LOS ANGELES — Kellie Pickler is the gift that keeps on giving. Plop the diminutive country dynamo on a stage, give her a microphone and, within minutes, she’s likely to say something jaw-dropping. Her appearance at Tuesday night’s (Sept. 15) CMA Songwriters Series was no exception.
Not surprisingly, party pooper Kanye West drew her biggest wrath. This was, after all, only 48 hours after West rudely crashed her BFF Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at MTV’s Video Music Awards.
When CMT.com asked Pickler earlier in the evening if she had talked to Swift since the imbroglio, she sweetly declined to comment. However, after Pickler soared through a spirited version of “Best Days of Your Life,” a song she co-wrote with Swift, songwriter Bob DiPiero turned to her and said, “You should dedicate that to Kanye West.”
Pickler drew a deep breath and muttered that she didn’t “want to waste the time,” but then she just couldn’t help herself.
“I think what it is … is he just doesn’t like country music. Remember when Gretchen [Wilson] kicked his ass at the Grammys — or was it the American Music Awards — well, f*** you,” she said, accompanied by a pointing upward of her middle finger, just in case she hadn’t made herself clear.
Even before the West admonishment, the barefooted Pickler had the audience rolling with her no-holds-barred comments at the otherwise low-key evening hosted by DiPiero, whose lengthy list of songwriting credits includes George Strait’s “Blue Clear Sky” and Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone.” The event also featured Aimee Mayo and husband Chris Lindsey. Mayo’s song catalog includes Martina McBride’s “This One’s for the Girls” (or “This One’s for the Squirrels,” as she said her sons call it). Lindsey’s songwriting successes include Keith Urban’s “Your Everything.” Together, the couple are co-writers of Lonestar’s “Amazed” and the Faith Hill–Tim McGraw collaboration, “Let’s Make Love.” All four songwriters took turns performing their compositions and revealing the stories behind the songs during the showcase.
Pickler prefaced her biting paean to a remarrying ex, “Rocks Instead of Rice,” with, “I’d just gone through a pretty bad breakup. … You should see the bimbo he’s with now.” Someone from the audience screamed out, “She’s a whore.” Without missing a beat, Pickler said, “Oh, I know. … Her name’s Whitney.”
Perhaps her funniest moment came when she launched into a long story about two “cowboys” Lindsey overheard in the men’s room — or “erinul,” as Pickler pronounced it until Lindsey gently corrected her — who had expressed their desires for Pickler in an ungentlemanly way. She delivered a warning to the two men about trying to play rough with her: “I may be little, but I will kick you in the balls.”
Pickler, whose powerful voice and charisma added an extra dimension to the evening, is the latest artist-songwriter to take part in the occasional series which the CMA launched in New York City in 2005. Other artists who have joined Nashville’s top songwriters onstage for the series include Kix Brooks, Billy Currington, Chely Wright and Craig Morgan.
The CMA has been spreading its geographic wings with the series, but this was the first time its span extended to the West Coast. Tuesday’s show had an additional motive. The L.A. Office RoadShow, a conference that brings together brand and event marketers, co-sponsored the event at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard. The showcase was aimed at putting songwriters — and country music — in front of a number of influential media buyers and executives who coordinate sponsorship deals and music licensing possibilities.
“I would absolutely die if one of my songs were in a movie,” Pickler told CMT.com before the show. “I’ve always thought that would be incredible. I was very surprised that ’Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful’ wasn’t used for Dove or a women’s empowering [brand]. Maybe someone will hear it tonight.”
The evening closed with Pickler delivering a tender, gentle rendition of the wrenching “I Wonder,” a song about her mother who left when Pickler was 2. She wrote the song with Mayo and Lindsey over the phone before she met them in person.
“From the first time we said hello on the phone, it was like talking to family,” Pickler said. “We got to talking about my life and my mother and the relationship I don’t have with her. Country music is about telling stories. … I poured my soul out, it was so deep and personal.”
That often confessional nature of storytelling means these songwriter-in-the-round evenings are best experienced in an intimate setting, such as Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Café, where they can often take on a near-religious feel. The House of Blues was simply too big a venue for the close confines these acoustic events require to transcend above the din. A lucky 150 or so patrons sat in chairs on the main part of the floor directly in front of the stage. Otherwise, attendees roamed the seemingly cavernous two-story venue and chatted loudly at the bar. Los Angelenos love their country music, but should the series return to the City of Angels, organizers would be well advised to consider a more suitably-sized space, like the singer-songwriter friendly Troubadour or the Roxy.
The next CMA songwriter shows will take place Oct. 2-3 in Chicago and will feature Lee Ann Womack, DiPiero and songwriters Dean Dillon and Scotty Emerick.