(originally written April 2010)

I was invited back to my Alma Mater (Belmont University) to attend The Best of the Best Showcase and music business reception. I hadn’t been back to Belmont since I graduated almost 10 years ago. When I was a student, I actually co-produced that Best of the Best Showcase a couple of times, and felt a little nostalgic at the thought of “coming home.”

It rained all the way – all 15 hours of the way from Austin to Nashville. It rained so much, I came up with a whole new system to classify precipitation: smatter, beach, weepy, highly emotional, bucket, house pets, and tornado. Tornado rain is something I can definitely live without, forevermore.

From Memphis to Nashville, I drove through two different tornado warnings (and heard, for the first (and second) time in my life the Emergency Broadcast System’s radio warning that was not just a test). I never did see a tornado (but in all that rain, it was hard to see anything) and since other cars were on the road, I figured there was strength (or intelligence) in numbers. Luckily, I made it without the detour to Oz.

The weather man in Nashville described the storm as “a particularly dangerous situation.” But I pressed my luck and booked a room at the infamous Hall of Shame hotel – now named Music Row (…not that it was ever really named the Hall of Shame – it’s given name was The Hall of Fame – due to its close proximity to the Country Music Hall of Fame museum. Hall of Shame is just the nickname it was given by those who knew it best – like those kids in school who will forever be referred to as “Rooster, “Pork Chop” or “Booger.”) The Hall of Shame was renowned for being the unluckiest hotel in town. The heater never worked, something was always amiss in the lobby…legend has it that more deals were made in the broken Hall of Shame elevator than anywhere on 16th Avenue. I think it’s quite charming, but at the same time, if a tornado hit Nashville again, there’s no doubt it would aim for this hotel.

So, fingers crossed, I headed down to Belmont (thankfully remembering to remove the corkscrew from my handbag before I left – Belmont is a Southern Baptist school, and that kind of thing would be frowned upon).

Since I was a student, Belmont has tripled in size. The music business school (which was housed in the College of Business) is now The College of Entertainment and Music Business. They have a huge new basketball stadium/arena/venue, a couple new dorms, and a parking garage. They’ve also acquired several remote campuses (including Ocean Way – that pretty, old church-turned-recording studio). It was almost intimidating to weave my way through…because there were buildings where they didn’t use to be.

In the VIP room, I recognized only a handful of people: a couple of professors, Vince Gill, and Tony Brown.

Tony Brown has no idea why I smile every time I think of him. When my sister was 4 or 5, my family was invited to a MCA event for Todd Snider during SXSW. We spent the weeks leading up to it making her practice how to meet people and talk to grown-ups. We’d randomly go up to her and stick out our hand and say, “Hi, I’m Tony Brown,” and she would have to respond, “Hi, I’m HalleyAnna Finlay.” It was years before she truly believed there was a real live guy (and record mogul) named Tony Brown – she thought we’d made him up.

So, I made a point to go up to Tony Brown and introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Jenni Finlay.” He responded, offhandedly, “I’m Tony, hi.”
No wait, I wanted tell him. That’s not what you’re suppose to say.

I visited with a professor I once accompanied to Chico for a conference, back when I believed that taking our vision of a music business program to the music school masses was every bit as important as taking rice to a third world nation. He’s now a dean, and still has that same excitement and passion I remembered. I was so proud and flattered that he not only remembered me, but has kept up with my newsletter.

I spoke with another professor I knew who went into great detail about “The Next Big Thing” (a very popular Nashville conversation topic). Apparently, it pays the label half a penny per click, blah blah blah (this is where my eyes start to roll back in my head.) He asked who I was working with these days, and I dutifully dropped the names I think he might recognize: Drive-By Truckers, James McMurtry, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Poltz, etc…He says, “Do you JUST do Christian promotion?” …Um…what??? I respond carefully, “Well…WE call it Americana.”

As I milled around the VIP reception, the storm clouds began to move in again (at half a penny per click, I’m sure). In 1998, I weathered a tornado on this very campus, watching from a 4th floor window as it came barreling towards me, going the wrong way down 16th Avenue (until I came to my senses and ran down to the basement studio – the best place to ride out any storm). Yesterday, with a hint of de ja vu, I looked out a different window and thought about how much has changed…and how much has stayed the same. My school is still old and beautiful…and new and different. The music business college is doing amazing things – as it always has. I feel so proud to have been a part of it…and to be able to come home.

Congratulations to all the students who put on the Best of the Best showcase. May you feel the same way I do 10 years from now, where ever you are. Sometimes, it’s only when you look back that you can see how far you’ve come. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.