Behind the Curtains With the Nashville Hit Makers
The Martha’s Vineyard Songwriting Festival is thrilled and honored to announce that the Festival will kick-off this year at Club Passim in Boston. We will have our usual Behind the Curtains With the Nashville Hitmakers show in this new (for us) but legendary location. it will be held on Wednesday, September 12, at 7PM and will feature some of Nashville’s biggest Hit Writers telling the stories behind and playing the songs that they wrote for the biggest country stars in Music City like Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Lee Brice, Kelsea Ballerini, Randy Travis, Toby Keith, Keith Whitley and Rhonda Vincent.
Born in the cornfield community of Hillsboro, Ohio, from the early age of 8, Jimmy Yeary began singing in churches with his family. This became a way of life as well as income for the family. Jimmy played 200 plus dates a year singing Southern gospel music and began discovering that music was his passion. Jimmy dreamed that one day he would be singing and writing songs in Nashville, TN.
Soon after graduating high school, Yeary moved to Virginia where he ended up meeting and playing with some of Nashville’s finest musicians. In 1994 Jimmy made the move to Music City, and soon after landed a full record deal on Atlantic Records. When Yeary’s record deal fell through due to a corporate staff change that came with a new regime, Yeary knew that songwriting would continue to be his passion and now his main focus.
While signed to Atlantic, Jimmy met Paul Worley, who had been one of the producers on his project along with Tom Shapiro. Jimmy began writing for Paul’s publishing company, Skyline Music Publishing that he owned with songwriter/producer Wally Wilson. During his time at Skyline, artists such as Rascal Flatts, John Michael Montgomery, Craig Morgan, Brooks & Dunn, Jeff Bates, and Steve Holy recorded his songs. The Top 10 hit “In Another World” by Joe Diffie was also written by Yeary during this time.
In 2010, Jimmy signed with THiS Music, which joint ventured through EMI Music Nashville. His song “Why Wait” spent 2 weeks in the #1 position with country super group Rascal Flatts. During this time, Jimmy continued to get cuts with artists such as Easton Corbin, Martina McBride (“I’m Gonna Love You Through It”), LeAnn Rimes, Jake Owen (“Anywhere With You”), Bucky Covington, Heidi Newfield, and James Otto.
Three songs. That is all it took for Atlantic Records chairman and CEO, Craig Kallman, to sign Jesse Lee at the ripe age of 20. Kallman credits the gifted Lee for inspiring him to take a plunge back into country in a major way. “She reminds me of a modern-day Patsy Cline, with an amazing voice, a magnetic personality and, of course, a tremendous gift for songwriting.”
It seems that Kallman was onto something. Her time at Atlantic Records allowed Jesse to develop her raw talent, molding her into the gifted writer she is today. She has since perfected the ability to put her personal life experiences onto paper, crafting them into lyrics that are relatable to an entire audience. “Writing has and always will be, my first love,” she says. “My ideas and lyrics are inspired by everyday life. Heartbreak, second-hand stories, love, tragedy. There’s a song in everything.”
With a fierce determination to see her dreams and aspirations come to life, Jesse is now enjoying the success she has worked so hard for. In 2016, Jesse co-wrote Kelsea Ballerini’s #1 hit, “Peter Pan”, Keith Urban recorded her song “That Could Still Be Us” on his platinum selling album Ripcord, and her song “Feels Like Christmas” was recorded by the acapella group, Straight No Chaser for their ‘I’ll Have Another…Christmas Album.’ In 2017, Jesse was awarded “Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year” by Music Row. This same year, at the annual NSAI Awards, “Peter Pan” was voted as one of the ’10 Songs I Wish I’d Written’ by her fellow songwriter peers. As if this year couldn’t get any better, Jesse saw her song “Like I Loved You”, co-written with and sung by Brett Young, soar up the charts to the #1 spot for 3 weeks. This became Jesse’s second, back-to-back #1.
Byron Hill is from Winston-Salem, NC. He moved to Nashville and signed his first publishing deal in 1978. Byron’s songs have generated more than 700 recordings, and have been released on ninety-one industry certified Gold and Platinum albums and singles.
His songs have earned ten ASCAP awards, thirty-four U.S. and Canadian top-ten chart hits, and have become hits in many other worldwide markets. His recorded catalog spans four decades and includes songs recorded by Ray Charles, Alabama, George Strait, Connie Britton & Charles Esten (from the Nashville series on CMT), Jason Aldean, Mark Chesnutt, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams, John Michael Montgomery, Anne Murray, Juice Newton, Joe Nichols, Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Gary Allan, Rhonda Vincent, Johnny Lee, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Sammy Kershaw, Conway Twitty, The Oak Ridge Boys, Mo Pitney, and many others. Byron is a 2015 Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and is a staff songwriter at Dan Hodges Music LLC.
