The last time the Ten Out of Tenn tour stopped in Cleveland, it wasn't pretty.
"We came through in the wintertime," says singer-songwriter K.S. Rhoads. "We weren't playing, but we just stopped for the day. One of the water mains broke downtown. We got to the hotel, and they didn't even tell us that there was no water anywhere downtown. The restaurants couldn't serve food because there wasn't any water. It was pretty crazy. So we just sat in the hotel room, got giant bottles of Maker's Mark and big ol' bottles of wine and played Mafia."
If it sounds like a PG-13 version of a family vacation, that's because Ten out of Tenn is just that — a summer camp for musicians, a traveling band, a family of Nashville artists sharing a tour bus and months of their lives.
Rhoads compares the crew to "the real Partridge family, except we're not related." Kyle Andrews, Andrew Bell, Madi Diaz, Trent Dabbs, Mikky Ekko, Jedd Hughes, Ashley Monroe, Sarah Siskind, Joy Williams and 11th member, drummer Will Sayles, join Rhoads on the current tour.
The multi-instrumentalist signed on for his second year with the TOT group, who want to prove that their town is more than just a country-music capital. Eight of this year's tourmates are new to TOT.
It all began with a road trip. Nashville musician Trent Dabbs and his wife Kristen were driving to Mississippi, cranking their favorite tunes. They realized that Nashville-based artists were dominating the playlist. What started as an idea for a compilation CD of their friends' music evolved into a full-fledged tour.
Rhoads says Dabbs based TOT on the concept of writers' nights, where musicians take turns playing a few solo songs each.
"It gets to be a little drab sometimes, because one person plays and another person plays," says Rhoads. "We decided early on that we didn't want it to feel like a traveling writers' night. We wanted it to feel a little more cohesive and really fluid, with fewer changeovers. We had to have artists that can also be the house band."
So Dabbs twisted it into a production where everyone plays backup on each other's songs. "Everyone plays two of their own songs at different times in the set. At times there are 10 people on stage, and at other times there are three."
Both Rhoads and Dabbs say this year's TOT group is the most eclectic yet. "It's a quality collective, and we're showing people it's not just gospel music and country music," says Dabbs. "There's this whole side of Nashville that people haven't seen." Ekko's songs are just vocals and beats, Rhoads mixes hip-hop with string arrangements, Monroe sings with a country twang and Andrews piles on the synths.
"It's kinda like a mini super-group, but without anybody being super yet," exclaims Rhoads. "We're called the anti super-group!"
No one gets top billing, but the variety of music the collective plays is a great way to find new music — from pop and rock to folk and experimental. And Ten Out of Tenn is using its name ("I'm obsessed with rating things," says Dabbs. "I even asked my wife to rank our first date") as a brand for more than just an album and a tour. A documentary about the second TOT tour just showed at the Nashville Film Festival, and a photographer will jump on the tour bus this time around to gather material for a book.
"We're just trying to take all the different facets of art and extend them," says Dabbs. "At first, I was kinda like, 'How are we going to do this? How are 10 artists in a bus not going to kill each other? How is there not going to be ego involved?' And those things really worked themselves out."
Past tourmates Butterfly Boucher and Matthew Perryman Jones said the worst thing about last year's tour was the nasty smell on the bus. But with a big group of people, adventures are bound to happen. Rhoads says they took pictures with Ron Jeremy outside the Troubadour and witnessed some lesbian sex as they were loading up the bus in Portland. All a day in the life of a fun-loving Nashvillian — or 10. They hope to share that joy with the rest of the country.
"It's really cool for someone to peek into the movement that's going on right now in Nashville," says Dabbs. "I think true sincerity breeds inspiration, musically. There's so much plastic music these days that everyone is forced to listen to. It's refreshing to hear something that's new and genuine at the same time."