Wednesday, October 19, 2016

'The Ryman Diaries' Historical Play Adds November and December Shows at Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre

     NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 2016) – Actor/playwrights Tom Dolan and Debbie Mathis Watts are extending the run of their multi-media musical stage play "The Ryman Diaries" with pre-holiday matinees at Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre in Nashville. 

     Theatre-goers can celebrate Captain Tom Ryman's 175th birthday with the show and brunch on Nov. 13 and Dec. 11. Showtimes are 12 p.m. (dinner) and 1 p.m. (show) on Sunday. Admission is $38 (show with dinner) and $18 (show only). 

     The riverboat legend was born on Oct. 12, 1841. Mayor Megan Barry signed a proclamation naming Oct. 12, 2016 as Captain Tom Ryman Day.

     Described as a 19th Century love story, "The Ryman Diaries" is a historical drama that depicts the life and times of Cumberland riverboat Captain Tom Ryman as told through the eyes of his wife, Bettie Baugh Ryman. The story covers 70 years of the couple's lives through film media, stage acting, and original musical numbers. It tells of their unlikely romance, marriage, entrepreneurship, raising seven children on a riverboat, ultimate success, Christian conversion at a tent meeting, and the building of the Union Gospel Tabernacle. 

     The play is based on Watts' book, with additional dialog from Dolan. The actors penned seven original songs for the production. Film clips feature flashbacks of young Bettie and historical stills provided by the Metro Archives. 

     "We are thrilled to extend the show with brunch as a continued celebration of Captain Ryman's 175th birthday," said Watts, a former producer for various shows on TNN: The Nashville Network. "He and his wife Bettie were true romantics who laid the musical foundation for Middle Tennessee." 

     A veteran educator, professional pianist-vocalist, and author, Watts' theatrical roles include Mollie in "Mousetrap" and Agnes in "I Do, I Do". Dolan has received national acclaim starring as Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey", Dr. Albert Schweitzer in "Memoirs from Africa", and Sam Clemens in "Mark Twain Live". The actors also star in a new play in San Diego based on the lives of John and Lillie Spreckels. 

     Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre is located at 2416 Music Valley Drive. To buy tickets for "The Ryman Diaries", call (615) 902-9566 or visit To learn more about the play, visit


Americana Fest: Last Day Features Incredible Sara Potenza at The Family Wash

By Wil Comstock
Music City Arts Contributing Writer

Sunday, Sept. 25  -- Last day of Americana Music Fest

The Sixth Annual Gospel Brunch
11 a.m. -- City Winery

Hosted by The McCrary Sisters. Featuring: Cece Winans, Lori McKenna, Bonnie Bishop, Sons of Bill, and Luke Bell.

I attended this show last year and really enjoyed myself.  I guess word really got around.  My heart sunk as MCA Editor Chuck Whiting and I approached City Winery... The line extended outside into the valet parking area. “They must be starting late like last year”, I told Chuck, not yet giving up hope.  But once I heard music start up, I knew the seats were all taken.  Soon a woman came out and told us they were going to try to get us all in on Standing Room Only.  But that wouldn’t be fun. I was hungry and had skipped breakfast so I could enjoy the chicken and waffles they were serving.  I got out my Americana Fest Guide and looked for plan B. 

Sunday Morning Coming Down
12 p.m. -- Fond Object Records
Featuring JP Harris, Tim Easton, and Ariel Bui

