Music City Madness: Chapter 17

Leland propped his guitar in its stand for a five minute break from the stage at a milepost honky-tonk way off the tourist map. The smoky place smelled of beer and vomit with broken peanut shells scattered about the scuffed, hardwood floor. He’d played in worse bars but never imagined he’d find himself unsigned after fifteen years of chasing gigs for gas money and food.

He left the stage and caught up with Sid at the bar. “Are you lost?”

Sid raised his drink. “I’ve heard you play at better venues.”

Leland signaled the female bar tender and ordered a beer on tap. “I’ve made less money at better dives.”

“It’s not the Bluebird Café.”

Leland accepted the mug of Coors Light. “No doubt.” He clinked his glass with Sid’s bourbon. “To better gigs and bigger dreams.”

“Amen,” Sid replied above the drunken banter from the sparse crowd of revelers in bootcut jeans and dirty shitkickers.

Leland drank to quench his thirst and looked around for Nicole. “I’ve been thinking about the session gig you mentioned.”

“Tim went with someone else.”


“A couple days ago.”

“You just told me about it a couple days ago.”

“The wheels turn fast in Music City. His people brought on someone else.”

“You could have told me.”

“I just did. You’ve been in this game long enough to know gigs like that come and go in a hurry.”

“And I’m still playing in dumps like this.”

“It’s called paying your dues.”

Leland took another swig from his beer. “I’ve been paying long enough. Karma owes me. I can barely make rent anymore.”

“That’s what your day job’s for. You’ve got skills. And you’ve got heart. You also have a kid who adores you and an agent brave enough to stick with you.”

“Then stick around awhile longer. You might hear something you like.” Leland looked out at the ramshackle audience in the blue-collar outpost one bribe shy of a failed inspection from the county health department. “One door closes. Another swings open to smack you in the face.”

“Speaking of which,” Sid continued, “I had lunch with Brad Siegel from Capital Country Records.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He’s heard of you. I floated him one of your demo tracks. He wants to hear you play in person.”

“Don’t mess with me.”

“This is legit. Capital Country is a small studio, but they have big backers, and they generate a lot of attention.”


“As soon as he gets back in town.”


Sid’s expression went from jovial to austere. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”

Leland shook Sid’s hand enthusiastically. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Sid held the handshake for several seconds, pulling Leland toward him without letting go. “I had to call in a lot of favors to make this happen. My reputation stands to suffer a lot more than yours if this doesn’t go well.”

“I won’t disappoint,” Leland vowed, still caught in his agent’s iron grip. “Are you going to let go, or are you coming on stage with me?”

Sid let go. “This opportunity with Brad Siegel is like a duel with black powder pistols. You only get one shot. Make it count.”

“I will. You have my word.” Leland finished his beer and let the news sink in for a moment. Then he took the stage again and slung his arm through the strap on his favorite guitar. He squinted from the overhead lights. He played the D string and adjusted the nickel white tuner to flatten the note. “Here’s a little ditty I wrote about life on the road,” he shouted out to the Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd in three-legged chairs on an out-of-true floor. “I hope you like it.”

He chuckled to himself, his spirits lifted as he tapped his foot in time with the upbeat tempo and finger-picked the strings on his guitar. “I call this one, my favorite honky-tonk.”


Four-wheel trucks and slide guitars

Jim Bean bourbon and cheap cigars

Long-sleeve shirts and boot cut pants

Big belt buckles and wide brim hats


In a place that no one knows

But everybody goes

Where a man can walk the walk…


My favorite honky-tonk


High speed fiddles and two-step clogs

Cold beer bottles and red hot sauce

Chiseled jaw lines and cowboy themes

Rodeo clowns and football teams


In a place we like to go

And everybody knows, by name

Where a man can walk the walk…


My favorite honky-tonk


Snakeskin boots and tight blue jeans

Red Bull cans and prom night queens

Hardwood floors and heel-toe moves

Big-time players and small-time fools


Where a man can walk the walk

In my favorite honky-tonk

That’s right…

My favorite honky-tonk

My favorite honky-tonk!


He heard the obligatory clap from the owner and a local fan who whistled through a toothless grin. “Thank you,” he spoke into the microphone. He waved to Nicole at the bar and cleared his throat. He moved the microphone stand a little closer and smiled broadly. “Let’s go with something a little different this time. A little less country and little more, love…”

He ducked from an empty PBR beer can thrown his way and ignored the drunken hecklers. “I wrote this song for someone very special. Never played it live before, until now.” He slowed the tempo with the next chord sequence and locked his eyes on one person in the room.


We met on the fairground

You felt like a long lost friend, of mine

We shared all our problems

You showed me the light at the end of it all


I need you tonight

I need you to hear

A secret I share from my lips to God’s ear

With all that we’ve learned

And all we’ve been through

At the end of the day, you’ll see…

I’m all in love, with you

Hmmm hmmm… with you…


You tingle my sens-es

When I feel the heat from the fire in your eyes

I reach out to hold you

Now I can al-most read your mind


The weight of your smile

The touch of your lips

The way that I feel under your fingertips

I need you tonight

I need you right now

You open the door to my heart somehow


With all that we’ve learned

And all we’ve been through

At the end of the day, you’ll see…

I’m all in love, with you…

Hmmm hmmm… with you…

Hmmm hmmm… with you…


I’ve fallen in love with you…

Hmmm hmmm, oh yeahhh…

I’m all in love with you…

I’m all, in love… with you…


Leland rested his guitar on a stand. “I’ll be right back,” he spoke into the microphone before he followed Nicole from the bar to a side exit that opened to the parking lot. “Hold up. Where are you going?”

Nicole pushed her way outside. “I can’t stay.”

Leland followed her to her car. “Then why did you come here tonight?”

“I need to tell you something.”

Leland hugged her. “I tried to call you but your phone kept going to voice mail.”

“I had to work a double shift.”

“Abby was pissed when you didn’t pick her up from school.”

“I’m not her chauffer,” Nicole snapped, her demeanor cold and indifferent. She unlocked her car. “I think we should see other people.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I want to see other people.”

“Where is this coming from?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Then why are you here?”

Nicole opened her door. “This doesn’t work for me anymore.”

Leland ran his hand through his hair. He spoke through clenched teeth. “What doesn’t work for you?”

“This relationship. Us. Your daughter. Our living arrangement. Everything.”

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t love you anymore, Leland. I’m sorry.”

The words hit Leland like a kick to the face. “Just like that?”

“I said I’m sorry.”

“You gotta give me something more than sorry. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to end a relationship like this without a reasonable explanation. It doesn’t jibe.”

“I can’t explain it.”

“Will you be home when I get back?”

“I have other plans.”

Leland curled his lips in disgust. “Does your plan have a name?”

“Does it matter?”

“How long have you been—”

“He’s going on tour with Carrie Underwood. He’s a drummer. He wants me to come with him.”

Leland winced, his face taut with anger. “Good for him.”

“Good for us. I’m not slinging burgers for the rest of my life. I want something more than hearing about your next audition for another gig. Or your next great song. I’m tired of waiting. You’ve taken this dream as far as you can, Leland. Some things aren’t meant to be. You’re a great musician. You’ll always have that.”

“I’d rather have you.”

“You’re obsessed with your music. You never stop to think about the people around you.”

“Who’s going to cover your share of the rent?”

“Our relationship is broken, and all you care about is money?”

Leland threw his hands up. “I care about not getting evicted.”

“You’ll figure something out.”

“Would you stay if I quit music?”

“I don’t want you to quit, Leland. I want you to do what you do. Just not with me in your life anymore.”

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