Last week, our Senior Therapist and Program Advisor Klifton Fehr, LHMC and myself traveled to Nashville, in route to Knoxville on a quest to pilot our GET IN TUNE program for underserved youth at a Boys & Girls Club there. We were excited about the prospects of reaching more kids, and partnering with additional great community organizations in different markets. As the trip began, the COVID-19 crisis was heating up, but had not yet attained anywhere near the level of National Emergency it was about to become. Still, flying to TN. Our plane was 85% empty.
Tuesday, March 10th Travel from Ft. Lauderdale to Nashville.
We arrived Nashville about a week after devastating tornados had hit my adopted home town and the surrounding areas. We were coming into town to meet up with Scott, run some errands to gear him up (literally) for both Grace Notes and GET IN TUNE programs coming around the bend to launch stage in Nashville. We had launched GRACE NOTES 2 months prior in music city in partnership with YMCA’s of Middle TN. And 50Forward. While there was growing concern surrounding Corona Virus, by Tuesday things hadn’t yet reached fever pitch, and our upcoming two days in Knoxville to launch GET IN TUNE is where our focus is currently.
Scott took us to Enterprise to get our car, we picked up Amplifiers and some ancillary gear at Guitar Center for “Grace Notes Project”, headed to Five Below to pick up blank journals (which we give to attendees upon completion of GET IN TUNE session 4) to give to Karen Reynolds in Knoxville and to leave with Scott Barrier for our projected April launch of the same program at a Nashville location of Boys & Girls Clubs and Notes for Notes studios.
By dinner time, we wanted to find someplace cool and local to eat and show Klif some of the local flavor. We were staying at the house of Scott and Erin Barrier to save the organization on travel dollars (not the first time!) Erin, Scott’s amazing wife wanted to stay home, so it was just the 3 guys for dinner. Opryland Hotel is where we landed. Many restaurants there were already closing and hotel bookings down. Little did we know.
Wednesday, March 11th – Nashville to Knoxville – Mountains, Apple Blossoms, GET IN TUNE
At 5:30am the next morning, (630 our time) Klifton needed Starbucks. Our body clocks were off, and we were anxious to hit the road. Though I knew Scott and Erin would put coffee on in about an hour, Klifton was eager to go to a local coffee shop he’d found online. It was closed however, so we ended up at Starbucks. His kindness naturally displayed itself in insisting we bring our hosts coffee.
By 9am we were leaving the Barriers cozy hospitality and little pups behind for a 3 road-trip east on Route 40. I planned on using this time as a mobile meeting/brainstorming session and was excited by the prospect of uninterrupted time together with brothers-in-arms. Whatever our differences as humans, all of us in this car believe in the healing and communication powers of music. Off we went, headed up into the hills, and through much of the damage-zone from the twisters that recently decimated the area.
About an hour in, all the early morning coffee and other hydration mandated we take a pit stop. Plus we were hungry. On the Cumberland Plateau, around Cookeville we stopped at the “Golden Arches.” Ugh. I know.
15 minutes later, back on the road we were listening to a variety of music, mesmerized by the beautiful rolling hills, and saddened by the vast swaths of Tornado damage unfolding before us. The Apple Blossoms are out…I take it as a sign of hope and faith. We discuss our programs, strategy, tactics, media opportunities and get more into the aspects of lyric analysis with Scott Barrier. Scott is one of our new, key team members on the ground in Tennessee. Helping us launch our programs, AND our first Nashville installment of THE LOVE WINS REVIVAL. An event which combines songwriting, storytelling, and sing along songs with social action, benefitting Face the Music Foundation while opening the floor..through music of course to discuss addiction and broader mental health issues. (More than likely you’ve heard Scott’s songs on commercials or national TV shows, as he’s begun to make inroads in that world of commercial songwriting/sync.!)
Around 1pm we check into the hotel, and work on clearing up some problems with the reservation before heading to lunch. By 4pm we want to be at the Boys & Girls Club to set up. An hour or so before that, the NBA cancelled it’s season, and MLB postponed theirs. We could actually feel it in the air…the “shift” in conversation surrounding Covid-19, and what may be coming.
When we arrive at the club, we talk a bit outside waiting for Karen Reynolds and Mickey Chapmen. Karen sits in the East TN. Writer’s Hall of Fame with other notables such as Dolly Parton, and Mickey is a licensed-therapist and specialist in working with the teen population. Karen also directs the execution of Educational Music Programs for the prestigious FRANK BROWN Songwriters Festival! We’re going to mentor them with 2 sessions of GET IN TUNE today and tomorrow, so as to be able to hand off execution of sessions 3 and 4, along with future modules (when funding can be found here) of GET IN TUNE to them! While waiting we ran into Girl Scouts selling cookies! How exciting. Tagalongs. Thin Mints. A good sign.
We facilitate a highly interactive lyric analysis session with 18 wonderful teens, and while I watched Klifton lead them through dissecting and discussing the lyrics of 2 different songs pertaining to the topic of the day, (self-esteem) I jump in from time to time. We’ve learned how to work well together these past months, and are hoping that interplay comes naturally for Karen and Mickey as well.
After a successful first session, we all head to Outback to discuss observations and suggestions. Of course, by that time the National Emergency had changed the urgency…of the day. Of the moment. Of the now, and immediate future.