Pulling up, we soon realized that this was not a record company.  It was a vinyl record store with vintage clothes and antiques, housed in a vintage strip mall.  This place was funky, and I liked it.
The music was out back in the yard.  Things were just starting up.  I grabbed a vodka cocktail and sat on a cinder block to watch the first act who I had already determined was damn good.  Randolph, the guy behind me, said this was “Tim Easton, had you ever heard of him?”  I replied, “No, why hadn’t I?".  Easton is a suburban blues artist.  Virtuoso guitar and killer vocals.  This is one of those guys that really should have made it big.  He played a few more songs, and his set was finished.  I made a note to check this guy out later online.   At that moment, the Mas Tacos Por Favor food truck pulled up. I have been hearing great things about Mas Tacos for years but have never sampled their gastronomical delights. Here was my chance.  I ordered a Cuban Carne for me and a Quinoa Sweet Potato for Chuck.  These tacos were the bomb!  But it was time to catch the show in East Nashville that I had been waiting for…

Sunday School Hosted By Sarah Potenza 
2 p.m. -- The Family Wash
Featuring Mary Gauthier, Christine Ohlman, Lilly Hiatt, Kimberly Nichole, Meghan Linsey, and Sarah Potenza paying tribute to the Staples Singers, Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

After being introduced to the incredible voice of Sarah Potenza on Thursday, there was no way I was going to miss this show.  We arrived 45 minutes early to find there were no seats left.  We got on the waiting list, and just before the show started, got a seat behind a closed window that looked across the room to the stage.  Not exactly what I had in mind!  I ordered a Yazoo Sour and a Camardo Sandwich, yum, and Chuck ordered the crispy Catfish Sandwich. Once host Potenza took the stage, I was on my feet elbowing through the crowd.  What a voice this woman has, a sultry alto that will make you weep.  Back in my seat finishing my sandwich and beer, I enjoyed the soulful Kimberly Nichole, followed by the refreshing Lilly Hiatt.  Unfortunately I had lost my pen and was unable to jot down what songs were sung by whom, and I can’t rely on my memory  ; ).  The great discovery, for me, of the show was Meghan Linsey!  All of these women were incredible vocalists, but Meghan had us all in the palm of her hand.  This woman drew water from the well and poured it all over the thirsty crowd. Phenomenal!  Back on my feet and inching my way to the front, I could touch special  guest, veteran Christine Ohlman (the Beehive Queen) who brought a smile, a whoop , and a holler to everyone in attendance.  Christine began as a lead vocalist for the Saturday Night Live band in 1991.  She has provided background vocals for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Nils Lofgren and a host of others in her long career.  Inviting Potenza up to the stage to duet with her on the closing numbers sent my soul into the stratosphere.  Hallelujah! Sunday School has never been better than this!

Americana Fest: Bruce Hornsby Plays Dulcimer During Spectacular Show

By Wil Comstock
Music City Arts Contributing Writer

Bruce Hornsby and the Noise Makers
Thursday, Sept. 22 at  11 p.m. -- City Winery

High on the mercy and love from the “Mercyland’ show, I walked across town to catch Bruce Hornsby.  I was seated at a table with two other baby boomer gentlemen who had come alone.  We were a little perplexed as the stage was set for Hornsby’s show. Where is the piano!  What are all the dulcimers and the washboard doing up there?  We soon found out as Bruce and the Noise Makers took the stage.

Hornsby played dulcimer (there were three with different tunings) holding it upright in his lap.  Next to him sat the percussionist/washboard player extraordinaire, followed by the mandolin/fiddle player.  Behind them were the drum kit, which the percussionist used on a couple of songs, electric bassist, and the electric guitarist.  Form the first chords of “New Chair”, the sound was unmistakable Hornsby!  The rhythm patterns of Bruce strumming the dulcimers to the familiar Hornsby fills carried by the mandolin/fiddle player... the sound was all Bruce!   The man next to me commented that Bruce was beginning to look like FDR. Laughing, I told him he was right. 

I loved the Celtic arrangement of “Black Rats of London” and “M.I.A. in MIAMI”“Soon Enough” had me swaying and smiling.  Ricky Skaggs joined the band, playing mandolin for the rest of the set beginning with “Rehab Reunion”...  followed by the  fun “Who Do You Love”, the exquisite “Valley Road, and the classic “Pretty Polly”.  After Ricky entered, I leaned over to the guy next to me and said, “We not only have FDR, but now we have Ben Franklin”.  We all had a good laugh.

