2022 CMA Fest: NASHtoday’s Q+A series

Parker McCollum | Photo by Chris Kleinmeier

It’s CMA Fest week, Nashville. We’re brining you five interviews this week to get you excited about the annual festival. We’re talking artists like Priscilla Block, Ashland Craft, and Niko Moon.

Parker McCollum

Up first, Parker McCollum. The country singer-songwriter is getting ready to perform on Nashville’s biggest stage during CMA Fest — Nissan Stadium. Catch his set on Sun., June 12.

Congratulations on an exciting week ahead and your new marriage. Hallie Ray Light is absolutely stunning, as I’m sure you already know. With big life changes comes new inspirations. How do you see any of those changes like playing into your songwriting, and just your songs in general and performances?

I still just love old country love songs about everything going terribly wrong. I still find myself writing those most of the time, but it just seems that now, maybe one out of every five or one out of every 10 will actually be a good song about going right. She’s such a great person to write about, she’s just such a wonderful human being, and you can write great love songs about somebody like that. At least, it makes it somewhat easier, not to say that it’s easy, but I still am always writing those heartbreak love songs about everything going terribly wrong. Those are always been my favorite songs.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you do to get the jitters out?

I’ve only gotten nervous one time in recent memory. Other than that, I’m pretty cool. You know what’s gonna happen when you go out there, you’ve practiced a whole lot, and you’ve done it 1,000 times. It’s kind of like anything else, you know, you just go out there and rip it. And as long as the energy and the crowds feel good, regardless of where you are, how many people are out there. As far as pre-show rituals go, I’m so lame. I have nothing. I do my little vocal warm-up on the bus, walk around in circles for about the last 25 minutes before we go on, and then it’s showtime.

Well, I guess that’s a ritual in itself. When was the last time you got nervous? You said there was one time you can account for.

There was one time at the Houston Rodeo when I got a crazy feeling on stage. When you’re a kid and you think everything’s a movie… I literally felt like I was in a movie and the stage was rotating, and it’s just the most massive venue I’ll ever play. It was just the craziest, I can’t explain it. Usually, even when I do get nervous, I can settle in after a few songs. You know, it’s fine. But that night I just never could really gather myself completely. It was so overwhelming. But I just had a ball. I mean, it was crazy.

What’s one piece of industry advice that you’ve been given that you’ll always carry with you?

If you want to do it, do it. You get a lot of opinions for anything in life, but with the music business, it’s extremely important to always remember this. Take advice and hear people out, but if it’s something that you want to do, or a song that you believe in, or a look that you believe in, just do what you want to do — always, always do it. Even if maybe everybody doesn’t always think it’s a good idea because you’re always gonna look back and be like, ‘Man, I wish I would have done that.’ I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had to do anything I didn’t want to do or didn’t get to do something I wanted to do. Somebody told me that a long time ago.

Do you remember who?

It was Randy Rogers from the Randy Rogers Band. He told me that when I was 24 years old.

You sold out the Ryman, you just played at Ascend Amphitheater this past month, and now you’re getting ready to perform at Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest. How does it feel to be playing on one of Nashville’s biggest stages?

You know, I’ve never done CMA Fest, so I really don’t have a great idea of what it is. I’m eager to see what it really is all about. But I mean, I don’t think there will ever be a day in my life where I have to play at Nissan Stadium and it be a bad thing. If we’re playing somewhere like that, we’re probably going on a little early, so I hope everybody’s there by then (laughs).

You’re writing a course specifically about Nashville. Can you give me the first line?

I actually have a song on my new record where the first line of the chorus is “I was itching to get out of Nashville so bad.” It’s just kind of a process when I’m writing songs. I’m just throwing stuff at the wall. I mean, just freelance rambling as much as I possibly can. And a lot of times, I’ll just start singing in the first line and whatever comes out will kind of be the idea for the song. And it just so happened to be ‘Why was I itching to leave Nashville?’. I love the song too. It’s called “Never Had” so hopefully the world would think so too.

Ashland Craft

Ashland Craft is making big waves in Music City and beyond — being named as one CMT’s Next Women of Country + accompanying the legendary Cody Johnson on tour at the end of June. First, she’ll perform on the Chevy Vibes Stage on Thurs., June 9.

You’ve had collabs in the past with Hardy, Brothers Osbourne on HIXTAPE, and Marcus King on your own “Highway Like Me.” Do you have anything in the works with anyone else currently? Or what would a dream collab be for you?

