If you meant to find the spark behind local music collective Ten out of Tenn, you'd skip the song-swapping spirit at in-the-round shows, the local-talent focus at Mercy Lounge's regular 8 off 8th showcases, and maybe cast a closer eye on your Netflix queue.
The notion of building a rotating team of collaborating singers and songwriters started turning in the mind of Ten out of Tenn co-founder Trent Dabbs during a viewing of The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese's 1978 capture of The Band's last stand, which included help from the likes of Van Morrison, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. When Dabbs moved on to watching the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, that notion ignited.
"Johnny Cash walks off and he's talking to Jerry Lee Lewis, and [Lewis] is like, 'You can't follow The Killer,' " Dabbs says. "They're kind of friends but still challenging each other. It was little things like that that kicked the flame up."
The 10-artist-deep mix of locals he's been corralling into Ten out of Tenn since 2005 has tended to come off a little cuddlier than The Killer (musically and otherwise), with largely polished pop artists touring together, backing each other and swapping center stage. But four classes in — the current incarnation hits home to play Sept. 29's Live on the Green installment — Dabbs still enjoys the helpful creative one-upmanship shove that the collective provides. He also gets a little sense of pride in how his idea, either directly or indirectly, turned out to be something of a career incubator — TOT's alum list has plenty of pop-culture clout these days, Joy Williams going on to loudly fawned-over duo The Civil Wars, Jeremy Lister making the rare non-embarrassing reality TV move, leading a cappella group Street Corner Symphony to a second-place finish on hit NBC series The Sing-Off.
"I'm not saying that Ten out of Tenn is responsible for that, because I feel like good art will find its way to the top. But I do feel like it can take it to another level," Dabbs says. "It's definitely part of the story, and I'm excited to be involved."
Dabbs has thus far been the only perma-involved part of Ten out of Tenn, but the current cast features plenty of returning voices, Lister and the smoky-voiced Katie Herzig among them. New faces include the newly solo Gabe Dixon and classically trained guitarist Amy Stroup, who, having studied marketing at Lipscomb, has the benefit of a trained biz-brain perspective on the benefits of membership. For starters: a built-in promotional boost, with 10 times the tweeting fingers sharing shows, songs and pro-teammate sentiments.
"I think Ten out of Tenn is a grand experiment," says Stroup. "You've got 10 artists coming together saying, 'What can we do together? What could happen? How can we make everybody's exposure and opportunity expand?' The music business overall looks pretty grim, record labels are folding, and the old way of doing it doesn't seem to work. So I think Ten out of Tenn is a different way of just spreading your music and talking about your music and playing your music. And it seems to have worked."
One of Dabbs' initial intents with Ten out of Tenn was to preach the gospel of Nashville's non-gospel, non-country scene, and he's seen a noticeable shift from the early days of his grand experiment, when booking calls to New York and LA left him with the sense that said scene was, to be kind, "not getting much favor." Jack White, Kings of Leon, Ke$ha et al. certainly haven't hindered that shift, but Nashville-raised Dixon saw Ten out of Tenn's part in it from the outside, and wanted in.
"I know how varied and special the music scene [here] is, and it hasn't always gotten the kind of attention that it deserves, as far as music other than country music and that kind of thing," says keyboard whiz Dixon, who's uniquely equipped for TOT's frontman-to-sideman swap, having backed Paul McCartney and Loggins & Messina, among others. "Obviously that's changed in the last five years, 10 years, but I always look for any opportunity to showcase a different side of Nashville's music scene that's just as relevant and vibrant in my opinion."
The collective, collaborative aspect of Ten out of Tenn drew Dixon in too — it played into his inherent sense that musicians should boost each other, that music isn't meant to be a competitive sport.
Lister, who's been busy lately recording and touring with Street Corner and opening shows for Alison Krauss and Union Station as a solo artist, left his first Ten out of Tenn experience with the same sense. It stuck with him enough to draw him back, even when schedules didn't totally permit — he's missing the first leg of a Street Corner tour to do Ten out of Tenn's current run.
"That's always been my thing, to bring people up with you in whatever you're doing and just support each other," Lister says. "I wouldn't endorse something if I didn't like it. But everyone that's a part of this group I think is brilliant, and it's an honor for me to be a part of that."
Jack likes hip hop. The guy is a Detroit native, any music about struggle is…
jared corder complaining about people moving here is a bit ironic. pot meet kettle.
nobody said so so glos and desaparecidos for best 2013 show! surprising.
Totally agree with Caves as top album of the year----killer album!