Singer-Songwriter Kelli Johnson at Hidden Creek Music
Tucked away at the end of a gravel road on the outskirts of Nashville is a quaint recording studio that doubles as a live music listening room.
Hidden Creek Music opened its doors for weekly “house concerts” this past June. Owners Kevin and Angie Grenier built the cabin-like venue on their 12-acre property with a desire to create an intimate experience for both music fans and performers. Kevin says, “By the time the night is over, you’re friends with whoever is up there on stage, even if you didn’t know them when you walked in.” (Read more about Hidden Creek Music at the end of the article.)
Hidden Creek is an ideal setting for singer-songwriters like Kelli Johnson, who want to tell the stories behind their songs and make a deeper connection with the audience. “To me when you go to a show or to hear music, you want to connect and do something different than your everyday 9 to 5 routine. I hope that’s what happens when they come hear my show -- they feel something.”
Two years ago, Kelli moved to Nashville from Alabama, where she sang everything from bluegrass and Americana to country and R & B. She was drawn to Music City because she wanted to hone her songwriting skills and write for other artists, not just herself. “I switched gears when I came here, from artist to songwriter, but it’s shifting back a little bit now.” Kelli spends weekdays writing songs, often doing two or three co-writes a day. Then on weekends, she hits the road to perform at venues around the southeastern US, playing 100+ shows a year.
Kelli started singing at church when she was four years old. She remembers that the kids would line up while hymns were playing, then walk out of the sanctuary together to go to children’s church. “We walked by the pianist, and instead of going through the door with the other kids, I just climbed up beside her on the stool and started singing. The next Sunday, they had me on stage!”
Kelli says her family was always singing, and she just assumed everybody could sing. “I never really thought of it as a career until my early 20’s, and then I was like, ‘I can get paid for this?!’ Once I discovered I could make a living doing music, I never wanted to do anything else after that.”
Growing up in northeast Alabama, Kelli was exposed to gospel, Motown, southern rock, country, and bluegrass – a combination of genres that has contributed to her unique style. “When you hear me talk, you know I’m country! I play guitar with a bluegrass backbeat. I’m a little too bluegrass to be straight country; a little too country to be bluegrass.” Her music has been described as Americana, but Kelli says, “I think roots music sums me up really well.”
Like many songwriters, Kelli uses her phone to store hooks for future songs. “There are 800 ideas on my phone. Sometimes driving, or seeing church signs, or when I first wake up, there’s an idea playing through my head and I just write them all down.”
Her most recent single, “Stars and Stripes,” came to her when she was relocating to Nashville and making weekend trips back and forth. “On one of the drives home, this song was whispered in my ear. Driving down Interstate 65 going back to Alabama, I wrote that whole song in just a few minutes and sent it to my husband. I was thinking, ‘If he texts back, I know it’s OK. But if he calls, it’s a good song.’ And he called.”
Stars and Stripes pays tribute to military families and the sacrifices they make. Kelli comes from a military family. Her dad joined the Navy when he was 17. “He always talked about it with respect and reverence, and like that’s what made him the man that he was.” Her brother also joined the Navy, and she saw that he “missed out on lots of key moments with his family.”
Watch Kelli’s performance of Stars and Stripes at Hidden Creek Music in the video below.
Kelli recently started working part-time alongside Sheree Spoltore at Global Songwriters Connection, an organization that helps songwriters perfect their craft and take their career to the next level. “Sheree is allowing me to work with her for the next year, so I’ll be doing that and songwriting as well and developing a show for the following year (2021).”
Although she misses her family back in Alabama, Kelli feels fortunate to be following her dreams in Nashville. “I feel like I’ve had success already because I get to play music and write songs for a living. I’m very blessed to get to do that.” Before she made the move, folks back home warned her that she might feel intimidated by the level of talent in Music City. But to the contrary, Kelli says that the local music community has been very welcoming from the beginning. She fondly remembers her first open mic at the Rhythm Saloon when other musicians invited her to join them after the show for a guitar pull – a southern tradition where a group of musicians sits around and take turns playing songs on a guitar. “Instead of feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be here, I felt like ‘Hey, I’m home, this is where I’m supposed to be.’”
For more info, go to www.thekellijohnson.com
FUN FACTS AND TRIVIA
Kelli has written jingles that were used in commercials for Frito-Lay and Milo’s Sweet Tea
Her original song “That’s What I Call Home” was in the soundtrack for the movie “Finding Harmony”
Restaurant: Little Caesars Pizza (Kelli confesses that she and husband David are always in a hurry and rarely go out to dinner)
Tourist Attraction: Fall Creek Falls State Park
Place to hear music: Scoreboard Bar (for the Wednesday night writers rounds, hosted by Allie Colleen)
Book: Western novels by Louis L’Amour
Movie: Lonesome Dove
More about Hidden Creek Music
Hidden Creek Music is both a recording studio AND a live music venue with a “house concert” vibe.
Reserved seats for shows can be purchased in advance ($10) on the website; tickets are also available at the door ($12) for most shows. Check the calendar or follow Hidden Creek Music on Facebook or @hc_musicstudio on Instagram for info on upcoming shows and performers. Most shows are Saturdays at 7 PM; doors open at 6:30. Parking is free.
Full recording, editing, mixing, and demo services are available. Contact Kevin to tour the studio and/or get a free custom quote.
615-496-9532 (call or text)
8468 Lewis Road, Nashville, TN 37221
(Bellevue area, off of McCrory Road near The Loveless Café)
Hidden Creek recently launched an Indiegogo campaign. Check out the perks of partnering with them HERE