High-school sophomore Duncan McPherson had a tough gig on Wednesday. He played an intricate Spanish guitar piece with TV cameras rolling before an exclusive Nashville audience that included the mayor of his hometown and three country artists — Kix Brooks, Luke Bryan and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild — all watching from the front row.
Despite the pressure, Duncan played the piece quite nicely, demonstrating the volume of creative potential in the current class of students, if they’re simply given a chance.
“I don’t think any of those chords are in ‘Red Dirt Road,’” Kix quipped.
Kix, Luke and Karen joined the Country Music Association at the event to donate more all of the proceeds from June’s CMA Music Festival to charity. That’s more than $2.9 million. Half was given to the Keep the Music Playing music-education campaign. The other half went to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to aid residents still grappling with the effects of the floods in May.
“The work continues,” Foundation President Ellen Lehman said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of families who are still about the business of restoring their dreams and rebuilding their lives.”
The CMA understood the flood issues firsthand. The Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater — the venue where Wednesday’s event took place — was awash in five feet of water when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks five months ago. The ground at LP Field, the stadium where the CMA Fest staged its nightly concerts, was covered. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, just a block away from the Hall of Fame, is still closed as it continues to recover from a flood in the basement, where much of the venue’s technical operations are based.
The donation represents major progress for the CMA. Kix recalled that in the late 1990s, many artists grumbled about taking part in the agency’s festival. They played it for free and weren’t sure where the money was going. Kix later joined the organization’s board.
“This was like a great day for me,” he laughed, “‘cause [my attitude was], ‘I’m gonna break up the ring single-handedlly. I can’t wait to get in there!’”
In short order, he changed his tune. Kix recognized possibilities and aided in getting the CMA Festival to become a significant charitable effort. The flood was an obvious way to give back in 2010. But music education is something the organization has been adamant about funding since 2006. Duncan McPherson, the guitar-playing sophomore, provided a first-hand glimpse at the possibilities that a student has when he or she funnels effort into learning a musical instrument or applying creative talents.
“This is Music City,” Kix said. “We call it that. We gotta walk the walk and we gotta stand up and do what we’re talking about.”
The Grand Ole Opry House reopened last week. Parts of Nashville are clearly recovering from the flood. But some residents with less resources are still putting their lives back together. And many of the city’s students are — like a segment of kids in every other American community — starting off life in difficult home situations. For some of them, the ability to channel their ideas into something as fulfilling as music might be their best way to gain an emotional foothold. That’s the real-world meaning of the CMA’s $2.9 million donation.
“We make a living out of what we get,” CMA Chief Executive Officer Steve Moore said. “But we make a life out of what we give.”