As of right now, I do have a couple of things in the works as far as music goes. I just recently got to do a collaboration with a really amazing Texas artist Slade Coulter — I think that’s supposed to be releasing pretty soon. Obviously, it’s always on the table to do more. I think right now I’m just really excited about focusing in on my own stuff and putting more of my own music out. So we’ll see where that takes us.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you do to get the jitters out?

I’ll be honest, I feel like I have jitters every time before a show and I feel like it’s just normal to me. I feel like my kind of centering process is just getting to sit down in front of a mirror and do my makeup, take a breather, and try to just get ready and prepare before the show. At the end of the day, I’m always nervous. It’s good nerves. It’s just wanting to do a good job and perform a good show for everybody. It just hopefully tells me that I still care.

What’s one piece of industry advice that you’ve been given that you’ll always carry with you?

I think for myself personally, it would have to be to always stay true to who you are. Whatever that looks like, just take every step you can to stay true to yourself. There’s a lot of times where you’ll have different opportunities to try new things, which you should always take. You should add your own spin to it, make it your own, and always find something you love about everything you do.

CMT’s Next Women of Country is all about supporting and exposing powerful female talent. What growth have you seen in your career since the moment that you were announced part of that class? And can you pinpoint a proudest moment?

That has been such a huge accomplishment for me in the past couple years because I grew up listening and watching CMT on on the TV and only wishing one day I could be there with the best of them. Thankfully, with this opportunity, I’ve gotten to stand beside some freakin’ powerful women in country music and I think it’s just pushed me and really lit a fire under my butt. it’s just encouraged me to really go heavy on playing wide, staying on the road, and keeping busy. This past year, I’ve gotten to have a fuller schedule, which means that I’ve gotten to kind of nail down what I really need on the road and behind the scenes. I’m just really thankful that they gave me the opportunity to be up there with the rest and best of them.

Has that really played into your sound or maybe even the songs you’re writing?

It’s hard to say. I think it’s really just solidified what I want to do in my career. As far as the sound goes, I feel like I’ve just been consistently writing a lot of stuff that feels true to me. So, it’s made me really sure of the sound and the product that I want to put out.

You’ll also be part of Fan Fare X and Spotify House. Can you tell us how fans can connect with you at these events outside of your CMA Fest performance?

This year is my first CMA fest. So, it’s my first time getting to ever experience that in general as I’ve never been as an artist or a fan. We have a little Meet and Greet going on at Music City Center and I’ll be really active on social media — so you can find me on there as well. I plan on running around CMA Fest and talking to everyone I can.

Priscilla Block

After years of performing other artists’ songs, country artist Priscilla Block is going all-out for her first CMA Fest appearance — complete with original music, a grand entrance + meet-and-greets at Fan Fair X. Catch her set on the Chevy Riverfront Stage on Sat., June 11. Block is also slated to perform on the special Platform Stage in the center of Nissan Stadium on Thurs., June 9.

It sounds like you’re going to be very busy during CMA Fest. You’re not only performing, but you’re also participating in the CMT Next Women of Country discussion and even bartending at the Busch Country Bar. I’ll leave it open ended, but what are you looking forward to at the festival this year?

This is my first-ever official CMA Fest. I used to play outside of Bridgestone Arena for tips during the festival. I’d post a picture of what my CMA Fest week looked like and use the logo and everything even though it was never officially a part of the festival (laughs). So it’s really exciting this year. It’s my first year ever, and I’m playing Riverfront and Nissan, which is mind blowing. I don’t even have words. I just feel like country music fans really show up. I’m gonna be singing my own songs when a couple years ago, I was just singing for tips playing other people’s songs.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you always try to do before going on stage?

We are a band that really tries and stays thankful and show gratitude every single day with every show that we’re given. Before shows we’ll all go around in a circle and just say what we’re most thankful for at that very moment. Even if we’re playing in a random field, we do that same thing. It’s just a good way for me to go into shows feeling really thankful for the opportunity to play and especially for CMA Fest and country fans.

Speaking of fans, the connection you have with them on TikTok is amazing. Do you have any fun things planned for that social media platform during the week?

I am definitely going to be posting where I’m at and what I’m up to. I want people to be like, “Oh my gosh, let’s go find her at this bar.” Just to be able to show everybody what’s going on, what I’m wearing, and all the behind the scenes of CMA Fest.

You’re going be on the road throughout the summer, and being based in Nashville, what are some things you miss when you’re on tour?