Johnny Bulford, the name behind a man that has gained notoriety in and around Music City over the last 10+ years. Bulford, a native Floridian who grew up in a family surrounded by rich music history and influence, was able to naturally hone his craft from a young age.
One of the first signs he was going to turn his love of music into a career happened after Bulford attended a Garth Brooks concert at the tender age of 12 and told his mom, “That is what I want to do with my life”. Putting that statement into action, Bulford performed all throughout high school and college, opening for the likes of artists Blake Shelton and Gretchen Wilson; garnering a win at Colgate Country Showdown, a national singing competition, which landed him a publishing contract at Warner Chappell Music soon after. After many years and countless songs penned under the Warner label, in 2018 Johnny branched out on his own as an independent songwriter.
Since 2011 Bulford has earned multiple achievements; obtained his first album cut “Flashlight”, co-written with Chris Young, that landed on the RCA recording artist’s 2011 album “Neon”, secured his first #1 hit with Lee Brice’s “A Woman Like You” (2011), “Lonely Eyes” a single cut by Young topped the charts at #2 (2014), invited to play “Lonely Eyes” on the famed Ryman Stage with Young during the 5th Annual YPO Southern 7 “Evening At The Ryman” (2015), “What If I Stayed” another album cut by Young (2015), garnered title track on Young’s “It Must Be Christmas” (2016) and wrote “Holiday” which Young co-wrote and cut on his 2017 “Losing Sleep” album. Bulford’s passion of writing has taken him beyond the confines of Music Row, as he spearheads projects to bring the Nashville “Listening Room” experience to his beloved upbringings and stomping grounds of Central Florida and beyond.
Brent Baxter grew up writing short stories in his small hometown of Batesville, Arkansas. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore year at Arkansas State University that he first discovered songwriting. Back home over Christmas break, a friend put a melody to a poem Brent had written, and he was hooked.
Brent sharpened his songwriting skills while earning both a bachelor and masters degree in business (MBA). During that time, he was also active in his local NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association) chapter. Following college, he joined the local songwriting community while working his day job at a telecommunications company in Little Rock, Arkansas. In March of 2002, Brent traded his cubicle for a rented room in Nashville. When he wasn’t waiting tables or working in the royalty/administration department of Bluewater Music, he was writing songs and meeting with publishers.
Brent’s first cut came in early 2004, as “Monday Morning Church” was recorded by Alan Jackson. The song went on to become a top five hit. In early 2005, Brent signed his first publishing deal, becoming a staff songwriter for Major Bob Music. That deal yielded cuts by Randy Travis, Lonestar, and Lady Antebellum, among others.
In 2009 and 2010, Brent wrote for a joint venture of Peer Music and RPM Music, and that deal has yielded cuts by Ray Stevens, Randy Kohrs, Lathan Moore, Kal Hourd and others. Currently, Brent is the flagship writer for the newly formed Infinity Music Group.
Kristen Merlin has always been in love with music. From a very young age she began singing and her love for performance has been a driving force throughout the course of her music career.
Kristen won the hearts of music lovers, from all walks of life, during her time on Season 6 of NBC’s Emmy Award winning series, The Voice. Since then, she has been performing at a variety of venues, making multiple public appearances, all the while recording new music. Kristen Merlin has shared the stage with some incredible talent including names like Shakira and Sugarland. Kristen Merlin connected with fans across the United States on the 30- U.S. City -“The Voice Tour”. Kristen also tours Colleges and Universities with her acoustic guitar , spreading her upbeat music, positivity and fun-loving spirit.
Rob Pagnano is a self-taught musician and recording artist from Boston. In fact, he never even picked up an instrument until a horrible accident left him with a broken back at age 26. He’s had multiple surgeries, making many trips to the spinal surgeon. Over 2000 shows and several awards later (including the 2016 Limelight Magazine Male Vocalist of the Year), Rob has never felt better.
Rob’s always had a passion for music, but it is his insane work ethic and belief in himself that set his career in motion. He is known for his unique tone and wide vocal range. His lyrics are filled with emotion that pulls you in and connects you to every word.
Each year, he crosses off more and more predictions from his list (he even predicted he’d win a Grammy over 10 years ago). Rob has achieved more than he could ever imagine in the past decade. But he’s not content on stopping here. Rob’s journey is one of heartbreak, inspiration, and perseverance. And it’s only just the beginning.