Thursday, March 12th Knoxville GET IN TUNE, Day Two, then back to Nashville
One of the great things about Hampton Inn’s are the breakfast and the newspaper. When I’m not traveling it’s rare I eat more than a “Perfect Bar”, Banana and coffee for breakfast. Rarer still that I get to review the morning paper.
We all spent the morning in our respective corners on laptops working, and making calls. By now, many of us were commencing with some sort of social distancing. That trend of course would continue to grow in the coming days. Now the NHL, NCAA, MLS and PGA have followed the NBA and shuttered the windows on all professional sports leagues of note. Broadway is dark, concerts being cancelled left and right, which really pains us as musicians and fans.
I had a great talk with Nikki at Music Health Alliance in Nashville, and was reminded the scope and variety of good work they do to help musicians and their families in times of need.
After lunch, we returned to the Hampton Inn’s comfortable lobby to resume our work day. We had time before GET IN TUNE Session #2, and appreciated the hotels’ hospitality, though we had already checked out. Catching up on thank you notes and data entry, and staying in touch with program partners, while keeping an eye on the news.
By 3:45pm, we’re back at the Boys & Girls Club for GIT Session #2 (Bullying) – It’s SO exciting to see several of these kids who were not so open yesterday, ENGAGE and activate their creativity and desire to learn today! Klifton suggests we turn over the 2nd half of the program to Karen and Micki, and I agree it’s a good idea. This is a little uncomfortable, because it’s the first time we’ve handed this off to others for execution, since I’ve been part of this team. But of course, my fears are unfounded…they are pros. We had originally been staying in Knoxville that night to attempt to meet with other potential community partners and local media possibly, however with the lightning fast changes occurring due to Covid-19, we decided to cancel hotel rooms, save the organization on those costs (hotel was understanding) and head back to the warm embrace of Scott and Erin’s house in Nashville.
As we leave the club that day, we are pleased with how it went, but grounded by the knowledge that sessions 3 and 4 may be on hold…along with so much else. Storms are predicted back in Nashville, so we hit the road on 40 West back to Nashville.
With the darkness growing around us, fog too, we crank some tunes to unwind…NeedtoBreathe, The Beatles and Marc Broussard serenade us as we search for a good stopping point.
Cracker Barrell, in Crossville fit the bill. The rocking chairs on the front porch were inviting and yet as we entered… the company’s somewhat controversial past was briefly discussed. Though unintended, this past helped to shape a shift in cultural norms long-held in the south. Loved by many for it’s comfort and consistency…and yet as an organization, far from perfect. Just like all of us humans…we are flawed, and imperfect….but we have to keep trying…reaching….striving to improve and shed more light in the dark. So did this organization. At FTMF, we share that spirit of continual daily improvement.
While eating dinner, and discussing our mission people at 3 different tables reached out to us, having “overheard” bits of our talk about mission and helping others. For an extra hour that night, strangers became friends and I handed out a few cards…asked these folks to look further into what we do…maybe spread the word.
By the time we got back to Scott’s place with the mini-dogs, and caught up with Erin a a bit, it was time to watch the news….. of a world gone crazy. In my head I’m thinking, look how the world is starting to pull together to “fight this foe?” What could be accomplished with the addiction and mental illness epidemic, with climate change, with gun violence, with income inequality….if we all pulled together in that same fashion? Why….not?
Friday, March 13 – East Nashville – Brentwood – Airport-Florida
Morning Coffee in Scott’s Kitchen at around 7am, and we catch up on the latest news. A National Emergency. Pandemic. Scott’s on his way to a co-writing session, and we’re headed to East Nashville to meet with a new community connector who has already done a good deal of sweat equity for us here at FTMF. We met at amazing local coffee shop Kettners’ Coffee. Julianne Lee works for amazing organizations, Give a Note, and GENEROUS. The latter is a new fundraising plat-form online which was created to better align recording artists, their fans, non-profits, and corporate sponsors as a way to maximize charitable giving. We had a wonderful meeting, and we’re going to connect soon to discuss how this platform may work with our growing mission and operational scope at FTMF! Storm Damage in this community from the Tornados is everywhere. And it made me think…we’re headed into a storm with no clouds a we enter back into the realm of the unknown…life in the midst of a growing society shut-down.
With some time yet before we needed to be at the airport, lunch and a visit with our partners at Recovery Unplugged out in Brentwood, TN was in order. We brought in food from Local Taco, a GREAT local Mexi-style place. Here not only did we meet with some folks from the clinical and outreach teams, but I also got to meet in person, 2 folks who have recently benefit from Face the Music Foundation Treatment Scholarships. This was a powerful and emotional experience. I don’t often get to meet the folks we help, so I was really impacted by this opportunity. I won’t mention their names, but one of them gave me her latest milestone coin, and I got teary. And the other, who carried her fiddle with her everywhere, played some beautiful music for us. Grateful…we all felt at that moment.
3 days after arriving at Nashville International Airport on the cusp of a global crisis, we returned through these doors to a entirely new reality. You could see it on the faces of everyone at the airport. What do we do now?
We move forward…and we help someone. And it’s going to take all of us. A Team…together.