Country Kick-Off with Mitchell Tenpenny, Joe Nichols, Thompson Square & Easton Corbin
Benefitting Musicians on Call
Brooklyn Bowl Nashville
925 3rd Avenue North
Nashville, Tennessee 37201
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His new eight-song EP "Midtown Diaries" distills his gift into infectious jams about girls and small towns, anthemic odes to love and raw, rapid-fire heartbreak. Ignited by the juxtaposition of Tenpenny and Jordan Schmidt's progressive co-production and Tenpenny's distinct, textured vocals, "Midtown Diaries" is the coming-of-age soundtrack for country fans of every vintage. He co-wrote every song.
"I want people to find their song on the EP," Tenpenny said. "That's why I gave it so much variety – love songs, break-up songs, weird songs that just feel groovy. I want them to fall in love with this, but in a way that they're like, 'Yes, I need more.'"
"Midtown Diaries" is the follow-up to Tenpenny's debut album "Telling All My Secrets," home to his double-platinum 2018 No. 1 smash "Drunk Me." The song led the Nashville native to personal and professional opportunities that range from meeting the love of his life to his co-write and duet on Chris Young's current single "At the End of a Bar."
"That doesn't happen without success," he said. "You don't get chances in this town. You have to earn them. You have to get lucky. 'Drunk Me' was the only reason people started listening to me. It set rocket fuel to my career."
Being the artist was never his plan. Playing in bands was Tenpenny's first passion. When he was 13 years old, he was the drummer and screamer in a hard rock band with his friends. He wrote his first song around then, too, and while he describes the lyrics as 'terrible,' it made his mother cry happy tears. The song was country, had a catchy melody and she could understand the words. Her reaction triggered a shift in Tenpenny's musical goals, and he started to write traditional-sounding country music songs. He continued to perform with his friends, but they went separate ways when the boys graduated high school.
Tenpenny headed to Lipscomb University to play football, then transferred to MTSU, where he shared a room with his best friend and fellow songwriter Brad Clawson. He planned to continue to play football, but his love of the game couldn't compete with his passion for songwriting. He took a professional songwriting class at MTSU where the professor and his classmates took turns critiquing each other's material. The course culminated with a performance at Bluebird Café – his first time on the famous stage. His grandmother, his mom and dad and all this mother's friends came to the show.
"That was the first legitimate thing I got to do in the music industry," he said.
After graduation, Tenpenny took a job in construction to pay the bills while working toward being a professional songwriter. Night after night, he sang his songs in bars and clubs, hoping that someone would want to record them. The feedback he received was consistent – he should record his songs instead of pitching them to other artists. One of those people, he said, was Craig Wiseman – Tenpenny's favorite songwriter. Wiseman, known for writing hits including Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying," offered to write with the young songwriter. The write took a year to happen, but Wiseman's endorsement gave Tenpenny the confidence to keep pushing forward.
"I was like, 'Okay, if this guy is coming up and saying that then maybe this is possible," he said. "My career took off from there."
Equipped with a catalog of hundreds of songs he’d written, Tenpenny signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV and scored several popular song cuts, including Granger Smith's Top 10 hit, "If the Boot Fits."
In 2017, he played a set during CMA Music Fest that attracted the attention of Sony Music Nashville. Label executives in the audience were intrigued by fans' response to his "Alcohol You Later." Within two weeks, they were in serious negotiations for the singer's first major-label record deal. Sony was so sure of Tenpenny's talent that they sent him on a radio tour to promote his debut single "Drunk Me" before the deal was finalized.
"It was crazy," Tenpenny said of the chain of events. "You just never know who is in the crowd. The faith and trust that they had in me for them to just say, 'Hey, we'll get it all figured out, but we gotta go,' was pretty awesome. I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. It was like, 'I'm going to be an artist.'"
Sony Music Nashville revealed Tenpenny's signing – a joint venture between Tenpenny's Riser House and Columbia Nashville - in early 2018. Powered by the success of "Drunk Me," Tenpenny's first album, "Telling All My Secrets," came out at the end of the year and earned him the best first-week showing for any major label country debut LP of 2018.
"Drunk Me" was praised by the New York Times as one of the best songs of 2018, made history by achieving the highest entry for a new artist on Nielsen's On Demand Audio Core Country Streaming chart, and has since amassed more than 500 million streams.
In 2019, he kept his momentum and earned a New Male Artist of the Year nomination at the ACM Awards and a nod for Breakthrough Video ("Drunk Me") at the CMT Music Awards. He was the only country artist named one of Pandora's 2019 Artists to Watch and was included on prestigious lists such as Music Row's Next Big Thing and The Tennessean's Next Nashville Stars.