So what if I only got four hours of sleep that night!  This show was well worth sleep deprivation. The melodies are still running though my head carrying me through the day.       

Americana Fest: Tim O'Brien, Paul Burch, Shawn Colvin, and Steve Earle Create Lasting Memories

By Wil Comstock
Music City Arts Contributing Writer

Tuesday, September 20th at City Winery:

I decided to stay put for the first night of Americana Music Fest.  I wanted to save my strength for the late nights that lie before me. This evening turned out to have some pleasant surprises.   

Tim O’Brien,  8 p.m.

I was excited to see Tim O’Brien having enjoyed his solo efforts over the years.  Tim did not disappoint.  Tim kicked off with the toe tapping “Working” displaying his fiery finger work moving across the strings.  I loved the personal “Family History” and “Not Afraid of Dying” a song about his 96-year-old father, who had recently passed on.  I enjoyed the crowd-pleaser  “Chicken and Eggs” and the touching “The Water is Wise”.  Tim sang the  eternal “Go Down To the Water” off of Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue, lyrics by Woody Guthrie with music by Bragg.  He ended his set with James Brown’s “Get Up Off of That Thing” to the delight of the hand clapping, foot stomping crowd.

Paul Burch,  9 p.m.

This was the surprise show of the night... I loved it!  Paul played through his latest album “Meridian Rising”, which tells the story of his hero Jimmy Rodgers.  This is an imagined musical autobiography.  Sounds a little crazy but Burch really pulled this off.  When Rodgers was growing up, Meridian was a railroad crossroads.  He was exposed to all of the current music of his day.  Burch takes these rhythms that the rails brought to Meridian and incorporates them into this project.  Burch’s vintage 1940 Gibson L-48 Sunburst was the perfect vehicle for these songs.  The blues of “Meridian” and “Cadillacin”  had me shaking my head in agreement.  “Black Lady Blues” was reminiscent of Django Reinhart.  The dirty wail of the alto sax and clarinet on “Gunter Hotel Blues” reminded me of vaudeville on a hot steamy night.  Surprise guest Billy Bragg  joined in on “If I Could Only Catch My Breath”, supported by a soaring clarinet.  This is a show I will not easily forget. 

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle,  10 p.m.

I was a little skeptical how this pairing might work. But they turned out to share the same magic that worked vocally for Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, silk and sandpaper.  From the first chorus of  their co-write “Come What May”, I was hooked. Then they nailed one of my all time favorite songs, We Fives’ “You Were on My Mind”. Okay, I’m in heaven... it can’t get any better…  then Shawn introduced the Emmylou Harris-penned “Raise the Dead”. I’ve got a big smile listening to this one.  Next I hear the familiar words, “She would never say where she came from."  Shawn and Steve sounded like  “Ruby Tuesday” was written just for them... they owned it!  Steve delivered “Burnin’ It Down”, and Shawn countered with her hit “Sonny” as Earle backed her up on the bouzouki . Earle explained that he started to write “Tell Moses” when he was in Israel several years ago.  It is a song about heroes, first Moses, then Martin Luther King, and since there isn’t a hero in the forefront now, it’s about the people raising up and making their voice heard.  A great catchy spiritual song. They closed the evening with a song producer Buddy Miller’s wife Julie started and handed over to Shawn who added a verse and gave it to Earle who wrote the chorus. Shawn did not know the first verse was about Julie’s father’s death when she wrote the second verse about her dad’s passing. Earle knew none of this when he wrote the chorus to “You’re Still Gone”.  These tender and heartfelt vocals almost had me crying. 

Sam Bush,  11 p.m.

