When songwriter Kylie Sackley performed Tuesday night (April 5) at Tin Pan South, she brought along something she didn't have when she appeared at last year's festival -- a major hit recorded by LeAnn Rimes.
Tin Pan South, which runs through Saturday at venues throughout Nashville, celebrates Nashville's status as the songwriting capital of the world while calling attention to the songwriters who really do write the songs the whole world sings. This year's festival features some 200 songwriters performing during more than 70 separate showcases.
Participants include a who's who of Nashville songwriters and an array of out-of-towners, including Jimmy Webb, Peter Frampton (a former Nashville resident) and Billy Mann (whose songs have been recorded by Jessica Simpson, Pink, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Hall & Oates and many others.) One of the highlights is a Friday night show at the Mercy Lounge featuring Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin and John David Souther. Other well-known singer-songwriters performing this week include Dierks Bentley, Jedd Hughes, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jeffrey Steele, Blaine Larsen, Scotty Emerick, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Jimmy Wayne, Bryan White and Amy Dalley.
During Tuesday's showcase with Al Anderson, Lisa Carver and Dennis Matovsky, Sackley knew she had an ace in the hole with "Nothin' 'Bout Love Makes Sense," the Rimes hit she co-wrote.
"It's really amazing when people start cheering at the beginning of a song because they recognize it and sing along throughout the whole song," the 22-year-old native Australian tells CMT.com. "You can feel that energy in the room."
Raw energy is one of the hallmarks of Tin Pan South.
"I've always said one of my favorite things about this town is getting to see the writers play the songs," Sackley says. "And I don't care if they sing the songs so out of tune you can hardly hear it, it's just a wonderful feeling to be able to see the person who created that magic performing it live. I've got a major Tin Pan schedule going on. I'm planning to get to four different things every night at a bare minimum. It's a very exciting week."
Sackley moved to Nashville shortly after being named the Country Music Association of Australia's new talent of the year in 2002. With a song publishing deal at Big Tractor Music, her other co-writers have already included Nashville veterans Anderson, Rivers Rutherford, Tom Shapiro, Brett James and Troy Verges.
"It's very cool this year to reflect on 12 months ago," she says of the Tin Pan South lineup. "I look at all my friends and co-writers that are playing at this festival. It's a wonderful feeling to know I've come that far already ... that I know these people and I'm writing with a lot of them."
Sackley wrote "Nothin' 'Bout Love Makes Sense" with Gary Burr and Joel Feeney during a retreat with other songwriters at a farm owned by record producer Scott Hendricks, who also owns Big Tractor Music.
"Basically, people were randomly matched with each other and asked to sit down for a day and write a song," she recalls. "We just sat around chatting and then started jamming on this song while we sat by a catfish pond. In about three hours, we had it written. We knew it was a smash. We were very excited about the song.
"Gary wrote it on mandolin, and I had the guitar. Often, when you use different instruments, it has a huge influence on the kind of song you write. Obviously, with the guitar, it probably brought more of my pop sensibilities to the song. Gary, in the heart of his deep country roots, was probably pulling it back in the other direction. When Gary and I write, in general, we tend to find really different melodies -- really bizarre mixes of influences. We keep looking for something new each time we write."
With several artists now considering the possibility of recording more of Sackley's material, she got good news recently when Faith Hill recorded "Sunshine Summertime," a song she wrote with Big & Rich's John Rich and Texas-based songwriter Rodney Clawson.
"We know it's going to be on the album," Sackley says. "We haven't heard yet if it's going to be a single, but cross your fingers. That's just a huge honor for a 22-year-old foreigner in Nashville to be on that album."
While Sackley enjoyed success as an artist in Australia, she's in no hurry to sign a record deal in Nashville.
"Honestly, more than anything, I'm focused on the craft of songwriter, getting some cuts and getting good at it," she says. "I want that to be my main focus before I have to divide myself between being a writer and an artist. When you're an artist, there's not a lot of time when you're out on the road for songwriting.
"There's no hurry. That's the great thing about country music: It's a broad-aged demographic, in general. ... You can be a 38-year-old country singer, and no one thinks twice about it."
She laughs, adding, "Now, if I wanted to be a Britney Spears, that would be another story. I'd already be over the hill. I'm already too old. I should just quit while I'm behind."