He didn't intend for there to be a nearly three-year gap between projects. But, just as it did for most people, 2020 put a glitch in Tenpenny's plans. He wanted to capitalize on the success of "Drunk Me," keep releasing new music and log plenty of time on the road introducing it to fans. Touring is a vital part of the success of new music, and since that wasn't possible, he had to reevaluate.
He used the extra time to write songs, including many of the songs on "Midtown Diaries," "At the End of a Bar," and more he hopes to release later.
"A lot of life has happened in three years," he said. "I'm a different person. Some of these songs, when we're going back and listening to stuff, you gotta make sure that you're still in that headspace. A lot of songs that I loved back then ended up not making it because I'm just not the same person I was when I wrote it. It was writing every day for almost three years and picking eight songs out of that."
Since the pandemic prevented Tenpenny from testing new songs with audiences, he turned to TikTok to vet material for "Midtown Diaries." "Truth About You," the EP's lead single, likely wouldn't have made the project if it hadn't gone viral on TikTok. He wrote the break-up song - a fervent, wounded mid-tempo wrapped in contemporary production – more than two years ago. He found "Truth About You" while reviewing older songs and tossed it on TikTok. Two-and-a-half million plays earned it a slot on the EP.
He wrote “Truth About You” with Thomas Archer and Matt Alderman.
"At that time in my life, I was like, 'I know exactly how to write this song. I've lived it before,'" he said. "I'm not in that headspace anymore, but I want to write songs people can relate to and use for good. If it helps them through a break-up, that's everything for me."
Tenpenny released "Truth About You" to streaming services in July. Within days of its release, "Truth About You" was streamed more than 1.4 million times to make it the largest streaming debut of his career.
While "Truth About You" isn't indicative of Tenpenny's headspace – "I Can't Love You Any More" is the singer to a tee. The song, written with HARDY and Schmidt, is a positive up-tempo love song inspired by his girlfriend.
The lyric is: "I can't love you any more than I do right now."
"It's one of those classic country songs with the turn of phrase," he explained. "I just wrote that song about looking at my girlfriend from across the room and the little things she does. I'm so glad it made the record because when I hear it, I see her."
Tenpenny co-wrote "To Us It Did" with HARDY and Schmidt, too. A nostalgic, feel-good bop, the song explores the small moments that comprise the best memories.
"We just wrote about our lives growing up," Tenpenny said. "It's those moments where you're talking back with your friends, and to you all, it means everything. But if you tell it to someone else, they don't care. It was a lot of fun to kind of reflect back on those."
Tenpenny debuted "Bucket List" at the beginning of the year. Written with Laura Veltz and Chris DeStefano about two years ago, "Bucket List" was inspired by fans' connection to Tenpenny's "Walk Like Him." Tenpenny wanted to give listeners a song about loss that offered hope.
"It was perfect because it wasn't too serious, and we could make the song hopeful about taking care of things right now," he said.
Tenpenny is filled with hope right now. He's thankful to be back on the road playing music again. He wants people to hear "Midtown Diaries," and he's optimistic that "At the End of a Bar" could be his first No. 1 hit as a songwriter for another artist, which is an item on his bucket list.
"Midtown Diaries" has a song for every emotion carefully crafted to marry country music's love affair with lyrics with modern production tailor-made for country radio.
And Tenpenny’s mama definitely approves.
Joe Nichols has been a mainstay of country music for two decades, bridging the gap between the genre's old-school roots and contemporary era. He's a 21st century traditionalist — an artist who's both timely and timeless, racking up a half-dozen Number 1 singles and ten Top 10 hits with a sound that honors his heroes. From his first radio smash, 2002's "The Impossible," to 2021's Home Run," Nichols has proudly done things his own way, blurring the boundaries between country music's past and present along the way.
It's an approach that has earned Nichols multi-platinum success, three Grammy nominations, a CMA award, an ACM trophy, and — perhaps most importantly — the support of his idols. He still remembers the day he received a letter from Buck Owens, who passed away the same week his message arrived in Nichols' mailbox. The two had previously crossed paths in Bakersfield, California, where Owens complimented Nichols on his classic sound… and gave him some good-natured teasing about the length of his hair.
"He wrote me the day before he died," remembers Nichols, who was still riding high on the success of his gold-selling fourth album, III, and its chart-topping single "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off." "It was so nice of him to do that. He said, 'I'm really proud of you. I love the way you're keeping it country. And thank you for cutting that daggum hair!' An honor like that is irreplaceable. It's got nothing to do with winning awards or having your songs on the radio. It's much more than that. It's the kind of thing you pass down to your grandkids."
