Another year, another new venue. Wash, rinse, repeat. With every completed journey around the sun, we’ve almost always seen one or two new music venues crop up in or around Nashville. There was the Back Corner in 2017, which is still seeking out its standing in Nashville’s live music scene.
But this is Nashville we’re talking about - a city that has experienced one of the highest rates of “crane growth” (number of cranes in the city) in the US (Seattle is the highest, with 58), so that means every new development project is going to try and figure out how to shoehorn in a music venue in the name of “one-stop-shop” entertainment utilitarianism. So without diving too far into a “diatribe as a lede” thought, that’s what brings us to The Cowan.
For the uninitiated, The Cowan is the music situated inside of Top Golf. Having never been to a Top Golf before, I can neither confirm, nor deny that other Top Golfs have music venues present on their campuses, but because Nashville’s Top Golf is in Nashville, such a location demands to have its own music venue. That way, people can enjoy live music as they shank balls left and right. Nothing like swinging a wood while someone plays music in earnest (I guess).
Anyway, if at up to this point you can’t tell by the overall tone that I’m legitimately flummoxed by the whole Top Golf/The Cowan situation, then bless you. As for the rest of us, let’s take some time to highlight one of the better aspects of The Cowan - local music - via the excellent Sunday night set from friend of the site, Paul McDonald.
Paul had the unique task of opening up for Atlas Genius on a Sunday night, following one of those beloved mid-April freezes you’ll only find in Nashville. That might seem like a lot or a little, the interpretation is always open, but you wouldn’t have known from watching McDonald, because he took to the stage like a man possessed with the rock n roll soul bravado of Rod Stewart and Wilson Pickett. He’s on the road to the release of a new album, Modern Hearts (6/1), so it wouldn’t be out of the question for this last minute local show to serve as a warm up of sorts. But once more, you wouldn’t be able to tell, as McDonald and his backing band ran through plenty of tunes off the new record with seamless ease. That record is going to be killer, believe you me.
There are plenty of memorable moments in a Paul McDonald show, from arguably one of the most anthemic set openers you’re going to find (“New Lovers”) to songs preceded by pithy anecdotes - before “Savannah,” Paul talked about a Bluebird writers’ round where he felt distinctly out of place amongst some legendary songwriters, and was apparently pressured by the promoter to eat some “special” chocolate. Initially, McDonald declined, but eventually, he went along for the ride, which turned out to be more of a ride than he anticipated. The next day, instead of doing his taxes, McDonald wound up writing “Savannah.”
Realistically, every song McDonald played had a fantastic lead in, ranging from hilarious to heart wrenching, but none was more enthralling than that of “Amy Darling.” In short, the tune was written for a bartender at Duke’s (!!!) named Amy, who pretty much embodied the ideal version of a bartender, there to help wash away woes, serve as a willing ear, and connect in a trying time, if only for momentary catharsis. Another highlight was the set closer, after assuming they were pressed for time and cutting things off short, McDonald played one last song - “I Ain’t Good,” which he wrote with Now/It’s alum, Leah Blevins. That’s a song to keep an ear out for, because it’s going to be huge, just like pair that wrote it. As McDonald came down into the crowd to sing, one couldn’t help but think this will likely be one of the last opening sets from Paul McDonald due to the fact his showmanship and songs are truly a cut above the rest.
So with all this to be said, let two things be your takeaway - first, The Cowan is a strange venue in theory and in reality, but the longer it’s around, the sooner it’ll find its footing (oxymoron, I know).
Second takeaway - and the more important of the two - is that Paul McDonald is that dude. An unreal performer and talent. Plus, an all-around solid guy. He’s got a special thing going on. He’s on a truly ascendant (and more than well deserved) rise in Nashville. After years of paying dues, and running the gauntlet of Nashville and entertainment in general, McDonald and his Modern Hearts record are set to make waves this summer.