There was a time when house shows ruled Nashville. They were special events that at times endorsed and others feigned community engagement in the name of show-going novelty. Cause A Scene, Communion, and the like began apportioning their share of the Nashville house show market, which sounds fanciful, but there was plenty to go around.
Most of these shows would crop up in and around East Nashville - this would have been early 2010s, so East Nashville was a little less Travel & Leisure travel spot du jour and still edgy enough to be considered Vice fodder. Nevertheless, there were plenty of house shows that would occur in what would eventually become Wedgewood Houston, and the occasional Brentwood/Franklin based house show. Thus, a “circuit” was born.
Alas, like most movements, the house show circuit was not immaculately conceived. The movement was fortunate enough to piggyback off of Nashville’s long standing DIY community. Those Infinity Cat and punk shows had done the brunt of their leg work, all the while failing to appeal to the stomp clap, kumbaya crowd. So lo and behold, as a general byproduct of the lukewarm nature of house shows, Nashville’s house show circuit was absolutely booming thanks to forced intimacy in vaguely familiar, yet entirely foreign environs.
All in all, Nashville’s brief house show boom of the early 2010s was a nice intermediary for the then nascent Americana movement that has become all but ubiquitous within Nashville. Most of the performers on the bills which would define the house show trend tended to skew toward the Americana side of the singer-songwriter aisle, and many who performed at said house shows have since come to find career stability in pivoting toward Americana music.
So, with the Americana movement in mind, some house shows remain - Lockeland Sings does a phenomenal series - but most of those original house show promoting entities have either folded or about faced entirely to venue based promotions (which is fine), thus leaving a gaping hole in Nashville’s “special” show market. Add that to the fact that bastions of DIY, The Glass Menage, Drkmtter, and others have since shuttered due to questionable civic regulations, Nashville is wanton for some entity to rise from the “special” show ashes.
Well, ask and you shall receive, Nashville. As fate would have it, Secret Show (yes, I know) is here to fulfill your novel show-going inclinations.
In all honesty, I’m somewhat surprised it’s taken this long - let’s just say four years, for the sake of impact - for a non-industry (in the sense that it’s not for industry types by industry types) “special” or “secret” shows to find footing. It’s only ironic that the entity to assume the throne is literally a series called “Secret Show.” Apparently the name wasn’t taken on major social media platforms and the like, so more power to them. But I digress.
Anyway, Secret Show is (presumably) in its early stages, so formatting might change in coming installments, but the general gist of the program is Spotify invites 100 or so of the top streaming fans of a performing artist to a “secret show” at an undisclosed locale, and an intimate show that falls somewhere in the middle of the house show to club show scale takes place. Bumble is there to connect people, Withco is there to provide drinks, and a camera crew is there to capture the entire event. Or at least, such was the case during the Secret Show of which we’re concerned with today.
In this particular “episode” (no idea if it’s a television or digital series) of Secret Show, Nashville’s most beloved unimpeachable songwriter, Ben Rector, put on a performance for 100 of his most faithful listeners. I’d like to say each installment of Secret Show is as intimate and devoted as the Ben Rector chapter was, but Mr. Rector’s listeners are of a more steadfast ilk than most. They were more than willing to queue outside of Bits & Pieces boutique just long enough that Henrietta Red patrons might have worried they were missing out on a more hip experience than the oysters-in-nashville novelty gastro experience.
Playful ribbing of Germantown’s cuisine scene aside, Ben Rector’s faithful multitude waited dutifully in the sweet heat of a late May afternoon, gently filing into Bits & Pieces to patiently await the arrival of their favored troubadour. Admittedly, my knowledge of Rector’s songbook is, in a word, limited. In all honesty, it was non-existent. I only knew of Rector in name and (vaguely) face, but not necessarily through sound. Ultimately, such a fact only heightened the overall experience of the Secret Show. Either that or the rising heat index inside the super fan sauna that was Bits & Pieces.
In my lack of familiarity with Rector’s oeuvre, and in being situated on an elevated platform for the entirety of the performance, I was propelled to observe the audience for the majority of the show. Again, being unfamiliar with the songs made things all the more entertaining, as Rector seemed to revel in the novelty of the show in the same manner of which I’ve offered up to this point in the recap. He was incredibly gracious throughout the entirety of the evening, but there were moments where even he couldn’t help but amuse himself with the unique context.
Before he played “When I’m With You,” he playfully subverted the fervent mass by saying “It’s been a minute,” as if to feign lack of preparedness, but the joke was on Rector, the host of Secret Show informed the audience in advance that his newest LP, Magic, is set for release on June 22nd. Nevertheless, such a feigned lack of preparedness exhibited Rector’s remarkably sharp wit and pleasant sense of humor (despite the ever rising interior humidity). He made repeated self deprecating (the best type of humor) remarks toward his “unkempt” look and repeated digs at needing a haircut. As you might have guessed, such actions only further endeared Rector to his zealous (and surprisingly close) onlookers.
As referenced earlier, the Secret Show format is presumably nebulous in its early iteration, but one component of the tapings (“videoing?” surely they were shooting in digital) was a “Q&A” portion. Rector, having exhibited his exceptional comfort and casualness when interacting in a surreal setting, went on to conduct the segment seamlessly. There were the standard “zany, but actually innocuous” questions of “What’s your favorite breakfast food?” and the like, but some more astute queries like when the next Newey Lewis and the Hues song was set to release, as well as an amusing moment in which Rector spoke from a place of catharsis on behalf of most performers and musicians everywhere, explaining just why he doesn’t do individualized shout outs and the like during shows, only to humorously undercut himself by recording a “sorry you’re not here” video for an audience member whose wife couldn’t be there. To paraphrase the cathartic explanation - Rector’s “emotional energy is finite.”
The entirety of the set was met with near universal praise and virtually every song that wasn’t new was accompanied by a resounding sing along. In fact, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the new songs from Magic received their own sing alongs from perceptive audience members that had a knack for hooks.
As one might have guessed, Rector finished his set with “Brand New,” which - as I was informed - is one of Rector’s biggest hits, but the highlight of the set (for myself, at least) was the song that preceded “Brand New.” One of the new tunes off of Magic, “Duo” was a pop culture cavalcade of famous duos, including Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon, Kanye and Kim, Bey and Jay, Joey and Chandler. You get the idea. It was entertaining and playful, much like the entire Secret Show set itself. There were strange asides like fans asking Rector what his enneagram type was, to which he quickly quipped, “the best one,” and moments of earnestness, like Rector thanking Spotify, Bumble, and most importantly, his fans, for supporting such a unique event.
So credit to Secret Show for aligning with Spotify and Bumble, to re-endorse a (vaguely) community based initiative of like minded individuals with similar tastes and joys. I look forward to seeing the program grow in its scope and scale to further ingratiate artists and individuals with those that most readily support them.
That being said, it’s also safe to say I need to brush up on some Ben Rector before June 22nd rolls around.