Music City Madness: Chapter 2

Leland Presley weaved through morning traffic on Hillsboro Pike with his steel-toed boot gunning the accelerator in his ’85 RAM pickup before the light at Old Hickory Boulevard turned red. Worn windshield wipers stuttered back and forth as steady rain swept over the Nashville metropolitan area and continued toward the bluegrass pastures and wooded hills in Middle Tennessee.

He jabbed the buttons on the truck’s AM/FM cassette to catch the latest traffic update. Short on time and long on miles to a new club in East Nashville, he raced through yellow lights outside strip malls and modest residential properties built away from the sprawling horse ranches and long stretches of triple-rail fence that framed the picturesque landscape outside the city.

He veered sharply from the slower-moving lane near the I-440 overpass. His construction hat tumbled off the hard shell guitar case buckled against the seat beside him and rolled onto the passenger floorboard. He tapped one hand on the wheel and ran the other through his thick, brown hair with his long sideburns. Razor stubble paved his tan complexion, accentuating his emerald green eyes, vibrant and stirring like the Caspian Sea. A gold cross necklace rested against his well-defined chest.

He brushed his hand on his work jeans and unzipped the orange safety vest he wore over his red flannel button-down. Morning news reported another accident west of his location at Parthenon and Oman, where a two-car collision had brought morning commuters to a halt.

Stuck in the center lane between a packed school bus and a dump truck hauling fill dirt, he checked his blind spot and inched his front bumper behind a black Mercedes S500 coupe with tinted windows and a blinking left turn signal. The vanity license plate spelled CASHVIL.

He cut the wheel to go around the Mercedes driver yacking on her cell phone and leaned forward to gauge the distance between his truck and the S500’s bumper with the left turn signal still flashing. Too tight to make the turn, he cranked his window down and waved at the driver blocking his path. He bumped his horn to force the issue as precious minutes ticked away on the open audition he’d left his job site to attend.

He pressed the brake with his left foot and pushed his right on the gas, revving the engine to spin the rear wheels in place. When the distracted Mercedes driver finally inched toward the left lane, he lurched in front of her and caught a stiff middle finger in his rear view mirror.

He drove as fast as traffic allowed beyond The District and its ensemble of refurbished restaurants, galleries, and familiar honky-tonks along Broadway. He hung a left onto 2nd Avenue and drove toward the Woodland Street bridge. He snagged the first parking space he could find outside the new venue in the Five Points neighborhood. Then he unbuckled his jet black guitar case and grabbed his silver-sand Stetson from the makeshift hat rack mounted behind the truck’s bench seat.

He beat a path to the entrance and dipped his six-foot frame inside the refurbished honky-tonk to claim his spot in the cattle call line. He set his guitar case down and flicked the rain off his hat. He sized up the competition in front of him, aligned single file along a wall with autographed photos of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Patsy Cline, and other superstars who’d played in relative obscurity before their careers went supernova.

He shuffled forward in line and spied the usual urban cowboys in button-down shirts and wing-tip Laredo’s with boot-cut jeans and tassel ties. He heard guitars out of tune and singers who couldn’t find the right notes if someone stapled them to their forehead. He heard the same tired lyrics to the same cover songs delivered without passion or connection to any person, real or imagined, in the live audience.

He watched the group of wannabe artists proceed one-by-one, lock-step toward the stage. And one-by-one, he saw defeated souls slouch away tuck-tailed and tarnished from the lukewarm response to their audition.

Undeterred, he rehearsed a new song in his head, where a few simple chords produced a melody to complement the lyrics he’d composed on a date with his daughter at a Taylor Swift concert.

When he landed his turn in the spotlight, he carried his guitar case on stage and acknowledged the impassive club owner who cracked peanut shells at the bar.

“Name?” the owner asked while he chewed.

Leland tipped his Stetson. “Leland Presley.”

“Nestley?”

Pres-ley,” Leland articulated slowly. He opened the guitar case with his sleeves rolled up, exposing a treble clef tattoo on his left inside forearm and a rustic wooden cross on his right.

“What are you singing?”

Leland removed his acoustic Gibson from the blue velvet lining. The scent of pattern-grade mahogany and Adirondack spruce brought the hand-made instrument to life. “I’m going to try something different this time.”

“How different?”

“A song I wrote for someone very special to me.”

“I’m touched, Mr. Presley. The stage is yours.”

Leland lifted the guitar strap over his head and caressed the vintage instrument against his body. He tweaked the steel E string with the nickel white tuner and strummed his pick above the single-ring rosette to produce a warm, balanced tone. Then he drew a steady breath and leaned toward the microphone to sing.

 

I can feel the music move you

On the country-western floor

A small town girl with big time dreams

Ain’t gonna settle anymore

But when you find your heart

All alone at night

Let me take your hand, and ask,

May I have this dance?

May I have this dance?

‘Cause you’re the one that I’ve been waitin’ for…

And I don’t think, I can hold out anymore

A daddy’s girl with angel eyes

And a smile to open doors

You want a man who wants to love you

For richer or for poorer…

But when you find your heart

All alone at night

Let me take your hand, and ask,

May I have this dance?

May I have this dance?

I can see the sunshine in your smile

When it comes to life and love I don’t keep score

And tonight I want you with me on the floor..

May I have this dance?

You’re the only one I’m waitin’ for

And I don’t think, I can wait here anymore…

May I have this dance?

 

Leland stepped away from the microphone. “It’s not my only song.”

“It is for now,” the owner replied.

“Are we good?”

“We’ll be in touch.”

Leland gently placed his guitar in the case and latched the lid. He stepped down from the stage and approached the club owner at the bar. “I hear that a lot. Tell me what you really think.”

The owner cracked another peanut shell and chewed. “This ain’t America’s Got Talent. I have a business to run.”

“And you’re not the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve heard one train wreck after another in here. I can out-sing any audition you’ve entertained today.”

“We’ll be in touch.”

“I really need this gig,” Leland persisted.

“So does everyone who comes through these doors,” the owner retorted. He wiped a pile of peanut shells onto the floor. “It takes a hell of a lot more than a pretty face to draw new business.”

Leland gripped his guitar case handle and adjusted his hat. “Yes Sir. But I bailed from my day job and drove thirty miles to get here. A job I might not have when I get back.”

“You from Nashville?”

“The buckle of the bible belt.”

The owner sipped his drink and chewed the ice. “You ever take voice lessons?”

“I’m self-taught.”

The owner gave Leland a business card with a handwritten phone number on the back. “If you want my advice, get yourself a better teacher.”

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