For Nichols — an Arkansas native who grew up listening to icons like George Strait, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Buck Owens — keeping things country has been a lifelong mission. He made his major-label debut with 2002's Man With A Memory, a platinum-selling album rooted in southern storytelling and honky-tonk hooks, then continued blending the worlds of neo-traditionalist country and modern twang with follow-up records like Real Things, Crickets, and It Never Gets Old. Between duetting with Dolly Parton on "If I Were a Carpenter," serving as Garth Brooks' hand-picked opening act, and numerous other career milestones, Nichols also kept things lighthearted, showcasing his easy-going humor with "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" and a slow, shuffling cover of Six Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." At the core of his sound, though, remained a serious commitment to a bigger goal: making genuine country music that nodded to his influences while still breaking new ground.
"It's a fine line to walk," he admits. "How do you stay fresh while also honoring your roots? I've always admired people like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, who built their careers on timeless songs and created their own sound by electrifying traditional country music. It's one thing to have hit songs, but it's something else entirely to have hits that still sound timeless 15 years later. That's always been my goal. I'm a country singer who loves the old-school stuff. I throw it back and pay homage to the guys I grew up listening to, while hopefully bringing that sound into the modern world."
Nichols swings for the fences once again with his newest single, "Home Run,” written by award-winning songwriters Ashley Gorley, Dallas Davidson and Ross Copperman. It’s a song about reconnection and rebirth — an anthem for anyone looking to turn life's curveballs into a straight shot toward the center field seats.
"It's more than a great hook; it's a great message, too," says Nichols. "After the year we've had, we could all use a little bit of a break, just to step away from the rat race for a while and get back to our roots. We could all use a reminder of what home feels like."
"Home Run" reunites Nichols with acclaimed music producers Mickey Jack Cones and Derek George, who helmed Nichols’ much-lauded 2013 Red Bow Records album Crickets containing back-to-back number 1 hits "Sunny and 75" and "Yeah.”
Additionally, “Home Run” reunites Nichols with longtime collaborator and legendary label head Benny Brown, who helped Nichols achieve success at Red Bow Records before signing him to the newly-formed Quartz Hill Records in early 2021. The song marks the singer's first release for Quartz Hill, ushering in a new era of classic-influenced country music. For Nichols — an artist who remains focused on honoring his roots — there couldn't be a better group of partners to join him in the next phase of his career.
“Home Run” is also the first single from Nichols’ upcoming tenth studio album, Good Day For Living, which marks his first full-length project in four years and his first album for Quartz Hill Records.
"For the first time in a long time, I don't feel any pressure," he says. "I'm around great people. I'm the type of person who's always striving for more, but I've reached a place where I'm grateful for everything I've accomplished so far. It's been such a good run. I feel at peace, and that has freed me up to make new music that's very honest.
Carrying the torch for traditional country music is a full-time job, even for a legend in the making. Joe Nichols continues to meet the challenge with the same roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic that helped launch his career decades earlier, mixing sharp songwriting, a palpable appreciation for the genre's past, and modern melodies into his own sound. There's more music to make. More milestones to chase down. More home runs to knock out of the park.
The game is still unwinding. But Joe Nichols has already hit his home run.
To learn more about Thompson Square, visit ThompsonSquare.com, and follow Thompson Square on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube.
With two No. 1 singles, multiple awards and nominations, plus performances on some of the biggest stages in the world, Mercury Nashville’s Easton Corbin has made a lasting impression on the country music landscape. He is lauded for his traditional country sound, authentic lyrics and mastery of understatement. American Songwriter says, "Easton Corbin has one of those rare, glorious voices that was made—just made—for singing country music.” His self-titled debut album released in 2010 and spawned back-to-back hits “A Little More Country Than That” and “Roll With It;” making him the first country male artist in 17 years to have his first two consecutive singles reach No. 1. In 2012 the Gilchrist County Florida native released his sophomore album, All Over The Road, which included the Top 5 hits “Lovin’ You Is Fun” and “All Over The Road.” Corbin set a career-best debut on Country Airplay with his top 5 hit single, “Baby Be My Love Song," from his No. 1 debuting album About To Get Real. His latest single, “Are You With Me,” was most added song at country radio the day it was released. “Are You With Me” first appeared on All Over The Road and was such a special song to Corbin he carried it over to About To Get Real in hopes it would be a radio single. Corbin spent 2016 on one of the biggest tours in country music -Carrie Underwood’s The Storyteller Tour. Corbin is currently in the studio working on new music for his fourth studio album. Get “A Girl Like You"