For most casual fans of music, the forty-five minutes that a band spends on the stage is all they can see. However, when the guitar cases are closed and the venue’s floor is littered with empty beer cans and trash, most bands load their gear into the van and return back to their normal lives.
Mother Church Pew’s Off The Stage is a series that celebrates artists’ paths to where they are and the things they do behind the scenes to stay there.
On her new album Traveling Show, Nashville’s Tai Shan turns the stories she’s heard into music and lyrics you can live with, like a trusted companion who knows just when to talk and when to listen. Fusing soul, jazz, and pop, she creates an intimate space for reflection. Unexpected chord changes, beguiling harmonic shifts, and deceptive simplicity are her currency, along with forging deep emotional connections with listeners through her art. Like many other artists, Shan had to cancel her touring plans; recently, she told us how she’s turned a dire situation into an opportunity to care for others:
“Its 4:00 pm on a humid afternoon and my eight-month-old is finally asleep and the house is quiet. The last two months have been a blur. The checklist for the last tour I never went on is hanging on the back of the door: earbuds, diapers, nursing pads, merch… the list goes on. I haven’t had the heart to pull it down since my mother and touring babysitter called to back out of the tour the night after the tornado hit. My mother’s voice on the phone was racked with anxiety, ‘Tai, you got that mysterious stomach flu from handling contaminated tip money (true story), then the tornado, and now this Coronavirus. I think it’s just not a good idea.’ So I stayed. Now it’s been two months since I left our house. Just me, my husband Austin, and a teething daughter.
What has unfolded in these last two months has stunned me. It started with the release of my music video ‘Burn it Down.’ Then my album release came on April 3rd, and our money began to run out. With a few private online voice, songwriting, and guitar students to support us, we began offering to mail our new CD out to anyone who made a donation, and even throw in our personalized shaker for donations over $30.
The donations came pouring in. For each donation, we dedicated a song to our donor in our next live stream. Friendships began to blossom. Fans started reaching out to take online lessons. I got to know people who I had met briefly from playing a house concert or from the side of the stage.
Then a light came on: I wanted to continue this connection into our weekly live streams on a more intimate level, so I asked, ‘How are you doing? Be real with us and we will take your words and weave them into song.’
The responses I got were real: a story from a nurse who was on the nursing unit in Seattle when Covid-19 hit; the tears of a school lunch lady who broke down at 5:30 am while making ‘scooby snacks’ for kids who need lunch assistance; a friend who found baby clothes for a new mother caught in the middle of the pandemic without the bare essentials for a newborn. For each story, we improvised a song on the spot by reading their comment and singing about it. It was real, it was raw, unpolished, but it touched a nerve for me. In the south, we say ‘Y’all take care’ so how do we take care of each other during these times? How do we care for another by live streaming?
Now that we have had our first improvised show, I know we have to do another. The comments are still coming in, and I want to honor everyone’s voice as best I can. We may not understand what someone is going through, but we can say “I hear you” with a song just for them.