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In the Nashville Spotlight at the Commodore Grille

by Rich and Laura Lynch

Vanderbilt Stadium proudly rises behind the Holiday Inn on West End Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. On the first floor of the hotel sits the Commodore Grille that gets its moniker from the college team mascot. For sixteen years next month this venue has served as the home of the weekly Debi Champion's Songwriter's Nights. We surveyed the scene on Monday, November 02, 2020 to take in a few rounds and to check out some of the featured artists who elected to step into the spotlight on Election Day eve.


The Z-Man set off zee alarm at the midtown Holiday Inn.

Like the collegiate athletic programs that scour the nation's high schools to find their next recruits - and the pro teams that draw from those colleges in similar manner - Debi Champion herself is a talent scout of sorts. She reports to us that for the twenty-eight years that her songwriter showcase has existed in town she books 80 to 100 artists over four nights every week. Conservatively, that's in excess of 115,000 slots that have been made available to established performers and aspiring up and comers in nearly three decades time.

The last entertainer to take the stage on Monday was "The Z-Man" hailing from Green Bay, Wisconsin and recently relocated to Music City. He went on after 9 p.m. for a special audition for one of the exclusive "featured artists" spots that Debi offers from time to time. He revealed that he last played this room eight years ago and his return was memorable. The Z-Man was the only singer to stand on this night and he quickly began to stomp and strum in an engaging manner and appealing style. Next thing you know the hotel alarm was set off followed quickly by a two truck response team from the Nashville Fire Department - no kidding!


VIDEO "Wake Up": Watch as Rockin' Rich Lynch made his Commodore Grille debut in 2020.

The final round of the night featured MCN's own Rockin' Rich Lynch who was making his Commodore Grille debut with a set of three of his patented and prescient protest songs. His first number "Wake Up" called for reasonable and rational changes to the political process and it was dedicated to "tomorrow" - in other words - the day our nation would cast its now most controversial vote to date. Lynch was joined by the immensely talented Keifer Wiley who is always steady, captivating and convincing when he presents his well-honed craft in a public setting. Taylor Borton was a triple threat with an alluring presence as she strummed, sang and added harp to her insightful and meaningful compositions.

"I do my best to help the writers meet and network with each other. I want them to have a good experience and be comfortable performing... to have a good time," Debi says of her praiseworthy and ongoing mission in Nashville. "I always have at least one hit writer every night to give them the chance to meet them and learn from them as well as the aspiring writers."


Clockwise from top left: Rockin' Rich Lynch, Keifer Wiley, Debi Champion & Taylor Borton.

The featured songwriter this evening was Billy Lee a fixture on the Nashville scene for years as a songwriter, guitar player and producer who scored a hit for Gary Allen with "The One". Billy had the most unique instrument of the night that seemed to be a carbon fiber guitar with mini-cymbals embedded within the sound hole to provide additional percussive elements. Lee was joined by his friend and co-writer Dave Lenahan and together they played several Lee penned numbers during their segment.

The most high-profile songwriter in the spotlight on Monday was Hailey Verhaalen. This Oregon native journeyed to Nashville in 2016 to pursue her musical dreams. Her commanding set at the Commodore proved that her 2019 ticket to "Hollywood Week" on American Idol was no fluke. Verhaalen is just one of many aspirants appearing at Debi Champion's Songwriter's Nights that have gone on to taste even greater success in the music business.


Clockwise from top left: Joe Van Dyke, Hailey Verhaalen, Billy Lee and Molly Lovette.

Between her long-running stints at the Broken Spoke and the Commodore Grille, Debi Champion has watched a who's who of stars cross her path while seated behind the soundboard including Ashley McBryde, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton, Chris Young, Brandy Clark, Clare Dunn, Trent Thomlinson, John Berry, Michael Peterson, Kelsea Ballerini, Brother Osborn, Jason Aldean, Anthony Smith, Love & Theft, Madie & Tae, Stella Parton, David Ball, Hunter Phelps, Drew Baldridge, Ray Scott, Frankie Ballard James Otto and many more. These are just some of the recognizable names that have gotten their start - or found their sea legs - under that watchful and supportive eye of Nashville's greatest musical champion.

Sometimes Debi will pair artists thematically so that their presentations will complement each other. Case in point was the round that featured military veterans Ray Ligon and Joe Van Dyke who shared war stories mixed with a few patriotic songs. Geographical considerations make for good combinations as Jarod Grubb - an emerging talent from the Northwest who is mining the modern Nashville musical direction for success - joined his fellow companion Verhaalen from that part of the country for their round together. Other standouts included local favorite Ed Mikrut who confidently put his 40 plus years of songwriting experience on display. Molly Lovette - a touring artist with roots in the "show me" state - was a nice unscheduled surprise as a last minute fill-in for a cancellation. With her latest single "One Woman Show" now hitting the airwaves she is surely showing that she has what it takes to be a country star.


Clockwise from top left: Ray Ligon, Dave Lenahan, Jarod Grubb and Ed Mikrut.

Related Links: For more information on the COMMODORE GRILLE and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Commodore Grille | Debi Champion | The Z-Man | Rockin' Rich Lynch | Keifer Wiley | Taylor Borton | Billy Lee | Hailey Verhaalen | Jarod Grubb | Molly Lovette | Ed Mikrut | Ray Ligon | Joe Van Dyke

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