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Life, Love, and Legacy

May 3, 2024

Long known as the home of country music, Nashville is a city built on a rich history that spans decades. Nashville houses many major record labels, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, major annual music festivals, and street after street filled with live music.

It’s this scene where Troubadour, the final show of Florida Studio Theatre’s Winter Mainstage Season takes place. It’s 1951 and Billy Mason, the King of Country Music, is saying farewell to the industry. His son, Joe, is ripe to take the crown, and continue his father’s work, but the music industry is changing, and Joe will need to update his look and sound for the times.

Billy doesn’t think his son is up to it and isn’t ready to relinquish his throne to a child he considers a failure – so with the help of a timid songstress and a struggling tailor - Joe sets out to prove his father wrong. Paralleling the true-to-life changes country music was going through at the time, and featuring original music by Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, Troubadour is a fun-filled romantic-comedy bursting with gorgeous mid-century country music.

Bush noted that he did a lot of research into the country music sound of the 1930s through the 50s, finding that he connected with the story through his own professional journey and how times have changed in the industry.

“When I was listening to all this music, you could hear that people were just trying to make a living,” Bush said. “These people were not told what they were doing was art. Now it’s something we all appreciate, but at the time, it was just poor people’s music. What you're hearing is my perspective of what it feels like to imagine yourself back in this time."”

Caleb Adams and Scott Wakefield. Photo by John Jones.

Indeed, the 1950s was a time of great change in country music. Playwright Janece Shaffer mentioned it was a clothing exhibition in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that inspired the show. "It started out with church wear, dark clothes, dark pants, white tops, string ties, very, very plain," explained Shaffer. "And then there was this moment in the exhibition where it exploded with color and decoration and rhinestone, and I wanted to know what happened at that moment."

Since its premiere in 2017 at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, the play has been called “revolutionary” by Broadway World, featuring original songs that will make your “heart swoon.” Arts Atlanta said the play was a “delicious brew of nostalgia and great music,” one that speaks to the powerful history of country music in America. A lot of care was put into making the music feel authentic to the period and the story and making sure the performances of each song felt organic and natural.

Prior to the 1950s, Nashville had established itself as a haven for musicians and songwriters as early as the mid-1800s, when it became a center for music publishing. Nashville’s own Fisk University Jubilee Singers were the first music act to do an around-the-world tour, helping raise money for freed slaves after the Civil War.

In 1925, Nashville was chosen as the home for the Grand Ole Opry, where many major musicians got their start, and is the oldest running live radio show in history. The 1930s would see the rise of clubs on Jefferson Street and “Music Row” experimenting with Jazz and Blues, eventually evolving into Rock n’ Roll during the 1950s.

From jazz to bluegrass to country, blues to R&B, rock to gospel, the artists in Nashville played a part in all of it. Take a stroll through musical history and see how one family deals with legacy, artistic evolution and falling in love.