned, I can say that when I walked onstage — seeing those legendary windows and pews, seeing an excitable crowd of folks who paid $25-plus for their seats — the nerves went away. This was what it's supposed to be like. This was the dream. It's a moment that may get me through a hundred other shitty gigs. Which reminds me, I'll be playing at The Basement this Saturday, Sept. 1. Tickets are $5.
No one wants my advice, but here it is: If you want to make music for money, follow the formula. Look it up, it's probably on the Internet. But if you want do something special and important on your own terms, then wave that freak flag high. Don't apologize for being different. I did a dumb thing once and put it on YouTube. It made my friends laugh, and that was enough. But it landed me the gig of a lifetime.
After the show, I cabbed it home and slept like a babe. The next morning, I smiled with total sincerity when I discovered that my car had been unceremoniously towed from the Ryman's lot. There simply couldn't have been a better back-to-reality moment: Time's up, show's over, get out. In the long view, the $106 it cost to get my car back won't matter. I had the opportunity to open for The B-52s at the Ryman Auditorium with my best friends. My footsteps from the Mother Church to Martin's Wrecker Service were light as a feather. How can you not smile? The experience was perfect.
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