Patty Loveless and Clint Black may have been the most famous names on stage at the Country Music Association Songwriters Series event Wednesday night, but the two musicians on either side of them — songwriters Bob DiPiero and Tim Nichols — stole the show.
“I’m a world-famous songwriter, which means you don’t know who . . . I am,” DiPiero announced to kick off the evening at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress.
The night was billed as a way to bring a little Nashville to Washington and get behind the scenes of Music City. Both DiPiero and Nichols traded lightning-fast banter during the nearly two-hour concert and gave an illuminating, self-deprecating look into what it’s like to pen songs for a living.
Nichols, known for co-writing Tim McGraw’s smash “Live Like You Were Dying,” along with Chris Young’s “The Man I Want to Be” and Lee Ann Womack’s “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” told jokes:
What’s the difference between a songwriter and a large pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four. What do you call a songwriter in a three-piece suit? A defendant. Etc.
Sitting in a row, each singer told a story of a song and then played the tune onstage. With just the sounds of voices and acoustic guitar, the whole evening took on an intimate feel, with the tone of a giant group hug. The four performers helped one another out, providing harmonies and extra strings as each took a turn. When Black sang “When I Said I Do,” normally a duet with his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, Loveless filled in flawlessly.
Between performances, which included 15 songs and ended in a group singalong of the aforementioned “Live Like You Were Dying,” the crowd learned some fun facts. Nichols came up with the idea for Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” after hearing a similar phrase while listening to a terrible audiobook. DiPiero got the term “Blue Clear Sky” from a line in “Forrest Gump” and had to persuade George Strait not to switch the words around when he recorded the song. It served them both well — Strait wound up using it as the title of his 1996 album, which sold millions.
Loveless and Black, who may have known they were the evening’s main draws, good-naturedly played along with all the riffing.
“I don’t have any wisecracks. I’m a little on the serious side,” Loveless said before belting out the aching scorned-lover ballad “Here I Am.”
“As they say, never follow circus acts, little kids or Patty Loveless,” DiPiero said after the several hundred in the crowd burst out of riveted silence into thunderous applause.