A New Chapter Begins
In 16 days I will be loading everything I am and everything I own into a 6 x 12 box trailer hitched to the back of my Chevy Trailblazer and I will move my life out of Portland, ME and into Nashville, TN. My girlfriend Lindsey and good friend Billy will be part of a caravan that, like many convoys in history, transports folks looking for more opportunity than they currently have.
I have been a Maine resident for 12 years and have been a full-time musician for 10 of them. I’ve played every pub, barroom, dance hall, town gazebo, dive bar, theater, barn, boat and flat bed trailer in this fair state over the course of my time here, and for the most part, loved every bit of the ride.
I have fronted 5 different acts in those 12 years - One, Two Many, J Biddy, The Crossfire Inferno, This Way and North of Nashville - the latter being, from what I can tell, the most employed band in the state - playing 200 shows a year for the past 5 years and current “Country Act Of The Year” by the New England Music Awards.
My work life aside, I have been changed for the better by the landscape and the people of the great state of Maine. This state has taught this high-strung, short-fused, impatient kid how to take things in stride, how to better appreciate the simple beauty of nature and the virtues of living off the land when possible. Maine is my home, and it will always be that way.
But now the time has come to make another home in a place I knew I would move to even before I stepped foot inside her city limits - Nashville. Music City USA. As a kid, I knew that many of my favorite records were made there. Upon my first visit, it was affirmed that music truly does ooze out of nearly every square foot of Nashville. Even something as unremarkable as a city electrical box has a speaker installed that pipes Country music.
Nashville is a music city, but unlike Austin - another music city - Nashville is a songwriter’s city.
Over the last 10 years, I have learned how to write songs, and the more I write, the more my obsession with the craft grows. I started writing as soon as I learned how to play the guitar, though it took years and years of writing bad songs before I learned how to come up with a good one. I still write bad songs but you’ll never hear them. Rather, I try to harvest any good qualities of a throwaway song for something worthwhile.
I’ve written hundreds of what I feel are “good” songs - many which have hardly seen the light of day on those 200 shows a year I log in and I try to write everyday. When it comes to music, I’m a decent guitar player, I can hammer some chords on the piano, I can hold my own on the drums and on a good day, my voice sounds pretty good. I don’t think I’m extraordinary at any of those things. It is with this in mind that I know if I’m going to have the lifelong career that I want, it is going to be a result of my songwriting and my abilities to sing and play those songs pretty well too.
It is also, with this in mind, why I know that I need to be in a place where songwriting is a commodity - where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a couple songwriters that are 10 times better than you at it.
I’m a big fish in the small pond of Portland, ME. I have a comfortable life, great gigs that pay well and a loyal fanbase. I could keep on churning out those same 200 gigs a year and have enough money to do all the things I want.
But what I really want more than that is to be challenged to do the best work I am capable of. I can bat 400 in double A ball, but do I have what it takes to get hits in the big leagues against the best pitchers in the game?
That’s the question that will be answered one way or another down in Nashville - and a journey that I will chronicle with this blog. I will be simplifying my name to Jay Bragg for my public persona down there - Bragg fusing together two of my biggest musical heroes - Bruce Springsteen and Merle Haggard. Two artists that believed in themselves enough to leave it all behind and risk it all in hopes to achieve their wildest dreams. Two artists that are still at the top of their game 30-50 years after they started.
Let’s see if I can follow in their footsteps.