It was time to go home... couldn’t find the waitress so I could pay the bill.  I ended up leaving to the driving bluegrass of mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush. What an unforgettable night!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Middle Tennesseans to Celebrate Captain Tom Ryman's 175th Birthday at Fort Negley on March 12

            NASHVILLE, Tenn. (September 2016) – Middle Tennesseans will celebrate the 175th birthday of legendary riverboat Captain Tom Ryman -- the man who built the Union Gospel Tabernacle (now the Ryman Auditorium) -- during a celebration at historic Fort Negley on Oct. 12 (Wednesday).

            "Remembering Captain Tom Ryman" will kick off at 2 p.m. with the reading of a proclamation signed by Nashville Mayor Megan Barry naming Oct. 12 as "Captain Tom Ryman Day". The proclamation will be read by the bill's sponsor, Metro Nashville Councilman Brett Withers. Attendees also will enjoy monologues and music from the musical stage play, "The Ryman Diaries", featuring actor/playwrights Tom Dolan and Debbie Mathis Watts. The historical drama depicts the life and times of the Cumberland riverboat captain through the eyes of his wife, Bettie Baugh Ryman. Watts (i.e. Bettie) will close the event by serving guests Tom Ryman's favorite dessert, homemade Hazelnut Tarts.

            Captain Tom Ryman Day will continue at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a special dinner-show performance of "The Ryman Diaries at Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre, 2416 Music Valley Drive. To learn more or buy tickets, call (615) 902-9566 or visit

            "This is a great opportunity for Tennesseans to honor the life of a man who helped lay the musical foundation for Middle Tennessee," said Watts, whose play is based on her book, "The Rymans: Reflections and Recipes". "He had such a phenomenal financial success with his fleet of packet boats on the Cumberland River."

            Admission to "Remembering Captain Tom Ryman" is free for all ages. Fort Negley is located at 1100 Fort Negley Blvd. near downtown Nashville. For more information, visit

            Dolan, who first portrayed Ryman for Gaylord Entertainment, considers it a "deep honor to revive this portrayal of the Nashville icon."

            Ryman, who was born on Oct. 12, 1841, used his fortune to fund construction of the Union Gospel Tabernacle after his Christian conversion at a tent meeting led by the Rev. Sam Jones. He also wanted to invite the world’s greatest musical acts to perform in the acoustically perfect concert hall. The building opened to great fanfare in 1892, but as long as the captain lived, he would never allow the building to bear his name. However, upon his death in 1904, the building was immediately renamed in his honor the Ryman Auditorium.

            During its early days, the landmark drew some of the biggest names in show business, including Mae West, Rudolph Valentine and W.C. Fields. It served as the home of Trevecca Nazarene University from 1911 to 1914 and the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974.

            Earlier this year, Watts contacted the mayor's office to see if the city would consider naming Oct. 12 Captain Tom Ryman Day. Withers introduced a bill in the Metro Council.

            Portions of "The Ryman Diaries" historical play will be presented to give attendees the opportunity to learn more about Tom and Bettie Ryman. Watts and Dolan have staged their production at a host of venues across Middle Tennessee.

            "Both Bettie and Tom had the hearts of musicians, so it was totally fitting that they would play and sing," Watts added.

            During her research at the Metropolitan Library Archives and the Tennessee State Library Archives, she discovered a "remarkable" love story. Their chemistry seemed to jump out from 19th Century photos. The play presents a give and take from the captain and Bettie's diaries, documenting some of the same events from totally different viewpoints. The captain loved music because he wanted the Gospel Tabernacle to be a concert hall for the world's great musicians, as well as a house of worship.

            Individuals also can celebrate Captain Ryman's 175th birthday by attending "The Ryman Diaries" dinner-show at Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 12 or 16. Showtimes are 7 p.m. (dinner) and 8 p.m. (show) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. (brunch) and 2:30 p.m. (show) on Sunday. There will be a special school matinee at 2 p.m. Oct. 7 (Friday). To learn more or buy tickets, call (615) 902-9566 or visit