Nashville has really become home for me. I’ve been out here for eight years now. It’s home, so I miss my puppies when I’m gone. And I think the thing that I miss the most about Nashville is just doing the normal  things like laundry and cleaning up my house, going grocery shopping, and the things that make where I live just home. Of course I love to go out to Broadway and Midtown and shut down the bars, so you know I miss that a little bit too, but mainly it’s just like my home life.

Is there anything else we should expect from CMA fest week?

We are planning a very epic CMA Fest entrance for Riverfront. It’s so very exciting. This is my first one so I want to go big or go home. We’re showing up. And it’s going to be very loud and very over the top, and I cannot wait. I’ve been planning it for months.

Is there a piece of industry advice you always carry with you?

I’ve heard this from a couple people: Never let anybody change who you are. And if somebody wants to change you, then you’re probably not surrounded with surrounded with the right people.

Niko Moon

It’s a big week for country feel-good singer-songwriter Niko Moon. Outside of performing on the Chevy Riverfront Stage on Fri., June 10, he’ll also release his newest EP “Coastin'” + make an appearance at Fan Fair X on both Friday and Saturday.

Do you have any pre-show rituals you do to get the jitters out and center yourself before hitting the stage?

I do have a pre-show ritual. It’s my vocal warmup, but I do it kind of weird. It’s a little singers trick. Use a coffee straw and do your same vocal warm ups — your “la, la, la, la, la, la la” or whatever — but just do it through a coffee straw. It actually helps your voice to warm up better.

The release of your new EP “Coastin'” comes out Fri., June 10. Presumably fans will get to hear this live during your performance at Chevy Riverfront Stage?

Oh, yeah. I’m super excited. This new EP is all about going on vacation. Life is stressful. If you can’t get to the beach in person and you’re stuck in traffic, put this on. You can go there in your mind with this EP — that’s the goal of it. All of the songs are going to be being played at CMA Fest. Some of them I haven’t played at all, and some of them like “Coastin'” I’ve been teasing the past couple of months at my live shows.

You know your songwriting theme well. Your EP title suggests similar vibes to the “Good Time” album. Is there anything that might surprise fans, however, about the style of “Coastin’?”

This is just what my heart wants to do. So, I’m gonna do it. I just love making feel good music. That’s what I made on the “Good Time” album, that’s what I made on the “Coastin'” EP, and that’s what I’m gonna continue making in the future. I will say, stylistically, I like to have a good time in many different kinds of places and in many different ways. So, the first album I kind of think of it as a campfire in the woods, and I think of the “Coastin'” EP as a campfire on the beach.

Is there a piece of industry advice you always carry with you?

Just to be yourself. I think that is the key. I think it’s easy as artists to kind of emulate your heroes. I have a tendency to want to do that. You just grew up loving certain artists so much that when you make your own music, maybe subconsciously, you accidentally harness them too much. Being yourself is important because it helps you to find your own voice and do your own thing.

Do you find yourself imitating anyone in particular that you grew up listening to or that you just admire in general?

I really admire John Prine. He is one of my favorite country artists of all time. He was probably the greatest songwriter in country music of all time for me, and I get a lot of songwriting inspiration from him. Stylistically, I grew up loving Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, and the Eagles. I grew up in Georgia, close to Atlanta, so I also grew up listening to OutKast, T.I., and stuff like that — so that’s why my music is the way that it is. I think my biggest influence is probably Bob Marley. No so much musically, but his mindset of his music has been a big influence on me. I just love how every time I listen to him, he just makes me feel like everything is gonna be alright. I love that about him.

Prior to release of “Easy Tonight,” you hadn’t released new music since last year’s “Good Time” album. How did the single, and shortly after EP, come about? What was the process of getting this out into the world?

I make all my music from home. I’m lucky enough to have been able to build my own recording studio. So, this is where I made “Good Time,” my whole first album, and this is where I made the “Coastin'” EP. I cut the vocals for “Good Time” upstairs in my laundry room. It’s a vocal booth now, but it started out as a laundry room. I write all my music with my wife. This is pretty much as homemade as it’s gonna get. Really this music is from my family to everybody out there. This is how I’ll always make my music.

You have a unique and upbeat writing and performance style, which we’ve covered — but how do you write for other artists?

Being a songwriter is almost like the exact opposite mindset as an artist, in my opinion. When I’m writing for myself, I think of being as me as I possibly can. When I’m a songwriter, and I’m writing with another artist, I’m thinking only about them. I’m trying to make myself as invisible as possible. I don’t want any of me to leak into the song, my stylistic things. I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way to do it. I’m trying to focus on them as hard as I can and figure out what is it about them that is so compelling, special, and magical — and then I try to shine a light on that.